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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Is Britain’s housing crisis a myth?

Council housing in Lambeth, south London. Image: Getty.

I’ve been banging on about the need for Britain to build more houses for so long that I can no longer remember how or when it started. But at some point over the last few years, the need to build more homes has become My Thing. People ask me to speak at housing events, or @ me into arguments they’re having on Twitter on a Sunday morning in the hope I’ll help them out. You can even buy a me-inspired “Build More Bloody Houses” t-shirt.

It’s thus with trepidation about the damage I’m about to do to my #personal #brand that I ask:

Does Britain actually have enough houses? Is it possible I’ve been wrong all this time?

This question has been niggling away at me for some time. As far back as 2015, certain right-wing economists were publishing blogs claiming that the housing crisis was actually a myth. Generally the people who wrote those have taken similarly reality-resistant positions on all sorts of other things, so I wasn’t too worried.

But then, similar arguments started to appear from more credible sources. And today, the Financial Times published an excellent essay on the subject under the headline: “Hammond’s housebuilding budget fix will not repair market”.

All these articles draw on the data to make similar arguments: that the number of new homes built has consistently been larger than the number of new households; that focusing on new home numbers alone is misleading, and we should look at net supply; and that the real villain of the piece is the financialisation of housing, in which the old and rich have poured capital into housing for investment reasons, thus bidding up prices.

In other words, the data seems to suggest we don’t need to build vast numbers of houses at all. Have I been living a lie?

Well, the people who’ve been making this argument are by and large very clever economists trawling through the data, whereas I, by contrast, am a jumped-up internet troll with a blog. And I’m not dismissing the argument that the housing crisis is not entirely about supply of homes, but also about supply of money: it feels pretty clear to me that financialisation is a big factor in getting us into this mess.

Nonetheless, for three reasons, I stand by my belief that there is housing crisis, that it is in large part one of supply, and consequently that building more houses is still a big part of the solution.

Firstly I’m not sold on some of the data – or rather, on the interpretation of it. “There is no housing crisis!” takes tend to go big on household formation figures, and the fact they’ve consistently run behind dwelling numbers. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? By definition you can’t form a household if you don’t have a house.

So “a household” is not a useful measure. It doesn’t tell you if everyone can afford their own space, or whether they are being forced to bunk up with friends or family. In the latter situation, there is still a housing crisis, whatever the household formation figures say. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that’s the one we’re living in.

In the same way I’m not quite convinced that average rents is a useful number. Sure, it’s reassuring – and surprising – to know they have grown slower than general prices (although not in London). But all that figure tells you is the price being paid: it doesn’t tell you what is being purchased for that payment. A world in which renters each have their own property may have higher rents than one in which everyone gets one room in an over-crowded shared flat. It’s still the latter which better fits the label “housing crisis”.

Secondly, I’m entirely prepared to believe we’ve been building enough homes in this country to meet housing demand in the aggregate: there are parts of the country where housing is still strikingly affordable.

But that’s no use, because we don’t live in an aggregate UK: we live and work in specific places. Housing demand from one city can be met by building in another, because commuting is a thing – but that’s not always great for quality of life, and more to the point there are limits on how far we can realistically take it. It’s little comfort that Barnsley is building more than enough homes, when the shortage is most acute in Oxford.

So: perhaps there is no national housing crisis. That doesn’t mean there is not a housing crisis, in the sense that large numbers of people cannot access affordable housing in a place convenient for their place of work. National targets are not always helpful.


Thirdly, at risk of going all “anecdote trumps data”, the argument that there is no housing crisis – that, even if young people are priced out of buying by low interest rates, we have enough homes, and rents are reasonable – just doesn’t seem to fit with the lived experience reported by basically every millennial I’ve ever met. Witness the gentrification of previously unfashionable areas, or the gradual takeover of council estates by private renters in their 20s. 

A growing share of the population aren’t just whining about being priced out of ownership: they actively feel that housing costs are crushing them. Perhaps that’s because rents have risen relative to wages; perhaps it’s because there’s something that the data isn’t capturing. But either way, that, to me, sounds like a housing crisis.

To come back to our original question – will building more houses make this better?

Well, it depends where. National targets met by building vast numbers of homes in cities that don’t need them probably won’t make a dent in the places where the crisis is felt. But I still struggle to see how building more homes in, say, Oxford wouldn’t improve the lot of those at the sharp end there: either bringing rents down, or meaning you get more for your money.

There is a housing crisis. It is not a myth. Building more houses may not be sufficient to solve it – but that doesn’t meant it isn’t necessary.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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