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Days of Wonder Lays the Groundwork for City Mania

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Designer
Board Game Publisher: Days of Wonder
City-building is a common theme for game designers and publishers, and it's easy to see why: Due to their familiarity with the subject matter through its omnipresence in the world, players can easily grasp the goals of the design depending on whatever particulars are presented (higher, wider, more diverse), and by the end of the game they have created something of their own to look at and admire (or lament, as the case might be).

One problem that results from the commonality of the theme, though, is coming up with a title that says "You're going to build a city!" while standing apart from all of the other games in which you build cities. Whether Days of Wonder has succeeded or not with that goal with City Mania — a design from first-timer François Gandon — is up to you to decide. (I'll confess to thinking of Judge Dredd due to the similarity of the name to Block Mania, but somehow I think that the final graphics from DoW will erase such stray thoughts.)

Let's start with a completed city from a playtest session at the Cannes game festival. Note that the graphics were created by the designer and are not how the game will appear in print.

Board Game: Quadropolis

And here's an overview of how to play City Mania, with some of the game terms not being final as I'm working from a rough draft of the rules and a single playing of the prototype, which was known as Quadropolis at that time:

Each player builds their own metropolis in City Mania, but they're competing with one another for the shops, parks, public services and other structures to be placed in them.

The game lasts four rounds, and in each round players first lay out tiles for the appropriate round at random on a 5x5 grid. Each player has four architects numbered 1-4 and on a turn, a player places an architect next to a row or column in the grid, claims the tile that's as far in as the number of the architect placed (e.g., the fourth tile in for architect #4), places that tile in the appropriately numbered row or column on the player's 4x4 city board, then claims any resources associated with the tile (inhabitants or energy).

When a player takes a tile, a figure is placed in this now-empty space and the next player cannot place an architect in the same row or column where this tile was located. In addition, you can't place one architect on top of another, so each placement cuts off play options for you and everyone else later in the round. After all players have placed all four architects, the round ends, all remaining tiles are removed, and the tiles for the next round laid out.

After four rounds, the game ends. Players can move the inhabitants and energy among their tiles at any point during the game to see how to maximize their score. At game end, they then score for each of the six types of buildings depending on how well they build their city — as long as they have activated the buildings with inhabitants or energy as required:

• Residential buildings score depending on their height
• Shops score depending on how many customers they have
• Public services score depending on the number of districts in your city that have them
• Parks score depending on the number of residential buildings next to them
• Harbors score based on the longest row or column of activated harbors in the city
• Factories score based on the number of adjacent shops and harbors

Some buildings are worth victory points (VPs) on their own, and once players sum these values with what they've scored for each type of building in their city, whoever has the highest score wins.
Board Game Designer: François Gandon

Designer François Gandon & a playtest version of the game in the DoW office

Adrien Martinot from Days of Wonder says that they discovered City Mania in September 2014 at CreaGames, an annual event hosted by the Centre National du Jeu in Paris in which a jury issues prizes to four board game designers for their submitted game prototypes. Gandon was one of the winners in 2014 with Quadropolis. "Just after one play, we fell in love with the game," says Martinot. "It sounded very addictive. The rules are quite simple — it takes only a few seconds to understand how to obtain and place building tiles in your city — yet we could see that many different strategies could lead to victory, ensuring replayability. So after a few games, we decided to publish it."

The design of City Mania is nearly the same as what they first saw in Quadropolis, says Martinot. "The scoring conditions perfectly match the game theme: Parks score more points when placed next to residential buildings, shops score more points when full of customers, etc. So the game was already solid when we signed it in October. However, François rapidly came up with a lot of suggestions to improve the game, which allowed us to fine-tune it and make sure that all building types were equally useful. We played a lot with François to balance victory point scales and building effects. (There is a wide range of different possible cities, and each strategy offers good options for victory.)"

Board Game: Quadropolis

Adrien Martinot and Franck Lefebvre from Days of Wonder during a playtest session

As I noted earlier, I've played City Mania once, with that game being one of only a handful that I managed to play at Spielwarenmesse 2015, and the simplicity of the game is reminiscent of classic Eurogames. You have only four actions available to you each round, and an action is simply placing one of your architects next to one of the rows or columns in the central game board — yet so much flows from those simple decisions, with the right-hand opponent being locked out of certain areas of play on their next turn and you being forced to both take a particular tile and place it in a particular row or column on your personal game board based solely on the number of the architect you used. You often gain resources from that tile while simultaneously locking in a cost obligation for later. (I forgot to mention in the description that you lose points for unused inhabitants and energy. Efficiency in city-building is a must!)

Says Martinot, "One of the key aspects of City Mania is to understand how each building scores and how important it is to place them on the right spots of your city, i.e., close to other buildings that would maximize scoring. While you will be able to build a consistent city on your first play, you will then try to follow precise city plans on your subsequent games to test different options and optimize your score. I think that after more than one hundred games, I have never built the same city, and because of that, the desire to play a new game of City Mania is still intact." (Martinot beat me and my cameraperson John Knoerzer.)

City Mania is due out by Spiel 2015 at the latest, with the exact release date still up in the air because of what still needs to be done. "The development of the game is now over, and I have to say it was a real pleasure to work with François," says Martinot. "He put a lot of time, effort and love in his game, and during all the process of improving the game, we always agreed about what the final game should look like. Now, it is time to work on the illustrations and the visual aspect of City Mania before we start production."

If I can offer one suggestion to Days of Wonder before they head to print, I'd advise them to package the game in six different boxes so that players can play MetaCity Mania with the sealed boxes at conventions. Viral advertising and gameplay rolled into one giant event!

Board Game: Quadropolis
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