I’ll preface this review by saying that I love city building games: Suburbia, The Capitals, Among the Stars. Pretty much any city building game pushes the right buttons for me, so when I saw City in my local game store, I didn’t think too hard about it. Randomized layout? Check. Tile laying? Woohoo. Player interaction? Yippee. Supporting a kickstarted game? That’s just a bonus. With all that said, it pains me to say that City really didn’t click with my gaming partner and I, and seems downright broken, at least as a two player experience.
Lots of cardboard and wooden bits of varying quality. The cardboard regions that go together randomly to form the playing area are nice and sturdy. The wooden roads and skyscraper pieces are ok, but could be better. The paint on some of them is already coming off around the edges, and a couple of chunks are missing from our roads. It’s a minor quibble, but the wooden pieces might be better off if they were smaller. If the roads were narrower, they could fit between the tiles, instead of awkwardly balancing on top of them. The box itself has a divider down the middle which makes it so that there’s no compartment big enough for the region tiles, and I’ve been unable to get everything back in the box with the lid on tight. Also, it doesn’t come with any extra bags for dividing up all the small tiles, but that’s a minor quibble. What really bugs me is that all the commercial tiles have a parking lot on them (that’s it), with an airplane logo on the back. I feel like I’m selling my goods in a flea market made up of gray boxes, and I have no idea what the airplane has to do with anything. At least the industrial tiles make sense. Money only comes in one denomination ($1), and the game would benefit from $5 or $10 coins.
I could overlook the minor things listed above if the game was fun, but at least as a two player game, it seems broken. In a 2 or 3 player game, there is only one each of oil and ore-producing regions. Starting player location is random, so it’s entirely possible for one player to start in the oil region and block access for the others, and/or the other player starts on the other side of the board. Also, if you’re lucky, you’ll draw one or 2 usable oil tiles in the entire game, since there are double the amount of wood and wheat, plus ore. Why is oil so important? Money. Unless you upgrade your commercial zone (which requires the equally rare ore), wheat sells for nothing, and is only good for getting new citizens and trading in at a 4-1 ratio for other goods. Wood sells for $1, and is used to upgrade apartment buildings. Ore sells at $2, but you’ll want to hang onto it to upgrade your commercial zones. That leaves oil, selling at $3, as the reliable moneymaker. If one player is lucky enough to connect to an oil tile early in the game, he can monopolize it and rake in the cash. Since $5 = 1 point at end of game scoring, and you don’t use money for all that much but laying roads, the person with the steady oil supply can dominate end game scoring with money. Every game I’ve played, the scoring has been close in the other categories, but whoever got oil runs away with the game.
The manual isn’t clear on whether commercial zones can be shared or not. Industrial zones can only be staffed with one person, and residential zones can be shared if 2 or more players’ roads connect to them. The rules state that “Commercial tile placement is identical to residential tile placement,” but it also says, “In order to use an un-occupied commercial zone, the player must attach the zone to his existing road network.” The scoring rules state “Each story of an office tower is worth 1 point at the end of the game for whoever is working in the commercial zone. If other players have roads connecting their city to the office tower, but do not work at the zone, they do not earn any points for the office tower at the end of the game.” To me, some rules imply a commercial zone has to be unoccupied in order to put a worker on it, but then there’s the bit about other players connecting to it.
I really wanted to like this game, but it just doesn’t work. The randomness of the tile placement means players end up taking turns hoping to draw the magical oil or ore tile that connects to their road network, but inevitably drawing their 6th wheat or wood tile in a row, or drawing a tile that helps their opponent. My partner said it best when he said we’d played plenty of games that we could appreciate why people like them, even if they’re not our cup of tea, but City is the first game we’ve played that’s just broken.