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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Go Play: Mini Metro

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

It was an innocuous tweet. “Hey, have y’all played Mini Metro?” he asked. “It just got ported to mobile this week and it’s great.”

Oh, no, I had not played Mini Metro. It’s $5 on the App Store. And it is amazing.

Developed by Dinosaur Polo Club and available as a $10 Mac/PC download on Steam since last fall, Mini Metro is a game inspired by the classic style of Harry Beck, creator of the famous London Underground map. And now it’s available for iOS and Android.

In Mini Metro, your job is to connect stations on a map—represented by circles, triangles, squares, and the occasional special shape (I like to imagine they represent things like hospitals, stadiums, and Superman’s Fortress of Solitude)—in an efficient way to keep people moving around your city. You set up the lines and equip them with trains. After every week of simulated commutes, you get more resources, like additional subway lines, more trains and train cars, and station upgrades. Oh, and all the while, the commute traffic in your simulated city increases.

Your commuters are represented by shapes waiting at each station, indicating their destination. The app simulates all of their commutes, and the game ends if one of your stations gets too crowded for too long. You can see the little shapes riding around in the train cars—and see them get deposited at their destinations. It’s pretty amazing.

The touch interface of iOS and Android seems perfect for this game—it’s just so easy to draw out transit lines with your fingers. But there’s enough complexity here that it takes a little time to learn some of the most important gestures. You have to tap on a line and then hold on a station to disconnect the station from that line, and sometimes selecting the right line can be tricky. But once you get the hang of it, the tactile interface is great fun.

All the while, there’s an adorable, minimalist soundtrack playing in the background. It’s soothing, which is good because once the map gets complicated you can get pretty stressed out. But of course, the sound gets more complicated as the maps get complicated. You can’t win.

No, seriously: you can’t win. Losing is inevitable. You lose when a station gets too crowded—because you’ve failed in your job as a transit planner. Now, on the Steam version, once you lose the game you’re offered a chance to play in “endless” mode, where you can just keep building your transit lines as your city grows. That option doesn’t exist yet on iOS, though Dinosaur Polo Club says they’ll add it in an update. This is good, because I miss my cities once they’re gone and sometime you just want to watch the trains run and not stress out, you know?

Mini metro reminds me a whole lot of SimCity, and in the best way. You can appreciate it on a very simple level, but if you really get into it you’ll discover all sorts of layers of strategy. Don’t connect too many circles together, for instance—they’re commuter stations, and the people who arrive there want to go to squares and triangles, not other circles. The list goes on.

Based on my description, I think you probably already know if Mini Metro is for you. It’s definitely for me! You can get it for $5 on the App Store and Play Store.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a new extension on the Blue Line.

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