Mini Metro is a minimalist subway simulator. You design the public transportation system for a city that is growing and expanding. You keep going until commuter demand exceeds your ability to keep up.
The gameplay is so absorbing that my first play session was a 7-hour binge. This is a sim game stripped down to its cleanest essentials. The visuals are similarly clean. It looks like a subway map. The mechanics go mostly unexplained but are straightforward. Shapes go to shapes. Link the shapes. If you are familiar with public transportation at all, you will get the idea. A really elegant mechanic is that the screen is slowly but continuously zooming out, expanding the amount of city you are covering. The controls are simple but occasionally clunky if you are trying to do something precise in a hurry, like drag a train to another track with an impending crisis.
Variation in the game comes from having more than a dozen cities and then some randomness within each map. You start at a random point in the map, and I am not clear on whether the zooming out is straight up or pans as it goes. Cities grow randomly, so the placement and pattern of shapes is unknown as you start. Every in-game week, you get another locomotive and your choice of two randomly selected bonuses (train carriage, another line, tunnels, interchange).
Your ability to shift train lines, tunnels, and bridges around quickly is something real life transportation planners would envy. I think they would find the randomness realistic. Not only does growth defy urban planners’ dreams of molding it, you get both districts that perfectly mix functions and entire chunks of the map that are defiantly single-purpose, which is sometimes convenient and other times a nightmare to plan around. Sometimes your plans will be foiled because the upgrade you want is randomly not available. That feels really realistic, where the need for a new line is obvious but politically forbidden for no reason that anyone can explain adequately. Make do with a bigger interchange, skippy.
Fun, compelling, elegant.