So I’ve been playing a lot of roll-and-write / roll-and-write-adjacent (* and write is what I’m currently using) games, lately, from Qwinto to Qwingo to Boomerang to … well, a lot of things. I got in a few new ones, Let’s Make a Bus Route and MetroX, so let’s tackle them both. Or, at least, at time of writing, I was tackling them both; who knows what the release order will look like. (Editor’s Note: I ended up going with MetroX first because I’m hoping to compare / contrast it with Railroad Ink, when I end up doing that review.)
In MetroX, you are building subway networks underground by filling in stations on your own little maps. You’ll be pitted against other players who have the same map as you, meaning that every choice you make will count (since they’re given the same choices). Will you be able to build the best subway network? Or will you just be taken for a ride?
There’s not really any setup. Choose if you’re playing the Tokyo or Osaka maps:
Give each player one of the chosen side of map and some writing utensil. Shuffle up the cards:
And you’re basically ready to start!
MetroX is straightforward in concept and a bit more difficult to apply in practice, which is always nice. For a round, you’ll reveal a card from the deck and apply its effect to all players, simultaneously. For this, you need to know two terms:
- Indicator Boxes are the double-walled boxes at the edge of the card (the start of the metro line). You’ll deal with these as you draw cards.
- Stations are the boxes along a given metro line. Some stations have more than one line passing through them, for instance. One station on the Osaka line is the end point of two other metro lines.
Now that you know what those are, let’s draw some cards:
Number Cards are just straight up numbers. When you draw one, you must add one to an available indicator box. After doing that, starting with the empty Station closest to the indicator boxes on that line, draw empty circles until you:
- Hit a non-empty Station, or
- Have drawn a number of circles equal to the number, or
- Hit the end of the line.
All circles from a number card must be played on the same line. If you draw a 6, shuffle all played cards back into the deck, including the 6.
Skip Number Cards are a bit more interesting. Like regular number cards, they go in an available indicator box and you start from the empty Station closest to that line’s indicator boxes. However, there is one major difference; you fill in empty boxes until you:
- Have drawn a number of circles equal to the number, or
- Hit the end of the line.
Note that you skip stations that are already filled, hence the Skip Number moniker. To symbolize this, also draw a circle around the number in your indicator box. That should help you keep track.
Star Cards are either a blessing or a curse, up to you. When you draw one, add a star to an available indicator box, and go to the closest empty Station on that line. There, rather than a circle, you’ll write a number equal to (2 * number of lines going through that Station). This will be worth points at the end of the game.
The Free Card is a blessing, always. When drawn from the deck, mark nothing in any indicator box, but pick an empty station of your choice, anywhere on any line, and fill it in. It’s just good, basically.
If, for some reason, you cannot add more circles to a route (it’s filled) but you still have empty spaces on your indicator boxes, you may put a number there on any turn to just … do nothing.
Once everyone’s filled in their circles / numbers, check to see if any lines are completed. A player has completed a line if they have filled in every Station on that line from the start (closest to the indicator boxes) to the end. If they have and they are the first to do so, they get the gold crown points. If they are not the first to do so, they get the points in the silver box. It will help players if they circle or cross out route bonuses so that they know what’s available. If multiple players simultaneously complete a line first, they all get the line’s gold points.
The game ends when all players have filled up all of their indicator boxes (this should happen simultaneously, as the cards are only drawn by one player, similar to Avenue). You’ll then tally three points categories:
- Completion Bonus: Sum all the points you gained from completing lines.
- Cross Bonus: Sum all the numbers you wrote in Stations from Star Cards.
- Empty Penalty: Sum the number of empty spaces you have on the board and lose points, accordingly:
- 0 – 5 empty spaces: 0 points
- 6 empty spaces: 1 point
- 7 empty spaces: 2 points
- 8 empty spaces: 3 points
- 9 – 10 empty spaces: 4 points
- 11 – 12 empty spaces: 5 points
- 13 – 14 empty spaces: 6 points
- 15 – 16 empty spaces: 7 points
- 17 – 18 empty spaces: 8 points
- 19 – 20 empty spaces: 9 points
- 21+ empty spaces: 10 points
The player(s) with the most points win! If you’d like, you can also play solo; it works the same way, but you always score the Gold Bonuses for completing a route, which is probably nice.
Player Count Differences
The only real one that I’ve seen is that it’s more likely that the scores will be slightly lower, as more players will complete more routes (just probabilistically) before you’ll be able to get to them. That’s all well and good, though. It’s also a bit of a problem if you play with people with AP, as one person holding up 3 people isn’t bad, but holding up like, 10 – 15 people might not make for a great party. I don’t have a strong preference, though, beyond teaching it to more than 6 people at once is a pain. If you’re going to go above 4 or 6, maybe run off a few more copies of the rules, first.
- Leave spaces available for Star Cards. You don’t want to draw a Star Card and only fill in 2 points because you burnt the best junction spot in the game, do you? I usually try to wait until about the halfway point of the game to fill in the good junctions, just in case we get lucky with a Star. That said, don’t hold out for too long or you’ll lose the game because other people will complete routes out from under you.
- It’s unlikely that you will be able to complete every line. You need to be preposterously lucky to pull it off, so I wouldn’t count on it. To that end, you’re decently well-served by just picking a few lines to potentially write off, if need be, rather than trying to complete all of them.
- Try to use certain lines to your advantage. There are lines that will advance more than one line, if you’re clever about it. Use that to get a line to go much further than it normally would be able to. Just make sure you don’t block yourself, too much.
- The Skip Number cards are invaluable if you need them. Being able to skip blocked spaces is huge, and you’ll almost certainly need some if you expect to be able to complete enough routes.
- It helps to have plans in advance. Know where you’ll put certain numbers if they come up in the order; otherwise, you might end up making a mistake and throwing off all of your plans,. Just try your best to be consistent.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. I like the transit maps and the colors used in the game’s design; it’s super! It’s also a nice contrast to the other Japanese transit games in my collection: Tokyo Highway and Let’s Make A Bus Route.
- Very portable. It’s smallish enough to fit in a backpack or slide in a bag or something. Plus, now that I’ve laminated some of the sheets, I can clear the extras out of the box and just throw in more stuff like Qwinto / Qwingo in there and have a one stop * and write shop.
- The second map is a nice add-on. It gives you an entirely different set of strategies to try and tackle. Hopefully this means we’ll see more maps coming out in the future, as well. I think I saw a homebrew one on Twitter for Amsterdam?
- It’s a nice, thinky little game. There’s a lot of interesting strategy around which routes you block and the order in which you block routes, and since everyone gets the same cards it’s really neat to see how the various strategies unfold and what ends up paying off.
- Wish the color / contrast was a bit better. It’s a bit grey right now which makes the lines a bit more difficult to distinguish. If it were going to stay this color, I’d prefer if the player boards were a bit bigger. Every other game or so someone makes a mistake because they get lines confused or they don’t see a connection or Station and that’s tough.
- Wish some of the cards had English translations. It’s not that you can’t read what the important information on the card is, but there seems to be other information that’s getting lost, which is a bummer.
- You’re going to be managing a fair bit of luck. Perhaps too much, for some players. If your last three cards drawn are all Star Cards, you’re going to have a rough game, for instance. If you draw too many 6s in a game, you’re going to fill up almost every space on the board. I’ve seen close to both things happening in games that I’ve played. If you have a low tolerance for luck, this swing might not make you super enthused about playing it.
- Again, availability in the US is tough. I’ll probably just say this about every game of this kind that I end up playing, but yeah, it’s a challenge to get a copy of this game in stock, currently. I’d love for it to be easier, but importing games from Japan isn’t super easy to do unless you have companies (BGG / Funagain / etc) handling some of the logistics for you. That said, games from Japan / Taiwan seem to be becoming more popular, so hopefully a scalable solution will eventually start to emerge?
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, MetroX is superb! Like I said, I’m already a sucker for transit-themed games, but this one in particular hits a lot of sweet spots, for me. It’s thinky without being too intense, short and easy to get through a few games, scales decently to multiple player counts, and is honestly just a lot of fun. The portability is a major value-add for me, as it means I can just take it on the go with me, and it’s simple enough that I can probably play it on an airplane (though I’m much more likely to sleep or play my Switch, all things being equal). If you’re a fan of transit-themed games, love games like Avenue / Kokoro, or are looking for something relatively short but that’ll hurt your brain just a bit, I’d highly recommend checking out MetroX, if you can get your hands on a copy! It rocks.