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ON THE UNDERGROUND

Reviewed by Ben Baldanza

(JKLM/Rio Grande Games, 3-5 players, ages 7 and up, 90 minutes; $39.95)

 

JKLM is a British company that has produced a nice lineup of games for each of the last few Essen fairs. Highlighting their output is the fact that they use varying themes and their games vary in depth. There is a decided transport bent to a subset of their games, including two years running with an 18xx title, and On the Underground follows the transport theme but applies it to the London Subway system, known of course as the Underground. This game was published in partnership with Rio Grande.

The large board is a map of the London Underground, with points for stations and spaces for tracks to be built among them. Some stations are designated as National Rail stations and others end a line as the Terminus. Eight stations are designated as “connection stations” and four pairs of tokens are randomly placed on these to start the game. Depending on the number playing, each player will control the construction of two to four different colored lines. The play of the game is simple and it is mostly about scoring as many points per turn as possible. Each turn, a player will add up to four links from the lines he controls and in doing so scores based on four attributes:

Connecting to a National Rail station is worth one point;

Reaching a Terminus is worth two points;

If a single line connects two common connection tokens, that connection is worth three points; and

Every station inside a loop, but not part of the loop, is worth one point when the loop is completed.

Rules for building are straight-forward. A line can start anywhere but then must continue from either of its ends. A line can branch only by playing two branch tokens. These tokens are earned when reaching a Terminus or can be selected in place of building any or all of the four possible links per turn.ontheunderground2

In addition to building the rail network, a single large passenger pawn begins on a station and each turn moves to one of four destinations outlined on cards. The passenger always goes to an Express station if such a card exists, otherwise he can go to any of the four spots available. The passenger can ride on the trains and walk on the un-built track, but uses a formula to minimize the walking and number of different lines he rides. For each colored line he uses, that player gets one point but this point is indifferent to the number of links traveled. So if the passenger moves five links on your red and just one link on my green, we each get one point. As soon as the passenger reaches a destination, a new card is revealed so that he will always have four options through the game.

The game does not feel new or original yet is not a replica of anything else produced. The track placement feels a bit like Knizia’s Through the Desert (Winter 1999 GA REPORT), in the limited placement to get the near term scores (oases and waterholes in that game). On the Underground has less of the longer-term scoring establishment of that game, although reaching a Terminus, linking the same connections, and creating a large loop are close. The passenger movement is a bit reminiscent of Splotter’s Bus, although the development aspect of that game is missing. It seems at first that determining where to move the passenger and how to optimize those points would bog down playing time but in practice, this works well and is easy to pick up quickly.

Overall, this is a game that succeeds more because what it isn’t than of what it is. It is not complicated, it is not overly strategic, and it looks complicated because of the busy map and all the bits but really isn’t. The box states that the game is for players seven years and up; that’s not a distinction you see on many games but it is accurate for this game. It’s a great way to learn the Underground system and it works well with any number of players. It’s best with three or four, though. Ready to take a trip? – – – – – Ben Baldanza


 

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