Monday, December 9, 2013

JUST GAMING AROUND - Snow = Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries?! (x2)?!

It snowed where I live last Friday. A LOT (at least for us). From 2am to 5pm we got 6 inches of snow! Yea! Well, that's what my kids said. My cats said YIKES! And my wife was happy for the snow, but not happy for wet and freezing kids after playing in it, but was happy I mostly dealt with them and got them cocoa and such.

The following Saturday afternoon and evening turned into a gaming bonus for me! My daughter and I played Morels after she completed her homework. Then, my son and I played Pecking Order (x4) before he went to bed.

Here are Quick Reviews of each...


Take a walk through the forest collecting Mushrooms. Cook them up in your pans for points, or sell them for digging sticks that might help you find more mushrooms. But watch out for the Destroying Angels as they may make you sick for a few turns! Keep a lookout for those Morels - get a proper amount and cook them up for some big points!

I taught this to my wife's friend last week on Thanksgiving. Then, I taught my Dad and my daughter (13). My Dad seemed to enjoy it and proceeded to beat me his first game! My daughter really took to it although she hasn't picked up fully on strategy yet. We've played it several times since then and she's getting better, learning from her mistakes.

The fun in this game is three-fold: 

1) You cannot go over the hand limit. Initially it is 8 but can be expanded by putting baskets into play. The hand limit creates angst in what to pick up - if you get too much variety you can't cook anything up and are stuck with hand of garbage. Focus too much on low point sets and you'll earn few points for a lot of work. There is great hand-management in this game.

2) The timing of what turns up in the forest and the 'decay' is tricky and you can easily miss out on what you need if you aren't careful. This combined with the hand limit are key to getting the timing correct. Also, timing of Destroying Angels can be problematic because they can 'taint' the Decay (cards that pile up and eventually move out of the game, or allow you to get up to 4 cards at once). But they are also useful if you get stuck with garbage in your hand since they allow you to discard when you normally can't - but at a potential high cost.

3) There is enough variety in the card distributions in the deck that every game plays quite differently depending on how the cards come out and what choices the players make. I see myself getting a good amount of mileage from the game (and already have)

The art is fantastic and the gameplay actually feels like you're walking along picking up mushrooms, cooking them up, etc. The gameplay is simple and the fun factor is high as the decisions can be very tough. Once learned it is quick to play and often you desire to play more than one round in a sitting. Love it! Oh, and it just made the Games 100 list as well!


Place your birds on the various platforms and branches such that you earn more points than your opponent and become the top bird! Use bluffing and carefully timed attacks to scare off your opponents birds and steal those points away.

Pecking Order is a Richard Garfield game which never got a lot of attention. This is understandable to a point as the game is very simple and quick. It is the ultimate 2 player filler. My kids and I can play multiple games in 20-30 minutes so it's a fantastic 'quick game before bed' option that isn't boring.

To play, you have a stack of bird 'cards' that number from 1 to 12, plus you have a Jaguar. You mix your deck and draw 1 card and play it, taking turns until all cards have been played. There are branches worth from 1 to 10 points that you can place them on, face down. If you place your bird on the same branch as you opponent, you 'attack' them. They turn theirs over and you state whether you 'won' the battle or not (higher value is better, ties go to the defender). The lowest branch allows you to ALWAYS win ties, the #3 branch lets you peek at one of your opponent's face-down bird, and the there are two '8' point branches when, if you capture both, you get a 3 point bonus. The Jaguar scares off the opponent's bird but he also leaves (you don't earn points for it)

As you can see, the rules are simple but there is some amount of bluffing and deduction going on (you can figure out face-down bird values depending on what battles you lose, what birds you've already seen, etc). It is simple enough that young kids (even 4 or 5) can play and enjoy the theme, but interesting enough to keep you thinking. And it plays so fast its a great 'quick' game before bed, before (or during) a meal, etc. Fun game, definitely enjoy it.

Well, I have one more game to discuss - the one in the title for this post: 

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries

I have not played a game 2p with my wife in a long time. This night I said "I don't suppose you'd like to play a game tonight, would you?" and she, surprisingly, said "Ok, sure!" Funny thing is, I was sure it would be a "No" as usual and didn't have ANY particular game in mind. It was later - 10:30pm - so I knew she didn't want to learn anything new at such a late hour.

I threw out the standbys - Flowerpower, Balloon Cup, Carcassonne, Pirate's Cove (2p variant - we have yet to try it), etc. 

She suggested, "How about Ticket to Ride?" 
"Hmmm, which version?"
"Since its snowing, how about the snow one?"
"Nordic Countries?"
"Ok, let me get the table cleaned off and set it up"

I quickly got it ready and checked the rules (I always have to verify the specifics for each version - which reminds me I keep meaning to make a good summary card that shows all the minor differences in rules between versions)

She sat down, we reviewed and were off!

Image by Camdin on

The first game she got stuck mid-game drawing and drawing blindly to hopefully get a Locomotive (we call them rainbows) for a link she needed to complete a couple of her long routes. Meanwhile, I kept drawing more tickets and placing trains as I always seemed to get the right routes and have the right cards. My routes ran through the middle and then out to the side while hers were along the tougher west coast. 

I think she should have been saving up to complete the 9 card, 37 point link while looking for the rainbows but she hadn't even considered it being focused on her high point routes. This particular game had very little interaction/conflicts between our routes.

She was tired and at first didn't want to play another, then reconsidered after we discussed what happened and offered to play again! Woot!

The second game went much better for her. And, there was more interaction. She started out more quickly and near 3 of my closely clustered endpoints on the south east side, so I was forced to put down some trains and get them connected to ensure I wasn't cut off from Tallinn (which is like Las Vegas on the US map - only one way in and out). 

I then extended out a bit and she immediately jumped on the single ferry in the middle of the board making my easy straight shot to Narvik a problem. I decided to go around on the West coast instead as I had more cards collected for that way than around her, plus they were longer for more points. She then proceeded to draw tickets at least twice more. 

It finally came down to me playing my last trains to end the game or draw randomly for a rainbow to complete a 4 point route. Ultimately, I decided to end it hoping I'd catch her with a missed ticket as well, but she only needed her last play to finish her last route. She ended up with most tickets bonus and the overall win by a wide margin since I neglected drawing more tickets having to deal with the long Western route and few extra trains.

I really like this map - it is very tight but you're also forced to draw more tickets to score enough points to win because so many of the links between cities are very short and not worth a ton of points by themselves. There is also the added risk with the tunnels causing you to plan for and spend more cards to complete the links. I also like that the rainbows/locomotives are very valuable and, at the same time, easy to pick up since you aren't restricted to just picking up one from the display like in most versions. There's enough interesting twists and a sparse, risky map that ratchet up the tension for 2 or 3 players (which is all that it plays)

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