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Game Overview: High Rise, or City Building with a Healthy Dose of Corruption

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Formal Ferret Games
Sometimes you're passing by a booth at a convention, and you have to stop. I was originally captured by the table presence of High Rise at Formal Ferret's booth when I attended GAMA Expo in March 2020. It wasn't a booth I could just casually walk by or pause at for a few seconds, then move on. I had to stop and ask about this visually unique and captivating game. When Gil Hova, the designer and publisher, gave me a high-level overview, it sounded interesting enough that I knew I definitely wanted to play High Rise at some point.

Fast forward four months, I received a box in the mail thanks to Gil, and when I opened it, I found a large game box with one of the most beautiful covers I've seen in awhile. It came as no surprise when I discovered Kwanchai Moriya had his artistic hands in the mix. Since I had the opportunity to play a couple games of High Rise, I figured I'd share some of my initial impressions.

From gallery of candidrum

In High Rise, 1-4 players represent moguls in a new city trying to score the most victory points by constructing the tallest buildings for wealthy and powerful corporate tenants. The core gameplay revolves around a one-way track surrounding five different neighbors in the city.

Over the course of 2-3 rounds, players move their moguls to action spaces along the one-way track, taking the corresponding action where they stop. For the most part, you're collecting resources that are colored floor tiles and UltraPlastic (a wild resource), and trying to match the current round's blueprints in order to construct buildings. Some of the action spaces are tenant tiles that vary from game to game, tiles where you gain either an immediate bonus or a power card that you can use later. At the end of each round when each player's mogul has entered the stop zone, you score victory points for the tallest buildings in each neighborhood and overall. At the end of the game, just as you'd expect, the player with the most victory points wins.

From gallery of candidrum

One thing that keeps High Rise on the simpler side of the complexity scale is that there's no money to manage. Instead, you have a corruption-based economy. Actions are generally free, but some actions cause you to gain corruption or give you optional extra bonuses if you're willing to take a little corruption. Be careful, though, because at the end of each round the players with the most corruption are penalized.

From gallery of candidrum
Blueprint card (top) and
player's construction yard (bottom)
w/ floor tiles matching the third blueprint
While a few helpful actions allow you to lose corruption, it's not the end of the world if you gain a little here and there...depending on your opponents. You're definitely going to want to and sometimes have to gain corruption, so it's in your best interest to pay attention and monitor your opponents' corruption level relative to your own so that you don't get stuck with the penalty and lose victory points. There will be moments when you need to gain an extra floor tile or even stop on a specific action space that causes you to gain corruption, which might push you into having the most corruption. You have to balance risk versus reward, but I found it fun to juggle corruption, and I appreciated the interesting choices it provided.

The main way you gain victory points in High Rise is by constructing buildings. Not only do you score for tallest buildings at the end of each round, but you also score points immediately when you construct a building. To do so, you need to stop in one of the four construction zones and discard floors from your personal supply (construction yard) that match the current round's blueprints. This is typically how you determine which size building you can place, but you can increase the height of the building a couple of ways, such as being the first to build a specific blueprint or having power cards with special construction benefits.

From gallery of candidrum
After determining your building's height and grabbing the appropriate numbered building tile, you pick a neighborhood to place your building in, gain victory points equal to its height, then activate the tenant power corresponding to the space in which you placed your building.

Tenant powers are based on the tenant tiles randomly placed on the game board in each neighborhood during set-up. They come in a variety of flavors, allowing players to gain power cards and immediate bonuses such as victory points, resources, and ways to lose corruption. When you land on a tenant tile connected to an opponent's building, you get to take the action, but they'll gain a random floor tile. Alternatively, if you land on a tenant tile with one of your own buildings, you take the associated action as usual, then you can also gain a random floor tile topped with a bit of corruption because as the rulebook says, "you're clearly embezzling".

The variety of tenant tiles ups the replay value of High Rise since each neighborhood has nine different tiles, and you selecting only three or four are random each game. This is all to say, when you're choosing a location to construct a building, you have lots to consider: Do you want to place it in an area where you'll have one of the tallest buildings for end of round scoring? Or do you place where you'll immediately activate a tenant power that will help your next turn? Or do you place it where there's a tenant power you're expecting many opponents to land on so you'll get passive benefits when it's not your turn?

From gallery of candidrum
Tenant tile action spaces and their corresponding power cards

While building construction and the majority of actions are straightforward and pretty quick execution-wise, the decision of where to move is where things get challenging in High Rise. Turn order is variable and always led by whichever player's mogul is furthest behind on the one-way track. Unlike most games that utilize the well-loved time track mechanism, High Rise features a slight twist by having action spaces grouped into zones, and as a rule of movement, you must always move your mogul to a different zone and can never occupy the same space as an opponent.

Between certain zones are juicy bonus spaces that make the decision of jumping further ahead even more enticing and tend to open up a strategic can of worms. The bonus spaces include a limited amount of first come, first serve perks, from extra floors or UltraPlastic to power cards and spires that make your buildings even taller. Each turn, you'll more than likely struggle with the decision of hanging back and hopefully getting more actions than your opponents, or jumping ahead to take advantage of the bonus space goodies, or taking an earlier action space to avoid gaining corruption. Moving and deciding where to place my buildings always seemed to be the toughest decisions in High Rise.

Once all players' moguls have entered the stop zone of the final round, you do endgame scoring, score the tallest buildings, and determine who gets the corruption penalty, then the player with the most points wins.

From gallery of candidrum
High Rise includes rules for three different game modes, so you have options if you're new to the game or if you simply want a shorter or longer experience. I think many will find the standard game (two rounds) to be the sweet spot since you can bang out a game in about two hours or less with experienced players, and it feels like a full, complete experience. If you play the full game (three rounds), you'll probably discover more interesting strategies and play differently since you'll be even more familiar with the tenant tiles and how your opponents are playing, but it will take longer to play. In either case, it's awesome to have the options and flexibility.

The solo and two-player games integrate the use of neutral moguls. In a two-player game, there's one neutral mogul that players alternate controlling, and in a solo game, you control two neutral moguls. In either case, the neutral mogul can be used to either block or move. If you block, you place the neutral mogul in the first available action space in the zone ahead of the lead player, whereas if you move, you gain a corruption, but you get to move the neutral mogul to any legal space and you get to take the associated action.

In both the solo and two-player games, I enjoyed having that option of taking corruption to gain extra actions or avoiding the corruption but potentially blocking a space I needed to go to. Even though both use neutral moguls, they feel very different since your opponent could be using the neutral mogul defensively against you, but in the solo game, corruption is evaluated differently so you end up gambling a bit, the more corruption you take. In the solo game, you're trying to score as many points as you can compared to a scoring chart, which is not all that exciting for some, including myself. However, I liked playing with the neutral moguls and thought it was a clever approach to making High Rise a compelling experience at lower player counts.

From gallery of candidrum
Tenant tile action spaces w/ immediate bonuses

All in all, High Rise is a solid city-building, area-influence game with an interesting twist on the time track mechanism. It's fairly simple to play once you are familiar with the iconography, even though its eye-catching table presence makes it look much heavier. Honestly, the hardest part for me was the initial set-up. There are a lot of different components and the set-up steps in the rulebook did not have numbers corresponding to the example set-up image, so it took a lot of reading and careful flipping back and forth to make sure I was setting it up correctly. That part felt tedious the first time. Of course, after playing my first game, setting it up for future games felt like a breeze, but even still, I wouldn't call it a quick set-up game.

I loved all of the tough decisions when it comes to moving around the one-way track and having a corruption-based economy. Constructing buildings always felt exciting because you're immediately getting victory points and activating a tenant power, not to mention the satisfaction from occasionally demolishing your opponents' smaller buildings!

There's plenty of variety with tenant tiles, power cards, bonus tiles, and blueprint cards that will likely keep each game feeling fresh. However, it may cause some AP and slower turns since players will need to get familiar with each different tenant tile that's placed on the game board. The tenant tiles are not complicated, though, so I'm sure things will move quicker, as always, after you've played a few games. The rulebook has a handy appendix section with detailed explanations of all of the tenant tiles and power cards, not to mention Gil Hova's fun humor sprinkled throughout.

Most importantly, High Rise made me realize that I'm not nearly as corrupt as some of my friends, although I'm still very eager to build a 15-floor building, so who knows how corrupt I'll end up being by the time I figure that out!

Board Game: High Rise
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