On the Underground
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The goal of the game is to build the most successful Underground lines and in doing so gain the most points. You can gain points by connecting your lines to various destinations on the board, and by having the passenger use your lines to travel from station to station. The player who has best balanced the demands by the time that the deck of destinations is exhausted will be declared the winner.
Players: 2 - 5
Time: 90 minutes
Ages: 7 and up
Weight: 1,174 grams
Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English). This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item.
- 1 game board
- 1 passenger pawn
- 4 destination pawns
- 10 scoring markers
- 8 connection markers
- 21 branch tokens
- 1 start player marker
- 33 normal destination cards
- 22 express destination cards
- 190 track lengths
- rules (English, German)
Average Rating: 3.8 in 2 reviews
Why stick with the historical London Underground? Build it with the same stations, but different routes! This is a perplexing game, which is more fun if you are familiar with the real London Underground. The game is almost perfectly balanced as most outcomes have all players within 5 points. Most all points on the board will be reached by the passenger, thereby evening out the game.
There are problems, however. The game takes about 30 minutes per player, so a 5 player game will be 2.5 hours. The balance means that all strategies seem equally likely, and the order of the passenger therefore controls the outcome. A good memory of where the passenger has been is helpful. Since there is limited variety in start position, I can imagine that repeated play leads to consistent moves by player turn order.
One suggestion for added variety is to deal out 3-5 destinations per player and give each player points for including those in the route structure. This reduces the length of the game but adds more randomness.
NOTE: This review was first published in Knucklebones magazine
Does the world really need another “train” game that involves laying track and transporting passengers? After all, we are awash in 18xx games, crayon rails and even the Ticket to Ride series. Would On the Underground from designer Sebastian Bleasdale offer anything unique or different? Fortunately, it does, proving that there is still wiggle room within a crowded genre.
The large map depicts the London Underground, and players are charged with the task of constructing track segments between the dozens of connection stations. Players alternate constructing up to four segments of track, then moving the passenger to his desired destinations. Points are earned for making connections to and linking certain stations, as well as having the passenger traverse your routes.
Depending upon the number participating, players each have track of two or three different colors, each with a finite number of track segments. When constructing lines, placement must follow traditional track-laying rules, with a line being extended from either end once it is begun. Branches are only allowed by the play of two branch tokens, which are gained either by foregoing the construction of track or building a track to a terminus. A player may begin his additional lines at new locations, but only by using different colored tracks.
If a player connects to one of the national rail stations, the player immediately earns a victory point. Connecting to a terminus earns two victory points and a branch token, while forming a loop with one line earns one point for each station enclosed within, but not on the loop itself. Further, three points are earned when a player links two matching tokens, of which eight are scattered about the board.
As in Ticket to Ride, some connection stations can be connected by multiple lines, but many allow only one line. This causes numerous “choke-points”, and the game can be quite aggressive as it is possible to thwart opponents’ plans by blocking their intended routes.
After a player constructs track, the passenger will move. Each turn, four destination cards – each listing a specific station – are visible. Certain stations are “express” stations (gold in color). If an “express” destination card is visible, the passenger must travel to that station first, before heading to a normal station. When traveling, the passenger will follow two main preferences:
1)He will head to the station that requires him to walk the least. “Walking” is required when there are no constructed tracks along a particular route. The lazy passenger will gladly ride a long, circuitous route if it means he doesn’t have to walk much.
2) If there are several destinations that meet the above criteria, the passenger will select the route that requires the least transfers. He is much happier to select routes that allow him to relax instead of switching lines. So, if he can travel to a destination using 2 different lines as opposed to three, he will gladly take it … even if it is longer.
When the passenger moves, one point is earned for the player owning each route he traverses, no matter the length of the route. Upon reaching his destination, the matching card is discarded. If the station was an express station, the passenger continues his journey, traveling to one of the “normal” destinations. If there were no express stations visible, he will only travel to one of the normal destinations. Some have expressed concerns that this can cause some unfair situations wherein some players have the opportunity to move the passenger twice on their turn, while others can only move him once. These are valid concerns, but I’ve not tracked whether this has ultimately made a difference in the final scores in the games I’ve played.
The game concludes when the healthy supply of destination card expires. At this point, the passenger is immediately removed from the board, and every player who has not yet had a turn that round is allowed to build track, tallying any further points scored. The player with the most points is king of the underground and wins the game.
While the game bears many similarities to other train games, there are enough variations here to give it a different feel. The manner in which the passenger moves appears unique, and makes for some interesting decisions. There are numerous ways in which to earn immediate victory points when constructing track. Further, there is the constant temptation to construct track over which the passenger will travel that turn. All of these options must be weighted against the long-term necessity of constructing networks which will likely be used repeatedly during the course of the game.
There are some concerns. In addition to the possible disparity caused by the random appearance of the express destination cards, the timing of the end game can cause some players to have their final turn relegated to simply constructing track, with no opportunity to move the passenger. When playing with a full compliment of five players, the game does lose a degree of control, and there can be some downtime between turns. Fortunately, none of these are significant enough to be game- killers, but are simply minor annoyances.
On the Underground is yet another strong entry into the track-building genre. It is easy enough learn to be accessible for casual gamers and family, but contains enough strategy and tactical options to make it attractive to gamers. Like Ticket to Ride, it is equally adept at satisfying numerous audiences and venues, which alone makes it a valuable addition to my collection. The fact that it is fun and challenging only enhances its value.