Northgard: Uncharted Lands Board Game Game Review

The video game Northgard released a few years ago has been widely acclaimed. It uses classic 90s real-time strategy concepts like Age of Empires and Settlers, along with a smooth modern sandbox approach. Players control gangs of viking warriors to build villages and complete massive quests. They were encouraged to pursue bigger and more powerful feats to accumulate fame, such as slaying beasts and crushing opposing players. Now, this RTS/adventure game hybrid has received a passionate and evocative board game adaptation titled Northgard: Uncharted Lands (watch it on Amazon).

Notably, this board game stands comfortably alongside its digital predecessor, as well as being independent on its own merits. Video game fans will discover the lovely inspiration that permeates its various cards, thumbnails, and tiles.

Northgard: The Unexplored Land

Designer Adrian Dinu has created an outstanding board game that combines well-established systems with a new vision. One doesn’t have to be familiar with the original Northgard to enjoy this adventure, as its main connection is abstraction of the core themes of discovery and scarcity.

When you take control of one of the asymmetrical clans, you’ll focus on exploring the new continent and developing its lands. The tiles reveal vast countryside at random in a process that mimics the procedural generation of its peer. You’ll encounter other players and explore wildlife, encounters that often lead to outright conflict. It’s a violent and surprisingly satisfying experience that feels like home on the countertop.

Uncharted Lands draws its main design influence from bricklaying Classic board game Carcassonne. You drag tiles from a stack and orient them around the growing board to connect and define expanding geographic boundaries. It’s my favorite Northgard mechanic, where the region boundaries are unpredictable and full of weird shapes. This is in stark contrast to most area control games, which have a very rigid map, carefully designed to promote balance and encourage conflict. Northgard simply sublimes in its freedom. It encourages active exploration to close the territory by rewarding you with a set amount of points for doing so.

The second biggest influence is the center built on deck mechanism of action. Like the hit board game Dominion, your deck starts out as a humble and reliable tool for completing the essential core components of the game. Each turn you play a card from your hand that allows you to move through territory, recruit units, or build structures. Over seven rounds, your deck grows and sets itself apart from the competition.

The best thing about this aspect of play is that the cards you add to your deck are free. Most games have you moving resources and weighing your purchase options, often slowing progress. In Northgard, you get a card from the face up market as soon as you pass the round. This keeps the game fast-paced, as it encourages players to get through early.

However, you have another option. Instead of composing from the row of cards available to all, you can spend a mid-round action destroying a card from your hand and replacing it with a clan-specific option. This creates a small but meaningful asymmetry that adds to your clan’s continuity ability.

There’s a special smooth feel to Northgard: Uncharted Lands.

There’s a special smooth feel to Northgard: Uncharted Lands. The actions are quick, the core mechanics are simple, and it consistently delivers a sense of accomplishment. Combat manages a dramatic pattern with a single roll of the dice on each side adding strength to the unit. Everything here feels like it’s getting just the right amount without being overly complicated or complicated.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Despite my admiration for exploratory and amorphous areas, the board often appears a mess as it takes shape. Players will struggle to visually figure out the boundaries of an area, causing them to misread strategic choke points and possibly even lead to a surprise attack from a neighbor. That’s an unavoidable point, as the busy illustrations on the plots only further complicate the important contours.

Northgard also loses some advantages when the map is fully explored. When areas become static, all that remains is to scramble for scarce resources and pursue combat. This is helpful, but the sense of surprise evaporates and what rushes to fill that void is something less exciting.

However, the designers have realized this. They sought to alleviate the late game gloom with the accompanying Creature expansion. This adds neutral warriors like wolves, sled dogs, and soldiers. The class effect of stumbling across these beasts is both amazing and terrifying. The benefit is that they enhance a sense of dynamic exploration, and they create an evolutionary board over time that remains wild and chaotic until the creatures are defeated.

The serious downside is that these add a heavy complexity to the gameplay. At higher player count, more tiles are explored and more creatures encountered. This leads to a phase of play where everything pauses while you consider the behavior of each monster, how they move, and the effects they activate. Some push you around, others stop producing resources, and worst of all, devour your army.

These creatures are an interesting addition. They almost feel like a necessary part of the game. But sometimes they are a burden and can lead to really skewed sessions where a player feels randomly targeted. There are quite a few things you can do to control and swarm these neutral entities – beyond simply fighting and killing them – but in my sessions, the tactical considerations they required often difficult to grasp for inexperienced players.

Despite the bulky board condition, this is a great design. With just two or three players, it can deliver elements of the 4X genre in a brief 60-90 minute period. With four or five participants it lasts up to two hours or more, but it still feels relatively quick and fast due to the quick turn structure.

Ultimately, its greatest achievement is capturing the contrast between the magic and scarcity of digital Northgard. This is not only achieved by the struggle for fertile land as framed through exploration and conflict, but also through limiting the size of the army. You have to feed your troops every round, which puts downward pressure on expanding armies and allows for a natural buff for players who have already received a fight. This is also how it models the harsh winters of video games.

Even more fascinating, magical and scarce is emulated through the central deck-building mechanism. While it cleverly allows you to place new cards on top of your deck so you can experience their benefits right away, you’ll spend many turns waiting for those tempting options to appear. back in your hands, hoping for a great combination of dramatic agency appearances and possibilities. That act of patience is like watering a field of crops and then gnawing your lips while waiting for the harvest. When the final bounty arrives, you sit up in your chair, beaming with light as you build a mighty fortress or mount a brutal assault and claim what’s yours.

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