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Subject: On the Underground - Playing Some of the Essen Haul rss

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Tim Isakson
United States
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Our second game Saturday, and we were up to 5 players - myself, KC, Doug, Mimi and Rita. I was the only one who hadn't played previously - but the explanation was quiet brief, and we dove right into the game.

I've heard this game compared to Ticket to Ride - and while there are some superficial similarities in that you are building routes on a predefined map - in general, I don't think the two games are very similar beyond that.

As you might imagine from the title, the map in question here is the London Underground - if you've ever been to London and ridden the Underground there, at least some of the stations in question will sound familiar to you, and the geography will also be familiar. I don't think there is a particular advantage to knowing the map beforehand, though - the game board is clear about what connections are available, and how many.

Each turn consists of placing up to four of your track segments - you have segments in two colors, and are trying to maximize your point total using both. You also have the option of not using some of your 4 plays to collect "split" tokens instead - these can be used later to split one of your lines (at a cost of two split tokens for each split).

There are several ways to score points - reaching particular destinations on the map (national stations and terminus points), connecting like pairs of tourist points (of which there are four types, randomly laid on predifined stations), and finally making a loop with one of your two route colors, for which you score the number of stations enclosed within your loop (not including stations ON your route).

There is also the passenger piece, who starts on the map and then will try to move - there are four station cards showing, some of the cards showing gold colored stations, others (the majority) showing white. The passnger will move to the nearest gold station, and then move to the nearest white - taking the least number of routes and minimizing "walking" (traversing stations with no ones route there). For each route he travels, that player scores a point. If there are choices that are equally efficient, the active player may choose.

I was the start player in our game, and started out focusing on my white route - initially aiming to score passenger points, but also going for some of the tourist connections (and other incidental points along the way). Once I'd completed linking the martini glass tokens, I saw that I had a relatively good set-up for a fairly large loop - and luckily for me, the other players didn't see this (mainly due, I think, to the fact that along the way, my builds made sense just for connecting points as well). I eventually completed my loop, scoring on the order of 7 or so points - definitely the largest loop in the game. I believe Doug completed a 5 point loop towards the end of the game, but by then, it wasn't enough. I also managed to be well positioned for the early passenger cards, and managed to score a few points that way as well. Mimi was a very close second, with KC, Rita and Doug pretty close behind her.

In the end, there was a TOTAL of 10 or so points between first (myself) and last (Doug, I believe), so it was still quite a close game.

I really enjoyed the way the game played - the decisions were interesting each round, there was almost always something you could do to score points, and the passenger movement was interesting as well. The map, being the actual underground routes from London, also increased the enjoyment, as it brought to mind the couple of times I'd been in London (either for work or for vacation). If you enjoy route building games, I can easily recommend On the Underground as a game you will likely enjoy.
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