- Designer: Ted Alspach
- Publisher: Bezier Games
- Artists: Alanna Kelsey, Ollin Timm
- Players: 1 – 4
- Ages: 14 and Up
- Time: 90 Minutes
- Times Played: > 5 (On Review Copy from Publisher)
In Maglev Metro each player acts as a modern rail tycoon, aiming to build the most efficient transportation system using the latest in clean, efficient levitation rail technology. The game, releasing this month from publisher Bezier Games, is an innovative and engaging mashup of several mechanics that gamers love: engine building (no pun intended), network building, action point allowance, and pickup-and-deliver. I predict this will be a big hit with both rail game enthusiasts and Euro gamers alike.
Designer Ted Alspach started his career with annual releases of Age of Steam maps, and Maglev Metro — which is itself a rail game — feels in many ways like a streamlined mix of that part of his career with his more modern Euro games (Suburbia, Castles of Mad King Ludwig). The game takes about 90 minutes and works well with 1-4 players.
Maglev Metro comes with two maps, Manhattan and Berlin. The Manhattan map is the recommended map for beginners, because it offers the faster game and is the more forgiving setup. Berlin, by contrast, has a slower buildup and requires a bit more planning. Both maps are recessed, which lets the clear track tiles sit nicely on the gameboard.
At the start of the game, each player gets their train, track tiles, and a player board. The player boards are recessed to allow the passengers — which you place as you get them to unlock new gameplay elements and scoring opportunities — to sit in place. The design of the player board doubles as a helpful player aid.
Players also receive a card from each of four different bonus decks, which will give them additional end-of-game scoring opportunities.
To the side of the board is a bag of passengers and rail stations of each color. These will be placed on the board over the course of the game as players expand their networks.
Players may always take one or two actions on their turn. What actions they can take, and what scoring opportunities they have, will depend on where on their player board they place their passengers.
The game has 7 different kinds of passengers, and each of them can go in certain spots on the player board. The three starting colors in the game (steel, gold, copper) represent robots, and the advanced colors (pink, lilac, coral, purple) represent commuters.
Here are the main things you can unlock in the game:
- Extra actions. By filling rows in the “extra actions” area with four passengers, players can earn third, fourth, and fifth actions.
- Unlock Passengers and Build Stations. By placing two passengers, players can earn the ability to place out the stations for the commuter passengers.
- The following all have a pre-printed worker — which means you can do it once per action — but all can be expanded up to four by placing additional passengers.
- Track. How many track pieces you place per action.
- Move. How far you can move your train per action.
- Capacity. How many passengers your train can hold.
- Pick up. How many passengers your train can load.
- Drop off. How many passengers your train can unload.
- Refill station. How many passengers you can draw from the passenger bag and place on yoru station.
- Adjust. How many different passengers you can move around your player board.
- Build station. Placing a worker here allows you to build stations at the end of your track.
- Reverse train. By default, players can only reverse a train at the end of their track, but this lets them reverse at a station for action.
Players can also place out passengers to earn additional victory points at the end of the game. For example, they can earn points by passenger types or earn the right to score additional bonus cards (since by default they will only score one).
Players receive three robot passengers at the start of the game — one steel, gold, and copper — and can place them how they choose. Usually players use this to increase their track, capacity, or the right to build station, but players are free to develop their own strategies.
Most of the actions above are intuitive as to how they work, but the one that is worth discussing in detail is the “adjust” action, which in my opinion is the most fascinating one. As an action, players can move their robots around their player board. So, if you need to build track early in the game, you might want to place your passengers to allow this to happen, but later in the game, you might be better off moving those robots after you’ve built your track. This aspect makes the game pretty combolicious and opens up opportunities for really clever turns. The ability to use the “adjust” action well seems to separate beginner players from advanced players.
Otherwise, the game proceeds like many rail games. The trains move around the board and pick up passengers, trying to drop them off at stations of their color. Over the course of the game, new passenger types (the commuters) will be added to the bag as their station color is built.
The game end is triggered when at least one station of all four commuter colors has been built and the passenger bag is empty. Players then finish the current round and play one more round.
At the end of the game, players get 1 VP for pink and lilac passengers, and 2 VP for coral and purple passengers. They can score their links, but can earn additional points for that based on what they’ve placed on their player board. They also all score their highest bonus card, but they can score additional bonus cards if they’ve unlocked that part of the player board.
My Thoughts on the Game
I was lucky enough to playtest an early version of Maglev Metro, and I instantly fell in love. My group and I have greatly enjoyed playing Ted Alspach’s latest creation, and I expect this will be a hit in the gaming community in coming months.
Maglev Metro is, for me, a nearly perfect pickup and deliver game. The competition for building track and picking up passengers is fierce throughout, and the game presents fascinating choices at each stage of gameplay. Each turn isn’t just about which passenger you’re going to load or unload: it is also about setting yourself up for future turns and scoring opportunities.
As I alluded to above, I think the “adjust” mechanic makes the game. It opens the opportunity for clever turns, and it encourages players to shift their strategy as the game state emerges. The result is that games tend to focus on building track, then focus on building stations, and then focus on delivering passengers. The result is a cool story about the emergence of a modern rail network.
This takes the think-y nature of games like Age of Steam and condenses it down into an accessible format that takes about 90 minutes to play. Despite its depth, Maglev Metro is remarkably easy to teach, because the different mechanics are all set forth on the player boards, which have excellent and helpful graphic design. But while the game may be easier to learn, it is a hard game to master, and like all good rail games, it requires a close examination of scoring opportunities on the board. Even on the friendly Manhattan map, planning several turns in advance is key.
Maglev Metro is remarkably well produced. The game boards are recessed to accommodate the stations, and the clear track tiles are innovative (more train games should do this!) and beautiful. The recessed player boards add to production value. I love when publishers go that extra mile on production, and Bezier did it here.
And the rulebook itself is also exceptional: it not only teaches the game in a logical, easy-to-understand format, but gives helpful advice for beginning players.
In short, there is so much here that gamers will like, from the beautiful production value, to the tense and engaging gameplay. Ted Alspach is one of my favorite designers — I own more than two dozen of his games — but this is in my top 5 of his designs. I gave this a 9 on BoardGameGeek (an exceptionally rare rating from me), and I look forward to many more plays in the coming years. My only hope is that Bezier finds a way to release some more maps!
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray
- I like it.
- Not for me…