I was first introduced to Japanese designer Hisashi Hayashi’s games when I played Yokohama. It had simple Euro mechanisms and quickly became one of my favorite games of 2016. Since then I’ve made a point to seek out his games and have rarely been disappointed. He’s created a variety of games from simple roll-and-writes like Rolling Japan, to trick-taking Trick of the Rails, his wonderful take on the cube rail genre, and the deck-building staple Trains.
Today we are taking a look at Metro X, a flip-and-write originally published in 2018. It has been reprinted by Gamewright and is now available widely in the United States for the first time. The field of roll/flip-and-writes is crowded—well, overcrowded—but maybe it still deserves a spot on your shelf?
To begin with, each player will get a dry-erase board that shows intersecting subway lines. The board is double-sided, and players will all use the same side, deciding between Metro City and the slightly more difficult Tube Town. (The original version labeled them Tokyo and Osaka, but the Gamewright reprint makes no claims to their real-life inspiration.)
Each train line has several available “windows.” One player will reveal the top card of the deck which, generally, will show a number between 3-6. You’ll write that number in one of the train windows and mark off a few boxes on that train line equal to that number. You’ll start at the first empty box closest to the train window and proceed from there. However, if you ever reach a box that is already crossed off, you must stop.
But how does that happen? Well, the various routes cross in and out of each other. So as you are marking off stations on the yellow line you may be also hitting stations on the green or red lines as well. Your goal is to cross off all the stations on as many lines as possible and the only way to do so is by taking full advantage of where lines run concurrently as much as possible. The first player to complete a given line scores the most points, but everyone who completes it will earn the lower value.
There also are a few special cards. There are 2-3 value “skip” cards that allow you to mark off that number of boxes and skip over already-crossed stations as needed. There is a “free” card that can be used to mark off any station, even if you haven’t actually reached it on the line yet. And finally, there are transfer cards. These allow you to put a number in one station that is the first empty station on any line. You get 2x the number of lines that intersect that station and those points will be added to your score at the end of the game.
The game ends when all windows have been filled. Players score points for their completed lines and transfers and lose points based on the number of unfilled stations. The player with the most points wins.
For better or worse, I kind of became the default “roll-and-write” person around here. At first, I really enjoyed it. They were new and shiny. Games seemed to really have a good amount of depth of decisions when compared to their length and how easy they were to learn. But then roll-and-writes exploded. And I’ve since written what seems to be endless numbers of reviews about mediocre games in the genre.
They are plagued by uninteresting decisions. Or lack of any meaningful interaction. Or a bunch of rules bloat that just belies what really made me enjoy these small box games to begin with.
Well, it entered two years ago, to be fair. But there is a reason it was reprinted for a wider release.
Everyone is using the same values every turn, so there is no luck involved. It comes done to really taking a close look at the map, where the intersections happen, and planning. Not just planning for completing the lines but trying to leave a good station available if a transfer card happens to be drawn.
You’ll never complete all the lines though, so you’ll quickly have to choose some to be throwaways to dump the small numbers into. There is value in doing a bit of card-counting and knowing what values remain. However, when the 6 card is drawn all the discards are shuffled back in.
All of this in a game whose rulebook is printed on a single fold-out page. There is a really good decision-to-rules overhead ratio happening here. Everyone can be taught and get your game going in less than 5 minutes. But as you play, you’ll learn more and understand about the decisions you are being asked to make and where you can push your luck and hope the deck of cards works in your favor.
The only real let down is the player interaction is really only in the race to complete each line. The first to do so will earn a couple of extra points. It is a little forced and sometimes can lead to people trying to peek over their shoulders to see exactly what routes everyone is focused on. It’s better than nothing, but the simultaneous play keeps the game moving briskly along.
The roll/flip-and-write market is well past being saturated. No doubt about it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need more. We just need more like Metro X. It’s low rules overhead and high-impact decisions are exactly what made me love some of the early games in the genre like Qwinto. The theme here helps bring everything together and the different maps offer unique experiences.
Hisashi Hayashi has proven himself capable of making good games using almost any mechanism. Metro X just reinforces that.
Credit: Metro X Review