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Subject: From my cold, dead hands - a no-structure review of Suburbia rss

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Holger Hannemann
United Kingdom
Upper Heyford
Oxfordshire
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I bought Suburbia after playing a demo at the UK Games Expo 2013. In fact, I owned a copy 3 minutes after the demo ended. Here, I am going to explain to you why it was worth waiting 3 minutes in line.




Suburbia is a city-building game. City building games have been done before: At the UK Games Expo 2012 I was tricked into “City Tycoon” thinking that this one would be THE city building game. Great futu-retro graphics of buildings, being able to build waterworks and power plants, museums and suburbs, together with industrial tiles producing goods that could be sold at commercial tiles for money and VP. 20 minutes into the game, though, it became clear that this game is an overlong and sub-par mix of 7-Wonders drafting, Carcassonne tile-laying and competitive Through the Ages resource conversion. In addition, the theme was so weak that one couldn’t glance over the over-complex, and therefore weak and unfun, gameplay.

On the surface, Suburbia seems very similar to City Tycoon. Both are tile laying games where tiles have to be purchased with the in-game currency and have special abilities, both games borrow heavily from other Eurogames, and the winning condition in both games is having the most victory points, with the tie-breaker having the most money. However, Suburbia does what City Tycoon did not: Bringing an innovative mechanical twist to the game that ties the theme tightly to its gameplay mechanisms. In case of Suburbia, this twist is a negative feedback loop that reduces your victory points (VP) and currency increases the more VP you have. I know that some people hate game play mechanisms that punish you for doing well but in Suburbia’s case every player has to jump through the same hoops, and the punishing aspect is really just a matter of the visuals on the scoreboard. What it does for gameplay, though, is huge. You have to be on your toes from beginning to end, keeping both your VP and your bank balance in mind. If you let one aspect of the game slip you are likely not to win the game. And to me negative feedback mechanisms (also used in Agricola or Through the Ages) make a game challenging and fun!


This is the ingenious part of the game. Each time your population (say VP) marker passes a red line your income and your reputation decreases by 1.

And just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is a very short and non-comprehensive breakdown of the rules:
The goal of Suburbia is having the most population (i.e. VP) at the end of the game. You gain population from
1. building residential tiles in your display that give you a one-off increase in population
2. your reputation track (which is pretty much your population income track). Your reputation is dependent on ongoing effects of all sorts of tiles in your suburb, i.e. your personal city display where you place your tiles.
3. From public and personal endgame goals.

Suburbia is played on with hexagonal tiles. Each tile represents a residential, commercial, industrial or municipal building/neighborhood. There are 3 stacks of tiles A, B and C. A contains mostly tiles that increase your monetary income, B tiles mostly increase your reputation, and C tiles contain mostly amplifiers of both. Each player has his/her own display that’s used to build your suburb from the tiles you purchase from the public tile display throughout the game.


Here you can see a player’s suburb midgame.


On your turn you either have to buy a tile from the public tile display and place it in your suburb or use one of your three “2x” markers to use a tile that’s already in your suburb again. You then adjust your reputation and your income track accordingly (both go from -5 to +18), then you gain/lose money according to your current income, gain/lose population according to your current reputation, and at the end you fill up the display from the tile stack. Wash, rinse, repeat until the “last round” tile is flipped over somewhere randomly near the end of the C tile stack. That’s it in a nutshell.

I already raved about the ingenious feedback loop the score track generates. Another one of the more interesting (and probably the most intimidating) parts of the game is that all tiles are retro-active, meaning that as soon as you place a tile in your suburb all tiles that are already in your suburb that would interact with or affect the new tile do so, and their ongoing effects trigger. For beginners this is intimidating and hard to follow. Some tiles not only interact with your own tiles but with tiles of all other players as well. So you have to keep an eye on your opponents’ suburbs as well.

Suburbia plays from 1 to 4 players. I haven’t tried solo but the game scales great from 2 to 4 players. There are a couple of additional tiles in each stack and more public goals out when player count increases but the gameplay is as tight and fun with 2 as with 4 players. Most games in my collection don’t play well with all player numbers that are stated on the box but only with a specific player number (or would you truly consider playing Through the Ages with 4 players?).
Also, Suburbia does not offer deep strategic gameplay or multiple paths to victory. The gameplay basically boils down to balancing 2 in-game currencies (population and money) better than your opponents. There are multiple ways of doing that with different interacting tiles like offices-factories-commercial tiles, restaurants-farms-slaughterhouses, etc. but these are just variations on the same theme. A strategic outset is impossible because the game comes with a plethora of tiles in each stack, and only a few of these are used in each game, and the endgame goals score only a fraction of what your suburb scores during the game. And since the tiles in the stacks are secret until revealed you never know how many commercial tiles there will be in the B stack, so you don’t know if that office you built earlier will pay off. This will drive some people away from the game, but Suburbia personally gives me a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that only epic games like Civilization and Eclipse can give me, all that in around one hour. And that is beyond any strategic or tactical considerations. To me, my suburb comes to life, and that is the highest praise I can give. Suburbia would be my game of choice if I was only allowed one game. It is fun, it is easily taught in 15 minutes, even to folks who never played board games before.

The designer Ted Alspach is known for fun games like Mutant Meeples and Ultimate Werewolf but also for a ton of Age of Steam expansions. With Suburbia, he created a game that combines the best of the 2 worlds, a thematic Eurogame that is fun. Thanks, Ted!

“I’ll give you my game if you pry it from my cold dead hands”. Buy your own copy. Today!

P.S.: There's also an expansion coming soon!
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Lou Moratti
United States
Kalamazoo
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I wish I could! It's out of print--heard a reprint was coming soon but have seen no evidence of it.
 
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Ted Alspach
United States
Louisville
Tennessee
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Preorder Ultimate Werewolf Legacy now from beziergames.com
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PaleHorse wrote:
I wish I could! It's out of print--heard a reprint was coming soon but have seen no evidence of it.


The reprint should be in stores within the next week or so. You can also order it directly from www.beziergames.com now if you can't wait that long.
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J.M. Diller
United States
North Street
Michigan
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Nice review. I'm extremely excited to get my hands on this, I check CoolStuffInc about 5 times a day hoping they've got the reprint in stock. Sounds like I'll be able to grab it this week hopefully!
 
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Jed Litwiller
United States
McPherson
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Completely agree. This has been one of the best games to come out in the past couple years. The most interesting aspect is balancingur income and your reputation to achieve the goals of each particular game. The only'bad'play I've had (if you can call it that),was when my wife got the most contiguous lakes for her private goal, and one of the public goals was most lakes, pretty much guaranteeing that all she had top do was build a lot of lakes and the game was handed to her. Very much looking forward to the expansion.
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