Full disclosure: A review copy of Next Station: London was provided by Blue Orange Games.
Has Matthew Dunstan been on a roll this year? Hard to say, but I’ve certainly been playing a good couple of games he’s worked on (including, most notably, The Guild of Merchant Explorers). Good for him. I know he’s been working hard as half of Postmark Games, as well, so, busy dude. Either way, I saw another flip-and-write from him and it came strongly recommended by the most knowledgeable flip-and-write person I know, so, hard to not get excited about it, yeah? Let’s see what’s going on with Next Station: London.
In Next Station: London, you’re in charge of a revitalization of the Underground! You need to architect a new era of subterranean transit for the city, and it’s an exciting time to do so! Granted, you’re not really optimizing for tourist comfort, but you’ll get them there eventually, and that’s what urban transit is all about. Speaking as an American, at least. Connect stations over four different rounds, and try to get your lines to connect enough stations to make your vision of transit the most useful and exciting one. Can you change London for the better?
Not a ton! Each player should get a sheet to play on:
Give each player a pencil to write with!
If there are fewer than four players, set the unused pencils between the players (equally distributing them, as best you can). For advanced players, you can set out two random Shared Objectives:
You can also (or in lieu of Shared Objectives) use Pencil Powers, assigning one power to each pencil color; those powers will pass with the pencils, each round.
Either way, shuffle the Station Cards:
You should be ready to start!
There’s a fair amount going on here, but the game works pretty well. In Next Station: London, you’re redesigning the Underground! Let’s talk about how that works.
A game of Next Station: London takes place over four rounds, which each play (mostly) identically. Each has four phases, so let’s go through each.
Identify Departure Station
This part’s fairly easy; here, you should look for the station with a color that matches your current pencil. That’s where you’ll be starting this round from.
Build Underground Line
Next, you start building your line! This lasts between five and ten turns. Each turn, one player flips over the top card of the Station Cards. Players must build from either end of their Underground Line (their first line must be built from the Departure Station), connecting to a station with a symbol matching the flipped card. There are a few other rules:
- You cannot connect to a station that your current line already connects to. You can connect to stations on other lines; that gives you extra points!
- You cannot draw more than one line going between any two stations.
- You cannot cross through a station without connecting to it.
- You cannot cross over lines you’e already drawn on your pad.
Connecting to stations with spiky outlines (Tourist Sites) will let you cross off the leftmost symbol on the bottom of your player board.
If you draw a Railroad Switch card, you immediately flip another card over! Now, you can connect from any station on your Line to the station indicated on the card! This gives you three possible ways to extend your line for the remainder of the round.
Once the fifth pink card has been drawn, the round ends! Score your line as follows:
Multiply the number of districts you’ve connected to times the largest number of stations you’ve connected to in a single district. Add 2 points for each time you’ve crossed that line under the Thames River.
End of Round
After scoring your line, the round ends! Pass your pencil to the player on your left, reshuffle the Station Cards, and start a new round!
End of Game
After four rounds, the game ends! Score bonus points for the leftmost uncircled Tourist Site on the bottom of your score pad, and score bonus points for Interchanges! Interchanges are stations where two, three, or four different colors touch. You score 2, 5, and 9 points for each Interchange of those respective types.
The player with the most points wins!
Shared Objectives give players additional challenges to complete during the game. You can complete them at any time; each one you complete earns you an additional 10 points.
Pencil Powers are randomized between the four pencils, and offer once-per-round abilities, such as treating a card as wild, treating a card as accompanied by a Railroad Switch, repeating a card, and double-counting a station. They’re handy!
Player Count Differences
Truly, none. With any fewer than four players, you just set aside the pencils that would be used by those players on their turn if they were in the game. Essentially, you just set one or more pencils between players and when you’d pass the pencil at the end of the round, you just give the unused pencil to the next player and place your pencil in the unused spot. As a result, there’s no effective difference at any player count. You always play four rounds, you always use each pencil color, and you don’t have any direct interaction with other players, so nothing to worry about!
Interestingly, in the solo game on Board Game Arena, you can play a Solo Challenge that’s pre-generated, which is pretty cool! You can try and compete with other players online in a solo game, which I enjoy. But, as mentioned, that’s just a quirk of the solo game; it doesn’t have anything to do with multiple players.
- Try not to draw too many lines that cut off other routes; you can’t cross anything you’ve already done. There’s a temptation to traverse a lot of distance by drawing big diagonal lines between connecting Stations, but you run the risk of cutting off a lot of the board by doing that. You don’t necessarily want to always double back, but you may need those Stations for later rounds (and you may be able to get Interchange Bonuses by doing so).
- Connecting to Stations you’ve connected other routes to can be a cheap way to get lots of points! Yeah, like I said, trying to make a bunch of your routes connect to already-used Stations can be very lucrative. The challenge is that you cannot connect the same two Stations more than once (with one line, at least), so you need to make sure that also doesn’t push you into a corner. Interchange Bonuses are pretty helpful, though, especially if you can get three or four lines through one Station.
- The Central Station is an omni-connector; it may be worth trying to get there to get the Interchange bonuses. That’s usually the spot to do it; approach the Central Station from all sides, get the 9 points, and then get a few sets of 2s and 5s from the other nearby spots. Just make sure that that plays nicely with your Shared Objectives, if you’re playing with those! Those tend to draw you to the edges of the board, instead. That said, they are only worth 10 points for completing them; this may end up actually paying off more.
- Don’t neglect your districts! You’d ideally want to get a few spots in one district to boost that multiplier. Your points are the number of districts you connect with your line times the most Stations connected by your line in any one district. This means you want to go a bit deep and a bit wide at the same time. I usually zip around one district and then try to extend the line out a bit farther. I think the most I’ve gotten in one round is six districts? You might be able to do better!
- Splitting your line can be handy, especially if you’re going for objectives. Splitting your line gives you a third (sometimes a fourth, with Pencil Powers) way that you can expand. This makes it much easier to double back and fill in more Stations in a particular district or to go after Tourist Sites (or cross the Thames multiple times). It’s really up to you, but it’s almost never a bad thing, since you have so many options for where to split the line.
- Try not to back yourself into a corner; having to pass is terrible. It feels bad, and strategically it’s not great, since that’s a full Station you’re not getting connected to your line. Not ideal in the slightest, so, try to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. Keep an eye on what Stations are reachable from the ones you’re connecting, and maybe consider moving a different direction to leave yourself options. Also keep an eye on which cards have and haven’t been drawn yet! Probability may work in your favor.
- The Pencil Powers can be a huge boon if you set yourself up, well. They’re pretty much across-the-board extremely helpful, but they’re helpful for everyone, so keep that in mind. Having the ability to double count a Station, double a card flip, treat any card as a Joker, or add a free Railroad Switch card can be really useful as you’re trying to get places. Don’t sit on them for the entire round and then risk them going to waste!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the art style, of this one! I think Maxime Morin has done a pretty fantastic job, here! I really like how like, neon pink everything is. Everything kind of pops and looks fun, inviting, and engaging. I’m a big fan. I assume Blue Orange also kind of tries to focus on fun, exciting color schemes for their games, so this was a winner, here.
- I’ve been enjoying a lot of this series of Blue Orange Games that are all similar sizes. I kind of wish I had the shelf for these, and maybe I’ll get one eventually, but there’s a ton of these games that all have the same general profile and footprint. I kind of like that from a consistency standpoint, and it makes them all look good together, even if they have very different styles. It’s great.
- This is a surprisingly clever and challenging flip-and-write; I’ve been really enjoying it! I like flip-and-write games a lot, but there’s always the risk that you’ll hit one that’s kind of same-y after a while. This is a lot of things that I like, but remixed in a way that I think is pretty fun and engaging. It’s hard trying to leave yourself enough room to get through subsequent rounds without messing with your current score. It’s a nice, tight tension. The game ends up being really fun!
- I like the Shared Objectives, but I also enjoy that the game is just as entertaining without it. They work pretty well either way. I’m not as sold on the “go to every District” objective, but, the game is just as fun without the Shared Objectives! They just give you another way to play and another thing to shoot for. They’re kind of helpful for new players, since they give players something to … look to, but they can be a bit complicated, as well.
- The Pencil Powers are also great! They spice up the game nicely. I really like the Pencil Powers, and I especially like that they’re randomly-assigned. It means that the different player boards will end up being pretty wildly different over the course of the game, so you’ll end up with a wide variety of outcomes. It’s interesting to see how things turn out. I also just think the Powers are great. They really help overcome a potential bad flip.
- I appreciate the scalability of this one; I like that you always use four pencils, and with fewer than four players, you just leave some out. It’s interesting, though it can feel a bit stilted that you just leave a pencil aside for a round. I’m relatively unaffected by it, though I’ve been playing more of the solo games on Board Game Arena, to avoid wasting my sheets.
- I find transit-building games to be very satisfying, and this has largely been no exception. It’s just a fun theme! One of my favorites.
- Difficulty-wise, I think this is, ironically, pretty solidly between MetroX and MetroX. The Gamewright edition uses slightly different cards, which makes the game a bit easier (though no less fun, in my opinion). I think Next Station: London sits pretty solidly between them in terms of difficulty, which I find amusing.
- The Interchange Bonuses are a lot of fun to try and get. Trying to navigate around lines from previous rounds in order to land extra points is a very fun way to thread the needle, and the danger of ending up stuck is very real. I think it’s a lot of fun!
- Having to pass can be surprisingly frustrating! Try to avoid it. It’s very much a “feels bad” when it happens. It’s somewhat avoidable if you plan things out, but experiencing it (being unable to connect to a new Station) kind of sucks.
- I think it’s just a product of them using a largeish font size, but there’s a lot of rulebook for such a small game. I think there are a lot of examples, which I’ll never fault anyone for, but I definitely got a bit stressed when I pulled out the rulebook and it unfurled to be as long as my arm. Lots of rules! But also a lot of variants and an entire solo mode, so, it scans.
- I’ll probably just bring some markers with me if I bring this game places, rather than dealing with pencils (and possibly-broken pencils). I’m decently anti-pencil, just because I have to sharpen them and they always break. The challenge is, some of my gaming friends often leave my markers out to dry, so there’s really no winning, here. I’m still working on figuring out a better strategy; if I come up with one, y’all will be the first to know.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think Next Station: London is pretty fantastic! I think the shifting between various pencils across the rounds is very clever, but I also like how dynamic that makes every game feel! Rather than being able to execute a strategy across multiple games, I need to be very tactical, which I enjoy. It’s the interesting challenge of how starting with purple is very different than starting with green or blue or pink, so the player boards in the game tend to be pretty different, as well! Even your second starting station is a very different game, depending on what your first one is. Add in the Pencil Powers and the Shared Objectives, and you’ve got a game that’s a very different animal, every time you play. I think that’s a lot of fun; I thrive in variability (in games, at least), so I’m always excited to tackle this from a different angle. If you’re looking for a game with a high degree of player interactivity, this might not be your bag; there’s really … not much to that, here. But if you’re a fan of the flip-and-write genre, you enjoy transit games, or you just want something that’s not too challenging to pick up and a lot of fun with one, two, three, or four players, I’d definitely recommend checking Next Station: London out! I’m hoping this is the first of a series, frankly.
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