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Designer Preview: The City

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
California
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The City is a quick card game for 2-5 players, in which players build tableaus using cards that represent various parts of a city: Skyscrapers (Wolkenkratzer), Stadium, Hospital, Luxury Homes, Apartments, Malls, Schools, Freeways, Parks, Office Buildings, Airport, Subway System, etc.

Each card is built by discarding other cards in hand for payment, a la Race for the Galaxy or San Juan.

Turns are simple: Players simultaneously choose a card to build, revealing them once everyone is ready, and discard a number of cards face down equal to their cost to pay for them. Players then draw cards (income) and score VPs for all the buildings in their tableaus (on paper or by giving out poker chips). Repeat until someone has 50+ VPs. The player with the most VPs wins!

Since both income and VPs are scored every round, players must construct both a VP and a card drawing engine at once – the typical approach in many games of "build a large economy first, then buy lots of VPs" usually doesn't succeed in The City, as there just isn't enough time to make it work. A game typically takes 7-9 turns (fewer as players learn the deck and become more efficient).

Of course, building just VPs doesn't work either, as one needs to draw more cards, both to pay for more expensive buildings and to get card selection to find cards that combine well with those you've already put in play. Striking the correct balance between income and VPs is key.

I designed The City in 2004, after designing RFTG. I was interested in seeing what else I could do with the idea of discarding cards to build other cards, with an eye towards making a simpler, more accessible game. I thought about modern cities and distilled aspects of them into four broad concepts:

-----• prestige/happiness,
-----• how the automobile connects a city proper and its suburbs,
-----• how shopping can vitalize either a suburb or a city center, and
-----• how a vibrant city core of parks and civic buildings can provide a sense of pride and identity.

Prestige/happiness became VPs, thus explaining how such diverse things as a skyscraper, park, museum, or stadium can generate substantial numbers of VPs. The other three items became attributes, represented by the three icons that can appear on cards: cars, shopping carts, and fountains (civics).


Some cards, such as Freeway Intersection (Autobahnkreuz) or Central Park or Mall, provide either variable income or VPs (or both) based on the number of these icons in your tableau. Thus, these cards lead to card combinations and define strategies.

I intentionally kept most card powers fairly simple – typically, cards can provide a discount/bonus or require/allow the placement of certain named cards, in addition to any icons. For example, an Upscale Boutique (Modeboutique) provides a cart and a fountain (useful if you have cards that key off of them), plus an income bonus if you have one or more Business Centers in play, allowing a player who builds this specific card combination an efficiency gain.


Luxury Homes (Stadtvilla) feed off of each other for VPs, providing yet another strategic path, if you can find and build several of them.

While The City is primarily a race between players' different competing strategies, some cards also feed off cards in other players' tableaus. For example, the Freeway scores 2 VPs for each Freeway Intersection in play, while the Subway System (U-Bahn) provides 1 VP for each fountain in your tableau, plus 1 per fountain in any one other player's tableau.

Play begins with each player drawing seven cards and keeping five of them, before selecting the first building they will construct. To guarantee that players can always build something on the first turn, each player also has one Architect (Architekt, with a different card back, that is not part of their hand), which they can build for 0 cost, thus allowing them to gain a bit of early income.

Similarly, a player can also choose to "survey" instead of building, to look at five more cards and keep one (plus gaining their normal income from the turn), allowing the tactic of saving for a costly card in the mid-game, while also hunting for a useful card to play later.

Another tension during play is between spending cards as "cash" or saving them for later turns. The deck does cycle quite a bit (even in 2-player games), and valuable cards for the end-game do get hoarded. (The hand limit is 12, checked at the end of each turn.) Incomes beyond 12 are still useful as the player gets to see additional cards (before discarding down to 12 cards).

Finally, as an alternative to the "bigger and better" growth curve, the Construction Gang allows a player to build two buildings of cost 4 or less in one turn (paying for both of them normally), which can open up some other strategies, particularly if a player has some cards that grant discounts in their tableau.

The 110-card deck contains 51 different cards. Twenty-two cards are unique, many of them high-scoring endgame cards (Symphony Hall, Opera House, etc.), while the "building block" cards have 2-5 copies each (except for Luxury Homes, of which there are six). A few cards are limited to one per player; otherwise, players can build duplicate cards.


The City was popular as a quick, light card game during its development, as players enjoyed exploring its various strategies. Wei-Hwa Huang liked the game enough to replace my dull, mostly blank prototype cards with "Wei-Hwa scrawl art" (compare the Amusement Park prototype and the final Freizeitpark card with art from Klemens Franz), which enhanced its visual appeal during testing.

Amigo liked the game play, but explored several alternative themes before returning to my original theme. My Amigo game editor, Christian Hildenbrand, worked hard to translate the nuances of my card tiles into German names and concepts appropriate for German cities (which differ in some areas from modern American cities). I hope the published version proves to be as popular with the public as it did with my testers. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann

As Amigo doesn't print playtester names in its rules, I would like to thank my testers publicly for their time and comments: William Attia, Jim Boyce, Sunshine Buchler, David desJardins, Kirsten Haupt, David Helmbold, Jay Heyman, Brian Howard, Wei-Hwa Huang, Chris Lopez, Charles Patrick, Mary and Ravindra Prasad, Larry Rosenberg, Ron Sapolsky, Steve Thomas, Daniel Tregear, Markus Welbourne, and Don Woods.
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