Dale Yu: Review of Metro X

  • Designer: Hisashi Hayashi
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Players: 1-6
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Gamewright

I just received a box of games from Gamewright, and I’ll admit that I am very impressed with their newest selection of games.  In the past, I had always thought of Gamewright as more of a family-oriented company (Slamwich, etc) – but this year’s selection of games looks to be turning a new corner.  Sure, the games are still perfectly suited for families, but two of the three games come from distinguished designers in the genre.  These games are the sort that I’d be happy to pull out when I have non-gamer guests over, but they also have the pedigree behind them to work for the usual gamenight.

The original version of Metro X came out in 2018, in a Japanese-only production, and while I was pretty interested in it at the time (seeing as that was the height of the XXX-and-write craze), import costs and a bit of ennui kept me from getting a copy.  The designer is one of my favorites – Yokohoma, Trains, String Railway, Sail to India, Okey Dokey, Rolling Japan, and Minerva all have gotten good play here in the past.

Gamewright has snatched up this title and made a new production for the US market.  In the game, there are 6 double sided player boards and markers – each player gets their own set, and there is a deck of 15 Transit cards which is shuffled.  The player board gives you a map of a city’s subway system (I prefer Tube Town myself) – with multiple different lines represented on the map.  The lines all start at the subway car of matching color, and then the line winds its way through the city, crossing multiple other lines in the process to its terminal space, which is helpfully outlined in the color of that line. There is a reminder of the scoring for each line next to the starting car – points for being the first player to finish a line in the game as well as points for finishing it later.

In each round, a card is flipped up from the deck and all players use this same card.   Players each choose a line on their board they wish to extend, and then they write the number (or an X) in an empty window in the train car at the start of the line.  If they cannot write anything down, they can’t use that particular line any more!  If you have finished a line as a result of your turn, be sure to announce it.  Take the higher score for the line if you are first or tied for first to finish a line; take the lower score otherwise.

There are four different types of cards

Number – write the number in an empty train window, then go down the line to the first empty station from the start and mark down adjacent spaces with an X until you either mark a number of stations equal to the number on the card, come to the end of the line or encounter a space which had already been marked.  If you draw a number card that says Re-shuffle, gather up all the cards after this turn to refresh the deck

Skip – these work just like Number cards with the exception that you are allowed to skip previously crossed off stations on that line – you do not have to stop crossing things off when you encounter a filled in station

Transfer – Write an X in a car window and then find the first empty station on that line and fill it with a number equal to twice the number of train lines that use that station.  This number will be converted to victory points at game end

Free – this is the only card where you do not mark something down in a train car window.  Instead, you simply cross off any space on any line on your board, no restrictions

So after all players have seen the card, chosen where they want to play/write and are done, the current card is discarded and the next one is drawn.  Remember, if the shuffle card comes up, reconstitute the whole deck before drawing again.  The game continues until the round where all of the train cards are filled up (this should happen at the same time for all players).  The players now score their boards.

  • Completion bonuses – sum up your scores for all completed lines
  • Transfers – sum up all of your transfer scores (numbers written in stations)
  • Penalties for empty spaces – use the chart on the back of the player aid

The player with the most points wins.  Ties go to the player with fewer empty stations.

My thoughts on the game

Wow – I’m sad that I had missed out on this game for the past two years.  I have had it in my office this week, and I’ve managed to get in a game or two each day at lunch.  It’s a really interesting puzzle – and as it is really simultaneous solitaire – the game doesn’t change whether you are playing with 1 or 100.  Well, that’s not entirely true – there is a bit of a race with multiple players as you can score better for lines if you finish them first…  In the solo game, you’re simply trying to score the best you can and improve upon your best score.

But the basic mechanics are really the same whether you play solo or multiplayer, and it’s a fun puzzle to try to crack.  Flip over a card, try to find the best place for it, look at the different lines to make sure that you have left your options open for the next card, then cross your fingers and hope the next card works for you.

There is a certain art to being able to maximize the cards.  The normal restriction of the number cards means that you’d like to keep a few lines full from the start so that you are able to use a big number when it comes up (and not have to stop prematurely).  You also have to ration out the different lines as they only have 2 to 3 (Metro City) or 2 to 4 (Tube Town) spaces in their train cars.  You will only have a limited number of chances to advance each particular line, so don’t squander them.  It is important to remember that while you will use every window in every train car, it is quite unlikely that you’ll finish all of the lines.  As the game progresses, you’ll have to figure out which lines you are going to give up on, and use movement on those lines to simply advance yourself on the lines that you intend to finish.  For me, I often make this decision based on the colors that it looks like other players are working on themselves – if someone is nearly done with a line, I might back off on it as I know that I have little chance of taking the higher first-to-finish bonus, and I may try to turn my attentions to a different line to try to improve my scoring potential.

There are two different boards in the game, and this helps to add to the variety.  The layouts of the train lines are quite different, and you have to learn how to deal with the tricky spots on each board.  Metro City has a couple of spaces that are great for transfers (having 4 or 5 lines in a single space) – but it is quite hard to get the lines up to that point and then being able to be patient to wait out for a transfer card.  Tube Town has less crowded junctions, but the lines here go in different directions which leads to a lot of internal blocking of lines – you really need to plan carefully here to make sure that you can use the drawn cards to their fullest.  (The lines in Metro City pretty much all go left to right…)

I have always been a fan of any game with a rail or road network, and I’m happy to say that this one hits my sweet spots.  It’s fast to play (well, usually fast – there is a definite possibility for some AP here), and I like the challenge of trying to figure out how to navigate through the twisted jumble of lines.  The artwork is clean, and fairly reminiscent of modern subway maps.  I also note that it is colorblind friendly as each particular line has a textured inset within the line that helps distinguish it from its neighbors.  Heck, with 9 lines on each board, even though I’m not colorblind, I sometimes need to use the patterns to make sure that I’m continuing the correct line at times!  The cards are a little thin, but this doesn’t matter much to me – they’re not really handled much, so they should hold up just fine.

Metro X is a great game that clearly deserves a release here.  It honestly might be a bit complex for the typical American family, but I’m excited to see that a company is taking a chance on bringing this to the market.  On the whole, it’s still a simple game to learn, though the strategy in it is a clear step beyond Operation and Candyland.  For my own purposes, it might be a smidge too complicated to serve as a gateway game in this genre, but that also means that it’s a much better fit for my usual game group to play.  I’ll gladly toot my horn for this “rail-and-write” game.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (1 play of the Gamewright edition, many of the original): I like the original version of this game a lot – I think it’s one of the better roll/flip-and-write games out there, as it has interesting constraints, a somewhat different feel from most other games in the space, and is still very straightforward as opposed to having tons of different kinds of spaces and bonuses and such.

The Gamewright edition is a nice production, and I do like having dry-erase boards in a game instead of paper sheets. However, Gamewright removed five cards from the original deck. This doesn’t change the basic character of the game but it does make it easier to complete lines and avoid a high empty-space penalty. I think this is a fine change for Gamewright’s mass-market audience but gamers playing this as a filler may find it a bit dull after a while if they don’t find a way to add the missing cards.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y, Dan Blum (original)
  • I like it. James Nathan, John P, Dan Blum (Gamewright)
  • Neutral. Talia Rosen
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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