North Wind is a game in which you are the captain of your very own ship. You are sailing the seas in search of goods, treasure and the occasional pirate captain to deliver to ports which were raided by pirates. In the meantime you are upgrading your ship and hiring crewmates to get the job done. Since I could not find the official English rules it could be that some terms differ from those found in the English version (we have the Dutch version).
Setup is relatively easy. Your very first time you need to assemble your ships but afterwards you can store them preassembled with exception from the mast, sail and the crow’s nest. Except for its own ship each player gets 4 crewmates, 5 gold coins, 1 commercial letter, 10 victory cubes (8 in a 4-player game) and 4 cannons of which one is already mounted on your ship. You’ll have piles of the 5 different types of goods, coins, commercial letters and the pirate captains in easy reach of the players. The different goods and captains are stored in a separate insert which you can take out. In the center of the table you place the board with its contracts and ports printed on them. At the bottom of each port you create a sea tile stack of 8 tiles that includes the port’s tile and 7 random tiles and place them face down.
A player’s turn consist of three phases of which the first one is money for the poor. If you don’t have any gold at the start of this phase you get one gold or even two gold if you have a Treasurer.
The second phase is the main part of this game, going on trading voyages. This starts by choosing to which port you’re going to sail and revealing tiles from the adjacent stack. The amount of tiles you can reveal depends on your sail. This starts at 4 and can reach 6. You can keep on revealing tiles until you have reached your sailing limit, you have performed two actions or the pirates have stopped you. After revealing a tile you have to choose immediately if you want to perform the action depicted on the tile or not if possible. The different types of tiles are trading ports, equipment ports, merchant ships, port of destination, shipwreck and fog.
The trading ports give you the option to buy or sell a certain type of good up to two times. The merchant ships on the other hand let you buy or sell any type of good but only once. Your cargo can hold up to six goods and may have no more than two of the same type. When you encounter an equipment port you can buy one upgrade or crewman for your ship. The upgrades are an extra cannon or an upgrade to your sail. The different crewman available are a Sailor. This crewmate lets you trade twice with the merchant instead of only once. The Bookkeeper gives you an extra coin whenever you sell one or two goods. The blue pips come available on the cannon dice when you have a Cannoneer. The Treasurer gives you one extra coin during the money of the poor if applicable. Last we have the Lookout who sits in the crow’s nest. Before you start sailing, he gives you the option to look at the top tile of a stack and put it on the bottom. When the current player chooses one of these three actions, the other players have the option to use one of their commercial letters to do the same action depicted on the tile.
The shipwreck tile simply gives you 2 coins when you take its action. When you reach the port of destination you are able to deliver the requirements for the next contract in line. They need to be fulfilled in ascending order and you can only fulfil one contract per turn. If you are the sole player who has the most contracts fulfilled on a port you can also place a victory cube on the port itself. This may be removed or changed when the situation changes. If you are able to complete a contract for the three different ports you can place an extra victory cube. When you have bought all four crewmates you can also place a victory cube.
The last tiles you can encounter are the mist tiles. When this happens you roll the event die and see what happens. It can be that you find a hidden treasure (1 coin) or some pirates ranging from strength one to three. You can bribe these pirates by paying one coin and sail on or try to capture the captain. When capturing the captain you need to roll the cannon die equal to the number of cannons on your ship. You need to gather a number of pips equal to or higher than the strength of the pirates. If you succeed you get a pirate captain to put in your prison but when you fail you immediately stop with sailing.
If it turns out that you did not perform two actions at the end of your trading voyages phase, you get a commercial letter if able. You can only have a maximum of two commercial letters.
In the third phase you take all the tiles of the port you just visited and give them a shuffle. This continues until one player has placed all its victory cubes at which he is declared the winner.
First off the visual design of this game is great. The ships in front of the players are stunning and practical since there is a place to hold everything. The artwork on the tiles and the board fit the theme wonderfully. The game itself is a typical euro, nothing special to the mechanics but it works like a charm. You can tell it is a Klaus Teuber design because it uses some of the mechanics used in Starship Catan for instance. The game certainly has an aspect of memory to it. In the beginning you will have no clue what to expect when sailing to a certain port but after a few turns you will now what you might be able to find in a certain stack. But even if you know where everything is, it could happen that you don’t come across the tile you are looking for. This can be mitigated by upgrading your sail and buying a Lookout. Money is very important in this game. You will find yourself regularly buying goods at a cheap price and reselling them for a higher price. I love it that when you encounter a Mist tile that you have to roll a die to see what happens. Sometimes you will curse those bloody pirates. I also really like the commercial letters. This gives the current player something to think about when wanting to perform an action because then he gives the opportunity to the other player’s to perform the same action. Unfortunately like in most euros there’s no direct interaction between the players. The only thing that can happen is that you complete a contract right before an opponent meant to complete the same contract. All in all it is a fun game that is easy to play, is visually appealing and is a really fun experience.
Play with honor