Expect Delays posits a world where the subway, a vital piece of many modern cities’ infrastructures, is deeply underfunded, poorly maintained, and deeply overcrowded. A world where getting from point A to point B can feel almost like a competitive struggle, with a system that hasn’t been modernized in decades screaming under the extensive pressure of daily commuters and unwelcome tourists alike, infusing rush hour with the sort of stress that shortens lifespans and crushes souls.
Which is to say, modern New York City.
I mean, yeah, technically the infamous New York subway system isn’t actually mentioned anywhere in the Kickstarter page or the rules, but let’s be real – just like co-designer and Offcut Games co-founder (and friend) Patrick Brennan, I am a native New Yorker, and I can smell the authenticity of this central conceit emanating from this modest magnetic box like the stench of the unwashed masses who pile into these steel pythons every day.
At its mechanical core, Expect Delays is a hand-management game for two players, who will go head to head, undertaking the joyless, soul-grinding task of getting their commuters through the subway system – one working to move commuters uptown, and the other downtown. In order to accomplish this Sisyphean task, each turn players will take two actions, from among the following options:
- Board: Pay Fare Swipe tokens to move their commuters onto their respective lines
- Disembark: Remove a commuter from your line, scoring points based on how far along the route they’ve managed to get. As a bonus, go ahead and dump a tourist on one of your opponents’ lines
- Take Out of Service: Discard a card from your hand to the Out of Service pile and gain Fare Swipe tokens
- Repair: Bring a formerly Out Of Service train back into the game
- Run the Line: Choose one of your lines, discarding up to 3 cards from your hand with the matching train symbol to move all travelers on that line forward. This includes those utterly pointless tourists your opponent probably dumped on you
- Use Service Advisory: Some service advisory cards grant players additional actions while they’re in effect
So, worth noting is the fact that Expect Delays is a toothy, competitive game. You will *constantly* mess with your opponent while simultaneously trying to manage your trains and deal. But I have to say, I actually like the nature of the ‘messing with’ here – instead of choosing to take an action or play a card that somehow disrupts what your opponent is trying to do, you will be able to throw stones in their path while also acting to your benefit. For example, tourists do nothing but clog train lines, but there is no special ‘deploy the tourists’ action or card. Instead, when you score a commuter (yay!) you also get to send a tourist to your opponent’s trains (double yay!). Need some Fare Swipe tokens? Go ahead and take your opponent’s train cards out of service – you get a resource, and cards that are valuable to them leave the game until they take the time to bring them back into service. Devious!
The gameplay in Expect Delays is also short and tight. There are definitely turns where you don’t have an optimal move for yourself, for example, and will need to bide your time in order to cycle your hand and try to score some points. But as anyone who’s ever ridden the subway can tell you, sometimes close enough is better than perfect – every time the shared draw deck shuffles, new Service Advisory cards will come into play, complicating everyone’s life in unpredictable ways. And if there are ever insufficient cards in the draw deck to refill a player’s hand (because you’ve both been taking trains out of service left and right to mess with each other), then the whole game collapses and you both lose.
So I’ll be honest and say that I don’t precisely know why I like Expect Delays, but the fact is that I do. The gameplay itself is accessible and straightforward – you have precious few options, and the win condition, of a player amassing 10 points, can happen relatively quickly, so you don’t have a lot of room to breathe…which is perfectly thematic. It’s a fast, tight, sometimes-frustrating puzzle that your opponent will constantly be picking apart as you try to put it together. It’s a game about controlling a system that doesn’t really have many control points, and the game’s brevity is as thematic as it is welcome – you’re only going to be hanging on for 15 minutes or so before someone finally manages to scrounge out that 10th point, and then it’s all done and you can either toss it back in the box or do what we did and immediately set up for another run. Simply put, you’ll either have the patience for it or you won’t.
Expect Delays is up on Kickstarter right now. The prototype of the game we received is unsurprisingly clever in its physical design – using the box as the board, including organizing the decks and having a spot where the current Service Advisory stands up is just really smart. We’re positive the final product will be equally well-made. So if you’re in the market for a tight 2-player head-to-head puzzle that will leave you both feeling slightly annoyed with each other (in a great way), we definitely recommend heading over to the Expect Delays Kickstarter page and checking it out. And hey, if you really like the idea, you can even back the game at the $100 ‘Tourist’ pledge level, which comes with a copy of the game and a custom fanny pack that will make you look exactly as annoying as those tourists who keep screwing up our commutes.