Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Metro - getting into a tangle underground


Ever arrived in a foreign city, decided to go down into the underground to get from A to B, taken one look at the map and decided: “Er, maybe not”? If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, you will know what I mean. Paris by contrast is less of a challenge. Metro is a boardgame inspired by the confused tangle of major metropolitan subway/underground systems, particularly the French capital. I played it recently – twice – at a friend’s house and was favourably impressed. Let me explain why.

Metro gives each player a number of stations at the beginning of the game, named I believe after real Paris subway stations. These are arranged around the edges of the board. In the centre is a little island, of which more later. The rest of the board is blank. The object of the game is to build the longest – and by definition most convoluted – underground lines.

Each station has an outgoing and incoming platform. Players control the outgoing platform in their station, and lay tiles connecting this eventually to any incoming platform in another station (it doesn’t matter who controls it). The square tiles are very reminiscent of Carcassonne. Players take turns to draw tiles randomly, just as in Carcassonne, but in Metro each tile has to be aligned in one direction (there is an arrow on the tile which corresponds to an arrow on the board – all pointing the same way).

You have to lay the tiles in an effort to make your lines as long as possible, while restricting those of the opposition. You don’t have to lay tiles to extend your lines if you don’t want to – it is more fun to scotch another player’s ambitions by turning one of his tiles into a station and forcing him to score low.

The stations in the island in the middle of the board are not controlled by any player. BUT, if you can connect one of your home stations to them, you score double points. Obviously, players will strive to do this, while others seek to thwart them.

The great thing about this game is you really have to focus all the time to see how lines are developing. It is not always obvious, as they can suddenly turn unpredictably when other players place tiles. A typical tile will have eight entrance/exit points for lines, so just placing one can have consequence for multiple lines.

This is a very quick and quite addictive game. Even with five players, it took about 45 minutes to complete the second time around, once everyone was familiar with it. The rules are very easy to understand, and you never find yourself sitting there twiddling your thumbs waiting for someone else to move.

You can even try this game for free, as there is a free Java-based variant online which lets you control the number of players and how well they will play against you. Unlike the boardgame, it also helpfully illuminates the lines that have not been completed, making it slightly easier to play.

Metro does not have as many dimensions to it as Carcassonne – you can only score by completing lines. While I have played it, I wouldn’t buy it, largely because it is too similar to Carcassonne, and unlike Carcassonne, it cannot be expanded. But if you find Carcassonne a bit much, and would prefer something quicker and more easily digestible (and you’re fed up with the complexities of the Carcassonne scoring system), then Metro is worth giving a go.

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