I’ve always found myself drawn to games of efficiency. I think it’s why I enjoy engine builders so much. They are games about making the most out of limited resources. Pick up and deliver games also grab my attention in much the same way. Spotting opportunities to efficiently move resources around a map feels like a spatial version of engine building to me. Sounds odd, but I’m an odd person. Anyway, here's Maglev Metro.
Anyway, about 6 months ago when Bezier Games started teasing out information about Maglev Metro, I found myself intrigued. Here was a game about picking up and delivering passengers throughout a city. But you build the network as you go. Also, you can unlock new abilities and passenger types. Interestingly, you can unlock these abilities however you please. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let’s go back to the basics.
Maglev Metro is a game for 1-4 players that takes somewhere between an hour and two hours to play. This is dependant on the players’ experience with the game. Each player will start off with a train, a stack of route tiles and a board that represents their Maglev Metro empire. This board will have lots of empty slots on it. You'll hopefully get the chance to fill over the course of the game. You’ll also get to draw a few secret objectives that you can aim to complete by the time the game is finished.
The goal of the game is to get the most points possible. You get points by delivering commuters to where they want to go. You also get points for each station you connect at the end of the game as well as scoring some of your objective cards.
There are 2 maps in the box and they both have a few unique rules for them to keep them fresh, but the basics will be the same. The board will start off with 3 colours of robots placed randomly on all of the station spots on the map. There will also be a destination that each of these robots wants to get to somewhere on the map. Your job is to make that happen.
On your turn, you will have 2 actions to spend. You can use these placing rails, moving your train, picking up passengers or dropping them off where they want to go. Once you have delivered one of these robots, you get to place them somewhere on your player board, and this is where Maglev Metro starts to get crunchy.
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Every delivered passenger can be placed somewhere on your board to unlock something. That something might be making your train move further or be able to carry more people. It may be the ability to place new stations. Or, it may be that you can unlock new passenger types that your train can carry. You can even unlock extra actions to take every turn, there are lots of choices!
The robots on the map at the beginning of the game are mainly used to enhance your abilities. But the commuters that you can unlock over the course of the game are mainly about scoring you points at the end of the game. What is interesting is that when you unlock a new passenger type, that is only for you until your opponents also unlock it. This means if you are clever about how you place your delivered passengers, you can unlock the new passenger types quite early. This can set yourself up a little monopoly that nobody else can encroach on until they have also unlocked the new passengers.
This ability to specialise in what you want is one of my favourite parts of the game. You can have a radically different experience to your opponents depending on how you choose to develop. You could have some amazing train that can zip from one side of the city to the other in one turn but can’t carry many passengers at all. Then, you could go the other route and have a slow train that can carry loads of passengers at a time. Or you can have a slow train that can’t carry much. But, what it can carry is worth loads of points because that is where you’ve chosen to put in your upgrades. This variation is great, and I love it.
One area of the game I’ve neglected to mention is building your network, so let’s cover that now. First off, it’s not really a network. You can only build a single train line and it can’t have any junctions on it. Also, you’ve not got many track tiles and you’ll inevitably need a straight piece and you’ve only got curves left. So, what do you do? Well, you can pick up your track and place it again someplace else.
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It’s quite cool while you’re playing, the game sort of ebbs and flows. When you start off, you’re working on getting the starting robots where they need to be. Then, over the course of the game you will generally shift your attention towards the human commuters. This means those connections to early stations are not so useful. Worse still, in some cases, they will just be getting in the way as you need to spend movement to travel through them. So, it makes sense to pick up your old track and re-deploy it where it makes more of a difference.
Another important subtlety is that you can only turn your train around when it gets to the end of the line or the hub on the New York map. At least at the beginning of the game. That means you need your track to be as efficient as possible. Otherwise, you may waste time trundling your train to the end of the line just to turn around and actually head off where you want to go.
As the game progresses you can also start to shift your robots about on your player boards to change which abilities are unlocked. A simple example would be moving the robot you placed to allow you to build stations when all of the stations have been built. Leaving them there is a waste and in a game all about efficiency, that is a no-no!
I should really talk about the components too before I hit the word limit. This game is very nice to look at and is very well produced. The main game board and player boards are all dual layered so all of the pieces slot nicely into place. The track tiles are made of clear plastic and the tracks being colourful lines. It means that when you’re playing, it looks like you’re building a tube map. I really like that. The train pieces are made specifically for this game and the passenger's slot nicely into them. This gives you a nice visual of where you are and what you are carrying in one place.
As an odd point to make, this game has one of the nicest first player tokens that I have seen in a while. It is a metal metro token, and it looks fab. My main complaint about the components is the colouring of the robot passengers. The gold and copper robots can look quite similar if the lighting isn’t ideal. It can be a bit frustrating delivering a robot someplace to use on a specific spot on your board only to find it is not a colour match when you get up close to it.
Maglev Metro - Pulling Into The Station
There is also a solo mode. It’s pretty good but plays a little differently from a multiplayer game. There are a number of passengers being drawn out of the bag each turn, and you lose as soon as the bag is empty. This clock really keeps the pressure up whereas, in a multiplayer game, things are a little more relaxed. This is despite the endgame condition of emptying the bag being the same.
I’ve enjoyed my time with this game so far and I definitely feel like I have more to discover. Especially as I’m yet to try the advanced mission cards. I’ve looked at them, they hurt my brain at the moment. I’ve found this game to be a nice twist on the pickup and deliver formula. The way you can choose how your abilities change over the course of the game may put off a few people. but if you enjoy a good medium weight game and like pick up and deliver, this is one you absolutely should check out.