METROPOLIS is a game which appears aimed at the ‘non-wargaming’ strategy games market. Essentially it is a positional movement game, using squares to regulate the placement and movement of pieces, and in layout appears similar to games such as Tri-Tactics and Dover Patrol, having pieces representing land, sea and aerial combat units. However the game is more notable for its differences from these games, most obvious of which is that the irksome memory aspect is totally absent — all of the playing pieces are face up all of the time.
The board is fifteen squares wide and has ten rows across. The width is divided into ten squares of land area, and five of sea. The only other terrain features of any note are two impassable mountains located roughly in the centre of the land area. Setting up the playing pieces is a little time consuming — first each player places four cities (or as the game insists, Metropolises) on the second row from him, three on the land and one in the sea, then he places his sea-borne combat units down, and finally his land-borne ones (the sea-borne pieces are marked with an asterisk to facilitate this process). The land pieces occupy all of the legal land squares, although there is some space left in the sea. The set-up is in the four rows nearest to the player, and when both have placed their pieces play begins, with the opponents moving one piece alternately, and continues until one of them is in occupation of two of his opponent’s cities. The most unfortunate part of all this is that the red player places his pieces first at every stage, and thus the blue player has the advantage of seeing his opponent’s defences before having to set up his own attack, and I feel that some sort of concealed deployment, perhaps with the pieces initially upside down, might help to even out this significant advantage.
The pieces fall into three categories: there are the square surface pieces which are restricted to the terrain type on which they start, the octagonal, non-mobile defensive pieces, and the round aircraft pieces which may go anywhere. The surface pieces move one square orthogonally as you might expect, and the aircraft move two squares orthogonally in a straight line — quite an advantage as capture is by replacement, with the target piece being eliminated if its defence value is lower than the attack value of the moving piece (otherwise the moving piece is eliminated, although if the values are the same both pieces are destroyed). You are allowed to destroy your own pieces in this way, which can be essential, if costly, when your set-up has left the piece you need to defend against the current onslaught trapped in a corner somewhere.
Generally, the attack and defence values of the surface pieces are the same, ranging from three to ten, with many more of the lower end than of the higher, although the submarines have an attack value of eleven, and a defence of just one. The defensive pieces have only high defence values, and the aerial pieces have attack values of either six, or eleven if they are ‘equipped with Atomic weapons’, and a defence value of one.
The restricted movement capabilities and the fairly crowded board mean that to mount a successful attack along a column requires heavy ‘air support’ especially as the better air units will wipe out almost any other piece on the board. However, there are two major problems facing the attacker — as the aircraft must move two squares, there are four types of squares as far as they are concerned, so not all aircraft are useful everywhere, and at sea the problem is compounded by the fact that if an aircraft begins and ends its turn over sea it is automatically destroyed, so use of aircraft here tends to cost an extra move, which can be crippling at the height of an attack.
So far the game seems fairly simple and straightforward, given an hour or so to mull over the rules; however there is a final element to be added, which is in my opinion perhaps the heart of the game, and that is that there are some ‘special’ pieces, all of which are distinguished by having a letter on them which describes their particular peculiarity. Unfortunately, there is no table of which powers the letters represent, and it is necessary to hunt through the rules (which are translated from the original Dutch) to deduce the precise powers of each piece, and it is all too easy to miss part of a power, or some of its implications. The special units can be categorised as those which aid the attacker, such as the mine-sweeper units which destroy any defensive octagonal piece, or the rockets with Atomic warheads which are air units which may move two or three squares, but are destroyed when they attack a piece, and those which aid the defence, or at least hinder the attacker, such as the defensive Robot Forts which can project an attack value of ten into orthogonally adjacent squares, the mobile indestructible blocking piece (which like the defensive pieces may not occupy a city), or the special anti-aircraft fighters. There are also the very important Aircraft Carriers, which can act as a landing point for any number of aircraft. If a player loses both of his he might as well write-off the sea war as a bad job, and try to win on land instead. The variable powers of the pieces takes a little getting used to, and compiling a chart of the powers would be almost indispensable for rapid play until both opponents were totally familiar with them.
Playing the game requires a few hours of fairly continuous concentration by the players, and fairly obviously the initial set-up is vitally important, which can be very frustrating if you have to sit and watch a supposedly impregnable defence torn apart with ease, but the game is enjoyable, and, I feel, worth the effort of becoming familiar with the basic tactics involved.
The game is something of a gigantic slugging match between two very evenly matched opponents, and might eventually become a little tedious, but the board is quite colourful, and the pieces are attractively moulded from robust plastic. All in all Metropolis is a quite complex, but challenging game, although several games are probably necessary before you acquire the correct ‘feel’ for the rules, and can remember how all those damned pieces work.