Bored? Nerd? Here are some transport-themed games to play

Cards from the proposed MetRum game. Image: Richard Boreham.

Transport links have been inspiring armchair adventurers since their inception. From Around the World in 80 Days to the Thomas Cook European Timetable, the next best thing to hopping on the fast train to the continent has been daydreaming about it.

Board games inspired by travel fit neatly with this: it’s just a case of a few more armchairs, some friends to daydream with, and port and cheese if you’re really going for it. Think Ticket to Ride, Rivers, Roads and Rails or the map-geek element of Risk.

Obviously we’re three paragraphs into a CityMetric article, so readers will be asking, “Where’s the tube map angle?” and the answer is right here. Metrum is a card game based on the iconic Harry Beck tube map: think rummy for transport nerds. The pack consists of underground stations on various lines, drivers (like jokers) and ghost stations which enable you steal cards from other players. What better way to start a row about the optimal place to change with your friends, or instruct small children in the hierarchy of tube lines (Victoria Line FTW).

Alas, for those of you wanting to rush out and buy a pack, there’s a slight hiccup: it’s not in production yet. Designer Richard Boreham did a Kickstarter campaign before Christmas but unfortunately got held at a red signal at 58 per cent; he’s not sure the pricing model was right, and notes that Kickstarter isn’t the first place people go to looking for board games.

The video promoting the kickstarter.

“I think the appeal is probably more for tourists, actually, people going to the London Transport Museum.” he said. “If you wanted it to sell you’d kind of want it with TfL branding, it would look a bit more official.” Sounds like a great idea, though, so if TfL, or any eccentric millionaires who love transport-themed game evenings are reading do get in touch.

In the absence of funding to produce the cards, he’s working on an electronic version to make available through TableTopia, where board game enthusiasts can play their favourites virtually, rather than plunge back into another Kickstarter. “Going through the hoops of doing social media doesn’t appeal,” he added. “It’s much more interesting for me to go and create the game electronically.” His post on diversity in board games, and how he came to redesign the driver cards, is also well worth a read.

While he works on that, there are plenty of other public transport-themed amusements around. Ravensburger’s Scotland Yard – which won the 1983 Spiel des Jahres, a sort of nerdalicious Oscar for board games – involves the players tracking secret agent Mr X through London, knowing only what mode of transport he has taken. It’s noteworthy not just for its beautiful map of central London but also how hard it is for Mr X to escape.

If it’s a London-centric game you’re looking for, the people behind Smoke: A London Peculiar created Soho!, a game of skill and judgement inspired by the two things this corner of the capital is most famous for: its pubs, and its one-way system. The players are literary magazine editors struggling to round up the articles promised by a “motley bunch of recalcitrant writers”. It even includes Boris bikes as an option for getting from A to B.


Another transport-theme classic is Ticket to Ride. This involves building cross-continental railways networks with grand 19th-Century maps and fiddly little train carriages just the right size to send flying when making post-port emphatic gestures.

It’s more complicated than Scotland Yard – it could be called Settlers of Ca-train, to be honest – but is also great, tactical fun. It also, in the Nordic version, adds further to the fascinating and under-reported “is Estonia Nordic” debate with an emphatic “jah”. And if public transport isn’t your thing, Mille Bornes is the classic French card game where you compete to win a 1000 km road race.

All of these successes show there’s an appetite for transport-based board games, so let’s hope Metrum gets a second wind. In the meantime it’s back to leafing through the collected works of Mark Ovenden, listening to Ewan Campbell and snuggling up under this tube-theme bed linen.

And at the risk of sounding like an inspirational talk about failure, the game’s creator had a good time, and hopes the electronic format will allow fans to play. “For some people it’s the best thing ever, but that group of people is quite small,” he concludes. “Very, very, enthusiastic but also quite small.”

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Which pairs of capital cities are the closest together?

Vienna, which is quite close to Bratislava, but not quite close enough. Image: Thomas Ledl

It doesn't take long to get from Paris to Brussels. An hour and a half on a comfortable Thalys train will get you there. 

Which raises an intriguing question, if you like that sort of thing: wich capital cities of neighbouring countries are the closest together? And which are the furthest away? 

There are some that one might think would be quite close, which are actually much further part. 

Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, sits on one side of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, while Montevideo, Uruguay's capital lies on the other side. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But at 207km apart, they're not really that close at all. 

Similarly, Singapore – capital of, er, Singapore – always sticks in the mind as 'that bit on the end of the Malaysian sticky-out bit'. But it's actually pretty far away from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. A whole 319km away, in fact:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Thinking of 'countries that cause problems by being close together', you inevitably think of South Korea and North Korea. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And while Pyongyang in the North and Seoul in the South are pretty close together, 181km just isn't going to cut it. 

Time to do some Seoul-searching to find the real answer here.

(Sorry.)

(Okay, not that sorry.)

Another place where countries being close together tends to cause problems is the Middle East. Damascus, the capital of Syria, really isn't that far from Beirut, in Lebanon. Just 76km:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Seeing as Lebanon is currently host to millions of refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria's never-ending civil war and the atrocities of Daesh, or Isis, this is presumably something that authorities in Beirut have given a certain amount of thought to.

Most of the time, finding nearby capitals is a game of searching out which bits of the world have lots of small countries, and then rooting around. So you'd think Central America would be ripe for close-together capital fun. 

And yet the best option is Guatemala and El Salvador – where the imaginatively named Guatemala City is a whole 179km away from the also imaginatively named San Salvador.  

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Another obvious place with lots of small-ish countries is Europe – the site of the pair of capitals that drove me to write this nonsense in the first place. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And in fairness, Vienna and Bratislava do make a pretty good showing of it. Austria's capital sits on the Danube; drift downstream, and you swiftly get to Slovakia's capital. As the crow flies, it's 56km – though as the man swims, it's a little longer. 

There are more surprising entries – particularly if you're willing to bend the rules a little bit. Bahrain and Qatar aren't really adjacent in the traditional sense, as they have no land border, but let's just go with it. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Manama, Bahrain's capital, is 140km away from Doha, the centre of the world's thriving local connecting-flight-industry which moonlights as Qatar's capital. 

Sticking with the maritime theme, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago is 152km from St George's, Grenada. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Good, but not good enough. 

Castries, the capital of the Carribbean country of St Lucia, is 102km north of Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Better, but still not good enough. 

Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts and Nevis, inches ahead at 100km away from St John's, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But, enough teasing: it's time to get down to the big beasts.

If you ask Google Maps to tell you the distance between the capital of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it comes up with a rather suspect 20km. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

A short distance, but considering the only thing separating the two is the River Congo, something's up: Google places the centre of Brazzaville a little north of where it should be, and the centre of Kinshasa many many miles south of where it should be, in some sort of suburb.


So, in true CityMetric style, we turn to train stations. 

Though such transport hubs may not always perfectly mark the centre of a city – just ask London Oxford Airport or London Paddington – in this case it seems about right. 

Kinshasa's main train station is helpfully called 'Gare Centrale', and is almost slap-bang in the middle of the area Google marks as 'Centre Ville'. On the other side of the river, 'Gare de Brazzaville' is in the middle of lots of densely-packed buildings, and is right next to a Basilica, which is always a good sign. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And when marking that distance, you get a more realistic 4.8km. If you want to be really keen, the ferry between them travels 3.99km, and the closest point I could find between actual buildings was 1.74km, though admittedly that's in a more suburban area. 

Pretty close, though. 

But! I can hear the inevitable cries clamouring for an end to this. So, time to give the people what they want. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you ask Google Maps to tell you how far away the Holy See, capital of the Vatican, is from Rome, capital of Rome, it says 3.5km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you set the centre of Rome to be the Palatine Hill, the ancient marking point for roads leading out of Rome, that narrows to 2.6km.

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Fiddle a bit and put the centre of the Vatican as, well, the middle bit of the roughly-circular Vatican, that opens up a smidge to 2.75km.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Mark the centre of point of the Vatican as the approximate location of St Peter's Tomb within St Peter's Basilica, which is after all the main reason the Vatican is a thing and not just a quirky suburb of Rome, and 2.67km is your answer. 

Though obviously in practice Rome and the Vatican are as far away as one single step over the railings at the entrance of St Peter's Square, which fairly blatantly makes them the closest capital cities in the world. 

But that would have been a very boring thing to come out and say at the start. 

Oh, and if you hadn't worked it out already, the longest distance between a capital city and the capital of a country it shares a land border with is 6,395km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

I know it's tough for you, Vladimir and Kim. Long-distance relationships are a real struggle sometimes.

I can't make a pun work on either Moscow or Pyongyang here, but readers' submissions more than welcome. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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