Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries is a snowy themed train game from Days of Wonder and Alan R Moon. The map covers Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland to create what is almost a Christmassy feeling of a map. The game features the same hand management and card drafting the franchise is known and loved for: yet, features a few tweaks and changes to separate it from the original formula.
Sat in front of players is a huge board adorned by a beautiful map of the Nordic region. Dotted across the map are the locations of the bigger cities: from Copenhagen (Denmark) at the bottom to Honningsvag (Norway) at the top of the map. Cities are linked by colourful train routes ready for players to claim. At the start of the game players receive five destination cards. These have unique train routes that show two cities players need to link up, during the game, to score bonus points. Only two of these five destination tickets need to be kept. Often discarding some is a good idea as failing to complete these destination routes loses you the same number of points completing it would have earnt you.
Before the game kicks off players will also receive their first four train cards. These are split into two types single colour carriages and rainbow locomotives, sometimes referred to as wild cards. Players will be using sets of these cards to claim routes. For example, the route between Oslo and Gothenburg is two in length and orange in colour. Player would have to spend two orange carriage cards from their hand, on a single turn, to claim the route.
Claiming a route is one of the three potential actions players can do on a turn. While it helps to complete the long board spanning routes on destination cards these individual routes also score points based on the number of carriages used. It isn’t a flat one carriage one-point return so claiming longer routes is more beneficial. The most common action to take on a turn is to pick up train cards. This is where one change from the normal rules occurs as players can pick up any two train cards from five face-up train cards or off the top of the draw pile, regardless of if locomotives are chosen.
The third action is to pick up new destination cards. This will see the player take the top three destination cards. In a similar way to the start of the game, players only need to keep one of these but can keep two, or all three, if they so wish. Sometimes players can draw cards for routes they have already completed. More likely, in Nordic Countries, is that part of the route is already blocked off by another player. Routes taken between the two destination cities don’t have to be a direct journey though. You’ll commonly find yourself having to claim wiggling routes around bits already claimed by others.
Once a player gets down to their final two train carriages, or lower, everyone gets one more turn. This can mean players get caught short when building longer routes, so pay attention to the pool of train carriages in front of your opponents. After everyone’s final turn it is time to score. Players now reveal all their destination cards, whether they have been successfully completed or not. Points are awarded for completed destinations and subtracted for incomplete destination tickets. Finally, a Globetrotter bonus is awarded to whomever has completed the most destination cards. After this whomever has the most points wins!
One of the most notable design features is that Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries is only for 2 – 3 players, rather than up to the usual five. Almost as a result of this the game sits in a weird position within the Ticket to Ride family. It certainly isn’t just an expansion coming with train carriages; not including just the Nordic map. Yet, it isn’t quite a brand-new base game either. One thing I can confirm is that it is a full standalone game. There is no need to own any other Ticket to Ride title to be able to play. The reasoning behind calling this a halfway house is that it only comes with three sets of coloured trains: Black, White and the most popular colour so far, Purple.
With its own trains and a maximum player count of 3 this game is ready to be played. The only issue would come if you in the future want to build your Ticket to Ride collection using Nordic Countries as a base. To give credit to Days of Wonder this game requires only 40 trains of each colour to play, yet 45 trains of each colour are included so the sets of colours can be used with any other Ticket to Ride variants. It does mean though that the map packs would be limited to three players via the amount of coloured carriage sets in the Nordic Countries box, rather than their own rules.
Despite being in Europe the Nordic region isn’t somewhere I know like the back of my hand, nor have many gamers I’ve played with. Key to the flow of the game is the design of the destination cards. These give an indication of where the destination cities, that need to be linked up, are of the board. These cards are clear and concise so you don’t have to spend 5 minutes perusing the map, staring at sections to find the correct city. This is key to stop other players accidentally or on purpose determining where your destination tickets want you to link up. If they do find out blocking opportunities open up and in Nordic Countries the amount of blocking is already pretty high.
What will undoubtedly capture the hearts of many gamers is the snowy theme that encompasses the entirety of Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries. It is rather refreshing to see such a visually distinctive map adorn the board of the famous franchise. The same snowy, almost Christmassy theme extends onto the train cards. The carriages are lightly dusted on top with snow just cementing the consistent theme throughout. There is even a potential Father Christmas and reindeer combination on the box, back of the train cards and board. Despite being snow and ice it is kind of a warming, fun and happy theme that lives up to the family friendly nature of the series.
The Nordic map feels like it is split in half train-placement-wise. Around the edges there are some nicer, flowing, long routes to claim whilst there is a harsher block-fest of a centre. Even those whom aim to go for the higher scoring routes, will before long be dragged by their destination cards into the devilish lower middle of the board. Here, blocking is common place whether players mean it or not, as a lot of routes overlap. Never have I seen such aggressive blocking be done in a Ticket to Ride game by player actively going for their own objectives. This interweaving section of routes drives this confrontation that sets the game up to be a highly competitive experience.
The biggest change to the normal rules has to be the inability to use the locomotive cards as wild cards. In Nordic Countries locomotives can only be used for tunnels or ferry routes, which like in Ticket to Ride Europe require a certain number of locomotives. I’m split on the change as while it makes getting the right set of colour train cards more important it may confuse new players going onto future versions of the game. It does make the super 9 train route which scores a colossal 27 points that bit harder but then an additional rule is incorporated, trading in sets of 4 same coloured cards to equal one card of the colour you need. Personally, I found going back to using locomotives as wilds that bit more natural. Though, the Ticket to Ride variants are supposed to shake things up a bit.
If you regularly game with more than 3 you may find it hard to get the game to the table. It is also a shame it cannot be used to fully play the other map packs, due the only including the necessary three sets of train carriages. This being said, Nordic Countries is incredibly fun to play. For a couple this could be the ideal Ticket to Ride game to pick up, if you don’t mind the competitiveness it generates. Expect some destination tickets to be left incomplete more so than any other Ticket to Ride game. The design of the map forces confrontation from the very beginning and really ramps up the competitiveness. So, those whom like to play “nice” beware of this aspect. Whether the man and reindeer combination is Santa Claus and Rudolf I’ll leave up to your imagination. Let’s just say Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries will definitely be hitting my gaming table over the holiday period, and many times before then too!
[Editor’s Note: Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was provided to us by Esdevium Games for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £29.39. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]