- Designers: Ted Alspach
- Artist: Alanna Kelsey, Ollin Timm
- Release Year: 2021
- Mechanics: Pick up and Deliver, Tile Placement, Route Building
- Players: 2 to 4
Some signs of a man rapidly approaching middle age may include weight gain, hair loss, and a sudden infatuation with trains.
Early last year I become mildly obsessed with a video game called Train Valley 2, and ever since then I’ve been more and more intrigued by train-focused board games. While most train games focus heavily on the economics of running a rail company, with the delivery of services being secondary, Maglev Metro removes all the money and fares and sets you to work on the urban design challenge of creating a rail line.
When I saw a used copies of Ted Alspach’s The Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Maglev Metro for sale in my neighbourhood, I just couldn’t resist picking them up. I had played the former previouslu and knew I loved it, but the latter was a mystery to me. If you’ve played Maglev Metro let me know how you felt about it in the comments below!
How to Play
In Maglev Metro, players are competing metro lines trying to collect and deliver robots and passengers to earn the most points. Robots earn you no points, but allow you to unlock upgrade your actions. Delivered passengers are worth points at the end of the game, and can be slotted into your player board to increase the number of points you earn in certain areas.
Maglev Metro‘s dual layer player board holds the entire menu of actions you can take, and the more robots you slot next to each action, the better that action will be. You can lay down tracks, move between stations, pick up and drop off passengers, increase your trains’ capacity, refill stations with passengers, adjust your robots (move them between your action spots, build stations, and turn your train around.
At the beginning of the game, the worker bag only has robots in it, but as the first station of each colour gets built, all the available workers of that colour get poured into the bag. Once all the colours are in the bag and the bag are subsequently emptied, the end of the game is triggered. All players get one more turn, then the points are tallied.
Maglev Metro, designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bezier Games, is a fantastic looking game. The first time I opened the box and pulled out the tiles that get placed on the board and my jaw dropped. I’m used to the 3 mm thick tiles, but these were like 8 mm thick! I thought it was lavish and way overproduced, until we slotted the incredibly thick station tiles into their recessed slots on the centre board and placed our plastic track tiles next to them and realized a station sits flush when you have four line tiles next to it. What seemed unnecessarily extravagant revealed itself to have purpose. At first, we complained that the copper and gold robots were too similar in colour, but Bezier is offering free replacement copper robots, all you need to do is pay for this shipping. I can confirm that the new copper colour works great.
What sets Maglev Metro apart from other train games is the tracks are printed on clear acrylic tiles, which allows players to place their lines on the same tiles. Players can only use their lines, meaning while you can’t piggyback off someone else’s hard work, your opponents can’t explicitly block you from getting to a location.
Our first game of Maglev Metro was on the Manhattan map, which features “The Hub”. The Hub breaks a pretty major rule; you can have as many entrances and exits as you want, coming in and out of The Hub. This allows for players to pivot quickly and dash out to lucrative locations easily, without taking turns to rebuild their line, or turn their whole train around.
The other map available is Berlin. Berlin has more individual stations, but you can only build your metro line in one continuous path. With no options for forking paths, you may need to spend more time moving past stations you don’t want to stop at, or turn around more often in order to get to where you need to be. On this map, I found myself removing the ends of my line and reconstructing them, adjusting to the changing state of our board.
I found Maglev Metro to be a fascinating experience. At first, I was worried, three of the players did the exact same things during their first four turns of the game before finally diverging. Once our paths split, the game got exciting. The robots in Maglev Metro don’t give you any points, but they do make your train run better (and are necessary for unlocking the ability to pick up commuters, who DO give you points). I enjoyed the constrictions the game placed on us, it seemed to tap into our inclination to be as efficient as possible. We didn’t want to turn around, as that takes a whole action, and we raced for every robot, even though we all had robots languishing on our boards on actions that we weren’t taking.
In the end, I found Manhattan’s “The Hub” to be a good tool to introduce us to the game. It would be frustrating playing the Berlin map first, and making critical mistakes right out of the gate, bringing your progress to a screeching halt. Going forward, however, having a hub that lets you build branching paths and embraces short trips seems to be anthesis to the spirit of the game.
Maglev Metro triggers my loss aversion pretty hard. With only two actions per turn, the last thing I want to do is spend one of those actions rearranging my robots on my player mat. I would just so much rather gather more robots to make all my actions more powerful. After all, once I’ve used an action at its full power, it’s painful to purposefully reduce it back down, even if another action benefits. Unfortunately for me, there just aren’t enough robots to go around, so re-arranging the robots on your player board to unlock and improve actions is a must. For some reason this mechanic rubs me the wrong way, instead of it feeling like an action efficiency puzzle, I’m left feeling handcuffed and unable to do the things that I want to do, or used to be able to do.
One of the actions you’re able to do is to refill a station, where you pull random meeples out of a bag and place them on your tile. In my plays of Maglev Metro this meant you either needed to be very lucky and pull the meeple out that you wanted to pick up, or you were just injecting points onto the board for the other players to swoop in and pick up those workers before you could make the necessary modifications to your player board, so you could pick them up.
Maybe it was just back luck, but Maglev Metro isn’t inspiring me to return to its puzzle. While I don’t think I’ll be requesting to play Maglev Metro again, I’d play it if someone else was particularly interested. Granted, I’ve only played it twice at four players, perhaps reducing the player count will result in an experience I enjoy more. A lower player count reduces the number of meeples significantly, so it won’t solve my need to have a completely filled up player board, but I think would result in more opportunities where you could refill a station and be reasonably sure that the meeples you pull out of the bag will be there for you on your next turn.
“Sorry, I don’t have a license to carry anyone other than robots”
Bezier Games recently ran a Kickstarter campaign for the Maglev Maps: Expansion Volume 1, which includes 6 new maps, each with their own unique theme and mechanics. Exploring new maps would certainly encourage me to return to this game, but I’m not sure if they’d address my core issues. If I ever do try the new maps, I’ll be sure to come back and give my updated opinions!
Maglev Metro is a fun game, and if you’re a fan of pick-up and deliver and/or action efficency games, I highly recommend you give this a try. The components are brilliant, the theme is unique, and the two maps offer very different play experiences.