In the beginning, there was only walking. As a wealthy private investor in TOKYO, you have already exhausted your options for speedier transport – your bike lets you travel only 50% farther than your feet. But there must be a better way! Aha! We build the TOKYO METRO. We will walk and ride the streets of TOKYO, building stations and founding METRO lines until we may make use of this very network to get around the city ourselves! Genius.
1-5 Players | 2 Hours | Designed by Jordan Draper
TOKYO METRO was released in late 2018 following a Kickstarter campaign by publisher Jordan Draper to bring to life his ‘Tokyo Series 1’ set of games. Jordan achieved success by bringing a unique Japanese aesthetic to western gamers – compact and highly attractive games that blend ideas from genres together to create something novel. TOKYO METRO is a fairly heavy game, and was released alongside TOKYO JUTAKU and TOKYO JIDOHANBAIKI, two lighter games. The three together make up Tokyo Series 1.
How does it work?
TOKYO METRO is an action selection (worker placement) and economic management game where players act as competing investors in the TOKYO METRO railway system. Players buy shares in various railway lines and then develop them in order to create value for those lines. At the end of the game, shares are paid out, and the richest player will be declared the best investor.
The game is played over a series of rounds in which players take actions to acquire shares and develop railway lines. At the beginning of each round, players bid for turn order and then move their pawns across the map. After that, taking turns, players take actions available on the many action cards. Cards are dealt out in rows with each row featuring a couple of types of actions. The cards are semi-random and slowly change across rounds (as if on a conveyor, old actions drop off and new ones are revealed).
Actions can include building a station at the player’s location (for a cost), investing in shares of a train line, getting a bike to move faster, and buying more workers/action discs. Players can also take out loans and speculate on share values, as well as moving around, getting discounts on future actions, and starting off train lines.
The key way to raise the value of the rail lines in TOKYO METRO is to build stations along their routes. Each line activates when one of its shares is purchased. Players will build stations along the lines of the rail lines they own shares in to raise the value of those companies and thus get bigger payouts for their investments at the end of the game. Of course, other players can invest in the same companies, diluting profits, and when players speculate, they further drop the value of shares in the end game.
At the end of each round, the train lines ‘operate’, they move through stations and generate value for themselves and cash for the players. After several rounds of building and investing, players are rewarded with a final payout where speculations are paid and share values are divided among players. Players count up their Yen and the richest player wins!
What do I think?
I’ve played TOKYO METRO 5 times now, at varying player counts between 3 and 5. Because of the way the game scales with the number of players, it feels very different with 3 to 5, and I think the sweet spot is 4. Enough rounds to have a good number of turns, and enough players to make the interactions interesting and for the board get well developed.
The Good Stuff
- Beautiful production. This seems to be a signature of Jordan Draper. I love the unique cloth map with it’s vibrant colours and iconic design. The cards and wooden/resin pieces are all really lovely too. It’s obvious there was a lot of attention to detail in this production.
- The most portable heavy game I own! (The tiny box is also great for tricking people into agreeing to play a much heavier game than they judge it to be).
- The use of decks of cards to generate a ‘conveyor’ of actions is an interesting mechanic that I really like. It is especially cool that players may purchase cards that have ‘fallen off’ as personal actions for their own use.
- There is a lot of ‘mean’ player interaction. Blocking, diluting company and share value etc. Some may not especially like this, but in the context of this game in particular it is a very fun thing. It makes the game very interactive and there is a lot of entertaining table talk as a result.
- Teaching (most) elements of the game is straightforward. There are many available actions, but most of them are quite intuitive and the iconography is good and easy to remember.
- It is pretty clear what players need to do in the early game (somewhat pushed by the available actions), and once a few rounds are played you’ve got a good feel for what you should be doing. There’s not really any particular ‘wrong’ order to do things in and you generally want to be doing most of the available actions. In this way, I’ve noticed despite the large number of options available each turn, players tend to not get bogged down with analysis paralysis so much as I would expect.
- The end game scoring is always a big event. Sometimes it can seem clear who is going to win but then paying out speculations can have a massive effect on the final stock payouts and lead to surprise victories.
The Bad Stuff
- Despite having some tiers/ loose ordering for the actions coming out, they don’t seem to properly reflect the sorts of things players want to do at that point in the game, especially at the end of the game.
- To expand on the above point, the end of the game always seems to be a round or two of players just ‘running their engines’ without much to do. I think part of the reason for this is the late game actions do not particularly facilitate anything different to the mid game ones. In the last round most stuff is ‘done’ and it is unlikely investing in something will generate a return. In this way it can feel like the game peters out a bit.
- 5 player seems like an afterthought (5 player setup is missing from the rulebook) and feels very rushed. The game just doesn’t go for long enough when there are 5 players.
- As much as I really like the tiny box and how everything fits inside, there were obviously compromises made for some components that make the game a little bit dexterously fiddly. I think the worst offender is the value track. The included cardboard money is just a bit too small for my regular sized adult fingers to comfortable handle. The 100 yen coins in particular are just too tiny. Everything else is pretty much fine for me.
- Executing the train phase can be a become a bit confusing at times. We’ve got a good system for it now, but it can be hard to keep track of how many times each train has moved while working out who gets what as it moves.
- For a heavy game, there are not enough reference cards included. Only 2 in English. I think 1 per player should have been provided, especially as there are a lot of actions to choose from and they are all depicted as icons only on the action cards.
- I’ve found myself explaining speculation payouts and how they affect the end game many, many times during the course of the game, and still finding players are confused, shocked or upset when they happen at the end of the game. While I think it’s a good mechanic that makes the game exciting and adds a great amount of interaction, I think there must be a way to reformulate the mechanic that makes it clearer and easier to convey.
I really like TOKYO METRO and I think it’s a great addition to my collection. While it has some minor mechanical issues I think that its fun and highly interactive nature will keep me wanting to play for a while yet. I’m keen to see what else Jordan Draper produces in the future (I’m excitedly awaiting TOKYO TSUKIJI MARKET, the ‘heavy’ game from Tokyo Series 2) and I think that TOKYO METRO‘s unique combination of both aesthetic design and game design is worth a look. If you like heavier economic games that can get a bit mean, give it a try!