BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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Game Review #004: Metro

Metro, designed by Dirk Henn and published by Queen Games in 2000, is a moderately light, moderately quick tile-laying game for 2–6 players. In it each player is charged with building the longest underground train network from their stations at the edge of the board, all the while attempting to thwart the similar ambitions of the their opponents. I received my copy as a gift a few years ago and it recently got table-time in a two-player bout with Peter.

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The game has Queen’s usual high production values, and the board, tiles and stock of wooden ‘railway carriages’ are all top-notch.

The rich artwork attempts to tie its central abstract path-creation mechanism into the building, at the very end of the 19th century, of a very stylized version of the Paris metro system. There are, however, no genuinely thematic aspects of the gameplay, so gamers looking for a broad and deep integration of theme and game will be disappointed.

However, there is a lot to enjoy, if you enjoy, that is, tile-laying puzzlers. The rules are simple. In each turn you start with a tile showing four railway tracks in hand. You may either play this tile to the board, at the edge or alongside an already placed tile, or draw another tile and play that instead. You can't choose to go play your original tile if you choose to draw another, so the game has a nice little ‘push your luck’ element, but allows for some forward planning while it is not your turn.

The aim is to score the most points by creating the most valuable (generally the longest) railway tracks starting at your own stations. The most points are to be gained from the most circuitous routes, since each additional section of track added to your track will earn a point when it is scored (which happens as soon as it terminates at a station). The important thing to realise is that every track will have to score eventually, since there are no dead ends and the game continues until the board is filled. The only real twist in the scoring (and it’s a clever one) is that there are eight stations positioned on the edge of the central 2×2 section of the board, and if your track terminates at one of these it scores double.

Image: The back of the game box shows the beginnings of an imaginary four-player game, and a few example tracks. Sadly, the tracks do not actually light up in the player colours during the game, so players will need a keen eye to trace some of the longer, twistier ones!

Each tile has a red arrow on it, and this corresponds to a primary direction on the board. In the regular game all tiles must be placed so that their arrows align to this cardinal direction. The rules suggest a variant where this restriction does not apply, but I would not recommend this style of play. It will either create too many options for the players, contributing to a longer game, or make it too easy for a player, especially in a two-player game, to play more agressively against his opponent.

With that comment made, it is worth highlighting how very different the game is with two players as compared to any other number. In a two-player game it is always just as advantageous to shorten your opponent’s tracks as it is to lengthen your own, since both actions can have the same relative effect on the score. Not so in a game with more players, since unless you can curtail the progress of all of your opponents with one tile it is most likely better to build your own track.

Hence with two players the game is likely to play out, especially at the beginning, as the opposite of what you might expect a ‘route building’ game to be. Neutralising your opponent, by prematurely terminating and scoring his tracks, may often be the better move. Your playing style may differ, of course, but I would guess that the outcome of a game between two players with opposing playing styles — with one player ‘attacking’ the other’s tracks, while that player peacefully attempts to build them — will only serve to reinforce the well-known natural law: nice guys do indeed finish last.

If, like me, you’re both a puzzler and a tile-game enthusiast Metro is an obvious winner. If you’re neither: move along, there’s nothing to see here! The game is quick to learn, fairly fast moving and the winner can be in doubt right up to the end. The central stations which double the value of any track that terminates there mean there’s always a chance to make a surprise comeback, which is what (I mention in passing) happened in my game with Peter. The final score was a very respectable 112 to me, and 105 to Peter, with my last track tipping the scales at 42 points. A game, then, of pure skill… obviously.

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