Hi, my name is Tora and I am a mummy, wife, board gamer, blogger, lawyer and geek. I am fairly new to the board gaming community but I have fallen head first down the tabletop rabbit hole and I have no desire to resurface! Polyominoes, tile laying, and abstract puzzles are my go-to favourites but I am happy playing anything and everything.
In a world that seems to find ways to trigger my anxiety more and more every day, board gaming has become my haven; a comforting place where I can spend time with my husband and my son without distractions, a safe place where I can make decisions and experience winning and losing without judgment and everlasting consequences. And, perhaps for me, most surprising of all, an incredibly welcoming and friendly place where I can play and enjoy all aspects of board gaming with members of our wonderful community of like-minded people where nothing matters apart from joy and enthusiasm for tabletop gaming.
For these reasons, I am super grateful to Jim and the team at WBG for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts on all things gaming and I hope that, by doing so, I can give back and help fellow gamers enjoy our shared hobby (which in my humble opinion, really is rather wonderful!).
If you go down to the woods today...
Have you ever wanted to skip merrily down an enchanted forest path, looking for your next elven house only for your dream woodland des res to be RIPPED MERCILESSLY AWAY FROM YOU BY AN EVIL GNOME? If so, Uwe Rosenburg’s latest outwardly relaxing yet inwardly ruthless offering could be for you; welcome to the pretty cutthroat world of Fairy Trails.
Before I begin, cards on the table time (literally!); Fairy Trails is not a “weighty” game in terms of component bang-for-your-buck. No gloriously tactile wooden mythological meeples tumble across the table, and no life-size cardboard trees (thank you, Everdell!) lay waiting for you under the lid; you get cards and you get gems. No more, no less. Nor is Fairy Trails on the same complexity scale as Uwe’s legendary gaming euro big-hitters Agrciola, Caverna, and Le Havre. But, the magical crunchiness this little box can cause two people in around 15/20 minutes, most definitely belies its diminutive size.
So, how does it work?
Take me home, country roads!
At its core, Fairy Trails is a straightforward tile laying game albeit using small, square cards which can placed anywhere so long as they are orthogonally adjacent to other cards and continue or complete the paths printed on the those next to which they are placed.
Each card contains both yellow and pink paths and a potential combination of houses, path continuations, and route-ends. During a game, each player (one donning their metaphorical pink Elf ears and the other pulling on their Gnomish yellow wellies) takes it in turns to lay a card in an attempt to complete paths and occupy houses represented by their corresponding coloured gems. Like that gaming granddaddy, Carcassonne, if a path is completed by placing a card, whichever player has a finished route can place a gem on each of their houses located along it. Play continues and the cards grow to form a winding and beguiling central tableau until a player lays their final gem and is declared the winner.
Simple……or is it?
Highway to hell!
I will admit that this game surprised me. Whilst it has a simple central mechanic, the decision-making process becomes complex. In your head, the order of events is clear and relaxed; lay a card, complete a route, claim a house…..easy. But then, that other sudden, wide-eyed, skin prickling, cold sensation slams into you like an ice-cream truck; whilst you have been frolicking elfishly amongst the moss and toadstools picking up a bijou house here and there, the gnome has gone for the slow-burn and surreptitiously built up a 16 gem route over a series of seemingly innocent turns. In a single card placement, you have unwittingly completed this path and sealed the Gnome’s victory without you even realising it!
And that is where the deliciously mythological magic (or torture) lies. On each turn you face a trade-off; do you place a card to your own advantage or sacrifice progress to guarantee your opponent’s detriment? The choices between extending an existing path to secure a building bonanza on subsequent turns, closing off a smaller route now, or hate-placing to block or branch off your opponent’s routes is brain burn on a level this little box kept quiet.
A big think in a small package.
Wrecking ball. For your brain!
As a fan of Uwe’s other games and being obsessed with tile layers generally, Fairy Trails had a lot to live up to when I cracked that seal, and overall it did not disappoint. Although analysis paralysis can descend like an early morning mist, the momentum of the game is relatively even throughout and replayability is high through the randomness of the luck of the draw. Furthermore, the artwork is beautiful – the paths becoming almost hypnotic the more you look at them. But, for the same reason, it can also be difficult to distinguish paths as the woodland area expands. And, for me, this game would have been better with real tiles; something more tactile and substantial than the thin, small square cards which we found slipped around the table whilst in play and refused to riffle.
Don’t get me wrong, Uwe isn’t blazing a Fairy Trail here in terms of innovative game play or never-before-seen mechanics but neither does this game simply feel like a pared down version of larger grand dames of the tile laying genre. This game has a sneaky sting in its tail; pay attention to your fairy tale foe because if you merrily romp along in multiplayer solitaire mode, you will lose hard and you will lose fast.
Ultimately, as a quick, strategic, 2 player game, Fairy Trails works well and I finished wanting to play again; searching for that sweet spot between obsessing over my opponent’s woodland estates and revelling in the selfish beauty of my own glorious paths.
Hello, everybody! Tom here from @buryboardgames. I’m on Instagram under that handle, where I love chatting to fellow board game fans. Before coronavirus, I used to run a couple of regular game nights in local pubs and village halls. (You’ll find me at the medium/heavy-weight Euro-style table!) I’ve been blogging about board games and Dungeons & Dragons since 2018. In fact, I’ve even had the honour of being Jim's Dungeon Master!
An eagle swoops down onto your falconry glove. Your rag-tag crew of warriors, bloodthirsty women and men, appear restless in the Scythian village. You’re stocked up on provisions and everyone’s swigged kumis. You know there’s plunder a-plenty, waiting beyond the border. A battle horn blasts, and warhorse hooves clatter into enemy turf. It’s time to go raiding!
Raiders of Scythia is a reimplementation of Raiders of the North Sea… with some changes. Scythia is by Garphill Games – the same publishers that produce Shem Phillip’s other games. But this doesn’t look like Shem’s older games. A different artist’s at the easel: Sam Phillips, Shem’s brother.
Raiders of Scythia retains Raiders of the North Sea’s core, though. It comes with an essence of the North Sea expansions sprinkled on top. Plus, this version introduces eagles and horses, as well as a different setting. Tom Vasel of the The Dice Tower called this a ‘Raiders v1.5’. Is he right? Let’s find out…
No One Said The Spoils Of War Would Come Cheap
This is a worker placement game about the citizens of Scythia. Throughout, you’ll manage resources and build up a crew tableau. It’s a Euro-style strategy affair. This means you’re aiming to outscore your opponents on the victory points track. You earn points throughout the game by raiding settlements in neighbouring countries. You earn end-game points if you complete Quests. (You’ll score any leftover ‘Plunder’ at the end of the game, but it’s better off spent on Quests.) You’ll also score end-game points according to your tableau of crew members, horses and eagles.
The crux of Scythia lies with your solitary worker. On your turn, you have two options. You can either perform traditional worker placement actions by placing this worker. Or, you can use it to go raiding. This is all identical to Raiders of the North Sea. The way worker placement flows here is simplistic, yet there’s genius behind the structure.
The former action – placing a worker to get stuff – takes up the lion’s share of the gameplay. Think of it like prepping for a battle. Nobody said the spoils of war were going to come cheap! It’s a cycle: stock up on supplies to go raiding. Then attempt to raid, and loot Plunder. Then spend that Plunder to complete Quests, or strengthen your troops. Assess the damage, stock up again, and go on to raid a tougher Settlement…
The Village Merry-Go-Round
You start the game by picking a starting crew. This consists of an asymmetrical Hero card, and a unique Crew card. Crew give you Strength and constant passive benefits, which drive your strategy. You pick these in reverse turn order, meaning you’ll have an array to chose between. Each player also begins the game with one blue worker. A mixture of grey and red workers sit on Settlements within Cimmeria, Assyria, Persia and Greece. They enter the game after raids; I’ll talk about them in due course.
On your turn, you can send your worker into a vacant village location. You perform the stated action associated there; classic worker placement fare. Then – and here comes the cool bit – you remove a different worker, already sitting in the village. You perform that action, too. You can think of this as getting two actions per turn, before play passes clockwise. You’ll always end up with one worker back.
Two of the eight village spots – the Stables and the Chief’s Tent – have grey/red worker iconography present. You can only visit there with a grey or red worker. You start the game with a blue worker (so you can’t visit them… at the start). One constant part of set-up is that blue workers always start in the same three Village locations. (The Town Centre, the Meeting Tent, and the Market.)
There’s an almost-infinite range of variability in the rest of the set-up, though. Face-down Quests, quotas of Plunder, the asymmetrical Heroes and Crew cards? No two games play alike. The first player always sees the same options, though. They send their first worker to either the Barracks, the Silversmith, or the Farm, taking the action there. For the first few turns of the game, all players focus on these six (of eight) spots in a merry-go-round nature. That is, until someone goes raiding…
The actions you take in the Scythian Village are simple enough. The iconography shouldn’t baffle (it’s on the rulebook’s final page). Some locations pay out different returns, depending on which colour worker you send there. This also works when a player retrieves that worker. This is utter brilliance, making Raiders such an interactive experience. Some players might over-think this – “What am I leaving behind for my neighbour?” Most of the time, though, you’re best off focusing on what helps you right now.
Visit the Farm to earn Provisions (or a Wagon from the supply, not a Raid Space). Visit the Silversmith to earn – you guessed it! – Silver. You can earn either cards or a card and Kumis at the Meeting Tent – your choice. Go to the Market to discard card(s) to earn Silver, a Wagon, or Equipment. At the Barracks, you have two options. You can hire a Crew member from your hand here, by paying the stated Silver cost (on the Crew card). Instead of hiring, you can pay one Kumis to remove two Wounds from your Crew. (You can – and will – gain Wounds when raiding.) You have a holding limit of eight per item, so you can’t hoard an indefinite amount.
At the Town Centre, you can perform one action. You can either discard a Crew card from your hand, triggering its action as a one-off. Or, you can activate your Hero’s ability. There’s also the option to trigger an eagle ability here. This is a key mechanism that elevates Scythia to brilliance. But before we talk eagles, let’s talk raiding. It’s the name of the game, after all!
The Cost Of War
The easiest Raid Spaces to overcome are in Cimmeria. Raiding gets ever-harder the further down the board: in Assyria, Persia and Greece. But with it, the points on offer become greater, too. Beneath each Settlement, iconography states the requirements needed to take them down.
To raid in a specific spot, there has to be a Quest tile still face-down in that space. You send your worker (of a stated colour type) there. In Assyria, for example, this is blue/grey. Easier Settlements demand fewer Crew cards on your mat; tougher ones require more. (Your Hero doesn’t contribute to this number.) There’s also a Provisions (and Wagons) cost you have to spend to raid. If you don’t meet these requirements, you cannot raid here right now.
Dicing With Danger: Scythian Strength
Beat the stated Strength threshold(s) for the Settlement and earn points. Your Crew cards have differing Strength, as do some eagles and horses you might have acquired. Some Crew cards also have ongoing boosts to Strength, which can swell this number. Plus, each country have increasing dice you must roll when you raid it. These dice are both good and bad!
Good, because some of their faces range in numbers. These contribute towards your Strength total. Bad, because others have blood drops, which signify injuries. This represents how many Wound tokens you took when fighting. Your Crew cards can take as many Wounds as their Strength. Taking excess wounds results in Crew death – you have to remove the card from your mat. (There’s a super-handy list of these faces visible at the bottom of the board, so you can calculate your odds.) Don’t think you can beat the Strength threshold? Hand in one Kumis to get +1 Strength per Kumis. It’s strong stuff! (It’s identical to Mead in Hall of Heroes, which is a great get-out-jail feature.)
Roll the stated dice, add up any Strength stated (plus Kumis) and add this to your Crew’s Strength. Does your Strength total meet or exceed the Strength requirements stated beneath the Settlement? You earn those points. If you don’t meet the minimal Strength number, you take extra Wounds, as well (but no points). It’s still a successful raid – but a clumsy, inept one. But you’d rather earn points for raiding, right?
What A Plunderful World
But it’s not all about points, though. Now you take all Plunder from one of the Raid Spaces within that Settlement. This is a decision you’ll have made before you raided there. Due to the modular, blind bag draw nature of set-up, some spots might appeal more than others! You then flip the Quest Tile so it’s face-up and retrieve the worker sitting above the Raid Space. It’ll be either red or grey. It’s like a village action: you placed one worker; you retrieved one worker.
Raid Spaces don’t replenish with Plunder. As a result, the worker you sent to raid in the first place is, in essence, a permanent discard. One end-game condition triggers whenever there’s only two Settlements remaining left to raid (anywhere on the board). The other is when there’s only two Quests left on the board. After this, everyone gets one more turn. Then it’s time to add up the scores! But I’ve leaped ahead. What about Quests? And what’s the deal with eagles?
Hoovering Up Quests Like A Scythian Dyson
Once the first player goes raiding, they’ll pick up a grey/red worker. This opens up visiting the Stables and the Chief’s Tent within the Scythian Village. Seeing as a later player can retrieve this worker, they gain access to it for their next turn. This becomes crucial, especially late-game. You want to raid in locations that demand specific-coloured workers. You need to plan ahead so you’re not left with the ‘wrong’ colour worker!
The Chief’s Tent has two options. One is to trade one Livestock for two Provisions and one Kumis. I’m unsure of how useful this option is; I’ve not used it in five games, now! The second, far more appealing option, is to complete a Quest. This is a popular location mid-to-late game, because you can rack up a lot of end-game points if you hoover up Quests.
Got the stated requirements on the Quest? (They’re a combination of Silver, Livestock, Equipment, Wagons, and Gold.) Pay them in and claim the tile. Each are worth varying points, which you score at the end. (There’s no set collection bonus, like in Hall of Heroes.) Some Quests have you discard Crew cards from your hand of a particular Strength total.
The latter is interesting, because it makes every card in your hand important. Even the ‘duds’, the Crew you’re not looking to hire right now have worth. A Quest gets revealed after every raid. If good fortune’s on your side, you can claim one as an immediate action after the Quest gets flipped. There’s a wonderful balance in Plunder, though. Is it best to hurl them at Quests, alone? Or should you spend them elsewhere, such as…
Horse Power or Eagle Vision?
The Stables is fascinating addition to the Scythian Village. You get Animal Cards here. Each card has an eagle on the top half, a horse at the bottom. At the Stables, you can pay one Equipment to get a horse. Pick one of the three cards and slot it under the bottom of your player mat, so only the horse shows. The horse now sits beneath one of your five Crew members. Horses have either 1, 2, or 3 Strength, and/or are worth 1 or 2 end-game points. (The sum of Strength and points always totals three.) This extra Strength, of course, contributes towards successful raids.
Instead, you can pay two Silver to get an eagle. You slot it under the top half of your player mat, so only the eagle shows, sitting above one of your five Crew members. Eagles either provide Strength and end-game points, or they provide a x2 benefit (symbolised on the left). If this eagle gets equipped to a Crew member, it doubles that Crew card’s permanent ability. (The card’s text on the left-hand side.) This is a wonderful way to further crank your Crew tableau into an ‘engine’.
Other eagles have a blue flag symbol on their right. Equip this eagle type to a Crew member and it allows you to use the action stated on the right-hand side of that Crew card. You’ll see it matches the action icon visible on your Hero, and at the Town Centre. Now if you visit the Town Centre, you can trigger your Hero’s ability, or the ability provided by this Crew card. This allows for further flexibility, creating efficiency and cool combos.
You don’t have to place the animal under a Crew member – it could be under a vacant spot. You might plan to play a Crew card (in your hand) there later on. But if you go raiding, only animals’ Strength (if it has any) gets applied if they’re controlled by a Crew member. So, do you want the horses’ extra Strength to batter the Settlements? Or will you build a powerful tableau using the eagles? One thing’s for sure. This engine-building facet means that no two games of Raiders of Scythia plays the same, twice…
Characters Reminiscent Of High-Calibre Tattoos
Sam Phillips’ artwork on these Hero, Crew, and Animal cards oozes with character. There’s an equal mix of female and male warriors; each one more bellicose and pugnacious than the last. They wear hoods, furs, armour. Each stands unique. They’re reminiscent of high-calibre tattoos, or a cartoon model you’d expect on a bottle of spiced rum. There’s a hint of a ligne-claire comic-book style. I, for one, would read a graphic novel featuring these characters in one voracious sitting!
They’re a far cry from The Mico’s jagged caricatures. (Mihajlo Dimitrievski is somewhat synonymous with Shem Phillips. He penned the art for Raiders of the North Sea, and the West Kingdom trilogy.) Debate will run into the night about which art style people prefer. My 10¢ is that this looks awesome. Sam has a few games in among his portfolio now – Circadians: First Light, and Hadrian’s Wall. (Both by Garphill Games, again, like Scythia.) It’s obvious he takes great delight in creating vivid characters. His art style is equal to The Mico’s, it’s becoming recognisable with the click of one’s fingers.
The game board itself has literal boundaries between the countries; you can’t miss them. In Raiders of the North Sea, there’s more of an organic progression up the board. Here, you travel down. That’s a geographical decision; Scythia is north of Greece’s coastline. Each country has stark contrasting art, with a backdrop that portrays the region. The Scythian Village is lush, quiet and green, the calm before the storm. Persia has gorgeous sandstone minarets and sublime architecture. Greece’s classic marble temples symbolise a powerful, sophisticated nation. Their Settlements won’t crumble without a fight.
Raiders Of The Lost Art
There’s no fighting, nor raiding, occurring within the artwork. That’s because those protagonists sit in your hand, or on your tableau board. One trait I dislike is the board’s iconography is a bugbear. I wish the wagons weren’t the same shade of brown as the Provisions. They’re difficult to distinguish at-a-glance. It’s a slap on the wrist for any board game graphic artist worth their salt. The rest of the icons are fine for seasoned Euro-gamers. The Crew cards have text on, rather than icons, so they’re simple enough to digest.
Getting back to Wagons, though – they’re wooden hexagonal bits. The Equipment are grey hexagons. The Livestock are black and the gold’s yellow. Functional… but not exciting. They need to feel identical for the blind bag draw, I get that. Problem is, it’s all-too easy to start calling them ‘a brown doo-dah’, or ‘I need a grey wotsit to get a horse!’. They’re like the antithesis to the evocative character art.
The Kumis and Provisions sit shaped like goblets and baskets. Are you the kind of gamer that has snacks on the table? Don’t get absent-minded, or you might forget yourself and pop Provisions in your mouth! The tactile metallic coins depict the Scythian Echidna, half-woman, half-snake. It’s a neat touch to drive further atmosphere. And then there’s the gorgeous custom dice. These are chunky with hints of two-tone swirls. It’s not a solid red; it’s more like a cross-section of a watermelon. The white dice are like lemon sorbet. The yellow dice, if they were a paint, would be ‘glitterhoney’. It’s difficult to feel short-changed for long about the Plunder being bland. Not when the other components sing like this.
Final Thoughts On… Raiders of Scythia
Raiders of Scythia is, in many ways, a series of mini-races. The first to raid the juicy Settlements. The first to hoover up the Quests. How can you best do that with your two actions per turn? You’re always guaranteed to get one of the actions you need that turn. Because if it’s vacant: great! Place your worker there. If it’s blocked? No problem; that’s your second action sorted (removing a worker). The strategy arises when you need to do actions in an consequential order. When you need to do A first, to then afford B. In an ideal world you’d achieve both in that single turn, for maximum return. The game is so interactive, this way. That’s identical to Raiders of the North Sea.
The Crew cards are superb, to look at, and for the plethora of strategies they provide. This only further heightens with the eagles, multiplying or introducing extra Crew abilities. Many combo and dovetail together with clenched-fist satisfaction.
The Valkyrie Track isn’t present, nor the Fame Track (from Fields of Fame), but it’s simplified with Wounds. You earn streamlined points elsewhere. There’s no tracks whatsoever, except the VP Track, that wraps around the Scythian Village. I didn’t miss them. I’m glad it doesn’t feature the Jarls from Fields of Fame. I much preferred the decisions involved with Animal Cards, equipping them to a unique Crew.
A Garphill Game with awesome art. Buckets of replayability and the feeling of built-in expansions? Don’t write this off as a meagre ‘reimplimentation’. Raiders of Scythia is one heck of an impressive package.