Played two sessions in a row at BGG Con #2 (Friday). Budding city planners were myself, Jessica (wife), Ben (not wife), and Bob (also not wife). Keith (still not wife) joined us for the second session.
Bob walked us through the game, as it was the first play for the rest of us.
Basic premise is that you play buildings onto coordinate locations in different neighborhood tileboards. You need a card for the target location, though--kind of like Acquire. The cards are contained in mini-decks segregated by neighborhood, so there is a strategy as to what deck you want to draw from (and you can watch your opponents to see which neighborhoods they are trying to dominate). It's important to get adjacent location cards, because that allows you to play the bigger, higher point buildings.
Certain buildings have prerequisites (e.g. "Must be placed next to 2 businesses"), and there are also many score modifiers and amplifiers (e.g. "x2 points if placed next to the Streetcar", or "+1 point if played on city outskirts"). The modular nature of the board means a variable layout with each play, which I like.
Session 1 was the typical fumble-your-way-through-a-new-game, but Big City isn't overly complex so we were able to still make a valiant go of it. I played a 3-tile residence early, only to regret it when bob played city hall the very next move (this allows streetcar to be built, and if I could've gotten the streetcar over to my location, it would've doubled my points for the placement). The board started filling up quick, and Ben became the streetcar baron, using several moves in a row to chart its direction. As it turns out, we were playing it wrong--the streetcar line is allowed to be split off, but we were playing "Longest Roads" style where we could only divert the ends. Bob filled out the area around City Hall nicely, gobbling up points. Jessica concentrated on the "Chinatown first" strategy, which is to say she just likes Chinatown and builds in it. Ben, though, was the master planner, plopping down a 30-pt shopping mall to leap ahead (never to be caught).
Keith joined us for the second play, eager to bring some English sensibilities to our gridlike American city development.
Now cagey veterans all, we started off cautiously, drawing cards and trying to set the neighborhoods down to skew the city towards our nefarious goals. I took an early stake in Downtown, which fortunately was...well...downtown, being the central board. I figured the streetcar was bound to traverse it at some point, which could allow for good point-age later in the game. Jessica again took a liking to Chinatown. She also kicked off City Hall, freeing up the pent-up streetcar Desire in us all (pun intended). Building accelerated and the trolley lines got laid. I dropped a park in Chinatown, thwarting my wife. Immediately after, Bob dropped a factory right over an l-shape of locations that I owned...grrr, payback hurts! Switching to plan B, I charted the streetcar into the remote West Side, prepping to drop a large business. Then, Jessica dug a streetcar line right across where I needed to put said business. I had it coming, I suppose, but wasn't too upset because I could still drop a couple of cinemas or something, and the streetcar would double them. Sadly, Keith restarted the industrial revolution and put the 2nd factory squarely over my newly zoned territories. Meanwhile, Ben slapped down another shopping mall and vaulted over Bob for the final lead. Wil Wright has nothing on Ben's city planning!
Final Thoughts and Observations
Before you see the fun plastic buildings, Big City looks mathematical because of the coordinate locations and cards. It's not, though--it's a great, quick moving game with a reasonable amount of strategy, or should I say opportunism. It plays fast, looks great (due to the bits), and has very effective reference cards. It's not a Tigris&Euphrates brain-buster, but it also isn't a pure luck-fest. I bought it to play 2-player against Jessica, and I also am excited about bringing it out with other friends, both gamers and non-gamers. It could be a very good ambassador game due to the mainstream theme and tight mechanics. It won't ever make my top 10, but it's a great game nonetheless!
Thanks for the session report!
You weren't quite playing the streetcar wrong. The only adding to the ends method is a variant in the book and is almost universally recommended.