The London Underground map was originally designed by Harry Beck in 1931. It’s a schematic map, in that it shows the relative position of stations and their connections rather than their precise geographic locations. The design concept has become iconic. As new lines have been opened over the years, the map has been altered and adapted numerous times; now, for example, incorporating the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground and Tramlink stations, as well as showing fare zones, the ‘Tube Map’ as its known, is still acknowledged to be the most iconic in the world. And Beck’s diagrammatic design has been much imitated by subway systems all around the globe: pretty much everywhere except New York City.
As you might expect with such an iconic design, the Tube Map has previously featured in several games, including Mind the Gap (Gibsons) and On the Underground (Ludicreations). With Next Station London, the Tube Map is the inspiration for Matthew Dunstan’s roll & write style game. Actually, roll & write isn’t quite correct: there are no dice but players instead draw their lines based on the cards that are flipped – so this is a ‘flip & write’.
The 2-4 players all start off with identical sheets showing a stylised outline of an underground rail network. You can see that it's overlaid on the map of London as the Thames is clearly represented. Stations are shown as different geometric shapes. Regardless of the number of players, the game is played over four rounds and for each you have a coloured pencil representing the colour of one of the tube lines: green, light blue, dark blue and pink. In the real world’s London Underground map these colours correspond to the District, Victoria, Piccadilly and Hammersmith & City lines but that’s not necessarily the case here. As cards are flipped you draw a connection to the corresponding shape station starting from the matching colour start station. Players are all responding to the same cards as they are flipped but each will be drawing their lines from their different start stations: when I’m creating my pink line, you’ll be using the same station cards to generate your green line. At the end of the round (when the fifth pink and yellow background card – so not necessarily when the 11-card station deck is exhausted), you score your line and pass your pencil on. The station card deck is shuffled and you repeat the process with the next colour line until, after four rounds, you’ve drawn four London Underground lines.
Gameplay then is super simple – making Next Station London a game that all the family can play. Your scoring for each line is the number of districts your route passes through (the map is divided into 13 districts) multiplied by the number of stations passed through in the district in which you have the most stations. You also score for each time your line crosses the Thames. You will score end-game bonuses for the number of ‘tourist site’ stations you pass through and for stations that are interchanges of two, three or all four lines.
Tho’ the map sheets are all the same, players’ rail networks will differ each play because of the order in which the station cards come up. You can shake the game up too by adding in the supplied ‘advanced modules’ of Shared Objective cards that give bonuses for meeting their requirements and ‘pencil powers’ that assign a special power to each colour pencil.
Next Station London is essentially multiplayer solitaire in that the decisions one player makes on their sheet has no effect on the other players. Even when you play with the Shared Objectives, these are, as the name suggests, open to all – if I achieve an Objective, it doesn’t stop you from also claiming it. This of course means that Next Station London is playable as a solitaire game. That said, and despite the fact that there’s no actual player interaction, we’ve enjoyed Next Station London the most when played with others. There’s an extra frisson from contrasting the disappointment and joy on players’ faces at the flip of the same card.
With art by Maxime Morin, Blue Orange have done a great job with the production of this game. It comes with the four coloured pencils you’ll use, the cards for the core and ‘advanced’ game and a generous double-sided pad of map sheets; all packaged in a compact box with a magnetic seal. If you find the game as addictive as we have at Board’s Eye View, we’d recommend laminating some sheets and substituting appropriate coloured dry-wipe pens for the pencils; that way you’ll have limitless play from the game. And if you’re visiting London, Next Station London would make the perfect souvenir of your trip.