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 10 Fragen an Shem Phillips


shem .jpeg

Shem Phillips



Räuber der Nordsee


Architekten des Westfrankenreichs


Paladine des Westfrankenreichs

Hi Shem!

Thank you for your time!

Tell us a little bit about you. When did you start to play board games and what fascinates you about board games?

I having been playing games as long as I can remember. I grew up playing Clue, Scrabble, Monopoly and various card games with my family. However, it wasn't until my early twenties that I discovered modern board games. A friend of mine introduced me to "Settlers of Catan" one Sunday afternoon. That week I rushed down to our local toy store and bought "Carcassonne" and Family Business, based solely on the box covers. We played these games every day, twice a day for months on end. I soon discovered a local board game convention in Wellington, which helped me to meet other people in the hobby and play more games. WellyCon is now New Zealand's largest board game convention.

What I love about board games is the mix of social interaction, art and logical thinking. There's something for everyone as well. Not everyone will enjoy a heavy euro, but perhaps they might like a social deduction game. 

What lead you to develop board games?

I'm a creative person by nature. I have played and recorded music in a number of bands over the years. I use to build websites and design t-shirts as well. Designing games is just another way for me to express that creativity.

One of your most popular board games is “Räuber der Nordsee”. What can you tell us about the development time?

"Raiders", or "Räuber", took around nine months to develop. After the successful Kickstarter campaign for the first game in the Viking Trilogy (Shipwrights), I started brainstorming ideas for a sequel. I knew it needed to be themed around raiding nearby settlements. However, it took some time to establish working mechanisms for the game. I went through close to ten different ideas before landing on what eventually grew into the game we have today. I knew I wanted players to have crew members that they could hire and lose in battle. I was also keen to use worker placement as a core mechanism. However, I wanted to bring something fresh to the genre. It was late at night, lying awake that I thought up the “place a worker, take a worker” mechanism.

 With “Räuber der Nordsee” you were nominated for the “Kennerspiel 2017”. Were you surprised when you heard that your game was nominated?

Yes, I was very surpised! My German publishing partner, Carsten of "Schwerkraft-Verlag", had told me he was putting it forward for nomination, but I never expected it to even be considered. Then one night I quickly checked Twitter to find hundreds of notifications – people congratulating me on the nomination. It has been a massive boost to my career as a game designer.

Many expansions for “Räuber der Nordsee” have already been published. How do they improve the basic game?

The two main expansions are “Hall of Heroes” and “Fields of Fame.” There is also a separate solo variant and various promos available.


"Hall of Heroes" focuses on allowing players to acquire plunder from a source other than raiding. This is done by introducing Quests. These are tiles that are placed onto raiding spaces once the plunder has been taken. Quests require players to discard a certain amount of strength from their hand and reward points, plunder and other resources. This expansion also introduces Mead as a new resource. Mead can be spent in battle to temporarily boost players' military strength.


"Fields of Fame" focuses on adding more feel and flavour to raiding. This is done by the introduction of Jarls. During setup, twelve Jarl Tokens are mixed in with the plunder and distributed across the board. When players encounter a Jarl, they must either Kill, Subdue or Flee. Killing brings fame, but will cause players to wound their crew. Subduing also brings wounds, but allows players to recruit the enemy Jarl into their own crew and score points for certain areas at the game end. Fleeing Jarls is never ideal, as it costs either fame or points. Fame is recorded on a new track, similar to Armour and Valkyrie. Players can also gain Fame in battle if their strength far exceeds that which was required.

How did the contact with the publisher “Schwerkraft Verlag” come about?

Carsten had reached out to me quite early on about publishing "Raiders". This was well before the Kennerspiel nomination. At the time I had only been providing translated rulebooks for my games online. So the idea of having another publisher release my game in a different language was very exciting. "Schwerkraft" have been an absolute joy to work with and I look forward to a long relationship creating more games with them in the future.

 Recently your boardgame “Architekten des Westfrankenreichs” was released. What makes the game so special?

"Architects", or "Architekten" is another twist on worker placement. In this game each player starts with twenty workers in their chosen colour. On their turns, players simply place one worker on the board and take its action. For example, if they place one worker at the quarry, they will gain one stone. However, on a later turn, if they were to place a second worker at the quarry, they would gain two stone. And then three stone for their third worker, and so on. This allows players to create small resource-gathering engines on the main board. However, to prevent players to getting too greedy, there is a location on the board that allows players to capture workers from the board. Captured workers are held on players' boards until they decide to send them to prison in exchange for money. The good news to the imprisoned player's workers, is that it is a free action to release them. This is the primary way of getting workers back in the game.

The game also features a virtue track, which adds a lot of theme and flavour to the game. Players can be good and score a lot of points, or they can be evil and skimp on paying their taxes. The main objective of the game is to collect resources to construct buildings and the King's cathedral. However, it's the worker investment, capturing and virtue track that help the game to stand apart as a unique gaming experience.

How would you describe your designer style with three words?

Streamlined, approachable, depth.

What are your plans for 2019?

This year we started out by Kickstarting the first game in a new line of sci-fi games, "Circadians: First Light". This is live on Kickstarter until the 30th of January. This first game was designed by Sam Macdonald, who co-designer Architects with me. Sam and I are also launching the sequel to Architects, Paladins of the West Kingdom. This will be on Kickstarter in March. We have some other projects planned for the second half of the year, but this is still in development.

Who is your favorite german game designer and why?

That's a great question. I actually don't often know where each designer is from. After a little research on Board Game Geek, I would have to say Stefan Feld. What I like, is that he has a very distinctive style. When playing his games, you know that it's one of his games, simply from the style of play. I hope people feel the same way with my designs. He also does a great job of providing multiple paths to victory in his games and interesting decisions to make each turn.

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