Friday, July 28, 2023

Next Station: Tokyo is dot to dot brilliance

Last month, while waiting for some brake work to be done, I taught myself some games on Board Game Arena. Out of the four games I tried out, Next Station: Tokyo was the clear winner.

The core idea of the game is drawing lines between symbols. Which isn’t anything new and was frankly old hat long before Roll and Writes became a thing that thrilled publishers. (Dot to dot, anyone?) Next Station: Tokyo, though, has a really solid and interesting decision tree built into the idea.

The theoretical theme of the Next Station games is building subway systems in cities. In practice, the theming makes the Rolling Japan/America look like an 18XX game. The theme could have been about interstellar travel or computer hacking or neurological surgery or quilt design without changing a thing.

Not that I care but Next Station is more abstract than Chess.

The player sheet show a play area that consists of thirteen districts. The symbols are aren’t in a grid or even particular symmetrical but they are connected together a network of dotted lines. There are four starting symbols, each one tied to a specific color.

Next Station is a Flip-and-Write game. I’ve played literally dozens of Roll and Write games. Unsurprisingly, I found it controlled the randomness more than dice would have. There’s an eleven card deck that you go through four times with four different colored pencils/markers/etc. In addition to symbols (marking what you have to connect to), there are jokers and railroad switch cards (that let you connect from any point, not just the end points)

There are four different ways to get points. Routes are worth the number of districts they go through times the number of stations in the district where they have the greatest number of stations. (It makes sense when you have to do it) There are eight points on a green loop. You lose three points for every one you don’t connect to so they are really worth three points each. You get increasing points for having interchanges with three to five connections. And you get points for any interchanges in the outer districts (tourist stamps)

So… what makes this dot-to-dot game great? The answer is as simple as the game. You have to do your best to maximize the different ways of scoring with a reasonable ability to estimate your chances. Chasing after one way of scoring points will mean having to ignore another one. You can’t do everything. And the small deck gives a good idea of the odds of getting a symbol but it’s not a guarantee.

In short, Next Station: Tokyo takes a very simple and familiar mechanic and creates a deliciously tangled decision tree out of it. There are a lot more interesting choices and replay value than I was expecting.

I do want to try the London map and I hope more maps are coming.

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