When I was in the eighth grade, a city planner came to my pre-algebra class to talk about the mathematics involved in managing traffic lights. He gave a series of problems and asked us to find ways to shuffle the maximum number of cars through a given intersection quickly and safely. Even the most basic questions were surprisingly complex and way beyond my group of hormone-addled pre-teens.
Now that I’ve grown up, I’ve noticed that my neighborhood is cut off from the rest of the major metropolitan area by three bridges, two of which happen to run right beside an NFL stadium. At best, it’s kind of weird that there are literally only three ways to get out of town; at worst, it’s an unnavigable hellscape. (“Worst," in this case, is a Sunday in the fall.) The city government is currently embroiled in a war of attrition with the state over new proposed bus routes.
All of that to say that transportation logistics seem a tad difficult. Hence the appeal of Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro, a subway planning game hopefully coming to iOS later this year. As a mini urban planner, it’ll be your job to draw routes between stations in an ever-growing city, making sure you have enough train cars and lines to ferry passengers to and fro as needed. You’ll get some upgrade or another each week, but when wait times get too long, you lose.
After a few rounds with the demo, the funniest thing about Mini Metro is how it tricks you into believing you’re doing a good job. Its white backgrounds and minimalist icons evoke the elegant, color-coded spiderwebs of minimalist subway maps, and trains and passengers shuffle along their routes relentlessly and automatically. In reality, your own metro will probably be a nightmare hodgepodge of inefficiency, short-sightedness, and bridges to nowhere, over-extended and frail. My first subway system lasted less than an in-game month, and my second, while more intricate and more consciously planned, less than three weeks.
Part of the problem is that Mini Metro is as much a bureaucracy and economy simulator as it is a line-drawing puzzle: the challenge is in making the most of the (undoubtedly scant) resources your city entrusts you with each week. The other problem I ran into, at least with the demo, is that I didn’t always understand why, for example, my fledgling cerulean line couldn’t reach stranded folk on the other side of the river. By the time I figured out that I’d already used my allotment of underwater tunnels, it was too late. The full release may have a more generous tutorial, or maybe ruining a few high-profile transportation projects is simply part of the gig. You’ll learn as you go, I reckon.
For now, Dinosaur Polo Club consists of Peter and Robert Curry, brothers operating out of Wellington, New Zealand. The Brothers Curry are being joined by artist Jamie Churchman and musician Disasterpeace (Fez) on Mini Metro, which was released on Steam Early Access last month. More modes, real-world maps, and scored leaderboards are in the works for the iOS release later this year, and I’m looking forward to it: my third metro is already in the works in a separate browser tab.