Anyone who knows me even a little knows about my fascination with metro systems. I’ll get into that in more detail in another post; meanwhile, I wanted to share with you my latest game addiction, Mini Metro.
This game is currently in Alpha status, meaning that the developers are still working on it, making changes to the UI, fixing various bugs that pop up while people are playing, and experimenting with the game mechanics. Thankfully, it was Greenlit on Steam and will hopefully be released in Final form in the second quarter of 2014, and the developers have also said that they will work on tablet versions as well, so it will be available on all platforms eventually (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android).
The basic premise of the game is simple. You create a metro system in a city, bringing passengers where you want to go by building metro lines and tunnels to stations that appear on the map.
You start off in London, zoomed in to a random part of the city. There will be other cities included in the final release, including, I hope, Montreal (we have 2 major islands surrounded by river! Many opportunities for strategy, hint hint!). The Thames crosses the city:
You start the game with three types of stations already on the map. These stations fill up with passengers that want to get around the city, and it’s your job to lay down metro lines that will let them do this. What makes it tricky though is that each passenger is of a certain shape, and wants to get to the corresponding shape in the city. The game starts you off a with a circle, square and triangle, but as time goes on, other shapes appear on the map that you need to connect to your network, and not at the same frequency. The most common shape that pops up is the circle, followed by triangles, and then squares. From what I’ve read from the game authors, the idea behind the different shapes is the following:
CBD means “Central Business District”, I presume. Other shapes that show up are the pentagon, the wedge, a “plus” sign, a diamond, and the star; there may be others too (never made it far enough in the game to find out!). I like to think that the wedge is a stadium or sports arena and the star a concert hall. 🙂
So what is it that turns this into a game, and an addictive one at that? Well, as I mentioned, new stations pop up that you need to connect to your network, but also, more and more people appear in the stations, waiting for their metro to take them where they want to go. When a station is “full”, any additional passengers that enter the stations causes a countdown to begin, and when the countdown ends, the game is over (in earlier alphas, a station was full when it hit 5 passengers; currently in alpha v.8 it’s 6). As I said, this gets trickier and trickier because lots of people want to go to square stations, for example, but there just aren’t many of them, so you need to plan your routes carefull to connect as many lines as possible to the right stations. Also worth noting is that slowly, the map zooms out, revealing more of the layout of the city and new places where stations will appear (often in the most inconvenient location).
Speaking of lines, in Mini Metro world, when you lay down a line it isn’t permanent like in real life. You can undo your lines and redraw your map as often as you want, even after each and every new shape pops up on your map, if you want; simply pause and redraw. However, when you redraw a line, the train on that line continues on to the station on its old route before disembarking all the passengers at a station (if you completely remove a station from a certain line, for example), and then moving on to the new route. So you can’t instantaneously remove a whole line and then redraw it right away somewhere else. And that’s the challenge in the game: you have a certain limited number of lines that you can draw at any one time. You start the game with 3 different lines that you can draw: yellow, red and blue. Then, after a target number of passengers have been delivered to their station (this used to be after one “week” of time had gone by, but alpha 8 changed this to passenger targets, which works better in my opinion), you get to choose an upgrade, including the ability to draw an extra line. You were limited to 5 Lines previously, but again as of alpha 8 you can have up to 7 on any on map.
As I mentioned, you can get extra lines after reaching certain passenger delivery targets.
In fact, what you get is an extra “Railcar” which you can use to either create a new line, or add a train to an already existing line. Doing this is useful on really long lines, for example; if you don’t add an extra train to it, the passengers at the terminuses will wait a lot longer than those in the central parts of your line (especially since those closer the center tend to be transfer stations with several other lines, so trains from different lines can likely pick up those passengers). Another upgrade is an additional tunnel, or bigger station capacity (from 6 to 12 before overcrowding happens).
Tunnels are important in the game; they allow your metro lines to cross the river and connect stations on both sides of the river. This is key for the rarer stations (basically, everything but circles and triangles), as you will encounter only one or two of these stations, so the passengers on the opposite bank will need a way to get to those stations. The developers have experimented with different mechanics for the tunnels. In earlier alphas, you started the game with only 2 tunnels, and could get more through upgrades. In alpha 7, you could have as many tunnels as you wanted, BUT they slowed down your trains by quite a bit while the train was traveling through them. This let you create monstrosities such as this (I exaggerated on purpose here, to make a point to the developers that unlimited tunnels probably weren’t the way to go):
In alpha 8, you start the game with 3 tunnels and can get more through upgrades.
Although I love this game, I can’t say I’m very good at it; I have trouble getting to 400 passengers now in alpha 8, but it’s worth noting that the developers have said that the difficulty still needs tweaking:
Here are a few strategies that I try to use:
- Loops! You can make a loop out of a minimum of three stations. I find these are useful when several stations are bunched together, usually in the middle of the map. I’ll make a loop with two trains on it.
- Transfer stations. I try to have as few stations as possible be solitary stations (served by one line only). Maybe that’s just me, though; I love transfer stations. Having many transfer stations lets my passengers get to their destination as efficiently as possible. However, having many stations on a line greatly reduces the frequency of trains per station, so you end up needing 2 or more trains on a line.
- Don’t have 2 or more stations of the same shape follow each other on a line. For example, don’t have triangle – circle – circle – circle – square, if you can avoid it. Since you will never have a circle passenger appear at a circle station, you’ll end up reaching your train’s capacity of other kinds of passengers by the 2nd or 3rd station and you’ll leave passengers behind.
- For the rarer stations, I try to have at least 2 lines go to it, and for the square station (which seems to be the most common one that passengers want to go to; they want to get to work downtown, I suppose!), I try to have at least 3 lines making a stop at it. Otherwise, you’ll end up overloading a transfer station of a line that goes to the square.
- Pause and redraw. Whenever you need to, pause the game and redraw the lines you want, even if it means completely removing a line and recreating it in a completely different configuration. Just keep in mind the delay before a line becomes available (usually a few seconds, while the train gets to the next station it was heading to).
If you have better strategies to share, let me know!
I have been addicted to this game since it was pointed out to me by a friend a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye on the kinds of comments people have made on posts that talk about the game, on Facebook, and on Twitter directly to the game developers. A sample:
My @dinopoloclub #minimetro habit is starting to become less habit and more thing I can’t stop doing.
Took a break from work and found out @dinopoloclub minimetro alpha8 is out. Guess I won’t working for the rest of the day…
Mini Metro just ate an hour of my life. I should be sleeping. Waiting on Steam version with achievements!
I am addicted to Mini Metro. If you don’t want to get any work done today, play this game!
I beg of you to not release before mid-may. I have wasted enough of my time on this game that if a full version comes out before my deadline, I might as well quit [university].
I’ll [get] fired because of this game, but fuck it, shut up and take my money, when this jewel will be out?
I find the reaction to this game to be fascinating. I knew already that there were others who shared my interest in metro maps (hence this book, for example). I think there’s more to it than that, though. The simplicity of the game once you get the hang of it, the rising stress levels (“come on train, get to that station!!“), and the “one more game” factor all come together to make this a complete time-killer. I hope I haven’t ruined your productivity after you check out this game too. 😉
The final release will have lots more than what is already in the alpha:
- Music and sound!
- More maps!
- Zen mode! Play all you want to build your perfect network.
I can’t wait. Meanwhile, the developers have set up a Google Moderator to let folks submit ideas and vote on previously submitted ones. They’re also very responsive on Twitter, replying to everyone. Say hi and tell them your high score!