There’s something inherently appealing about undergrounds. The idea that you can move lots of people around a city with just a few doors on the surface is pretty magical, a rather sci-fi approach to transportation. And it works! Many cities are defined by their underground too, from the London Tube to the Paris Metro and the New York Subway. Lest we forget, Tokyo also has an excellent underground network to get its citizens from place to place.
In the fun draw-and-write puzzle game Next Station: Tokyo, you’re in charge of planning the various routes for the underground. Your starting map includes the Central Loop Line, a famous part of the Tokyo Metro. It’s up to you to plan four more routes while respecting construction rules (you can’t have tracks cross!) and trying to maximize various aspects of the route layout, including how many regions your network serves. The game is a follow-on to the popular Next Station: London, with some updates and tweaks, notably including the addition of a starting route, the Green Central Loop Line.
The game supports 1-4 players who are essentially playing parallel solo games. I have been enjoying game after game of solo play, which is quick, easy, and quite challenging. Best of all, it doesn’t require a big board, tokens, or much in the way of table space. In fact, this is an ideal game for a tray table like you might find on an airplane or, yes, a train.
Played in four rounds that correspond to the four different route colors, each route has a different starting point indicated on a sheet of the hefty 200-sheet pad of Tokyo maps. There are also 11 Station cards broken down into 6 Street cards (pink) and 5 Subway cards (green). Shuffle the deck each time and deal out the cards one by one to identify possible links on your growing route. Once the fifth green card has been exposed, the round ends and it’s time to score that track and move on to the next route.
BASIC SETUP: INCREDIBLY EASY
Shuffle the cards, pull out a blank Tokyo Metro area map, arrange your four colored pencils, and you’re ready to play Next Station: Tokyo:
A close examination of the map reveals the green Central Loop line, along with a few dozen possible stations, each identified by a geometric shape. Four also have colors that match the pencils: The corresponding color is the start point for that particular route. The Station cards are attractive, though occasionally a bit confusing. The one displayed is a wild card, meaning the next leg of your current route can be to any valid station and you can even run parallel to another line if you prefer (denoted on the first and second symbols of the pink Street card). This isn’t a great starting card because wild matches are far more valuable when you’re further into construction, but… random, shuffle, luck, and all that.
I’m going to start with the Blue line, so you can see the starting point is on the lower left corner. Note also the subtle yellow lines on the map too! They indicate different regions of Tokyo and one important goal is to have your routes span as many of those as possible. The ones in the very corners are single station only, but can still be very important for scoring points.
In this initial setup, I’m going to take my first move by adding a leg from the starting pentagram to the circle station that’s on the green line. One of the ways to score points is to add stations to as many stops on the green line as possible, which makes sense since one goal of a good underground is to have it be highly interconnected so people can take optimal (shortest possible) routes.
This time I’ve flipped over one of the green Subway cards and it shows that the next station on this line must be a square. Given the two end points of my current nascent blue route and that the only possible connecting stations have a grey dotted line, there are three possible ‘square’ stations. I have indicated them with tiny red arrows if you look closely. Before deciding, notice that the current two-station route already spans two regions. Good for points. I’m going to pick the square station closest to the middle (because multi-route stations are good for earning points). This moves it into a third region!
A BIT FURTHER ALONG IN THE GAME
I’ve encountered my fifth green card (note how I stagger the deck to make it easy to keep track) and this means that after I add the last station I’m at the end of my blue route. Here’s how that looks:
Notice the odd zigzag in the lower left I did to get to the very corner station (another region!). Your score for a route is calculated as number of regions X max number of stations in one region. In this case, 5 regions with a max of 4 stations = 20 points. A solid start.
The second route begins the more complicated aspect of the game, because in addition to trying to reach all the stations on the Central Loop Line and maximize routes and stations in a route, you are also trying to create multi-line stations too. It’s time for the pink route…
This one managed to span the entire map, rather amazingly, hitting a remarkable 7 regions. Unfortunately, there were never more than two stations in each region, offering a lower 7 * 2 = 14 points. But two of the stations in the lower left corner are dual routes, giving me points on the Tourist Stamps mini-map too (you can see the 5 and 10 point areas filled in pink on the tiny box in the lower portion). In other words, that earned me 15 bonus points, for a total of 29 points on the pink route.
Next up: Brown. I’ve decided to maximize overlap and multi-route stations, so, again, the regions x stations score isn’t that great, but I have added another +5 and +10 for the Tourist Stamps areas:
So far, my rough score is 20 + 14 + 18 + 30 = 82, but we’re not done yet, I still have to route purple, which has a starting spot near the top. This time I’m going to try and hit as many Central Loop Line stations as possible while also hitting at least one of the multi-route stations too (notice above that the square station on the top right of the green line already has two other routes: High complexity stations are great for points!
GAME END SCORING & FINAL THOUGHTS
Once I go through the Station cards deck one more time, I’m done with Next Station: Tokyo. Here’s how the map ended up:
I’ve added the reference card to show that my final score of 108 is pretty good, putting me in the purple “site supervisor” status. Looking closely at the score area, you can see that I got 67 points for the four routes in regions x stations score, an additional 30 points for the Tourist Stamps (multi-route stations outside of the city center), 5 points for one 3-route station and 15 points for a 4-route station, and lost 9 points for not reaching every station on the green line. Lost points? Yes, every station along the green Central Loop Line that doesn’t have another route intersect costs you 3 points. Yet another thing to keep track of as you lay down your routes!
Note: I made a mistake with one purple route placement, which is why one purple line has a cross-hatch. That was not counted in my final score!
As someone who enjoys thinky puzzles, I have to admit that I really love Next Station: Tokyo and keep playing 3-4 maps at a sitting, trying to reach at least > 116 points, if not the holy grail of > 130 points. There are additional Shared Objective cards that can offer even more points by attaining specific goals (like reaching all four corner regions) and that I suspect are key to the higher scores. Even without them, this is a game you can explain to someone in just a few minutes and pick up yourself after a quick read of the rather confusing rules. Definitely recommended for the puzzlers amongst you!
Next Station: Tokyo, Designed by Matthew Dunstan with artwork by Maxime Morin. Published by Blue Orange Games. $18.99 at Amazon.com or through BlueOrangeGames.com.
Disclaimer: Blue Orange Games sent me a free copy of Next Station: Tokyo in return for this candid review. Super nice of ’em, I’d say!