Race to the North Pole is a Finnish game from the new-comers Playmore Games. They gave me a review copy, which is a late prototype of the game: everything looks like it does in the final version, but the materials are slightly different.
The game: Race to the North Pole by Jouni Jussila and Tomi Vainikka, published by Playmore Games in 2015.
Elevator pitch: A race to the North Pole through snow and storm. Rich in luck, but in unexpected places.
What’s in the box? The board is made of two layers. The top layer rotates, and has holes in it, displaying parts of the lower board. Whenever the top layer rotates, the layout of ice cracks on the board changes.
There’s also a deck of cards, bunch of meeples and some cardboard tokens. Everything is well done and functional. The box top art has a funny Don Rosa vibe to it.
What do you do in the game? The goal of the game is simple: you need to get to the North Pole first. Whoever gets their whole team of 2–4 meeples on the North Pole first, wins the game.
On your turn, you choose one of your three cards and use it to move one of your meeples, usually just one step towards the Pole. Sometimes it’s possible to tackle your opponents, sending their meeples back home.
After you move, you check if the cards played so far have enough storm points to trigger a storm. If that happens, the board turns 90° or 180°, depending on which card is on the top of the deck. What’s unusual is that the card hands are kept on the board and they also rotate, so after the storm you’ll have a different set of cards in front of you.
Lucky or skillful? I’d say slightly more skill than luck. Movement, for example, has no random elements. The biggest random element is the cards you have: if you don’t have access to diagonal movement cards, you can’t move diagonally. The storm is somewhat random, but less than you’d expect: you can see how it’s going to move, and sometimes you have a choice whether to trigger it or not.
With four players, the game is a lot more chaotic and tactical. With two players, it’s more controlled.
Abstract or thematic? The theme isn’t very serious, but works quite well. The storms are a fun thematic element in the game.
Solitaire or interactive? Especially with four players, the game is very interactive. Lots of tackling. Fortunately after ten tackles, you can’t tackle anyone anymore, which makes sure the game actually ends at some point.
Players: 2–4. The game works well with the whole scale; which end you’ll enjoy will depend on your tastes. I much prefer two players, but if you don’t mind a bit of chaos in your games, you’ll just might find the four-player game a richer experience.
Who can play? Age recommendation is 7+, which is fine: the rules are kind of complicated, for such a simple game, but with a good explanation, the game isn’t hard to learn. Playing is straightforward, and there’s no hidden information.
Length: 30–60 minutes. Without the tackle limit, the game could drag on and on, but even the four-player game doesn’t really drag, it’s over soon enough.
What’s to like: Funny art; the storm mechanic is really nice; simple, quick race game.
What’s not to like: Too much chaos with four players; not having suitable cards can be frustrating.
My verdict: Not really my cup of tea, this one. I’m not a huge fan of chaotic games, and especially with four players, Race to the North Pole is a chaotic game. With two players, it’s more to my liking, and I can see playing this occasionally with my kids.
The rotating board mechanism is an interesting one, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that used somewhere else. Having the card hands move along with the board is a nice touch.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Race to the North Pole gets Indifferent from me.