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Subject: Metromania: a review rss

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Riccardo Prosperi
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Presentation The bad news first (don't worry too much, though: they're few and of little relevance!). I'm not sure whether the cover picture has been conceived during a serious lack of inspiration or if it's the result of a research for a "corporate" look a-la Power Grid: anyway, may it be dull by chance or by purpose, it doesn't strike me in the right way. Had I to choose my games only by looking at the box, I would leave this one on the shelf. It may seem a little harsh to start a review in this mood (and indeed it is!) but it would be a pity to see the sales of such a nice game hampered by a poor artwork. End of the rant.

Inside the box The same style that I found so disappointing on the box really does it for me when it comes to the game's components: all the chits, representing underground lines, stations and various points of interest are drenched with that peculiar pop-flavoured, subdued modernism that very often defines underground lines all over Europe. A finished game is really something that stands out among similar products, and should attract casual onlookers enough to persuade them to give it a try.
There are 36 tunnel sections and 4 start/finish tiles for each player (half solid, half striped, since each player has to build two lines), 30 station chits and three kind of destinations tiles (making for a total of 12): home, work, fun, each one of them marked with letters from A to F. The board itself is composed of four frame sections and six interchangeable triangular inner sections, thus allowing for a different setup in each game. This is a nice feature, that contributes to keep the box down to a reasonable size and adds some replayability value to the game. Another much welcome touch are the six ziplock bags that come with the components and allow to keep all the chits organized by colour and kind, drastically reducing the set-up time. That such simple, yet effective devices are often overlooked by bigger, richer producers still eludes me and speaks volumes about the effort that has been put in the making of this game.

Theme It's a route laying a railway/underground setting, as obvious as it may seem, is the most appropriate!

Mechanics I'm not going to explain in detail the game's rules, since it will take too much time and effort: let's just say that this is a typical route laying game, where players try to connect various locations on the board in order to gain points and avoid heavy penalties. The interesting thing is that they will have probably to cooperate with each other both to place stations (they can be placed only at lines'intersections and this the only way to score points in the first phase of the game)and to connect the various destinations (failing to do so is a way to gain a penalty). Sure, you could go your own way, or also try to screw your opponents blocking their lines, but apart from the first few plays (when everybody is still trying to make out what's going on), either a too aggressive style or a too collaborative attitude will soon lead to a sour demise. So, it's not only matter of choosing a behaviour, but also of correct timing: will a remissive playing in the first minutes concede a too big points lead to my opponents? Should I play this turn more aggressively, in order to gain that certain spot on the map, but damaging in the process other players that could, in turn, do me greater harm , not connecting to my lines? If there's one thing this game doesn't lack, that is players' interaction.
The scoring system, not so easy to understand at glance, works through a bonus/malus mechanism that manages to balance between advantages that may derive from differents tactics: players that place many stations on their lines to score as earlier as possible will find themselves penalized in the last phase of the game, when test runs are performed on the lines and faster lines (the ones with few stations) are more competitives than slower ones. Also, players whose lines are not completed (connecting two opposite sides of the board)or that during the game failed to pace the all-important destinations tiles, will see their score reduced in the last phase.

My (humble) opinion Albeit not particularly heavy-looking, this game is a real treat for advanced gamers: lots and lots of interaction between players, many decisions to be taken and a game system that compensates for different playing styles. The only problems could come from the fact that, although the instructions booklet is only four pages long, making for a quite straightforward set of rules, the first times playing is very hard to tell where the whole thing is going to end, first of all because with 4 player the board look a little bit cramped,chits and bits connecting and crossing everywhere (not that's necessarily a bad thing), and secondarily, because of the points awarding mechanism, that relegates most of the scoring to the last moments of the game. It's a common problem to most boardgames, and it can be easily overcome by a little bit of dedication from players, but I think it's enough to scare away beginners.
Another little weakness I'd like to point out is the way some rules are written, leaving some obscurities to be explained, but to tell the truth, I underlined this minor flaw just to be able to put more emphasis on the great support given by the author himself both on this very pages and on the game website: well done!

Bottom Line Great game, with lot of "meat", whose value is not undermined by minor flaws
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