Full disclosure: A review copy of Rise of the Metro was provided by Big Cat Games.
I’m slowly getting back my sea legs with respect to a number of these doujin titles. I typically play them with more experienced gamers, just because I occasionally struggle with the rules and can use someone who’s played a lot of games’ help with processing them. Thankfully, those opportunities have continued to present themselves, and now we’re actually getting more and more reviews done! Super excited to check a bunch of these out. We checked out Hii Fuu!! a while back, and I’m hoping to get Pompiers! reviewed soon, as well. That should satisfy you folks in the trick-taking part of town, but in the meantime, let’s try out Rise of the Metro!
In Rise of the Metro, you are all competing to bring a new city to life. And what better way to plan a city than with a strong foundation of public transit? In order to make that dream happen, you must work somewhat cooperatively to lay track (after all, more lines running into a station effectively benefits everyone) and create paths. Just keep in mind that redundancy is discouraged, so any two stations can only be connected by one line. Will that cause problems? Undoubtedly. But you’ll have to do your best for your subway to outpace your opponents!
To kick things off, set out the board:
Give each player a set of tracks in the color of their choice:
At two, each player takes two sets of tracks. Then, set up the Stations:
Each player should have the initial (black) stations divided equally between them (3 each at four players, 4 each at three players, 6 each at two players). Have each player place their Scoring Marker on the 0 on the Scoreboard:
Finally, each player should take a number of tracks in their hand between 3 and 7. If you’d like, you can choose two different numbers (one for each hand) if you’re playing with two players. Once everyone has done that, reveal them. Starting from the “start location” (a dot on the board with a ring around it), count vertically down and place an initial station on that spot. Then, choose the next player’s number, count that many spaces vertically down (wrap around to the top of the board (and move left) if you need to and place another initial station. Do this until all of the initial stations have been placed. If you run out of board real estate, continue again from the top-right corner, but skip counting locations that already have an initial station. You should be ready to start!
Now, it’s time to build the metro! Rise of the Metro takes place over a series of turns, as players lay track to build their ideal transportation system. Just keep in mind that it all needs to be along one track! We’ll get more into that. Let’s look at the phases of a turn!
This part is pretty simple: you must place a track in your color anywhere on a dotted line on the board. There are, however, some caveats:
- Only one line can directly connect two stations. This means that even if you take a different path between stations A and B, if they’re already connected by a line (yours or another player’s), you cannot connect them with your new line.
- You cannot branch pathways. Only one line can be created. This does mean that you can create a loop, but if you do, no additional track can be played on that line (since any spot would be a branch).
- Only one line will be allowed to be kept at the end of the game. You don’t want multiple short, distinct lines; you just want one big one.
- Multiple players’ track can occupy the same space. They just can’t connect the same two stations.
If you place track adjacent to a station and are not the first player to place track adjacent to that station, you can develop it! This means putting the next-lightest shade station token on top of it. This will affect your scoring, so that’s generally good!
If you connected to a station this turn, you score! First, give all players connected to that station (other than you) 1 additional point (if you developed the station, it benefits all connected players). Next, give yourself points based on the development level of the station:
- Initial Station: 1 point
- Dark Gray Station: 2 points
- Gray Station: 3 points
- Light Gray Station: 4 points
End of Game
Once all track has been placed, the game ends! Now, players must remove all incomplete tracks. An incomplete track is up to the player, but generally, you want to pick any sections of track that are not connected to your “main line”, or your line of track that connects to the most stations. If you remove track connected to a station, its level does not downgrade.
Now, count all stations that you’re connected to and that’s your total score for the game! Keep in mind that if you removed track, your score may decrease. The player with the highest score wins!
Last thing, sit with the other players and talk about the city you built! The game suggests these questions:
- Where is the city center?
- What kind of people live along the line you built?
- If you lived in this city, what station would you live near?
I also recommend asking what the major attractions of that city are, but that’s just for fun.
Player Count Differences
The major one is kind of straightforward. At two players, you take on two different lines and play independently, with your final score being the sum of both colors’ scores. This means that you only really need to fight with one player for certain routes, and may be able to use your two routes in concert to boost your own (collective) score. It’s a bit more strategic than the more-tactical higher player counts. There’s still a lot of strategy to them, but you have to be a bit more flexible since anyone can now mess you up. I still find them all fun, since there’s a semi-cooperative element to trying to all get a huge point boost from the biggest stations, and I enjoy that. I wouldn’t say I have a strong player count preference, as a result. I think that the game isn’t particularly long to play, and additional players don’t really add more play time. Plus, I like the flexibility of playing more tactically or strategically depending on how many players we have.
- This game is all about planning ahead while remaining flexible. You need to keep an eye on your ultimate goal, but that may require you to move to stations that weren’t part of your original plan. Your opponents are shifting around, too, so whoever can remain the most flexible within their initial plan will likely end up taking it all.
- The key to success is having one line with no branches, so make sure that you’re considering that future goal. You should always be playing towards that, which is why I recommend (and will recommend again) being cautious if you build a route in two different locations. It’s easy to get cut off or for plans to shift or change, and now you’ve suddenly got an irreconcilable split in your route. That’s not good, so try focusing on your plan for your line and placing some early routes to lock down spots that will allow you to make that happen.
- You need to connect to stations that other players have connected to. You can’t win the game exclusively connecting to only single-height stations; you need to make connections with other big stations so that everyone can benefit. You just need to make sure that there are more big stations that you’re benefitting from than any other player.
- Make sure you’re not trying to repeat a connection. This is a tough one to watch out for, but check to see if the station you’re moving towards already has a connection to the station you just left. In situations where there’s a cluster of stations, this can be easy to miss. It’s often worth double-checking, just to be absolutely sure before you commit.
- Don’t just place your track on the highest-connection spots; think about how you’re going to connect your whole line together. Just placing on high-connection spots gets you some good early-game points, but it completely screws you if you can’t consequently get the entire line connected. You don’t want to split your line and have to decide between two almost-equal spots, so focus on a high-connection area for as long as you can and then build out towards the next one (or have a plan for connecting in the middle.
- There’s no point in racing an opponent for a spot you won’t be able to get; just give up and go somewhere else. If they’re already one move ahead of you, you’ve probably lost it. There’s some advantage to forcing them to complete that plan (see below), but you might as well start curving your path toward another station that’s not connected to the one you just came from. You’ll still get some points, assuming you have enough track, which is better than nothing, I suppose.
- If an opponent gives up on racing you, though, you might be able to make progress other places and connect that spot later. This is rude, but effective. If you’re already a turn ahead of an opponent and they give up, you can now work other angles and complete that route at your leisure. A real Tortoise and the Hare move. The key thing, here, is that if you see your opponent try to snake you, just complete the route. It’s not worth losing on something big to make a point, and you don’t want that Tortoise and the Hare analogy to end up being an apt one. It’s a bad look.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the theme of this game. I think I like subway games a bit more than standard train games, but there’s something appealing about the way that this game positions itself as a modern route-building game with some narrative city-building elements. I find the whole thing very pleasant.
- Setup is super clever, as well. I think the randomization really works! It creates odd clusters and singled-out locations and abandoned lines and the whole thing. It’s also extremely easy to understand while you play, which makes it even better. It’s simple and creates an interesting starting point every time; what’s not to like?
- The game is very light, to the point that it’s a nice game you can play while just chilling out with friends. In fact, that’s the first time I played it! Just busted it out with a few friends when they came over to visit. It went great! It’s not particularly complicated, but it has some nice tactical and strategic maneuvers that you can do, in game.
- The game encourages semi-cooperative play in an interesting way, as well. I like that players have to balance which stations they want to boost. If you boost a station, you get more points, but your opponent(s) get the same increase, as well! It’s essentially a game of divvying up the rewards between multiple players so that you end up with the most, but the route-building aspects make that trickier, since your path has to be connected and finite.
- It’s not in the game itself much, but I really like the art style of the box. It’s just very busy and colorful and pleasant. I would love to see a game that actually uses that colorful isometric art style, though! It really looks like a soil sample of a bustling city, and I think it’s excellent.
- That said, the board’s minimalist style is also very nice; it contrasts well with the token colors! It’s very pleasant and map-like. It looks super slick, and the token colors are so bold that they really stand out against it. What you end up with is a game that looks nice on the table and is pleasant and easy to play, which is just an end-to-end good experience.
- I really like the rule that asks players to talk about the city after the game ends. I think that’s super. It’s not like, the most critical thing in the world, but I think it’s a nice way to cap off a game with a little bit of cooperative winding-down. Everyone gets to participate, you can enforce a “yes, and” rule, and you end up with a little bit of a story about the city you just built train lines for. You could even use it as the setting for an RPG, if you were into that kind of thing, and the whole thing just feels … pleasant?
- I find unfolding the board extremely stressful. I think that’s just that it’s a fairly narrow board and a fairly unintuitive folding scheme. I’m just not used to it and I get worried I’m going to break it every time.
- The box shape is also a wild nightmare, as well. It doesn’t really fit … anywhere useful, for me. Oh well. It’s too pretty to be mad at.
- The scoring is often so tight that one or two points can mean the difference between winning and losing. Sometimes it just comes down to where you placed early in the game and that being a mild mistake, which can be a bit annoying. If you’re tactical, you can often make placements work for you, but sometimes you make a split-second decision that can edge you out of the couple points you need to win. That can be a bummer!
- That “only one line can connect two stations, even if the routes are different” rule will mess someone up pretty badly in your first game. It’s extremely hard to remember practically, even though it’s so simple! The key issue is that players tend to see routes as different if they take different paths, even if they connect the same two stations. And that’s not correct. Two routes are “the same” if they connect the same two stations, and that’s not allowed. Even so, this will almost certainly cause problems in your first game for at least one player unless you’re very explicit about it. It’s just a bit abstract and consequently hard to conceptualize for some folks (myself included).
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Rise of the Metro is fun! It’s a bit tighter than I would like, I think, but that has the benefit of making every turn matter quite a bit. You’ll often see the game decided by a point or two, as players’ plans fall through and their big connections get severed by poor placement. And that’s neat, and all, but it’s definitely challenging, as well. What makes this game appeal to me, particularly, is that there’s a lot of thematic care put into the game at every level, from justifying how tiebreakers work to asking players to spend some time after the game talking about the city that exists with this kind of metro system. I think that’s an amazing commitment to worldbuilding, and it allows players to access a game from a different avenue. Plus, that kind of emergent narrative already exists in games; Rise of the Metro just canonizes it by asking players to explicitly discuss it. That’s one of my favorite things about games, that emergent narrative, so I love seeing it, here. Rise of the Metro is definitely on the lighter side of the gaming sphere, however, so keep in mind that you’re not doing a lot more than laying track and hoping for the best. I still have found it pretty routinely fun, though, so if you’re looking for a quick route-building game, you want to design a city around its metros, or you just enjoy the occasional doujin title, I’d recommend Rise of the Metro! I had a good amount of fun playing it.
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