At a basic level On The Underground is all about laying track between different stations, creating networks to gain yourself points and also make sure you are covering as much of the board as possible in order to make sure that when the passenger decides to travel to their next station then they use your line over the other players.
The game doesn’t really run in rounds, with both of the main actions taking place after each players’ turn. On your turn, you’ll take four actions of either laying track in one of the colours that you’ve been allocated or taking a token that once you own two of, you can trade in to allow you to branch off from the line you’ve been creating. If you’ve not laid that colour of track before, then you can place it anywhere. However, if this is a follow up piece of track, it can only be laid on either end of the established track. Connect to a terminal or station and you’ll get additional points for that and in fairness, this is the main way that you’ll be scoring. You can risk making bigger loops that are bigger scoring opportunities, but they bring the risk of using up all of your track for that colour. You can use the previously mentioned branch offs to take the track in a different direction, but you’ll need to keep an eye on the number of pieces that you have of each colour as they are restricted. You’re likely to end up with pockets of you networks dotted over the map, so it’s important to spread yourself out do you cover the passenger travel part. Once you’ve used your four actions. The lone passenger will then travel to a the nearest Express or Standard Station depending on the station cards that have been drawn, and if they use your line, you’ll gain a point for that. Sometimes you’ll need to spend some time calculating which route the passenger is likely to take based on the number of blanks spaces and proximity to different stations, and this can slow the game down a bit as you get into the closing stages of the game.
Play continues until all of the station cards have been drawn and all players have taken the same number of turns, and the winner is the person who has gained the most number of points at the end. The constant presence of the score tracker around the table allows you to keep an eye on who you need to be chasing, and games run on a bell curve of scoring, where the majority of most like to happen in the middle of the game as the main routes are created between the players. There is less likely to be huge changing in the scores as the game draws to a close and players don’t have track to lay.
Games will take from 45 minutes upwards easily, but only because as you approach the endgame situation it can sometimes take longer for you to work out which route the passenger is going to take. You’ve also got to play through the rather large number of station cards before you reach the end of the game, and I can see that being frustrating, as the point markers aren’t going to be moving much as the game reaches it’s final ten to fifteen minutes. It’s not going to take hours to play through a game of On The Underground but you might walk away feeling that you didn’t need all the time you assigned to it to have a good time.
This isn’t Ticket to Ride, and it’s really important to grasp that while the main mechanics seem to be the same, the scoring and the passenger movement are completely different from the elephant in the room. On The Underground has gone for same simplicity in terms of being able to grasp the core ideas of how to play. You’ll be laying track and scoring points and moving the picky passenger confidently within the first few rounds. The Berlin version of the game provides more of a challenge in terms of route planning over the London version but without over complicating matters for players. My main confusion / frustration with OTU comes with the passenger scoring. You can quite literally build a huge network that covers fifteen different stations and transports the passenger from one side of the city to the other, but only score two points because they’re only using your two lines to get to the destination. So while the passenger movement is kind of important, it highlights that most of the main points battle of the game is going to occur when the track is being laid in the first 75% of the game. After that it’s potentially slower climbs for less points and coupled in with having the endgame condition being based on the station deck running out, there’s a unfortunate chance you might reach the end of the game wishing it had finished ten minutes ago. There’s little down time here and you won’t spend lots of time waiting for a turn, though again towards the end you might need to play where you can as opposed to where you planned for, but with the number of stations on offer that is never a huge issue. There is a lot to like here, and it hits the right destination for those looking for something that is going to be easy to teach and quick to pick up. On The Underground is ticket to fun, with a few station changes.
Consider building your starter tracks near the Terminus as you get a few bonus points and it allows you to build into the centre of the city.
This review is based on the retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.
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