I played Tokyo Metro for the first time last night with two friends. I need writing practice so here’s my first impression of the game.

Tokyo Metro is a worker placement game with some automated train movement and a stock-based economic feature. The game is played in rounds with some round setup followed by each player performing a worker-placement action on their turn until all players have used all of their worker tokens, followed by train movements. The game has an interesting feature where cards are used as the places the workers are placed, and the cards slowly change during the game. Once the decks of cards run out, the game is over. The rules don’t seem to say it outright but once the game is over, money is points and the player with the most money wins. While reading this review, keep in mind that this was my first game and we were all learning how to play – I’m likely to have missed things in the rules and also likely to have played badly. The rules are also printed just a little small for me to read easily, even with reading glasses. The pictures in the rules are especially hard to see.

Setup was straight forward except that we did not know ahead of time that we would be using the cards for worker placement. When the instructions mentioned organizing the cards by the dots on them, we mistakenly sorted them by the big dots on the face instead of the tiny dots on the backs. Yeah, those big dots are where your workers go and we figured that out once we turned the cards over and looked more at the card backs! So we sorted the cards again, still not knowing what the cards did, and then continued with the rest of the setup.

The many colors of the game made things tricky at times. The card colors were sometimes hard to separate due to “salmon” looking a bit too much like red or pink, and teal looking a bit too much like light blue-ish-ness-whatever. We still managed to play the game okay, although it was a bit annoying dealing with the different colors. I think that this game will be hard for anyone who is color blind. I see no reason for not using black and white as train colors even though those are also player colors. But I could be wrong about that. We finished the setup with the train cards out near the income board. I’ll note now that it’s not clear why it’s called the “income board” and not the “stock value board” except that at the end of the game, players take the value from that board for any stocks they own.

Our Actual Gameplay

We placed the income board in front of one of the players to make it more central. it should really be off to the side since it is most often used for keeping track of info and players don’t interact with it very much. We placed the cards above the main board. The “boards” are cloth in this game which was interesting but sometimes annoying. Sure it fits in a tiny box, but it also doesn’t sit flat on the table. Had the pieces on the board all been ceramic, things would have been easier. But it worked well enough to not call the lack of cardboard a problem.

Before describing more of the gameplay, I need to mention that the setup will be incredibly easy for the next game. It was our lack of knowledge that made the setup confusing in a few places.

The rules are written in the wrong order in my opinion. The exceptions for the first round should be written before the rule for all other rounds, not after. Better yet, write those exceptions in the setup and then later add the reminder at the end of each rule that has an exception. I hate reading through the rules trying to play and then telling the other players: “Oh, but not this round. For this first round, we do something different.” I like to read the rules during the first play-through instead of just reading a lot at home and then trying to teach the game later. Anyhow the cards are not recycled at the beginning of the first round.

At the beginning of all but the first round, the cards are recycled a bit by removing one row of cards and adding a new row. Players then bid for player order then everyone gets to move a meeple on the board. The meeple determines where you can build train stations and serve no other purpose. Once the cards are dealt with, the order is determined, and players have moved their meeples, each player, in turn, takes an action by placing a worker token on a card in a small token-sized circle. Many cards have multiple actions available, one on the top half of the card and one on the bottom. There is one weird card that has an action on top where you place your worker and then discard a token you collected earlier so that you can then do the bottom card action for free. I think the color and notation on this card is weak at best, and at a minimum, the top and bottom of the card should not have been designed in different colors as if this card had two separate actions. Some actions require multiple tokens that are all placed at the same time to take the action.

Some Action Cards

Available actions are numerous and include moving your meeple, gaining a bicycle to increase you move distance, gaining a speed token that can be saved for later, or immediately added to a train to allow it to move further when it moves. Players can take an action to get or pay back a loan and they can take an action to build a station. It’s also possible to buy stock for one of the 12 trains if a card is still available. We had three players and I did not see an adjustment to the cards so three were available during the game, one for each of us. In a four-player game, someone could be left without the ability to get any stock they want.

There are other actions but playing is the best way to learn them all and see how they fit into the game.

After players take actions, the trains move automatically and players get “paid” whenever a train lands on or passes a station they own. If the player has stock for that train then the stock goes up a lot. If they don’t have stock, they get some cash and the stock goes up a little less. It is hard to know if the game can be won by just collecting cash and not owing stock. I tried it but I didn’t play well enough overall to find out if it would work.

We stumbled a bit at first not being sure if we take all of our actions at once or in a round-robin style (which is the actual way to play). We were not sure if a player who needed to play two tokens to take an action should place both at the same time (which is also the way to play). After about three rounds, we were just playing the game and it went smoothly most of the time.

Close-up of Tokyo Metro Map

If you look at the map, you can see places where there are circles connected to each other. Otemachi has three circles and Tameike-Sanno has two. These represent multiple train stops for a single station. The rules mention “multiple circles” and we got confused because these stations also have an extra ring around the individual circles. The way the game works is that when a player builds a station at a multi-stop station location, then they get the benefit of a train landing on or passing any and all of those multiple circles!

One rule we got wrong and later had to consult the internet to resolve (because game designers are usually terrible at having their rule book play tested) is that when a train lands on any circle that is part of a station, the player who owns the station get “paid”. In some cases, a train will pass from one circle to the next in a station and that counts as two stops and pays twice.

The game was easy and fun to play once we got started. Each of us tried at least one action that we didn’t really need to perform, just to see how it worked. I speculated on a stock and doubled my money since the stock did well. One of the players bought a card from the top of a discard pile so he cold use it at any time during the rest of the game. Overall, the game seemed fun, logical, and had interesting gameplay.

The one thing that didn’t make sense was the ability to buy train stock near the end of the game once it went up a lot in value. There are three stock cards for each train and each costs more to buy. But that cost difference is almost meaningless compared to how much you make for a stock that skyrockets in value. If you don’t want to the other players to win by 8000 yen, maybe you should take out a loan of 1000 and spend it to buy that stock they have so that you to have 8000 yen at the end of the game. It’s only when the stock cards run out in a larger player count that you will need to do something else to get that income to make up for the others having a super-valuable stock. It seems like the price should go up as the stock value goes up regardless of the stock cards available.

The best thing I can say about the game is that the player who won did so because he played better than the rest of us. He got stocks for cheap early on and also built stations in a few key locations. His obviously better gameplay worked and he won. I have seen other games where the winner wasn’t obviously playing better than the other players.

In summary, I’m glad I bought this game. We will play it again sometimes soon I hope.