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Subject: A Meeple Pusher Review of: Between Two Cities rss

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David McMillan
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Madison
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From the rule book: “The early 1800s is a time of immense construction and urbanization. You are a world-renowned master planner who has been asked by two different cities to help them rebuild their city centers. Projects of such significance require the expertise of more than one person, so for each assignment you are paired with another master planner to execute your grandiose plans. Will your planning and collaborative skills be enough to design the most impressive cities in the world?”

In the game of Between Two Cities, you will be working closely with the players to your left and to your right in an effort to construct two different cities and to make them as profitable as possible. At the end of the game, once the last tile has been played, the cities will be scored. Only your lowest scoring city will be counted towards the final score. If it scores higher than everyone else, then you’ll walk away the victor. This is accomplished by the means of a clever tile drafting mechanic. Each tile type scores differently depending upon where it placed within the city and how many of that tile type are within the city. Doing well requires cooperation, careful thought, and maintaining balance.

COMPONENTS

Between Two Cities comes packaged in a large square box that measures 10 x 10 x 3 inches. The cover of the box is illustrated beautifully. Nestled in an idyllic valley between two lush, green mountains, lies a small city that is cut in half by a broad, gently flowing river. On one side of the bridge, sitting atop a plateau, is a tiny village of cottages with white walls and red roofs. Smoke wafts from several of the chimneys. The environment around the homes is clean and peaceful and has the appearance of some place that would be an ideal place to live.

Across the bridge, though, it’s a different story. Across the bridge is the industrial complex - all stark concrete buildings designed more for function than form. Here the smoke doesn’t waft. It billows in giant, dirty clouds. This is where stuff is made and, only can only assume, this is where the villagers spend most of their time. While the pollution is an inevitable side effect of being productive, at least the city designers have thoughtfully separated the homes from the industry.

Opening the box we discover some cards, a great deal of small square tiles, some larger rectangular tiles, some tiny wooden buildings, a double-sided score board, and a rule book. The cards are separated into three decks: player aids, solitaire “automa” cards, and several seating randomizer cards. The seating randomizer cards are nothing special. They simply have suggestions on them as to how the seating around the table should be arranged. Whether you choose to use them or not is entirely up to you. The player aids give a brief overview of how the scoring works in the game as well as the order that the various types of buildings should be scored in. The one deck of cards that does bear some extra mention are the automa (solitaire mode) cards. The cards are divided in two columns. The left column dictates what happens to the city that the player is sharing with one of the AI players and the right column dictates what happens to the city that the two AI share with one another. Although the solitaire game is very challenging and interesting, I am not going to go into a lot of depth about it here.
Of the tiny wooden buildings, there are a total of 7 unique buildings and a total of two copies of each one. That means there are 14 wooden buildings in all. There’s a building that resembles the Eiffel tower, one that resembles the Eqyptian pyramids, and one that resembles the Roman coliseum just to name a few. One of the pair is used as a scoring marker and the second is used to keep track of which city corresponds to which scoring marker.

The scoreboard is pretty much the same on both sides. The difference between the two sides is in how the numbers move up the scoring track. One side has the numbers following a winding path (for instance, it goes left right, then up, then right to left, then up, then left to right, etc.) and the other side has the numbers divided into rows of ten flowing from left to right. And last, but not least, is the rule book. Technically, there are two rule books - one rule book for the game proper and a second one strictly for the solitaire variant. Both of these are very well written and chock full of helpful illustrations and game play examples. After reading through each one of them one or two times, it is doubtful that you will ever need to refer to them ever again. In all of my many plays of the game, I have yet to encounter a situation that wasn’t explicitly dealt with in the rule books.

SET UP

First, the scoreboard should be placed off to the side and each player should be handed a reference card. Then the single tiles are shuffled and placed face down into easily accessible piles and the same should be done with the double “duplex” tiles. Then each player is dealt seven tiles, face down, which they can look at. Next, the space between each player is reserved for a city and a wooden building should be selected to represent it. One of the wooden building pair is placed in this space and the other part of the pair is placed next to the score board. Once a starting player has been chosen, you’re ready to get started.

THE BUILDING TYPES

Before we get into the actual game play, I’ll give you a brief overview of the different building types and the way that they are scored once they are placed within a city. Just for the sake of conformity, I will present them to you the same way that they are represented on the player aids within the game. Just to save time, I am going to leave out some of the finicky bits and just present the basics.

Shops (yellow): Shops are scored according to how many of them are connected in a straight line. Each city is built in a 4 x 4 grid, so there will never be a straight line longer than 4 tiles.

Factories (grey): In the city that has the most factories at the end of the game, the factories will be worth 4 points apiece. In the second highest, they will be worth 3 each and the city that comes in third will have factories worth only 2 apiece.

Taverns (red): There are four different types of taverns. Having at least one of all four types (a set) is worth 17 points at the game’s end. Having less than one of each type is, you guessed it, not worth as many points. If there are duplicates, then each duplicate belongs to a separate set.

Offices (blue): The more offices you have, the more they are collectively worth. Having only a single office will only garner you 1 victory point at the end of the game while having 5, for instance, will net you 15 points. If an office tile is orthogonally adjacent to at least one tavern tile, it is worth 1 extra point.

Parks (green): These score is groups of connected tiles. The more green tiles that are connected to one another, the more points you will score. If there happen to be two or three different groups of green tiles in a city, then each of those groups will score separately.

Houses (brown): Each house is worth 1 - 5 points depending upon how many of the different types of other tiles are in a city. If you have at least one of each type of tile (yellow, grey, red, blue, and green) then the house will be worth 5 points at the end of the game with one small caveat. if a house is orthogonally adjacent to a grey tile, then the house will only be worth 1 point at the end of the game regardless of how many different tile types your city is comprised of.

THE DRAFTING PHASES

In the first drafting phase, each player will look at their hand of tiles and select 2 tiles to keep. The remaining tiles are then passed to the player on their left. It is recommended in the rules that you actually place your unchosen tiles beneath the wooden city building on your left to signify that you have made your selection. This is actually very useful as it gives everyone a physical indicator that tells whether or not it is time to reveal the tiles they have chosen and it also helps to alleviate any possible cheating as, with seven players, it can be hard to keep up with everyone else when you’re busy trying to take care of your own business.

After the tiles have been selected and everyone is ready, the players will reveal the tiles that they have chosen. It is here that the game gets interesting for it is here that the players will discuss with the people to their left and to their right which cities each of their chosen tiles should be placed into as well as where the chosen tiles should be placed. One tile is placed into each city.

At the end of the first turn, each of your cities will have a total of 2 tiles in it: one placed there by you and one placed by your collaborator. Then each player will pick up the tiles that were passed to them and select two more tiles to keep and this entire process is repeated until each player is only left with 1 tile and that tile will be discarded.

At the end of phase one, there will be 6 tiles in each city: three placed by each collaborator. Then each player will receive 3 duplex tiles apiece and they will select 2 to keep and discard the third. After this, as in phase 1, the players will discuss where the duplex tiles should be placed (being careful to never violate the 4 x 4 layout). Once these duplex tiles are placed, each city will now have a total of 10 tiles in it: 8 from phase 1 and 4 from phase 2.

Phase 3 is simply a repetition of phase 1 with one slight change. Instead of passing unused tiles to the left, they are now passed to the right instead. Once phase 3 is completed, each city will have 16 tiles each in a 4 x 4 grid and then the cities are scored.

SCORING and WINNING

I outlined how each of the buildings is scored earlier. The players will start at the top of the player aid and work their way to the bottom. Each city is scored one type of building at a time and its corresponding score marker will be moved along the scoring track to keep track of how much it has scored so far. Once all of the scores for each city have been tallied, the final score is determined thusly: each player will look at the scores of each of their cities. Their personal score is equal to their lowest scoring city. The player who has the highest score at this point is the victor.

THOUGHTS

The name of this game is apropo for the way that I feel about it. I am torn between a feeling of elation and excitement and a feeling of being let down. On the one hand, this game is lightning fast and it’s super easy to play. The interaction with the other players as you work cooperatively to construct the best cities possible out of what you’re given is something unique that I have never seen in a board game before. I’m a sucker for tile placement games, so there’s that, too. I also enjoy the challenge of having to finely balance the two cities against one another. If they are too far out of sync, then you’re going to wind up with a lousy score at the end of the game.

On the other hand, though, I’m not sure that any of my choices really matter. Yes, I am choosing which tiles to keep, but if they don’t work well with the tiles that my partners/opponents have chosen, then they’re not going to significantly raise the overall score of my cities any. Since the kept tiles are selected in secret, there’s very little that I can do to sway my partner’s choice of tiles. I can only cross my fingers and hope that they are able to look at our fledgling city and select tiles that will be of benefit to us both. Also, there’s a great deal of the game that boils down to luck of the draw. If I draw nothing but factory tiles, then there’s not a lot of branching out that can be done. I already know that my city is going to wind up with at least two unavoidable factories in it at that point. It’s also hard to be cutthroat when you’re being cooperative. You can’t even focus your efforts on ruining a single person because that also hurts their partner as well and it’s doubtful their partner would be okay with collusion that affects them negatively.

In the end, though, I think that I lean more to the feelings of elation and excitement. The game is a lot of fun to play and it’s incredibly fast. A typical game might last 10 to 15 minutes. These two aspects more than make up for any flaws the game might have for me. So, even if you don’t ever plan on purchasing this game, it is well worth your time to give it a try if the opportunity ever presents itself.


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Brad McKenzie
Thailand
Bangkok
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Perhaps you should try the "Love the Left" variant. It may give you a stronger sense of purpose and more meaningful decisions to make...

Love the Left
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Rob Crosby
Australia
Brisbane
Queensland
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What did you expect to see here?
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Nope, nothing much here either, but thanks for looking :)
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Nicely written review with and a nice comprehensive overview. Thanks for taking the effort to share your thoughts
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Jack Whitham
United Kingdom
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Surely in response to your complaint (lack of coordination with partner) you should discuss your aims for the city in the discussion phase? I don't own the game yet so forgive me if that's against the rules.
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J Kaemmer
United States
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BoltzmannBrain wrote:
Surely in response to your complaint (lack of coordination with partner) you should discuss your aims for the city in the discussion phase? I don't own the game yet so forgive me if that's against the rules.


No, you're completely right. The only time you can't talk is when selecting tiles. During placement phase you can strategize and even talk about tiles you just handed your partner (this is according to the designer). Every turn when I play we figure out where to put stuff and discuss general direction and what tiles would maximize our score. Half the fun is talking about strategy with your partner! It shouldn't necessarily be a surprise what your partner is putting in the city
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