Nostalgia is a valuable asset for game developers and publishers to utilise. So too is the idea of a second edition. In 2016 we witnessed Donald X. Vaccarino re-approach the design of his first two Dominion sets with resounding success. This formula also proved successful for other popular games, including War of the Ring and Mansions of Madness.
What’s fascinating is how crowd-funding has encouraged publishers to review and renew their older games. Kickstarter has helped enable publishers to re-introduce classics to the tabletop community. One such publisher that makes full use of this is Queen Games. Many of their most reputable games, including Shogun and Fresco, have been revived in Big Box form thanks to crowdfunding.
In 2014 they reintroduced Metro, a game they first published in 2000. The rebirth of this tile-laying game came through Kickstarter. Three years later, they gave the game new life in the form of a second edition. The game had slipped under the radar for many, despite appearing with new mechanics as Cable Car in 2009.
This second edition expands the first game by implementing Cable Car’s changes as modular expansions. Nearly two decades have passed since its launch; does this edition manage to stay on track?
A Metropolitan Life
The second edition of Metro supports 2-6 players. It includes the base game along with four optional expansions. The game was designed by Dirk Henn, who also designed two other Queen Games classics: Alhambra and Shogun. The game is set in Paris, France, as players attempt to build needlessly long tram lines across the city.
At its core, Metro is a tile-laying game with multiple coloured start points circling around the board. These start points are placed randomly around the board during set-up. Beside each start line is a depot, which serves as a tram line endpoint. Multiple depots are also located around a central square in the board. Each tile has a different track layout and a direction which determines the tile’s correct orientation. If you’ve ever played Tsuro, the tiles will look quite familiar.
In the base game, you are assigned a colour and the goal of maximising the length of your colour's tram lines. Completed lines are worth one point for each tile the tram enters, and re-entering a previously entered tile also counts. This score is doubled if the line ends on a depot on the central area of the board. Naturally, this will mean that might plan on interrupting your opponents by shortening their own lines.
At the start of your turn you’ll have one tile in hand. You can choose to play it or instead draw a new tile. If you choose to draw, the tile you place is required to be the one you drew. Tiles must be placed in the correct direction and either adjacent to the edge of the board or another tile. You also are not permitted to cause a tram line to loop in on itself. Once you’re done, you draw until you’ve one tile in hand and pass the turn. Play continues until the board is completely full or all lines have been completed. The player whose colour scored the most points wins the game!
The expansions mix up the game substantially. The most notable is the Metro Companies expansion. Originally implemented in Cable Car, this expansion uses all eight colours regardless of the number of players.
Each player starts with four stock cards dealt secretly, each valued 10% to 40% and featuring one of the eight colours in play. A board is set aside with four revealed stock cards and the remaining cards in face-down piles, divided by percentage. The goal is now to maximise the amount of points that your colours earn, relative to the other colours. The colour with the most points at the end is worth eight points, second place seven etc. This value is multiplied depending on the percentage stock that your cards are worth. For example, a 40% red stock multiplies red’s value by four while a 20% stock multiplies it by two.
Players also have an extra action during their turn involving these stock cards. Instead of placing a tile, you can swap one of your stock cards with another equal value stock. You can choose to either take the revealed stock or the face-down stock on top of the remaining pile. The stock you use to exchange will return to the bottom of the face-down pile. Once a colour reaches 25 points, this action can no longer be taken. From that point on, your colour(s) that you want to score on are locked-in.
The other three expansions are quite minor in comparison. Station Numbers gives players an incentive to complete their personal lines at specific numbered stations. Metro Stations adds new coloured start points to the board’s central area, while Central Tracks replaces the central area with track tiles. These two expansions can be used in conjunction with either of the first two expansions, but not three at once.
Off The Rails
Metro was an intriguing game to revisit. In some aspects, it’s evident that the game was designed two decades ago. I get the impression that it served as inspiration for many of today’s first-choice gateway games.
It’s difficult to dive deep into Metro without comparing with the aforementioned Tsuro. The original Tsuro takes Metro’s tile layouts, strips down the mechanics and adds the ‘find your path’ motif. The result is a more chaotic game, but it serves as a fantastic way to start your tabletop meetup.
Metro, in comparison, is much more of a brain-burner. You’re required to visualise multiple tracks and colours when considering your tile placement. Players with analysis paralysis may have some trouble, as there is a surprising amount of variables to keep an eye on. The game is simple to introduce and explain, but spatial awareness is key to succeeding.
I do feel that the expansions elevate this edition of Metro overall. The Metro Companies expansion in particular improves the game dynamics in my opinion. Having up to four colours to focus on allows you to diversify your strategy and react to the board state much easier. This becomes especially interesting when you realise that you share colours with other players.
There is almost an element of deduction, as you try to figure out what colours everyone has invested in. The other expansions are fine additions on occasion, but playing Metro with Station Companies is near-essential. None of them bloat the game’s rules either, which is always pleasant.
My main experiences with the game have been with four players. This player count worked out well, as the board state remained relatively controlled between turns. Having five or six players creates a larger element of chaos, as more actions occur before your turn comes around. This can be an upside or a downside depending on your gaming preferences. Conversely, having only two or three players allows you to manipulate the board state much easier.
Has age been kind to Metro overall? It’s a difficult question to answer. Most of the challenge of Metro comes from how restricted your options are. Ignoring the expansions, you’re limited to doing one of two actions: place your tile in hand, or place a drawn tile. Even the tile orientation is restricted to one direction only. The challenge presents itself when evaluating the best way to use your action, despite these restrictions.
In comparison, Ticket To Ride, one of the most popular gateway games of this decade, focuses more on freedom and opportunities. If your hand of train cards is lacking, you can take more cards without being obligated to immediately play them. Both Metro and Ticket to Ride have elements of paths crossing, however Ticket to Ride provides second opportunities. You can take action and place your trains at your own leisure, whenever you see fit. If your opponent interrupts you, there’s usually other means of establishing your path.
I still feel that both games have their merits. Metro will always be the easier game to teach due to how straightforward and streamlined it is. That being said, the industry has produced many fantastic 30+ minute gateway games since Metro’s launch. It has a steep hill to climb, but I’m glad that Queen Games gave attention to one of its defining early games.
Final Thoughts on Metro
My journey with Metro has been an interesting one. It harkens back to a vastly different time of tabletop gaming, before crowd-funding and internet forums. It has a very rustic and classic feel to it, making it a charming and nostalgic game to play.
The genre of gateway games has evolved greatly in the last two decades. If you’re just getting into tabletop gaming, this will serve you well. At the same time, I’d also consider the other options available to you.
There are a number of reasons why games like Ticket to Ride are still relevant today. It’s how they embody the advances of modern board game mechanics in a gateway package that makes them noteworthy. This is not to dissuade you from giving Metro a chance, of course. I was personally compelled to try this game due to how it inspired games we know and love today.
If you already own Metro and are considering upgrading, the Metro Companies expansion alone is a selling point. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a simple, puzzle-like game that scales up to six players, this is definitely one to check out.