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Subject: Mad City: Fast-Paced Fun rss

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Seth Brown
United States
North Adams
Massachusetts
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WHAT IS IT?
A real-time city-building game where you scramble to arrange your nine tiles into a 3x3 grid that creates the best possible city, in terms of grouping certain regions of houses together and having connected roads and so forth.

COMPONENTS
54 square city tiles, which are the main part of the game, along with a decent-quality bag to hold/mix them. 1 wooden tree token, 1 minute sand timer. Each player also has a combination playeraid/scoreboard, wooden scoring cube, and a bunch of punched-out cardboard tiles of various shapes.

GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
Players are each dealt a stack of 9 face-down city tiles, and then the timer is flipped. Players have one minute to arrange their tiles into a 3x3 grid that best maximizes their points, and (full game only) before time expires they may also wager that their city is the best at accomplishing certain things by hiding a Contractor token in their hand. A player may also end their round early by grabbing the tree token from the middle of the table, but then may not adjust their board any further.

Once time expires, anyone whose city is incomplete must shuffle their unplaced tiles face-down and randomly add them to their board to complete the 3x3 grid layout. If anyone grabbed the tree, that player scores points for the lake and park regions in their city. Then, players who held Contractor tokens for a color check to see if they have the most buildings of that color in a single contiguous color region. If so, they score 3 points, otherwise they lose 2 points. Likewise, the longest road token scores 3 points if successful, loses 2 if not.

Then, each player scores their city board by looking at each separate color region to see how many buildings of that color are present. In the basic game, each region with 2-4 blue buildings will score you 2 points, while a region with 8 blue buildings will score you 7 points. Once all scores are tallied, if anyone has passed 150, the player with the highest score wins. If nobody has passed 150, tiles are shuffled for another round.

(The full game adds "Delayed Scoring", where your first X scores for a certain color/building threshold don't count, but once you have completed that pre-requisite, further regions that score that amount will score normally.)

GOOD POINTS

*Fast and fun. In terms of game speed, it's hard to argue with a game that has one-minute rounds. And a minute is none too long, as I frequently found myself out of time before I was done. It's absolutely engaging for the full amount of time you're playing, which is very nice.

*No downtime. In addition to the fast round speed overall, almost everything is simultaneous. Players assemble their own cities simultaneously, and can even score them simultaneously as well. Players only really need to come together to do the Contractor token scoring. The biggest advantage of this is that when playing with larger groups (4-6), the game hardly takes any longer than playing 2-3 player.

*Enjoyable in defeat. This is a fine quality for any game, but doubly so for a family game. The fact that you are busily assembling your own city (and advancing through your delayed scoring tiles) means that you can feel a sense of progress and be very engaged with the game even if Bob across the table has double your score.

*Easy to learn gameplay. The idea of assembling 9 square tiles into a 3x3 grid is incredibly simple, and while obviously there are better and worse ways to go about it for optimizing your score, anyone can jump in and play the game by just putting your tiles in a 3x3 grid. The difficulty bar is very low, and there is a basic game option that eliminates the only two complexities of the game (Delayed Scoring and Contractor Tokens).

*Plays from 2-6 players. Having tried it both with 2 and a larger group, I'll say it doesn't really lose much with 2 players. The only real difference is that it suggests you set up a barricade between the two players so they can't examine each other's boards when deciding which Contractor tokens to grab. But the gameplay remains the same otherwise. (There is also an included solitaire variant, but I did not try it.)

*The bag is decent quality and holds all the tiles with plenty of room left over. I realize this should be standard with all games and not merit special mention, but lately I seem to have reviewed too many games where the included bag either barely fits all the tiles (let alone room to mix them), or the bag is cheap and fraying with threads coming out, or both. So I'm just mentioning this here.


BAD POINTS

*Not all tiles are created equal. While clever players can make the most out of the 9 tiles they are dealt, if random fate hands me all the blue and red buildings, while all of your tiles are yellow, you are going to lose. That being said, the fast iteration time and other aspects of the game make this largely unproblematic unless you are opposed to randomness in general.

*The delayed scoring mechanic seemed somewhat inelegant, in a game that I otherwise would have described as very tightly crafted. Rotating the shapes and not counting your first few small scores of any type didn't really seem to add much to the game aside from complexity.

CONCLUSION
Mad City is a fast-paced game that combines speed with puzzle-ish optimizing, manages to be accessible to non-gamers while remaining engaging for a hardcore gamers, and stays fun even when you're losing. As a fast-paced light game, it does pretty much everything you would want it to do. While I wouldn't want to play an all-day marathon of it, in normal circumstances I don't see myself turning down a quick game of it, because what it does it does fairly well.


IS IT FOR YOU?

If you're the type of person who gets infuriated in a traditional card game when someone gets dealt better cards than you, it's quite possible the random nature of the tile stacks may bother you. And naturally, if the idea of doing anything at all with a timer running is too much pressure for you, then this timed game may not be for you.

Otherwise, I'd recommend this game as worth at least trying for just about everyone. I'll admit I wasn't expecting much from it, but this was the little game that could. It's got the time pressure of a real-time game without the frustration of having time run out and leaving you with nothing. So it's accessible to just about anyone, but the minute timer runs fast enough that even the most seasoned gamers should find themselves engaged.

*Review copy provided by publisher
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