Guest Review : Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries

Ticket to Ride : Nordic Countries box cover
Ticket to Ride : Nordic Countries box cover

Ticket to Ride hardly needs an introduction. The family strategy board game has won numerous awards around the world, including by far the most important, the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year in Germany), and is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of families all over the world. As is natural for a game that has had so much success, a number of spin-offs have been published to offer long-time fans greater variety.

Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries is a stand-alone game specifically designed for two or three players only, and due to its focus, is better than the original game for those numbers. The game introduces several new concepts and challenges to overcome.

In all variations of Ticket to Ride, the goal is to score the most points by claiming train routes on the board and completing secret objectives assigned at the beginning of the game. The board depicts a map showing dozens of cities, and routes connecting nearby cities to each other. Players are given several goals each to join two
non-adjacent cities on the board via a connected network of train routes; bonus points can be scored at the end if successful, while those points are subtracted if not. This is an element of risk if the player chooses to obtain additional goals during the game.

Players can connect adjacent cities by playing train cards. There are eight colours of cards, plus a wild (depicted as a locomotive), and a route will typically require a number of a specific colour of train card in order to claim it. Most player turns consist of drawing face-up cards (or blind from the draw deck) or playing these cards to claim routes. Once claimed, a route cannot be connected by another player — which can cause frustration for those who hoped to make that same connection!

There are two ways to play Ticket to Ride. Many families will concentrate on their own secret goals and only claim the routes they need; if such claims cause problems for other players, this is accidental. However, some people who are more competitive and confrontational may deliberately claim a route they do not need if they believe another player will need it. The game works great either way, but to avoid frustration for casual players, I recommend discussion and agreement before the game on what sort of experience you wish to have.

The game is however very simple and is otherwise very, very suitable for families. While the original game is excellent for four or five players, a lot of the challenge comes from the crowded board and the interference (accidental or otherwise) caused by other players, so the game loses something when played with fewer participants. Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries is an alternative experience for those who wish to have a more challenging Ticket to Ride experience with smaller player numbers.

The Nordic Countries board depicts cities in northern Europe, in the countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The experience is similar to the original game, but introduces some additional challenges:

  • Wild cards can only be used on special routes, of which there are two types: tunnels and ferries. One can now not play these on regular routes.
  • Tunnels are special routes that may need more cards than required for a normal route. A player declares her attempt to build a tunnel of a colour, then draws three cards blind from the draw pile. For every card of the same colour (or wilds), the player must play additional cards (or wilds) from her hand beyond the original cost. If she is unable to, her turn is forfeit, though she can try again on a later turn.
  • Ferries are special routes. For each locomotive depicted on the route, the player claiming the route must play a locomotive (wild) card. For each of the remaining spaces, the player must play either a matching colour card, or a wild card, or any three cards.
  • Many of the more valuable secret-goal cards require building into the far north, where the few connecting routes are more difficult special routes.

The game is very recognizable as Ticket to Ride, but the additions give it its own character. The special routes are more difficult to claim, certainly, but because of the change that wild cards are not usable for most routes, now even the basic routes are tougher to complete. If you wish to complete a basic orange route, for example, you absolutely need orange cards, and woe to you if you need this route and are unable to draw any. It actually gives an advantage to card counters — to have an idea of how many orange cards have already been drawn and so to know whether more will be easy to find.

The western coast of Norway and the extreme north of the map are simply brutal to work in. It would be a challenge for one player to work in this area, but if two are competing there to complete their goals, one or both are going to lose many points at the end. Because of this, Nordic Countries is a very unforgiving game, and final scores between players can differ wildly.

Compared to the original, Nordic Countries has rules exceptions which are difficult to teach and remember. You can only use wild cards on tunnels and ferries, but any three cards will also work as a wild — but only for ferries. Wilds cannot be used for basic routes, except for one particularly long route, but here (and only here) you can substitute four cards as a wild, not the three as with the ferries. This is not a game one should teach new players — for that you should stick with the original game.

For experienced “Riders”, though, the restrictions make the game more tense and cutthroat, and for like-minded players, this is very welcome. The original game is one I will happily pull out for new and casual gamers, but Nordic Countries is my preferred choice for small groups already familiar with the game. The increased difficulty makes the game more engaging and adds many important decisions to consider.

Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries is not a game for casual players new to the Ticket To Ride series. For hobbyists, experienced Ticket to Ride players looking for a greater challenge, and those wanting a better experience than the original for two or three players, however, this is a game I can safely recommend. It is a great way to play Ticket to Ride in an all new way.