Game: Maglev Metro
Publisher: Bezier Games
Designer: Ted Alspach
Maglev Metro is a 1-4 player pick up and deliver game which sees you setting up metro stations either across Berlin or Manhattan. This new state of the art Magnetic Levitation (Maglev for short) system offers next to no friction allowing for fast, easy transit of passengers. So long as you can build all the lines, stations, and fix all the technical hurdles involved. Starting with a small team of robots that can be assigned as you want, you’ll spend actions in order to locate, collect and drop off robots to the correctly coloured station. Doing so lets you put the robots on your player board, increasing the efficiency of your actions and ultimately letting you transport people. As cool as a train system for robots would be, your system is meant to take people, so these are where you’ll get the majority of your points.
The map starts nearly empty, with only a copper, silver and gold station to begin the game. Each station will have a couple of robots on it. On your turn you’ll take two actions from the list of options in the centre of the board. Most of the actions are self explanatory, track lets you place new track tiles or remove existing ones, move lets you move along track to the next station, capacity is how many people you can carry, while pick up is how many you can collect from the station you are at for one action, build stations lets you add new stations to the map and reverse train lets you switch directions without reaching the end of the line. This leaves a couple of more complex actions: Drop off is used to deliver passengers to the station you are currently on. If they are the matching colour then they are placed on your board on a matching colour slot. Refill station lets you pull passengers out of the bag to the station you are on. Adjust is perhaps the most unique of all, letting you take robots off of your player board and then reassign them, letting you tweak your engine for the current requirements.
While the game does take place on a map, the whole purpose of the game is to improve your player boards. Robots (copper, silver and gold passengers) are used to unlock new passenger colours, improve the efficiency of your actions and unlock a third action a round. Meanwhile the human passengers are worth points, can unlock the more complex passenger colours and potentially even unlock a fourth or fifth action a round. They are also able to unlock increased end game scoring, letting you score additional end game scoring cards, increasing the value of different passenger colours or increasing the points for completing links between stations. The end of the game will only occur once the bag is empty of all colours of passengers. Human passengers are only placed in the bag once at least one station of their colour has been unlocked and built, so the game cannot end until all four passenger colours have been unlocked. Pick up and deliver is a genre that usually gels really well with us, so mixing that with engine building seems like a no brainer for creating a game we would love. And there is a lot to love, the game components are beautifully designed, a triple layer game board presents a wonderful nook for any stations you build, while the transparent track tiles allow for an authentic-looking tube map to appear as you play. The ability to finely tune your train to work the way you want to it, whilst always leaving an improvement to strive for, provides a fantastic driving force behind your play. The ability to rearrange both robots on your board and track on the main board means you’ll never be fully committed to your mistakes and even allows for clever gameplay moments.
So all that being said, I wasn’t the hugest fan of Maglev Metro. It does a lot of things right, but in doing so it creates a flaw which nagged and nagged at us while we played. There’s no catch up mechanic, at all. Make a mistake, or be painfully unlucky on passenger draws, and you’ll start to run behind. Your opponents might unlock their third, or even fourth action before you, and then you can’t help but run even further behind. There’s little you can do once you are taking fewer, less efficient actions than your rivals. When it comes to trains, the rich get richer and the poor are left in the dust. This isn’t so bad as to prevent you from progressing and making achievements, but it can be painfully clear half way through the game that you really can’t win from your position, leaving a good amount of time feeling rather disheartened.
This could be an issue that’s more pronounced when playing two player, or maybe we simply aren’t that good at the game (fully possible as I suspect extremely clever things can be done by investing heavily into ‘adjust’). But whatever the reason, any game that makes you feel like you’ve already lost and then leaves you sitting around watching everyone else do three times as much as you quickly becomes unfun. On those occasions where everyone remains on an equal footing the game is fantastic, and it’s great to see how everyone customises their train lines to best solve the puzzle put before them, but unfortunately it’s not quite consistent enough to earn a place on our shelf.
Maglev Metro was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK.