Pencils at the ready for Blue Orange and Coiledspring Games’ latest little light but colourfully crunchy flip and filll, Next Station London.
*Flip and Fill * Networks * Connections * Simultaneous Play * Small Box * Filler Game * Solo Play * Portable * Fun * Light *
Next Station London was a total surprise to me. Which is in itself surprising as I love train games! Not the mega complicated 4X games, mind you. My brain cannot yet cope with simulating a full blown empire, track based or otherwise. But I love the idea of designing and managing a little network. And this little game has proven to be just the ticket!
I also have an enormous soft spot for roll and write /flip and fill games. They’re usually portable, have simple to operate solo modes, and can accommodate lots of gamers (with multiple sets and/or the benefit of virtual meets!). Lots are also fast playing and perfect for giving a quick gaming hit when time is tight. Having said that, many are more than just filler games; think Hadrian’s Wall and Three Sisters – they are weighty games that happen to play out with a pencil and a pad rather than a traditional board. The versatility and variety within the genre are therefore huge.
So is Next Station London a heavy, intricate lesson in mapping out an underground system? No it’s not. But it most definitely is a fun, colourful, quick playing, easy to learn, sprinkle-of-think, banging little flip and fill all about connecting 4 train lines around the City.
Rules of the Rails!
In Next Station London, you’re in charge of redesigning a 4 line underground system in London. You score points based on a number of things; how many districts your line passes through, how many stations you connect into in your busiest district, how many colour based interchanges you establish, and how many tourist sites you pass through. You also get double points for crossing the Thames.
The rules are simple. Every round each player has one of the four coloured pencils (pink, purple, green, and blue) and you flip over cards from a small stack of station (pink and yellow) and street (blue) cards. Note that a round only lasts as long as it takes to flip over the 5 station cards so there could be anywhere from 5 to 10 turns.
The 5 station cards show a shape symbol which everyone simultaneously uses to draw a connection from one end of their existing line – the first turn will be from the “departure station” matching your pencil colour. There is also one station card which is wild and can be used to connect into any shape. Generally, you can only connect to a new station from either end of your line using the prescribed paths, and lines of different colour cannot cross. They can share stations, but you must not get into a knot! You are also forbidden from making a complete circuit (i.e. going back through a station already forming part of that line) – I always knew the Circle Line in London was dodgy!
If you can’t access that symbol (or you don’t want to), you do not draw a connection. The 6 Street cards also contain symbols which work in the same way. In there somewhere, however, is also a handy switch symbol that lets you split off from any station on your current line to the symbol shown on the next flipped card. As you can guess, this then results in 3 ends from which you can continue building out your line!
When the 5th Station card is flipped, you each tot up your scores for the round and then the pencils are passed around from left to right (or any unused pencil from the right in a 2 player game). The first card on the freshly shuffled draw deck is flipped, and the next round begins! Whoever has the most points at the end of the 4th round is the Champion Controller!
As well as playing base game, there are two mini advanced modules that can be pick and mixed into the game play. One presents 2 randomly selected additional scoring objectives (from a total of 5) which are each worth 10 points to any player achieving them during the game. The other, Pencil Power, grants colour based one-off bonus powers during the game!
The game includes a simple Beat Your Own Score solo mode. In a multiplayer solitaire type game, there is no reason why it cannot be played solo. And although I usually like an AI to gun for, I am very happy simply trying to optimise my own network. There is a rule about subtracting 10 points if you use an advanced module. And I must confess that this is the only rule which I don’t find too clear. So I just inflict a negative 10 point for each scoring objective not achieved or for each pencil power used (if adding them in to my game). This could be too harsh, but always play hard or go home! Haha
Cool Components and Crunchy Connections!
This is a lovely, quick, colourful, portable multiplayer solitaire game. The components are super – nice think double sided pad, sturdy, glossy cards, and a super magnetic catch box. I was a little surprised by the sheer volume of rules inserts – although they do fold out like an underground map which is cool! – and the pencils don’t make the most visible of lines. But swapping in a pen for a free pencil is no hardship.
To my mind, Next Station London has just enough crunch for when you need a hit but not one that breaks your brain. And you could be forgiven for presuming that it plays too fast and seems to simple for there to be much strategy involved. But I think you would be wrong!
The more I play, the more I analyse the map layout, and see the potential in gunning for different strategies. My hope is that I work out how not to box myself in as well as make maximum use of the available space whatever the order of the cards. Which is no small task bearing in mind all the simple sounding but impactful restrictions and general/advanced scoring objectives. I also really like the fact that a round could be as short as 5 turns or as long as 10. That makes each game a tense and surprising experience, and can really amp up the pressure for your next line!
Luck is always going to be a factor when random card draws are in play. But with lots of station options, it is quite rare that a connection can’t be made. When it happens though it is an “arrghhh” moment of the best sort! And that is the crunchy part of the game – deciding whether a connection you can make is worth the round point(s) if it cuts off a longer or more valuable line later in the game!
Overall, we are really loving this little train themed game. I’m keeping my inner Controller happy because my mind keeps saying “just one more game, just one more game”. And I have no problem listening to that kind of temptation. Next Station London is a game coming with us to pubs and coffee shops. It has also found a very comfortable spot sitting on my desk ready for when lunchtime/post work decompression time comes around. I didn’t realise I had a Next Station London shaped hole in my collection until now!
Please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publishers for review. I am not paid for my comments, however, and all opinions are my own]. I am also not affiliated to or sponsored by any retail store.