E for Everyone: Mini Metro

Why should you play “Mini Metro” (2015)? Because it is one of the most beautiful examples of using minimalism to make an incredibly intuitive, relevant and rewarding game.

Dreamed up in 2013 by the developers of New Zealand-based Dinosaur Polo Club at a game jam, this hypnotic wonder of a game is about creating an efficient transit system for real city layouts. The challenge starts off small, but as time progresses and the population grows in your city, whether it’s Osaka, Cairo or San Francisco, you must deal with the transit demand of the people there. The gameplay is simple in that the only thing you need to take care of is the layout of the railways and the trains on each line. Everything else is automatically taken care of; passengers, represented by small black shapes, calculate their own optimal transfers and destinations, and trains, represented by brightly colored rectangles, know when to stop and when to pass stations.

At certain junctions, the player can select which improvements to make to their metro, such as an extra train, an extra carriage, more tunnels to use to cross water or broadening a station to heighten its commuter hold capacity. The game progresses until a station overcrowds and must be shut down.

Figuring out the most optimal layout of a subway system may sound dull and wholly uninteresting if you’ve never taken an interest in transit layout before, but that’s where this game truly shines. It is addicting, and it is as calming as it is electrifying. Drawing colorful lines from one station to the next is immensely satisfying, especially since you can see every step of every commuter’s journey from their beginnings to their destinations. It can even put the pressure on toward the end of a level. When your stations begin to fill up and there don’t seem to be enough trains, it takes a good amount of finagling to figure out the games’ algorithms and save your city. I cannot overstress how bizarrely fun this is.

If you play games with the sound on (please, please do), you may recognize the soothing soundscape characteristic to its composer, electronic artist Disasterpeace. This game would simply not be the same without its music. Starting out silent, the levels become more and more abuzz with small pops and pleasantly pitched drones, turning into a complex yet soothing representation of a bustling city.

“Mini Metro” can be purchased on Steam for $9.99 (sometimes 15 percent off) and downloaded to Windows, Mac or Linux. It’s also available for $4.99 on iPhone and Android. I would personally recommend purchasing it on mobile platforms because it allows for the curious situation of designing your own metro while riding on the T, wondering who on earth came up with the terms “Outbound” and “Inbound” or the monstrosity that is the Green Line.