On The Underground Review By Joel Wright

Designer: Sebastian Bleasdale

Publisher: LudiCreations

Artist: Natasha Bulatovic Trygg, Viktor Csete

You only need to play one game…

Not always but sometimes, you play a game once and afterwards it is the only thing you want to talk about, it’s the only thing you want to shout to the world. This is how I felt after playing “On The Underground” (OTU) at the UK Games Expo (UKGE) 2019. LudiCreations (Ludi) demo’d it at the show, with its alluring art box design which would encourage passers-by to take a chance on it and sit down to try out a board game that has similar tropes to Ticket to Ride and Through The Desert. 

Kickstarter Project

To be honest, OTU was not on my radar as a game I wanted to own or even play before driving up to Birmingham. What helped it gain a spot on my “must seek out” list, was the hitchhiker I had collected on my journey towards the UKGE. A man called Paul Grogan* of Gaming Rules! He was hired by the publisher to work on the rulebook for the game, along with a couple of instructional videos. At first, he believed it would be quite a light family game and wouldn’t be a game that his normal group would play (usually prefering heavier games). 

And my interest levels for it had intensified.

And my interest levels for it had intensified.

The New Look, being shown off at the UKGE 2019
Old Map and game Cover

OTU was originally released back in 2006 by Sebastian Bleasdale and published by JKLM and then Rio Grande Games. However, this was only printed in a small number and never saw another print afterwards. It did however get quite high praise from top board game critics and became a must to stay on fan’s shelves, up until this day. I personally have never played the original and never come across it until the weekend of UKGE 2019. Ludi announced that they are reprinting the game, which will be hitting Kickstarter this month.

So what is it I like about this reincarnated classic?

So what is it I like about this reincarnated classic? It has simplistic rules but there is a lot of depth to the gameplay. The rules are really simple: a player has 4 actions in which they can pick up a token or lay tracks down. Laying down track is the main action you will take. The point of the game is to build the Underground network system, very similar to Ticket to Ride and other rails games. Depending on the number of players, each player will have a number of different coloured track pieces and they can begin a new line anywhere on the board or continue a track they started previously. However, they are not allowed to branch off of these lines unlike in previous games mentioned, unless they have collected two (branch lines)tokens and cash them in.

The aim of the game is to score more points than your opponents, you gain points in many different ways: when you lay tracks down and you connect to national rail station (above ground stations) you will receive 1 point, if you link 2 locations of the same symbol together you receive 3 points and if you create a loop using your tracks you get a point for every station inside it. You will also gain points each time the Passenger uses your line to get from one destination to another.

The New London Game Board

The Passenger…

The Passenger? Yes this a pawn that wants to move around London in the most awkward way possible, moving from one side of London to the other, only to travel back to a location he has passed many times before. I mock the poor sod for not purchasing a map of the capital before heading out on his adventures! But this is me at the UKGE every year! I never get a hall map, I have never planned a conservative efficient route around the maze of stalls and demo games, I just wonder around like a lost child in a toy shop in awe of all the new shiny cardboard on offer. Only to remember that I had an appointment at the Ludi stand to play a new game they are bringing out and I am in the wrong hall altogether, right in the middle of a deep conversation about how difficult it is to find the stuff you want to see.

However, it is not the passenger’s fault, his problem with moving around the Capital like a ball in a pinball machine is because of these cards. There is a deck cards, one for each station on the board, split into 2 colours. Yellow stations are express locations and white are standard, four cards are revealed at the beginning of the game. The difference is that the passenger will go to the nearest express station before going to the nearest standard station. This passenger, feels to me more like an unlucky FedEx delivery driver that has crashed the company van one too many times and is having to use whatever transport is available to him. Or maybe he is smart, believing it is quicker to use public transport rather than having to remember to pay the congestion charge. Out of the four cards drawn the passenger will go to one or two stations on these cards, these are then discarded and replaced by new cards, this also ends the game when all the cards have been used.

The different Meeples shapes

Inclusion and Diversity

Ludi has introduced many new alterations to this edition and is working hard with the designer to bring his game up to modern standards. They have made a few tweeks to the rules: starting player disadvantage, clever end of game rules and one station has been removed from the board. But the first big improvement is that the game board is reversible, on one side is London and the other is Berlin’s underground tube network, add to that, the box art is a cool, modern skyline scene of London but on the back is the Berlin skyline giving the retail shops a choice of how they want to present the game on their shelves. Ludi is also not using the generic passenger pawn and location markers from before, they are replacing them with meeple shaped buildings and people and they have gone for inclusion and diversity by issuing 5 different shaped meeples to represent the passenger, ie, a wheelchair user and an old person using a walking stick.

The London and Berlin box covers

Right at the start of this review, I confirmed that I liked this game, it became my go to reply to the questions friends would ask me “what was your highlight of the show?”, “has anything caught your eye, so far?” I even went as far as to drag someone all the way to Ludi’s stand to show them why I was so enamoured by it.

The Game Tokens

It shares similar tropes to many games I like, where you always have less actions than you want to complete your plans and you sit back praying that your opponents don’t ruin your plans by placing tracks where you were going to. It’s the sort of game of placing a piece of wood on a board to score yourself points or just to screw over your opponents.

I played with a couple from London and once we were told how to play we were off and out for blood. We had a blast, laughing and joking how we were trying to get the passenger to use our lines and not others. Plus, there was the use of the modern gaming proverb “and here comes the dick move!”, which I believe entered the game around about round 4 or 5. And in my book, makes this a contender for my top 10 games.

The Dick Move

The only tricky part to this game is when you have a lot of track on the board you have to work out the shortest route for the passenger to travel, which might cause arguments between players but at the end of the day the active player has the final say. However, it doesn’t stop someone trying to blag an extra point out of making the passenger use his line over someone else’s. Also, I am playing in a three player game that at first felt like we had ample room to breathe, then towards the end it became hostile and land grabby. And this game goes to 5 players, imagine what it would be like with that number of players all vying for control of parts, track lines, cutting off people’s routes and deliberate blocking (The Dick Move). There will be blood on the tracks and I can’t wait to try it. Not that I am sadistic, but I do love a game where land is at a premium. And most other player’s reactions to your actions are, “Oh, for F**K S**K” or, “you Ba****t!”

My almost finished game.

I hope, when this game launches on Kickstarter it is a big hit, for me, this is a day one backing. And I know that this is the sort of game my wife (Claire) will love. It might bump her all-time favourite (Ticket to Ride) out of its top spot. When talking to the publisher himself there is already mentions of what expansions that could bring in other underground train systems, maybe a hint at a New York City and Paris version… But there are many more subways and tubes advantage of, i.e. Boston, Shanghai, Seoul…*** The list is endless and with little added rules or add-ons that could bring new, interesting and strategies. More or less how other board games have milked their fans over the years. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s all cross our fingers that this is hit on the crowdfunding format and arrives that the shops in a BIG way.

Click below to see the Kickstarter

You can preorder the game here

***this is my hopes for the future of the game and not to the Sebasrian in a tough spot.

  • Written By Joel Wright
  • Edited and checked by Joel Wright, Paul Grogan
  • Photos By Joel Wright and others sourced from Boardgamegeek.com
  • https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/281152/underground-londonberlin
  • https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/24773/underground