Not everyone misses the hustle and bustle of public transportation while they endure life during a pandemic, but for those that love subway maps and free transfers there is a perfect board game out there to pass the time in quarantine. GameWright’s Metro X features the bright color-coordination of metropolitan mass transit graphic design with a quickly-moving “rail and write” card game.
Metro X is a new edition of a game originally made in Japan, with some tweaks to make it play a bit faster and includes erasable boards for up to six players. Gameplay is simultaneous: each player has the same metro map, with the goal to complete routes by filling up as many spaces on the board as possible to gain points. A card is flipped over, and players then choose a rail line to fill and mark the number of spaces equal to the number on the card. Everyone is using the same cards and subway lines, but the routes intersect several times and it’s impossible to fill up everything by the end of the game. Those choices players make get them different point values for routes finished first, and the uncertainty of what numbers (or free transfers or junctions) are coming and when the deck reshuffles add in a bit of luck to keep things interesting.
Both maps are inspired by real-life train systems, though thankfully no actual city’s system is organized this poorly. The concept is a bit brain-twisting at first but once everyone settles in there’s not much to grasp beyond picking a color, crossing off some boxes and hoping for the best. The two-sided game boards offer considerable replay value: Metro City is much easier to grasp conceptually than Tube Town, as the former has routes all moving left to right. But both offer plenty of opportunities to strategize and the dry erase element certainly helps players correct mistakes they might make getting the concept of the game down.
The most interesting thing about Metro X is the focus it requires. The first time I played it was at PAX East in Boston, a huge gaming convention that can be a sensory overload for some. But Metro X requires an amount of attention that manages to block pretty much everything around you out. There’s not a lot of time for cross-talk, as players will be staring hard at their boards to figure out how best to manage different routes without wasting moves. What’s more, there’s really no incentive to looking at another player’s board to see what they’re doing simply because you can’t afford to take attention away from your own work. It’s a game all your own, but the competition can be fierce as a result. Players thinking they’re on the brink of a few extra bonus points can come up just short to someone else prioritizing a different route. It’s a sometimes maddening result, but one that in my playtesting only made players want to give the game another go to figure out a faster way to complete routes.
If you like your game nights more meandering and loud, Metro X might not be the best pick for your next game night. But it’s a great change of pace game that plays quickly, much like Abandon All Artichokes. And the brainpower required to juggle criss-crossing routes and not getting stuck with costly empty boxes makes for a satisfying play, even if you come up a bit short.
There are certainly worse things to become absorbed in right now, and until you master the intersecting routes in Tube Town there are plenty of hours to burn here. In these trying times, any game that can bring a bit of the outside world to your quarantine is a welcome change of pace. For those who miss squinting at a subway map in a strange city to make sure they’re going the right direction, Metro X is a charming little adventure to navigate from the comfort of home.