Posted by: gschloesser | August 6, 2011

Metromania

Designer: Jean-Michel Maman
Publisher:  Spiel-ou-Face
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

Will there ever be an end to rail games?  As long as folks continue to devise clever twists to the various rail systems, probably not.  Metromania is a French production challenging players to dig subway tunnels across a city, taking care to link important destinations and construct subway stations.  The game feels quite a bit like Streetcar (Linie 1), and there isn’t much strikingly new. 

The city is constructed by fitting six triangle pieces into a frame.  Each segment is further divided into numerous additional triangles, which forms the grid upon which tiles will be placed.  Scattered across the city are numerous residential, commercial and entertainment areas.  The ultimate goal is for players to link these destinations with the shortest routes possible. 

I must state that the English version of the rules is quite jumbled.  Actually, the make Adlung Spiele’s English rules appear to be worthy of a language doctorate degree.  After several futile attempts at deciphering the rules, I was finally able to obtain a better translation from a fellow gamer which were actually readable.  Mind you, I still didn’t fully understand the game until after I had played the first time, but at least I was able to explain the game to others.

Each player receives a set of triangular tiles.  Each tile has either a solid or striped line running along one edge.  This is the subway line, and when tiles are played to the board, these rails must properly align.  Forming acute angles is forbidden, as such sharp turns are likely to cause a tragic derailment.  

In addition, each player receives an equal share of twelve destination markers.  There are two sets of markers lettered A – F, and each depicts one of the three types of destinations listed above.  When a player places a track onto one of destinations depicted on the board, he may place a matching destination maker on that space.  The goal is to link the two matching destination markers (A’s, B’s, etc.), preferably with your own lines, and to make this link as short as possible. 

There aren’t a lot of decisions to make on a turn.  A player may either place three tiles, or build an intermediate station.  Subway lines begin along the edge of the board and must ultimately terminate on the opposite side of the board.  Lines must be contiguous, and cannot form branches.  Further, only one tile may be on a space, so it is quite possible preferred pathways will be blocked.  

Whenever a subway line meets another line, a station is immediately placed.  Further, when one line is running parallel to another line and then splits off in a different direction, a station is placed at that point.  Additionally, once a line is completed, the player may place one additional station somewhere along that line.  After that, no further stations may be placed on that line. 

Instead of placing new tiles, a player may opt to place a station somewhere along an existing, but still incomplete line, but it must be placed between two existing stations.  Stations are important as they serve as links for various destinations, and they are used when scoring the various lines.  One of the keys is to make sure you place stations along your lines at destination points to which you are connected.  Failure to do so is costly. 

Whenever a station is placed, one point is earned for each destination that touches that station.  These points can be significant, but they are at risk during the final scoring.  More on this in a bit. 

The building phase of the game ends when one player has completed both lines, all stations are placed, or a total of five lines have either been completed or are blocked.  At this point, final scoring and line tests are performed. This can occur rather quickly, so players must keep a careful eye on this possibility. 

Tallying points is a bit involved.  First, points are deducted for players who have not completed both lines.  Players who have only completed one line lost half of their points, while players who were unable to complete either of their lines lost ALL of their points.  Ouch.  This is harsh.  

The city now runs a test between destination markers with matching letters (A to A, B to B, etc.) to determine the shortest route.  Each segment between stations takes one minute, while switching from one line to another takes three minutes.  Once the shortest route is determined, all players who have a line that is part of that route each points: 

  • 6 points if they placed one of the destination markers
  • 3 points otherwise. 

If a destination marker was never placed on the board, the guilty party loses six points.  Further, if the marker was placed but no one erected a station touching it, the player who placed the marker loses six points.  If both matching destination markers were placed, but no line links them, both players who placed the markers lose the six points.  Again, this is quite harsh, and the lesson to be learned is to make sure you link your destination markers with lines and stations. 

One final test run is made between the lake and park, with points being earned as above.  No points are lost since destination markers are not placed on these locations.  After this final run, the player with the most points emerges victorious and wins the contract to construct all future subway routes. 

Metromania is one of those games that I just could not understand until my first game was finished.  The scoring system did not click, and I really did not appreciate the importance of constructing stations quickly at destination points.  When the final scoring was conducted, however, all of this became clear, and all players realized the mistakes that they had made.  

I had hopes that subsequent playings would improve my opinion, as there did seem to be a decent amount of strategy and tactics present.  Sadly, this hope was not fulfilled, as future games felt rather bland.  The tactics seemed fairly straight-forward, with the main challenge being one of grabbing valuable territory quickly so your lines would not be cut-off from expansion.  One may be tempted to hesitate a bit when constructing lines, hoping to learn the location of matching destination markers.  However, the board is small, and waiting can often mean routes to matching destinations are blocked.  Worse, it could also mean that the game is on the verge of ending, and you will be unable to not only connect to destinations, but also not be able to complete your lines.  Both of these situations are unpalatable.  The main strategy seems to be to construct lines quickly, connect to as many destinations as possible, and complete your two lines.  For me, this is unsatisfying. 

Metromania is certainly not a bad game.  It is decent and has no serious flaws.  However it really does not add much new to the genre, and suffers from the same condition that so many other games have succumbed to – namely, that there are other similar games that I enjoy more and have more to offer.  As such, I likely would not turn down an invitation to play, but I feel no need to keep it in my collection.

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Responses

  1. Complicated connection/tile laying game with several twists. Not hard to play but hard to be efficient. 7/10


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