Full disclosure: A review copy of TOKYO METRO was provided by Jordan Draper Games.
I always get there eventually. Recently, I was at a board game convention and figured there’s no time like the present to play the game I had pretty much confirmed I was never going to get time to play, TOKYO METRO. There are a wide variety of reasons I tend to give heavier games a wider berth; they’re usually more complex, harder to write about succinctly, and often take too long to play for me to get reviewed quickly. That’s just … how things go, sometimes. Lucky me, though; I had plenty of time to get a few games in and now I’m working on a full review.
TOKYO METRO is a game about compromise in motion; you play as various investors looking to build stations around Tokyo, control rail lines, and speculate on your opponents’ lines to get as rich as possible as quickly as possible. The other players aren’t going to make it easy for you, though, so you’ll have to play smart and be ruthless (or at least as ruthless as you can be on a bicycle). Will you be able to profit off of the rail lines and become the richest investor?
Setup is decently involved. First, the main board should be … unfolded:
Set the Income Tracker next to it:
Set the tiny Train Income Markers nearby. You’ll know what they look like; they’re small as heck. Also set the Train Markers near the bottom of the board:
Or the top! Up to you. Also, set them with their Stock Cards:
They should be in stacks of three. Speaking of three, give each player three of their player markers:
As for the others, put two below the Income Tracker (for speculation), one from each player randomly on the Turn Order Track (grid in the bottom-right), and the remaining three into a supply. Give each player their Stations, next:
Then their meeples:
Then 2000 Yen:
Set the assorted remaining tokens into a supply, as well:
Now, create the Action Card Market. Take the action cards:
Split them by color (should be two colors per set), and then shuffle the stacks based on the number of dots on the back. Stack 3 then 2 then 1 dot, and flip the top three over and put them into a column. You should end up with six columns. Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
Alright, so, TOKYO METRO is about getting the most money. If, once the game ends, you have the most money, you win. That simple. You only start with 1000 Yen, though; how do you grow it from there?
Well, a round consists of five phases, and you play rounds until the game ends. Let’s go through each of them:
Refresh Action Cards
Do not do this action during the first round.
So, the Action Cards in this game are sort of a waterfall worker-placement market, which means nothing because it’s a term I just made up. Basically, every round, action cards will move one row down. After they hit the bottom, their next move is to a face-up discard pile. You then flip a new row from the top. If you ever cannot do this, the game immediately ends. No final round; just the end.
Bid for Turn Order
Do not do this action during the first round.
You’ve got some number of players; bid for turn order. Every player picks an amount of money they want to spend (0 is fine) and holds it in their fist. They all reveal simultaneously. From most to least, reorder the player markers on the turn order track and then return all money bid to the bank. If there’s a tie, swap the players (first and last in a three-way, second and third also in a four-way) unless they all bid 0 money.
During this phase, you’ll move around the board in player order. At lower player counts, I haven’t really seen players try to occupy the same location, but, you should still go in turn order. On your first turn, simply place your meeple anywhere on the map. You may move up to two squares orthogonally (no diagonal movement!) on subsequent turns and move up to three squares if you have a bicycle.
There are 12 total actions that players can take on their turn, using one or more action markers to cover the spaces above the action they wish to take. I’ll outline each of these briefly.
- Move: This just works like the movement phase; you move that many spaces in any direction, +1 space if you have a bike.
- Build Station: This action lets you spend the money indicated to build a station on any station you’re adjacent to (that doesn’t already have a station). Some stations are connected to each other; these are multi-station areas. If you build a station there, that whole area is your station (and no other players may build a station there). However, to compensate, the cost is doubled or tripled depending on the size of the multi-station area. Thankfully, any discounts you get kick in before the doubling or tripling.
- Invest: This is how you make a bunch of your money. Spend the money on the card to buy stock in a train line. You cannot have Speculated that line and you cannot already own stock in that line. If someone else beat you to it, you will have to pay additional yen. Once you’ve sorted that out, take the stock card and place it in front of you to signify that you own it, increase the train’s income marker by the amount you invested, and then place the train marker on the board if it’s not there already. The train will run during the next Train Phase.
- Start Train: This simply starts the train on its way, but it doesn’t cost anything. Increase a train’s income marker by the amount listed on the card, and then place the train marker on the board if it’s not there already. This train will also run during the next Train Phase.
- Speed Token: Gain the listed number of Speed Tokens from the supply. Before your turn, you may spend any number of these to increase the speed of a train (and potentially block Speculation; more on that later).
- Bike: Gain a Bike Token. Just like real life, you may only have one bike at a time. While you have this, whenever your meeple moves, it moves an additional space in the direction of your choice.
- Token -> Station: This isn’t technically its own action, but it does have several of its own cards; you may spend an unused Speed Token or your Bike Token to immediately build a station, for free. This applies even to multi-station areas.
- Discount: Place one of your action markers on this location to decrease the cost of a future purchase. On a subsequent turn, you may move this action marker to the same location as an action marker you just played to apply that discount. You may apply more than one discount at a time.
- Bidding: This one is pretty simple; it just adds free money to your turn order bid, next round. Put the money by your turn order marker so you don’t forget.
- Take or Repay Loan: There are technically two actions, here; one is a down arrow next to a yen symbol; that lets you take a 1000 Yen loan from the bank (and a loan token). The other lets you spend 1000 Yen to remove a loan token you have. At the end of the game, the bank collects 1500 Yen for every loan token you still have, which is some rough interest.
- Speculate: This one is the weirdest one. If you want to speculate on a rail line, you’re basically betting it will increase in value to at least pay out 2x your investment. You do this by setting a sum of money of your choice aside (as long as it’s above the minimum, seen on the right side of the fraction on the same line of the Income Track as the current income marker for the train). When you do this, also put one of your speculation markers on the space next to the train (and your money). If the train is full, you can’t speculate on it again, but you can speculate on a train more than once. Keep in mind that Speed Tokens use the same spots, as well. Players may only Speculate twice per game, but you may speculate the same train twice.
- Gain Action Marker: This one is much simpler. Pay the listed amount of money to the bank to gain one of your remaining action markers from the supply. You may use that action marker this round (and in subsequent rounds for the rest of the game). Each player may only own six action markers; you can’t buy other players’.
- Gain Action Card: If you put your action marker on this one, you may return the listed amount of money to the bank in order to take one of the face-up action cards from the discard area and add it to your supply as an action card that only you may use for the rest of the game. That’s always fun.
Once every player has used all their actions, remove your action markers from the market and move on to the Train Phase.
The last movement of each round is the train phase. Starting from the Ginza line and moving down the trains in the order of the Income Track board, move each train marker 5 spaces (plus any extra spaces for Speed Tokens). If you hit the end of the line, if any player owns stock in that train, it turns around and finishes out its movement. If not, it is removed and returned to the supply.
If a train passes through a station that a player is adjacent to, they may hop on the train. If they own stock in the train, it’s free to ride, but otherwise they must pay 100 Yen to the bank to do so. They may get off the train at any subsequent station it hits.
Speaking of stations, if a train passes through one, it gains some value. If the player who owns the station also has stock in the train, the train’s income increases by 500 yen. If that player does not have stock in the train, the train’s income increases by 200 yen and the player receives 200 yen in cash.
Once all trains have moved, play begins again with the Action Card Refresh phase.
End of Game
Once it is impossible to reveal new action cards (because the deck is depleted, the game ends after the Action Card Refresh phase. Players will then begin the process of tallying their money, starting with speculators.
So, the first thing that pays out is Speculation. Look at each train’s Income Marker; a speculator gets paid out the right value in the fraction on the left side. That said, a speculator may only receive up to 2x their speculated value. Once they have that, return the money that they speculated with to them as well. Decrease the train’s Income Marker by the value paid to each Speculator.
Now, pay out the train’s current Income Marker to stockholders. If only one person owns the stock, they gain the full value of the Income Marker. If two people own it, split it 2:1 as best you can (the fraction on the left side does that division). If three people own it, give 50% of the money to the first stockholder, and then split the remaining 50% 2:1.
Once you’ve done all that calculation, the player with the most money wins!
Player Count Differences
The major thing to focus on here is levels of control. At two, you can basically fight for the heart of the city, and it’s pretty easy to tell if you’ve lost. At higher player counts, you’ve got rail lines running all over the place with fairly reckless abandon. You’ve got players investing two or three times in a rail line (various different players, of course), which dilutes the payout for any one person. You’ve also got more stations, leading to higher profits, leading to more value for unscrupulous speculators. There’s a lot more interaction at higher player counts (but not additional action spaces, so watch out for that). That last parenthetical, as you might imagine, also increases the value of bidding for turn order (which isn’t as interesting at two players unless you know exactly what you want to do). I’d say it’s more dynamic at higher player counts, so it’s one of the few games I’d recommend more towards its maximum. That said, I still enjoyed it at 2 and 3, so your mileage may vary.
- You need an income strategy. You start with a decent amount of money, sure, but once you’ve spent it you need to have a way to make it back. Don’t just invest in everything that moves; you need to build up stations on lines that your opponent(s) own so that you can start generating a cashflow. Naturally, the best spots for these are towards the center, but you’re going to see a lot of contention for those station locations.
- You need to be the primary stockholder of something. At least, you do if you’re playing anything lower than five players, I imagine. You can’t just rely on other players to make money for you since they still get the bulk of the cash from a stock, otherwise.
- You can always speculate twice, if you have the cash for it. If you speculate twice, you’re essentially dunking on an opponent, but even then you can’t waste all their money with your best speculation. Just make sure you’re going to make that 2x payout; it’s not not worth it, otherwise, but it’s definitely more worth it if you can get maximum money.
- Try to control those high-value stations. The stations that see a lot of trains are probably the most valuable points to control, especially since other players are going to put stock in trains that will ultimately run through those stations. If you can get stations along their lines, they make some money, but so will you. Even better if you control some of those lines as well.
- It’s still possible to make a lot of money on certain stations. The longer lines may allow you to ride the line and build on it every turn; it just won’t necessarily give you a long-term profit from the return trip (since the game might end before then).
- The Bike / Speed -> Station Action is extremely useful. It’s basically the way to build on multi-station areas. Just be careful! It only comes out during the second phase of the game, which means that you might lose a lot of those spots to more enterprising (and richer) opponents if you don’t act more quickly. Sometimes I’ll buy this card once it gets discarded so that I can just have that action all to myself. It’s useful!
- I think getting more Action Markers is useful. They’re not that expensive and the only real opportunity cost is just money; you get a marker back that you can use later on, so it’s fine.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art style is really cool. I like it a lot! It’s very clean, very bright, and very colorful. Add that to the large amount of stuff that comes with the game and you’ve got a great table presence! There were a number of people who stopped by the table we were playing at to check it out. It really does look great.
- It’s surprisingly portable for a game of its weight. It’s only twice the height of the JIDOHANBAIKI box, which is nice. You can fit all three into a smallish bag without much effort.
- Its integration with the other games in the TOKYO SERIES is very cool. It uses JIDOHANBAIKI for an expansion, or you can use the pieces from it in conjunction with JUTAKU, which is nice. I’m really excited to see how it integrates with the next three games in the series!
- Not terribly difficult to set up or learn. I was particularly pleased about this, honestly. Beyond the fact that it has a fair number of pieces, there isn’t that much particularly aggressively complex about
- The constant movement of the trains is pretty interesting. They don’t just stop; they always move. It’s both kinda neat and peaceful but also just, busy. I like it! It feels vibrant and kinda alive, which I appreciate a lot. It feels like you’re a participant in a system, rather than just an owner of it.
- I like the changing action market a lot. It’s a neat system, in my opinion; you get a lot of opportunity to do different things and there’s a constant tension, especially when “good” actions get revealed.
- It takes up a lot of space. It’s just very wide, relative to games I’ve personally played before. Something to be mindful of if you’re on a narrow table for photography reasons.
- The fractions on the Income Track could use some markings on them. We got them confused in our first game and aggressively messed up speculation, which wasn’t fun. Just indicating what the large and small numbers are for would be nice, I think.
- The Train Phase can occasionally be a fair bit of bookkeeping. Just focus on moving one train at a time and you’ll be just fine.
- The bidding doesn’t really get interesting until you hit higher player counts, in my opinion. At two it’s just “do I want to go first? -100 Yen”, at times. That’s not always bad; it’s just not always interesting, either.
- Some of the train colors are similar to the point of being difficult to distinguish quickly. I think it doesn’t help that G and Y are close in color, but G is at the top of the Income Track and Y is at the top of the main board; it ends up more often than not that I confuse those. I think I confuse C and N, infrequently, as well? The colors are similar.
- While it makes the game easier to transport, you really need to make sure you smooth out the cloth game board. The Income Markers are kinda tiny and the Train Markers are cylinders, so there are a lot of opportunities for things to get knocked around and over during gameplay, if you’re not careful. Naturally, that’s not good, especially because it’s difficult to keep track of the game’s state from game to game.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I was really pleasantly surprised by TOKYO METRO! As I’ve said, I’m not the biggest fan of heavier games (they’re just not typically my go-to), but I had been wanting to try it for a while, so I’m glad that I got a chance to do so. I think it’s something I’d love to see in games that I play, though; it’s bright, colorful, and energetic, and players feel like they’re actually living in a system that operates without their input rather than controlling the whole experience end-to-end. That said, not everything feels super realistic (such as trading in your bike to build a station; is it built … out of bike???), and that’s okay, too; it’s a game, after all. Either way, this is definitely a heavier game that I can see myself playing from time to time; it slows down a bit at higher player counts, but I don’t mind that too much; I enjoy it every time I play. And if you’re looking for a modern train game or something bright and colorful to hit the table, I’d recommend anything from the TOKYO SERIES, sure, but definitely recommend TOKYO METRO! I’m really glad I went out of my way to play it.