If you found yourself and a friend in a tomb during a terrible snowstorm with very little food and no easy way out, would you keep your sanity finding a way out or would you give into the darkness within you to survive? 


Maeshowe Cover

Maeshowe: an Orkney Saga (2021)
Designer(s) Lee G. Broderick Artist(s) Matthias Catrein, Lars Munck Publisher

Dragon Dawn Productions

1-2 12+ 15-30m

The inspiration for this game came from the Orkneyinga saga; it appears this story comes specifically from Chapter 93 that contains the following bit of text I found on orkneyjar.com

"On the thirteenth day of Christmas they travelled on foot over to Firth. During a snowstorm they took shelter in Maeshowe and two of them (his men) went insane which slowed them down badly so that by the time they reached Firth it was night time."

This is essentially what leads to the story for Maeshowe. The players are controlling the Jarl(s) from the story as they find themselves stuck in a tomb after seeking shelter within. The players are trying to play the correct cards in order to dig their way out before their bodies or sanity give out. It is a really interesting and dark theme for sure, but it works very well. 

Box and Components Maeshowe 002

The game comes in a fairly thin box that has the imagery of someone stuck in a tomb on the front of the box. The back of the box is pretty simple with only 2 paragraphs and a few pictures; so, it is pretty basic but gets the job done. The insert is a typical 4 section cardboard divider to get the cards and tokens in place. The box is sized well for the components within and won't take up more of your shelf space than it needs. The box is nothing too special, but that is fine as long as the rest of the components and the game play is good (which they are).  

The game includes the following components:

  • 1 Double-Sided Game Board - One side is for solo play, and the other side for two players. There are spaces on the board for each of the tokens and is used to tracked the current health, food, and passages remaining. 
  • 54 Game Cards - 36 of the cards are the base game cards while the remaining 18 were three 6-card expansions unlocked during the Kickstarter campaign. Each card has artwork that represent the dread the people trapped in the tomb must be feeling as they weigh their choices. Each card has 3 sets of icons that represent their rune (upper corners), the actions when the card is played to the row (icons beside the card with the green arrow), and the actions when the card is discarded (icons beside the card with the red X). The icons and each card are covered in detail in the rulebook. 
  • 8 Wooden Heart Tokens - There are four red hearts and four blue hearts; a set for each player. These are for tracking the players health. 
  • 4 Wood Food Tokens - Food is important for both your survival and sanity; a card will allow you to convert food into health so be sure to keep your food safe. 
  • 1 Wooden Jarl Token - This is primarily used during two-player games and allows for the player who has the token to pass on their turn instead of playing a card (more on that in the variant explanation). 
  • 7 Passage Tokens - These card board tokens represent the thick walls you must dig through to escape the tomb. 
  • 4 Rulebooks - Each rulebook is in different languages: English, German, Italian, and French.

The cards certainly get the point across that the players should be feeling dread for the situation they find themselves in and the tough decisions they may need to make to survive. While in the base game cards there is not a lot of variety in terms of the cards, that is literally part of the game since players must deal with limited options often needing to decide between digging their way out or trying to keep their health up. I have played this game probably 20+ times, and a lot of tough decisions were made each game often resulting in death. Also, the cards have a nice linen finish that feels and looks great!

The expansions are also a great addition for adding that additional variety though they may push you further into madness...

The tokens are all pretty simple and do the job perfectly fine. The design of the Jarl token is very nice with it illustrated some sort of animal I actually can't identify. 

The four rulebooks are definitely great to see. Since the only text in the game is in the rulebook, this is a simple way to make the game easy to provide in different countries without needing unique copies for each country. They even provide additional digital rules for Spanish, Polish, Mandarin, and Dutch. The actual rules for solo play are on 2 1/2 pages while the two-player variant adds an additional page. The rest of the rules are lore/story for the game and card/icon explanations. The game is actually pretty simple in terms of what the player must do on their turn. 

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I will focus on the solo play mechanics initially and will explain the differences for Co-op in the variant section below.  Additionally, I will only focus on the core game cards. 


  1. Take the gameboard and flip it to the side with one health track.
  2. Place the four wooden heart tokens and ONE food token on their respective spaces. 
  3. Place 3-5 of the passage token on the spaces provided on the bottom of the game board from left to right. Less passages make the game easier while more make it much more difficult. I would suggest using three for your first game while you learn the mechanics. The rest of the passage tokens can be put back in the box as they will not be used this game. 
  4. Shuffle the core cards together and place them facedown beside the game board. 
  5. Draw five cards. 

You are ready to begin!

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Player Turn

There are three simple steps to a players turn (each must be performed). Play one card and discard one card (either order) and end the turn by drawing back up to 5 cards (if possible). 

  • Discard a Card: When you discard a card, perform the action shown beside the icon with the card and red X. Not all cards have a discard action. Essentially, you will look at the icons do the actions they indicate (description in the book and icons on the back of the rulebook). 
  • Play a Card: Similar to Discarding a card, you will play a card to the card row and perform the actions shown beside the icon with the card and green arrow.
    • If you have "played" four Excavate Passage cards in a row, you remove a passage token. If all four Excavate Passage cards have the same rune icon, you remove an additional passage token. After this is done, I usually take all of the played cards in the row and create their own pile (not to be confused with the "Discard Pile). You must play a new set of four Excavate Passage cards in a row to dig further out of the tomb. 
  • Draw back up to five cards. Once you have done this, look at the rune symbols in the upper corner of the cards in your hand; if you have matching symbols on all five cards, you go mad! If you have less than five cards due to the draw pile running out, you can't go mad with less than five cards in your hand.  
    • Going Mad! You will discard your entire hand of cards and shuffle all discarded cards (your hand and the existing discard pile) into the deck and then draw a new hand of cards (this new hand cannot cause you to go mad again this turn). Lose one of your health permanently returning the token to the box; the remove health token must be one currently on the board and not a token that was lost earlier (essentially, you lose one current health permanently reducing your maximum health).

Repeat this process until the end game is triggered. 

End Game

If you are able to successfully dig your way out of the tomb by removing all of the passage tokens, you win immediately!

If you run out of health or run out of cards and are unable to perform both card actions on your turn, you have died in this tomb that has become your own. 


Co-Op Mode

 The players must work together to escape the tomb before either player dies. The game setup is only slightly different than solo mode. 

  • Use the two-player side of the game board with two health tracks. 
  • Each player place 3 of the health tokens on the game board; the fourth token will be placed beside the board and can be healed via certain cards. 
  • Place 4-7 of the passage token on the spaces provided on the bottom of the game board from left to right. Less passages make the game easier while more make it much more difficult.
  • Each player has their own "Discard Pile" but play cards to a shared row. 
  • One player receives the Jarl token. The player with the Jarl token can opt to pass their turn skipping their entire turn. The Jarl token is pass to the other player; this player may not immediately use the Jarl token on this turn. 
  • End Game is the same, but if either player is unable to play and discard a card OR if either player loses their last health, the players lose.  

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Expansion Cards

There are three 6-card expansion packs; players can opt to shuffle any expansion into their deck at the beginning of the game. Each expansion pack has their own modifications to game setup. These expansions can be used in both Solo and Co-op mode.  The three expansions are: 

  • Crumble/Conservation
  • Gluttony/ Garner
  • Hope/Horror

Each expansion has their unique twist and a slight change they make to the game setup. They are certainly interesting and a unique twist after you have played the base game quite a few times. 

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Co-Op Fear of the Dark Mode

The game plays with the same setup as the co-op mode or co-op with expansion cards except the Jarl token is not used so place it back into the box. In this mode, players are unable to communicate. Instead of passing as normal, players may pass during their "discard card" action (must still "play a card"). When they pass for their Discard a Card action, they pass a single card from their hand to the other player. The other player must immediately discard one card from their hand to get back down to five cards (this can be the card they just received as well). That player then takes their turn as normal. 

Final Thoughts

No doubt about it; this games theme is certainly grim. However, it is a very fun strategic game that is straight forward for anyone to learn. I first played this on a digital platform and found myself playing it over and over. I lost a lot of games, but overtime, I started finding way to mitigate some of the luck of drawing from the deck and really enjoyed it. To me, this makes a great solo game that just happens to have a functional co-op mode included. I love that they have three expansions within the game to allow for more variety without drastically changing the way the game is played. I certainly know many non-English speakers will appreciate the variety of language options provided not only in the box but also online (under Downloads).  

If this sounds like a game you would enjoy, I encourage you to check out the Dragon Dawn Productions website order yourself a copy or check with your FLGS to see if they can get it in. You can even sample the game before buying it via their Tabletopia version

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Maeshowe: an Orkney Saga Board Game Geek Page

Publisher Product Page

Maeshowe Tabletopia Link


We received the product in order to write an honest review; all reviews reflect the honest opinions of the writer.