For reasons Coronavirus-related, this seems to be the golden age of “roll-and-write” games. Flexible in player count, and easily playable over video calls, this mechanism has appeared on gaming tables all over the world, converting players for whom descendants of 50s hit Yahtzee would have otherwise been non-starters! And Metro X, while technically a “flip-and-fill”, is a brilliant example of one such game. It has risen to the challenge, entertaining solo players as well as in-person and online groups.
Originally by OKAZU and re-published by Gamewright, this compact Rail-and-Write looks simple but packs a crunchy punch in only 20 minutes. Metro X contains a diminutive deck of cards, 6 dry-erase markers and 6 individual, identical, double-sided boards. You'll compete to gain the most points by visiting the most stops and completing the most lines as fast as you can in a finite number of moves.
Set-up takes less time than releasing the game from its plastic prison. Grasping the rules is similarly easy. But, like a milk train meandering along the hills and dales, mastering those subway lines is a slow process and will keep you coming back for more.
With that in mind, having got the green light, let’s roll on and learn how to play Metro X!
Subway Set Up!
This will probably the shortest section in the history of the Zatu How To Play series. Each player receives a dry-erase marker and a double-sided board. One player shuffles the 15 Transit Cards, placing them in the centre space between players. Everyone also gets a small, handy summary card as a reminder of the meaning of each of the 4 Transit Cards as well as the final scoring penalties (but more on that later!). And that’s it – you are ready to ride those rails!
If you’re craving components to get yourself into the game-zone, don’t feel hard-done-by. The simplicity of the game’s elements is spot-on for the genre and definitely part of its deceptive charm (and malice!).
Ok, ok…..if you need a little bit more to set your subway scene, you will need to decide whether to play the Metro City or Tube Town map. Everyone must play the same. Choose carefully, however, as each system of coloured (and subtly patterned) lines presents its own challenges, which only become more apparent as we rocket past the stops!
How to Play Metro X
Right then, once the first player has been chosen (rock-paper-scissors-shoot is my family’s go-to. I know, don’t ask!), the first Transit Card is flipped over to reveal the action which everybody must take simultaneously. You can find explanations of all four actions below.
On this action, you will write the number shown on the card in a train car window (some train cars have 2, others 3) of your choosing. Then you will cross off the corresponding number of adjacent stations along that line.
When number cards are revealed on later turns, if you have previously crossed off stations on a given line, you must fill in the next train car window on that line and begin filling in from the last station you crossed off.
Note 1: if that means you have to “waste” a larger number filling in a gap of lower value created by stations you've crossed off on intersecting lines, you haven’t misunderstood the rules. This is all part of the fantastic “argh!” factor of this tricky train teaser!
Note 2: if you flip over a 6, once everybody has crossed off their six stations (or as many of the six as they can fit in) on their chosen line, you will need to place it back in the deck and reshuffle, ready to draw a new Transit Card for the next turn.
With this action, you can fill in gaps along a particular line without having to “waste” a larger number card. So, on a Skip, you fill in the train car window on your chosen line with the number shown on the Transit Card, as above. However, this time, you can go back to your first open station on a line, crossing it off. Then you can hop over previously filled stations, filling in more free spots up to the maximum value shown on the Skip card.
As the game progresses and available moves reduce, I guarantee you will be crossing your fingers and toes, desperate for Skip cards to come out of the deck!
This is a points bonanza. Instead of putting a number in a train car window, you place a cross in the train car window of your chosen line and you fill the next available station on that line with a value equal to twice the number of different lines running through it. Accept this for now and all will be revealed as this guide progresses!
This is like a gift from the Fat Controller himself, and as rare as a vacant subway seat at rush-hour! With this card, you can fill in a station anywhere on your board without having to worry about adjacency or using up a precious train car window! Sweeeet!
Note 3: if you complete a line without using all of the available train car windows (it can happen!), the spare window(s) can be used to “waste” actions you don’t want to use elsewhere on your map, but they won’t score you any points.
Pump the Brakes!
As you might have realised, as you travel around your network, squeezing your eyes shut in the vain hope that the next Transit Card will be a Skip or a Free to help you complete a line, the number of turns on each map (excluding Free Card moves) is finite. There are just 23 train car windows in total. Once they have all been filled in, the game ends.
Yup, I know. I can hear the puff as your cheeks deflate faster than the air brakes on your subway car! But don’t exit the carriage yet, subway surfers, for the scoring is about to commence!
A handy hint before we begin: if you complete a line during the game, using the available 2/3 train car window moves, blow your metaphorical (or actual if you like!) whistle to let the other players know.
Aside from the chance to celebrate this mini-victory, this has a practical purpose too. If you are the first player to complete a certain line, you'll receive bonus points at the end of the game, indicated on the corresponding yellow diamond. If you complete a line someone else has already completed, you’ll get the lower points value shown in the white square.
So, for example, if you complete Line A using the two train car moves and you are the first player to do it, you will score 2 points. If you achieve it but have been delayed by leaves on the line, you'll score 1 point.
As the game goes along, you would be wise to circle the yellow diamonds you secure (and have your opponents strike them out) so that you know what you are going to get at game end.
Ok, once you have put down your pens, unclenched your fists and unfurrowed your brows, you will start adding up and, yep, deducting points, to determine your total scores and the overall winner. Ready? Wagons roll……
Points achieved by completing lines are added up and written into the “completed” circle. Then, the value of all the Transfers is totalled and entered in the “Transfers” circle. Looking good, right? But, now the game hits back like a runaway freight train. You now have to add up all the incomplete stations and, using your summary card, translate that into a penalty which you then write in the “Empty” circle. Once you've subtracted this from the sum of the other two, your overall score is revealed. Whoever has achieved the highest total is the winner of Metro X!
Station Master Strategy
At first glance, this game looks simple. But as the number of moves reduces, you will need to make decisions which you really don’t want to make. This could mean sacrificing some lines in order to complete others, and that tension is a slippery rail, my friend. You’ll wipe your board and walk away from the table but your mind will still be back there trying to work out how you could have propped up your points. For such a small, quick game, that's quite an achievement.
Metro X Solo Mode
It's handy then that the solo mode plays exactly the same as the multiplayer game. It's a beat-your-own-score which you can enjoy in and of itself or use as practice in readiness for your next Metro X meet! And what’s more, although only 6 dry wipe board come in the box, Gamewright Games have kindly released a print-and-play version of Metro City. This means that the number of opponents you can face is now limited only by the speed of your internet connection or the number of chairs around your table!
Metro X Multiplayer Mode
It is also very easy to focus on your own colourful subway spaghetti whilst completely forgetting what your opponents are doing. Given the multiplayer-solitaire feeling of Metro X, this is understandable, but it will be your undoing, for there is a real risk that they will be snatching those yellow bonuses out from under your nose! Similarly, if you ride your favourite line all the way to the end without considering the effect on the other intersecting lines, there will be multiple lines you can only complete using a skip and a prayer!
Of course, you will adopt your own strategies as you play Metro X and due to the high replayability of the game these will need to adapt regularly. Nonetheless, I'll say this: Transfers are your frenemy. Get them early on or late into a game and they are like leaves on the line. Flip one somewhere in the middle, however, and you’ll be a subway supercharger!
“Tell me, whyyyyyy,” I hear you sing. Well, if a Transit Card comes up and you choose (or are forced into choosing) the first empty space on a line which is simply a straight route through, you’ll only score a maximum of 2 for that Transfer. If you have strategized (or lady luck is in your favour) so that you have kept a free mega-junction station like Metro City where 5 lines (I, G,F, D, and B) intersect, you’ll have a whopping 10 point bonus when it comes to final scoring!
And on that note, I think you are ready to start your engines and get going, friends!
All aboard Metro X!