It’s the future. Fusion is no longer 10 years away… it’s here! What are we going to do with all this extra power? Well, build power hungry Maglevs trains of course. You’ve been put in charge of a company that seeks to make itself successful by providing transport services to Berlin and/or Manhattan. Of course, there’s a few other companies looking to compete. Whoever tricks the most robots onto their trains (everyone knows that when a robot boards your train it becomes your property) and satisfies the most human passengers will earn the keys to the city!
1-4 Players | 1-2 Hours | Designed by Ted Alspach
Announced in 2020 by publisher Bezier Games, Maglev Metro spent a little while in limbo due to the various delays that were inherent in the year of 2020. It eventually saw release in Q1 2021, being made available on the Bezier Games store and making its way to game stores. Upon opening the box you are greeted with the familiar Bezier Games chunky cardboard tiles and jigsaw style board along with some notably exciting clear plastic tiles and a bunch of meeples.
How does it work?
Maglev Metro is a pick-up and deliver game with a core mechanic of engine building, via a worker placement style system. Players begin the game with nothing but a train on the board and a few actions to their name, and over the course of the game, build up their track network and deliver robots and human passengers, with the aim of having the most VP at the end of the game. There are two types of passengers in Maglev Metro, Robots and Humans. Collecting Robots typically allows you to improve the number and strength of the actions you do on your turn, while collecting Humans typically contributes towards scoring points at the end of the game.
Players begin with an action board that is mostly empty of passengers but contains many slots for them to fit as they are collected during the game. Placement of passengers on this board determines which and how many actions you can take on your turn, along with the strength of those actions and a few other things like the number of passengers you can fit on your train. Core actions include laying track, moving your train along your track, and picking up or dropping off passengers.
Passengers can be picked up anywhere but only dropped off at the station matching their colour. Players will try to efficiently pick up passengers, move their train to other stations and drop the passengers off. Whenever you drop off a passenger, they come to work for you on your board (both robots and humans), which allows you to improve and customise your available actions. For example, you can increase the number of passengers you can carry or pick-up, increase the number of track pieces you can lay on your turn, or even increase the number of actions you can perform on your turn, depending on where you place the passengers you gain. Robot passengers can be moved around the board using an action, so you might find yourself changing your ‘engine’ during the game to tailor yourself to the current situation.
In the beginning of the game players will be focusing on picking up Robot passengers to build their engine and track network. After a time, Human passengers will become available and player will pivot to picking them up instead, as delivering them is the primary way to get points in the game. Human passengers are placed in spots that unlock scoring bonuses and the ability to play end game scoring cards. At the game’s end, players tally up points from various categories to determine who built the best network and who was the Maglev Metro Mogul.
What do I think?
I’ve played Maglev Metro now 5 times at 3 and 4 players with a few different groups. The reaction from players has been fairly mixed and often surprising. It’s not a game for everyone, but some people who I didn’t expect to enjoy it did. Games felt quick and actually ran to the box time, even with new players.
The Good Stuff
- Maglev Metro has quick, snappy turns and play moves around the table rapidly. You will barely have had time to think about what you are going to do next before play comes back around to you. Of course there are occasionally instances where a player will need to have a bit of a think, but it’s certainly not every turn.
- The engine building (and modification/pivoting) system in this game feels unique and is really interesting. As you play and gather passengers you use them to unlock new actions and abilities and power up your existing ones. I like how this focuses play at the beginning a bit, and I like that you can easily reconfigure your engine if you want to change your strategy. Most other engine building games you are set on your path as you construct it, but Maglev Metro encourages you to adjust your engine.
- Further to the above point, you can rip up and re-lay your track during the game! I love this, and I can’t think of other games where this is a feature. It makes for some really interesting game play when players can so fundamentally pivot their engines and networks.
- The clear track pieces are a cool idea and look great on the map while also being highly functional. I also like the design of the train piece. Weighing the bottom half down with metal means it won’t topple over when full of passengers!
- While the game is fairly interactive, there is very little blocking. You can more or less rely on being able to carry out your plans each turn, and this is part of what makes the turns so quick. The major point of player interaction is picking up passengers, you do need to worry about other players picking up passengers before you do.
- The rulebook is fairly clear and provides good detailed descriptions and examples that allow you to teach the game easily. In terms of teaching, it’s quite quick to run through the actions on the board and the way end game scoring works.
- The game comes with a double sided board – giving two maps for alternate games. There are some minor rules differences between the two maps. Along with a wide variety of scoring cards to pursue each game can be quite different with players working towards varied goals.
- There are lots of mechanics in the game that seem innocuous at first but ultimately allow for very interesting control over your strategy. An example of this is deciding when to refill a station. Initially it doesn’t seem important where you do this, but once you realise that you can filter the types of passengers you get based on the station you are at this becomes very interesting!
- While the game has fairly simple rules, the range of strategies that cam be employed is pretty wide, allowing for some innovative plays and surprises during the game.
- The metro pass first player token, while totally inconsequential to game-play is really cool. It feels like a Kickstarter stretch goal (but in a retail game). Bezier absolutely didn’t need to include this, and in addition to taking it at it’s face value (coolness), I believe it shows as a company they are happy to put form above profits!
The Bad Stuff
- There are a few small mistakes in the rulebook. While none have game-play consequences, this is something that could have been caught with a few varied proof reads and feels sloppy.
- Sometimes the track tiles don’t fit into spaces because of the dual layered board and the way the stations lock in place. Making the stations slightly smaller would have fixed this issue. While the board and pieces are standard Bezier style, I think I would have preferred a regular folding board as I don’t think the recessed sections really do much and they make the main board feel cheaper to me. That said, the dual layer player boards are fantastic and absolutely necessary.
- The chosen colours for the passenger meeples are really not ideal. I have no colour vision issues and I have had a lot of trouble. The gold/bronze and the two purple colours need to be compared constantly to confirm which of each they are, as only next to each other are they easy to distinguish. This issue exacerbated in less than ideal light conditions.
- I mentioned simple rules and breadth of strategy as a ‘good’ point above. Unfortunately this is a two sided coin – the strategy and nuances are so deep the game really can’t be enjoyed on the first play. I received comments from many players after their first game that they didn’t really ‘get it’ or have fun because it’s hard to understand the strategy of the game without having played it already. This isn’t an issue for people who like to replay games a lot but increasingly (and with the relentless push and release of new games) it’s very important for games to give a great first impression and be enjoyable and playable in the first session. Most newer games ramp up so that players can learn ‘on the job’ and have a good game but Maglev Metro fails at this because early mistakes can put you behind for the whole game.
- The end game card scoring mechanic is a bit weird. Often the cards you are dealt are not synergistic or complementary and so ‘unlocking’ more than one or two to score can be a waste of passengers, as it will net you 0 additional points. In games where I have been ‘forced’ to unlock cards I get disappointed when they earn me no points. Maybe a draft or way to swap/acquire cards during the game could have helped with this.
- I found the recommendation in the rulebook to play the Manhattan map first odd. This is because I feel like while it does make the game a little easier, it’s a bit more confusing to learn the game on because the hub station breaks a few of the ‘golden’ rules of the game. I did try introducing players to the game on both maps and I think that players generally had an easier time developing strategy on the Berlin map if it was their first time playing.
I was initially interested in Maglev Metro mainly because of the cool looking components, but upon playing the game a few times I was pretty impressed with the unique engine building mechanics and breadth of strategy options. While the game is in the mid-weight area of complexity, I want to be careful to mention that it is probably more suited to analytical players rather than casual/family players. The point I made about repeated plays being necessary to begin to enjoy the game and play strategically can be a pro or a con depending on what kind of gamer you are. For me personally it was fine as I tend to play games a few times in close succession when I get them, but the groups I play with aren’t very consistent so the other players don’t get the multiple play experience so often. If you like the sound of Maglev Metro, you can find out more and grab it at the Bezier Games Store, or look out for it at your local game shop!
The copy of Maglev Metro used for this post was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Bezier Games.