I have not been gripped by a game since I was a child. Yet here I am, edging towards late-twenties, and I am caught up in a game being played the length and breath of London; Chromaroma. The London Underground map is an icon of this city, and is featured on everything from postcards to umbrellas to tasteless underwear for the most tasteless of tourists. Now its real-life counterpart has become the board for a game making commuting fun, involving hundreds, and no doubt soon thousands, of competing Londoners. Using data gathered from Oystercard swipes (an Oystercard being a London travel card used to pay for transport on buses and tubes across the city) Chromaroma maps your commuting patterns, and awards you points for visiting certain stations and completing missions; missions like collecting all the stations in the city named for monarchs, or visiting a particular obscure station at a specified time of day. Boris' bikes, and tube trains and buses are the game tokens. Yet instead of being moved around a board by the players, they move the players around the city board. The Oystercard readers keep score.
Of course I am paying for the privilege of playing this game. TFL must be laughing, as the development company Mudlark have created a way to induce Oystercard holders to travel more, and donate more of their hard-earned cash to the London Underground and Boris' Bikes. I now use the tube more than I usually would, aware of the extra points I will earn. I have even started taking unnecessarily circuitous routes around the city to accomplish obscure missions. Chromaroma ensures that you only earn your points for truly visiting the areas where you swipe your Oystercard. You cannot simply swipe in then out a minute later to obtain points - you have to leave the station and potter around and explore the area for a bit before re-swiping. Maybe even pottering as far as the next station to gain even more points.
Coloured teams (you select one when you start playing; pick a colour, any colour!) compete to capture stations, by having the most team members swipe in and out of a station. (I am proud to say only a couple of days ago I took one of my local tube stations for my team; a one-time Red team stronghold now claimed for the Greens!)
Chromaroma's online visualisations show me exactly where I have been, how many bus rides I have taken that week, and just how far east or west I have ventured. Being presented with a pretty, coloured map of one's commute certainly jollies it up, and also provides one with a fascinating insight into urban transport systems. In accepting missions one is instructed about the city's architecture, its history and development; where London's ancient wall once ran, and upon which underground stations architecture Henry Beck left his stylistic stamp. Puzzle missions provide you simply with an anagram of a station, which you have to unscramble before accepting the mission and setting off for "Swearword & Ethanol" or "Flesh Studio" to claim your points.
One of the greatest things about living in a city is exploring its hidden corners. You discover the history of former inhabitants, and the ancient patterns of life which underlie your own today. Chromaroma encourages this wider knowledge of one's city, inducing one to learn and explore with all the fun of a treasure hunt. And it certainly livens up the tedium of urban commuting. Let this extraordinary game begin!