Review: Metro: The Board Game07 Dec 2017 3
Review: Metro: The Board Game
Released 24 Nov 2017
Metro (presumably pronounced May-tro, like a Parisian) is a 1997 German board game inspired by the construction of the Paris Métro for the World's Fair in 1900. It's a tile-laying game about building the longest possible train lines, and stopping others from building them too. If you've played Carcassonne, you've got the idea of Metro, which has both simpler rules that Carcassonne, and a far more twisted map.
Contrary to its convoluted board, Metro is a fairly straightforward game to play. You receive one tile each turn (or more, if you change the variant), and you can choose to place it or draw a new one from the pile to place instead. Each tile has four rail lines that cross and connect at eight points on the edges.
Around the game board, each player has a number of starting stations alternating with ending stations and stations of other players. Connect one of your trains to an ending station, and you score points for each tile the train passes through--if the train 'doubles back' to pass through the same times again they score again. Connect to the city in the center of the board and your line scores double again.
Like Carcassonne, your strategy as a new player will be focused on building the highest scoring layout you can. More experienced players realize that blocking and frustrating their opponents' attempts to build high-scoring lines is just as important to winning. Metro particularly shines with two players. With only one opponent, you have more rail lines to build and more opportunities to thwart your rival's ambitions. With more players, it's often more likely that your lines will be completed incidentally by another player than that you will successfully execute a plan; the game feels far more random. Regardless, the game is a really solid design, which explains why it is still pretty popular twenty years after its release. There's always something to think about, and different strategies that you can try to pursue or attempt to deny to your opponents.
Luckily you can't rotate the pieces or the board would turn into a chthonian nightmare that only an elder god could parse. As it is, it is still rather tricky to keep track of all of the lines you and your opponents are building and to envision the possible effects of placing any one Gordian Knot of a tile. Some help is available when you first lay a tile but before you confirm the placement -- if the tile adds to any lines under construction, they are slowly (slowwwly) highlighted. But I have to ask: given that this is a digital implementation, why not highlight all the lines all the time? One might argue that following and keeping track of the lines is the essence of the game, but in my opinion having visible lines as an option could only elevate Metro's strategy, removing the busy work so it's easier to focus on planning ahead.
Similarly, the controls could be streamlined. Right now, the game will show you possible legal placements, and then ask you to confirm by tapping again on the tile. To cancel the placement, you have to tap on the tile in your hand. This is frustrating because it adds an additional step to experimenting with different tile placements; you have to cancel the placement before you can try something else. It is also possible to place a tile in the wrong location by accident, since the confirmation button is right under your finger after you place the tile. It would be easier if you could tap on several different legal placements in a row, and then confirm your choice by tapping off the board.
One glaring omission is pass-and-play, which seems like it should be a simple addition. Since the game is strictly turn-based and has little need to keep secrets in between turns, it seems like playing on a single device with a friend or two would be a given--but like Metro itself, no dice.
Online play is done through Brettspielwelt, the German web games portal, which is serviceable but not as easy to use as Play games or Game Center - a lot of the interface is in German, for example. There don't appear to be many people playing, but you could use it to set up a match with any friends you might have on Brettspielwelt. This means you'll be doing a lot of playing against the AI, which is not too bad. Each AI character is meant to have their own personality in addition to mere cleverness at the game. Some are pushovers but others can be quite fiendish.
Metro will be most entertaining to board game fans looking for something to play on their lonesome, but missed opportunities to enhance the gameplay on mobile devices make it hard to recommend more broadly.