Next station: London is a new puzzle-like path-finding and typing game from Matthew Dunstan, designer of Elysium, relic runnersand this year vivid memoriesAnd I think it’s the best thing he’s ever done. Taking its basic mechanics from gold plated, Next station: London It asks you to link stations on your scoresheet to try and maximize your score for each route, but each line you draw reduces your options for later in the game.
For a quick review: A game of flip and write gives each player a score sheet of some kind, maybe just one, maybe a few, and a pencil or dry-erase pen. Someone turns over the next card in the deck and each player uses whatever is on that card to mark something on their score sheet(s). Some games give you more than one option per turn, like the big Welcome to…while some give you multiple score sheets to use at once, like gold plated Y Super Mega Lucky Box. But the central idea is always the same: someone turns and everyone writes.
Next station: London follows that same basic framework and adds a few new twists. One is that there are four potential routes you can draw on your score sheet, represented by four colors: a starting point in each color on your score sheet, and a pencil in each color. The game has four rounds, and in each round you will get a different pencil, so in that round you will be the only person working on that particular route. That means the game will play out differently for each player; not everyone can make the same decisions every turn because they won’t get the same sequence of cards when working their purple path as other players will.
The stations on your chart appear as four different shapes, and some also have stars as tourist sites. For each round, players will cycle through part or all of an 11-card deck showing those shapes: two cards for each shape, one red and one blue; two jokers that can be used for any shape, again one red and one blue; and a branch card. When a normal card appears, you can extend your current subway line in any direction to a space that matches the shape of that card. When the branch card appears, you flip over the next card and then players can, if they wish, branch from anywhere on their current route to a corresponding station. Possible connections between stations are shown via dashed lines on your scoresheet, and your route may not cross an existing line you’ve already drawn and may not fold a route back on itself.
The problem is that the round ends when the fifth red card appears, regardless of how many cards you have passed in total so far. So some rounds will allow you to add up to 10 stations to your route, while others can add as few as five. You can plan as much as you want, but the deck ends when it ends: you draw a line to a corresponding station, and then you get the next colored pencil.
Your score sheet has 13 areas, which can have anywhere from one to six stations in them. The points you get for a route are the product of the number of areas routing visits and the most stations visited in any individual area. In the base game rules, the maximum score is 30 points for seasons only. You can also score two points each time your route crosses the River Thames, which runs east to west for the middle of your score sheet, and mark a circle on the score track at the bottom of your score sheet each time. that connects a route to a tourist site. (You can visit a site multiple times.) You also get a bonus if you connect two or more routes at a single station, more if you get three or even all four routes to do so.
You can also play with two common objective cards that allow players to get 10 points for some additional achievement that might conflict with maximizing the score of individual routes. One asks you to visit all five tourist sites on your score sheet, while one, I think the most difficult, requires you to get your routes to visit all 13 areas on the board. There is also an advanced mode that uses “pencil powers”, one of which is available each round, such as allowing you to draw a second line for the same card, or allowing you to treat the reversed card as a wild instead of a specific way.
Flip-and-writes and its ancestors roll-and-writes give you the benefit of a very familiar puzzle in each game that plays out differently because the sequence of allowed moves changes each time. In Next station: Londonhowever, the scoresheet is limited enough that almost every choice you make, even early in the game, will start to restrict your options for the rest of the game, a bit like cartographers, but quicker to play, and therefore quicker to get to the point where you’re left with one option, or none at all. That core conflict, between wanting to maximize your points early in the game and needing to maintain some flexibility, is the best part of the game. It’s a puzzle that keeps me coming back to play it over and over again.
Keith Law is the author of the inner game Y smart baseball and a senior baseball writer for the athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, which covers games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.