Next Station: London
- Designer: Matthew Dunstan
- Publisher: blue orange
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 8+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by publisher
Roll and Write games were once all the rage; every time that you looked around, there was a new one to try. After a while, I’ll admit that they all felt a bit same-y, and my enthusiasm for the genre diminished a bit. That being said, I continue to be impressed with the RAW designs from Matthew Dunstan – and we’ve reviewed a number of his recent designs here on the blog: Aquamarine and Voyages – as well as a board game which feels like a RAW, The Guild of Merchant Explorers. Given this recent pedigree, I was actually pretty jazzed to get a chance to try this one out.
In Next Station: London, the city of London has commissioned you to redesign its underground network! Optimise connections, serve as many sights as possible and exploit the tunnels that pass under the Thames. Be careful to respect the specifications set by the city as you try to be the best metro planner.
The components to the game are surprisingly slim. Each player gets a scoresheet to write on. Otherwise, there are 11 station cards, 5 objective cards, and 4 pencil power cards. There are also 4 colored pencils, one in each of the colors of the subway lines on your sheet. That’s it!
Each player starts the game with a sheet and a pencil. The sheet shows a portion of the London underground system, broken up into a 3×3 grid. In each corner, there is also a super small 1×1 region that is separate from the larger corner region. There are stations scattered around the board: circles, triangles, squares and pentagons. The game will be played over 4 rounds, and in each round, players will only draw the specific line that matches the pencil in their hands.
Each of the four rounds has these 4 phases
A] Identify your starting station. Umm, look at your pencil and see what color it is. Find the filled in station of matching color on your sheet. I’m honestly not certain why this step had to be put on its own
B] Build your line – The deck of 11 station cards is shuffled and cards are flipped up one at a time, with players deciding to draw lines on their sheet or not after each flip.
Most of the cards show a station type (shape), and you could draw a line from any end of your current line to a station of matching shape to that on the card. You are not obligated to draw a line if you do not want to. You must follow the grey line possibilities on your sheet. You cannot cross through a previously written line nor can you return to a station already on the current line (i.e. don’t make a loop).
There are 2 wild cards which allow you to connect to any station; still following the grey proto-lines on your sheet.
Finally, there is a line-switch card which allows you to make a branch. The next card in the stack is flipped over, and you can draw a line from any station on your existing line to the type of station indicated on the second card. You now have more options on where to grow this line in the future.
As you have probably noticed, some of the cards are light blue in background while others are pink and yellow. When the 5th pink and yellow card is flipped over, the round ends after players resolve that card. Thus, a round can last anywhere from 5 to 10 turns.
C] Score points for your line – you will now tally up the points for the line you just drew. You count up the number of different districts (out of 13) that your line passes through. Then, find the district that has the most stations of that color in it, and then score that number. Next, count how many times yoru line crosses the Thames, and score 2 points for each occurrence. Finally, look and see how many tourist sites were visited by your line. Cross off the same number of tourist site spots at the bottom of your score sheet.
D] Upkeep – (also probably doesn’t have to be a phase on its own) – pass your pencil to the player to your left. If you have fewer than 4 people, there may be a space on the table to hold a pencil. If you’re next to it, simply pass the pencil there or take the pencil from that space. Just make sure that by the end of the game, all players have had one turn with each pencil.
After 4 rounds are complete, there is a little bit of endgame scoring. You have already scored the points for each of your individual lines. You will score the points for the leftmost uncrossed circle on your Tourist Site line at the bottom. You also now look at your “Interchange Stations” – that is, stations that have at least 2 different colors of lines at them. You score 2 pts for a station with two lines, 5 points for a station with three different lines, and 9 points for a station that has all 4 lines at it. Sum up your points, and the player with the most wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the single highest scoring line.
Once you have mastered the basic game, you can add one or both of the advanced modules. The Shared Objectives are a set of 5 cards. Each game, two are drawn randomly and placed face up on the table. At the end of the game, players score 10 points for each of these objectives whose criteria are met. The Pencil Powers module has 4 cards, each with a one-time special power. The cards are randomly assigned to pencil color at the start of the game, and the particular card travels with its pencil for the duration of the game. In each round, the owner of the card can use the action once (flipping it over to show it has been used) and take advantage of the special effect on the card.
My thoughts on the game
Next Station: London is another XXX and write from Mr. Dunstan that appeals to me. Despite having a single unchanging layout on the score sheet the game still feels different enough each time it has hit the table so far. For me, that is a good sign of longevity for a XAW. The concept of rotating the pencils each round (and likely having a different order to the pencils each game) prevents you from getting into too much of a rut strategy-wise – because how you approach each turn will definitely be decided by where the previous lines in the game were drawn.
Additionally, the variability in length of the rounds will have a trickle down effect on how a game goes. Of course, it will affect all players the same; but in a recent game where both of the first two rounds only went 6 cards – we barely got the lines on the board before we had to quit. This made strategies involving the small corner regions nearly impossible to achieve. It also made it a lot harder (for some people) to get a lot of interchange stations because of the paucity of stations on those short lines.
Once you are used to the game, and you start to play with the pencil power cards and the shared goal cards; this also makes you approach each game in a different manner; different enough that I haven’t tired of it yet!
Though not an issue for myself or my group – this is definitely in the camp of simultaneous solitaire. The main interaction between players here happens between rounds as you pass pencils around the table. Otherwise, you could be in separate rooms – heck, separate countries – and play the same game. You play your own game on your own sheet – there is no competition with your opponents on anything.
Rules – everything is in the rules, but not in my preferred format. They did a good job keeping the basic rules concise, and nearly on one page, but the actual details of the rules are in separate places. For me, it’s easier to learn a game when all of the pieces are read together at the same time – but this is possibly just a style thing. Plenty of game rules are now set up this way, so this may just be the concern of some gaming dinosaur who is out of touch with modern things.
Graphics – The sheets have a lot of info on them, and for the most part, everything is easily explained. The scoring area keeps things nicely organized. Interestingly, there is only a single sheet design in the box – with PLENTY of copies given that the scoresheets are double sided. I would have maybe liked to have had a different layout on the backside for a little variety; though the way that the cards come out in this game causes plenty of variety… (And if nothing else, this leaves room for an expansion?!) But as I mentioned at the top of my comments; the game has plenty of ways to make each game a little different from the last, and thus far, I’m not tired of this same map.
I am less a fan of the cards though – they have one job – namely to tell me what to draw this turn, and that information is on about 10% of the surface area of the cards. The background art is nice, but in the end, I would have liked function to prevail over form. The blue and the pink cards have different layouts, so my anal-retentive gamer friends have all sorts of conniptions trying to figure out how to lie out the cards as they are flipped up so that the important parts can be reviewed. It’s important to know what cards have already come up so that you know what is coming and that you can calculate the odds of the round ending.
Like most of Dunstan’s roll-and-write games, this one is engaging and keeps players busy for the duration of the game. I personally like the way that you get little status reports in your individual line scores at the end of each round, yet there is enough scoring in the tourist sites, interchange stations and shared objectives that the outcome of the game is rarely known until the final calculation. The downside is that this one is truly simultaneous solitaire – there is no interaction at all between players other than handing them a new color of pencil. The box says 1-4 players, but it really could be infinite if you had enough colored pencils to go around. All of the sheets are identical, and there is no competition during the game nor blocking. I don’t mind the solitaire aspect, but for many gamers, this will be a feature (or bug) to make note of.
This one is definitely one that will get laminated and added to my permanent keeper box of XXX and writes – at this point, Dunstan might end up with an entire box alone devoted to his games!
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Lorna: I’ve played on BGA a few times and it is the kind of a puzzly type game that I usually go for but it is also kind of samey after a few plays.
Alan H: I’ve played it many times on BGA and about 10 times on the physical version. The BGA option allows for me to introduce it to friends around the world which has been great as we’ve all enjoyed it. (And encouraged physical copy sales too.)
I’ve found that the variations introduced by the shared targets and other cards add enough to elevate the game from just another roll ‘n’ write to a long term keeper.
Dan B.: I’ve played a lot on BGA and am still enjoying the game. It manages to have quite a bit of interesting variability despite only having one layout and also being fairly simple compared to many other recent X-and-writes: it doesn’t have multiple areas to play in, cascading bonuses, or really anything except the objectives and pencil powers, neither of which is complicated.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Alan H, Steph H, Dan B.
- I like it. John P
- Neutral. Lorna
- Not for me…