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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The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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