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Subject: Mina's Not-So-Mini Review - Two Spies in a City of Lies rss

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Milena Guberinic
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Mina's Not-So-Mini Review - Two Spies in a City of Lies




The Overview


City of Spies: Estoril 1942 is a game about the Portuguese town of Estoril, which was filled with spies during WWII. In this game, you will try to recruit the most powerful and prestigious group of spies by using the spies you have recruited to seduce, assassinate, and spy on your opponents.

The main board is constructed from 6 of 8 randomly oriented location tiles in each game and re-constructed in each round. Each location modifies the general rules of the game in some way.


All the locations


Each location is home to either a top secret or a visible spy that the player who has placed spies with the greatest strength at the end of the round will recruit into his spy network.

In each game, you will be competing to create a spy network that contains the characteristics. At the beginning of each game, 4 of 12 possible mission tiles will be drawn to show the most valued spy characteristics for that game.


All the missions


You will start the game with a set of 6 basic spies and 6 (in a 2-player game) cubes.



Each turn, you will place one of your spies on a space on one of the locations and mark it with one of your cubes. You may only place spies on the outer spaces or adjacent to spies you have already placed. Most locations require that you place your spy face down and have spaces that are marked with "TOP SECRET." One location (the beach) requires that all characters be placed face up. Some spaces also allow you to peek at spies that have been placed on that board or adjacent boards.



Once all cubes have been placed, each location board is resolved in numerical order. Resolving a location board means turning all face-down spies face up and executing their abilities in order of the numbers of the spaces on which they have been placed. Spy abilities include:

*Assassination - allows you to kill a character from this location and return it to the controlling player's hand



*Conspiracy - allows you to peek at the top spy in the draw pile and replace the reward character from this location with that spy



*Nationalism - this spy gains +1 strength for each other flag on this location or adjacent location board with the same flag



*Seduction - allows you to move a spy from an adjacent location to this location



*Diplomacy - allows you to choose any spy and mark it with a white cube, making it immune to assassination and seduction



The player whose spies have the greatest total strength in the location at the end of this resolution process will receive the reward character in that location.

At the end of the round, you will have to discard down to 6 spies in hand, keeping your discarded spies in a pile in front of you.

After 4 rounds, you will add up your VP for:
*The VP shown on the 6 spies in your hand
*Mission tiles you have accomplished by having the most spies IN HAND with required characteristics
*1 VP per discarded spy tile



The Review


Played prior to review 7x






1. Beautiful with excellent component quality
Estoril: City of Spies is a highly beautifully (and cheekily) illustrated game that captures all the fun and theme of the game. Spy tiles, which could easily have been cards, are made of the same cardboard as the board tiles, which I assume will make everything highly durable. And the graphic design is simple, clean, and fun, like everything else in the game!

2. Lots of round-to-round and game-to-game variability
City of Spies comes with 8 location tiles and 6 are used to create the board each round. These are randomly oriented and populated with a different, randomly-drawn mix of spy characters in each round and each game. This means that you will be facing a different spatial puzzle and different challenges when deciding where and when to place your spies.

In addition, the rulebook presents several variants for playing the game and these inject yet another layer of variability to the game! You can play with secret recruiting agendas in addition to the 4 public ones, you can play with entirely secret missions, or you can award points to both the player in first and second place when awarding mission tiles. While we haven't tried all the variants (and the second cannot be played with two), we have tried and enjoyed the first. It definitely changed the dynamics of the game because not only were we trying to fulfill the open missions on the board, we were also trying to figure out what each other's secret mission was and trying to fulfill our own!

3. A unique spatial puzzle with heavy hand management demands and numerous interesting decision points
City of Estoril is a unique game. At least, insofar as I have experienced, no other game truly feels or functions like this one. It is looks silly and lighthearted and features some relatively simple and easy-to-learn mechanisms. And yet it provides a heavy, puzzly, highly-interactive experience.

First, the game presents you with a spatial puzzle with some limited information. You are faced with an array of location tiles that each have a different effect and a different arrangement of spaces on which you can place your spies. Because you can only place spies on the exterior regions of the "board" at the start and will only be able to place your spies on internal spaces orthogonally adjacent to spies you've already placed, you have to try to position your minions in a way that will allow you to best position yourself and best block your opponent from being able to access the best reward characters. The basic puzzle of blocking and positioning is interesting enough, but that's not where it ends.

Locations and spaces have characteristics that give you even more to think about when placing your spies. Each location has a number and each space on a location also has a number. These numbers determine the order of resolution, with lower numbers being resolved first. Additionally, the player whose character is on the lowest numbered space at the end of resolution wins ties when determining who gets the reward. This numerical ordering of tiles and spaces adds another layer to the basic spatial puzzle, encouraging you to compete to be the first to place in lower numbered spaces. But that's not where the story ends. The higher numbered spaces allow you to peek either at the location's reward character or face-down characters on adjacent tiles, which may pull you towards placing your spy on higher numbers.

But where and when you place your spies will also be determined by their abilities! The numbers on the locations and spaces interact with spy abilities to determine where your spies may be more or less effective in helping you collect the best reward tiles! Nationalist spies, for example, become more powerful if spies of the same nationality are on the same or adjacent locations, so you have to think about how to position all spies of the same nationality you have when placing one of these.

Now, I keep referring to the reward tiles. The reward tiles are spies themselves. They are spies you can add to your spy network. They each have a strength, a VP value, and possibly one or more abilities. Their relative value will be determined a) by the specific missions you are pursuing in any given game, b) by the composition of your current spy network, and c) by the composition of your opponents' spy networks. You will have to take all these factors into consideration when trying to determine which reward tiles to pursue. And then you will once again have to take all these factors into consideration when determining which spies to retain in your hand each round. O

On top of an elaborate spatial puzzle, City of Spies presents you with some very difficult hand management decisions. Particularly when playing with two players, which is a player count that allows you to win a greater number of spies in each round, you will have to make very difficult tradeoffs between desirable spy characteristics for mission purposes, desirable strengths and VP values, and desirable abilities. One spy in your hand may contribute to the requirements of a mission but may not be very strong, another may be strong but have very few points, another may have a double assassination ability, ensuring that you can secure a reward tile from a desirable location in a later round, but he may not be helping you gain any mission majorities. When trying to decide which spies to part with, you also have to take your opponent's spy network into account because your ability to gain mission tiles will depend on having more of a particular ability in your spy network than your opponent(s).

Ultimately, City of Spies is a surprisingly crunchy and tactically rich game. You are faced with a never-ending stream of long-term and short-term decision points wrapped in a unique mix of spatial puzzling and hand managing!

4. Luck pushing fun!
I enjoy the press-your-luck mechanism in games very much and that's true in City of Spies as well. And there is more than one aspect of the game that features some luck pushing. The most obvious aspect is the casino location, where you can place a not-so-strong spy, hoping that the die roll boost will be enough to edge out your opponent. The more interesting aspect comes in the form of the hidden information you have to deal with when placing your spies and using seduction abilities. When placing spies, you are always faced with a choice between placing your spy on a lower valued location space or a higher valued space that allows you to peek at cards. You can place on a lower valued space and hope that you have the most influence or you can place on a higher valued space and gain some intel to help you make some better informed decisions. Deciding when it's worthwhile to take the chance and when and where it's better to gather information makes for an interesting challenge.

Seduction is another aspect of the game that allows you to press your luck a bit. For example, you can try to seduce an opponent's character to your location either with or without knowledge of that character's identity. You can either hope that the strength of the character you are seducing won't be enough to take the majority away from you at your seducer's location or you can use information you gathered during the game to make this decision. These are just examples of some of the situations in which you can choose to take some chances in the game and they inject the game with a sense of fun and excitement.

5. The theme comes through and the game can be a fun history lesson
The City of Spies is filled with secrets! There are secret rewards, secret agents, and potentially secret missions, but if you do a bit of work, you can uncover all the secrets in the city! Of course, City of Spies isn't a historical simulation or an involved, story-based thematic game, but it manages to evoke the sense of intrigue and mystery you would expect a city filled with spies to have.

Plus, all the characters in the game are real historical personages! Take, for example, the famous Yugoslav (yes, this was a biased selection ) triple agent, Duško Popov. He worked for the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, German Abwehr, and MI6 and was allegedly the inspiration for James Bond! Naturally, he has a double conspiracy icon and is rather dashing looking in the game! Antoine S.E., one of my favorite authors is also in the game! Though it may not be an involved, intricate historical simulation, City of Spies nevertheless manages to bring history to life in a beautiful, lighthearted way and I love it for that! I've learned a lot thanks to playing this game!

6. Works well with two players
Being a game of majorities, Estoril doesn't exactly scream of two-player friendliness. However, it does work surprisingly well. When playing with two players, you are able to place more of your spies each turn than you would be when playing with more players, which fills up the location tiles and creates a good amount of competition. I don't think the spatial demands of the game are blunted too significantly by playing with two players.

As for the rest of the game, the hand management is somewhat different when playing with two players because you will generally be able to recruit more spies, giving you more options when determining which spies to retain and which to discard. However, you will be thinking about the composition of only one other player's spy network when trying to make this decision, which may make the decision easier. At the same time, the decision will be better informed and more strategically focused (i.e. you can better determine which missions your opponent is poised to fulfill and which you may be able to better compete to achieve) and this appeals to me.



soblue


soblue 1. The round-to-round upkeep is a bit annoying and make somewhat laborious by the size of the location tiles
My most significant complaint about City of Spies is the round-to-round upkeep. Location tiles are large and heavy and shuffling and randomly rotating them each round is awkward and time consuming.

soblue 2. Sometimes, turns can take a bit of time
Because you have to do so much mental gymnastics in City of Spies and because there is some hidden information you have to occasionally rely on memory, turns can take a bit more time than I would like for them to take on occasion. Fortunately, this happens infrequently and doesn't cause the game to drag on for an unwelcome amount of time. At least not in our experience .

soblue 3. AT FIRST, it's difficult to remember the location powers, which means some get ignored
Perhaps this has something to do with the placement of the icons that signify location powers (i.e. somewhat behind the location reward character) or perhaps it influenced by the large amount of stuff there is to think about in the game, which diminishes the amount of attention you have left to pay to the locations themselves, but we found it difficult to remember to execute all the location abilities when resolving them, particularly when we first started playing the game. The church, where assassinations are not allowed, has proven particularly problematic for us on a number of occasions and despite the fact that we always put the dice near the casino, we have somehow managed to repeatedly forget to roll them when determining strength. After playing a few times, we have become more familiar with the locations' powers and more aware of them during placement and resolution, but it was a bit more of a struggle than I expected. Fortunately, we still had a lot of fun playing the game through that struggle, so all is forgiven! Simply expect to encounter a bit of a learning curve...



Final Word


City of Spies is a strange game. It feels somewhat random and uncontrollable at first and looks like a bubbly party game, but it's not. It is a surprisingly weighty (but not heavy!) spatial/hand-management puzzle with just the right amount of theme and fun to keep it from taking itself too seriously. City of Spies surprised me because a) I expected it to be lighter based on the simplicity of the rules and bouncy art direction and b) I expected it to feel familiar and relatively easy to figure out. My expectations proved to be unfounded and the game proved to be much more interesting and novel than I expected it to! Of course, I was expecting to enjoy the game, but I wasn't expecting to find as much in it as I did! Surprises are wonderful! After each session, I grew increasingly appreciative of the impressive number of decision points in the game and as I become familiar with the ways you can create synergies between your spies' powers, I grew increasingly appreciative of the game overall. City of Spies is an exceedingly clever game that may take a few sessions to fully click, but once it does, you'll want to keep returning to this beautiful place over and over again! I sure do! I just can't stop playing it!

MINA'S LOVE METER heart heart heart heart LOTS OF LOVE (LOVE !)


***


Mina's Love Meter


angry Burn it! - I dislike this game so much that it makes me angry. (I rate these 4 or less on the BGG scale)
Dislike - I don't like this game, but I can see why others like it.
(5 on BGG scale)
heart Some like - I find this game somewhat appealing, but it doesn't really grab me. I am glad to have had the opportunity to try this game, but it is unlikely to stay in my collection for very long.
(5.5 to 6.5) on BGG scale)
heart heart Like - I like this game and appreciate the design. I am happy to play this game occasionally when the mood strikes and enjoy doing so.
(7 to 7.5 on BGG scale)
heart heart heart Some love - I love this game. It's not perfect, but it really appeals to me and I will play it frequently.
(7.5 to 8 on BGG scale)
heart heart heart heart Lots of love - I really love this game. The design really speaks to me. I want to play it most of the time.
(8 to 9 on BGG scale)
heart heart heart heart heart All love all the time - I ADORE this game and can see myself playing it many times and for many years. I would go to sleep clutching it in my arms and want to play it all day every day...only not literally because that would be insane.
(9 to 10 on BGG scale)



To see my other reviews, visit this geeklist.


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Kelly Bailey
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Great job, I really enjoy your reviews and the format you use for them, I always learn about new games to add to my wish list.

We picked up City of Spies last week and we agree with your review, we love the game! There's much more to it than you would think at first and lots of interaction.

Happy gaming, I look forward to your next review!
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bort
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How do you think it will scale for more players Mina?

I'm expecting it any day now, so I guess I'll see for myself this weekend.

And have you seen Guilds of London, which seems to *somewhat* similar (maybe a bit drier). Well, they both have cool big tiles at least.
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I have played it at all player counts and as a two player game what I did not like is the difficulty remembering things. When you place a card you need to remember what it was you placed (what strength value and powers it has), if you get to look at a hidden prize card or an opponents card you need to remember it. I have memory problems so this might be more of an issue for someone else. If I was playing this a lot i would probably invest in some standees so instead of the hidden cards and cubes it would be more like stratego/block war games so you always "see" your cards and if a card get revealed it can be placed down flat face up.

I like it at all player counts but at 4 players you only get to place 3 cards a round so you have less choices and less control each round. You also going to win just over 1 card on average (1.5 is the mean if all the cards are taken but occasionaly 1 wont be) a round so your choices of what to keep/discard are less significant and with only playing 3 cards a round you do not need to balance too much what cards to keep for their abilities to help you and what to keep for their scoring at the end of the game. Still fun with 4 but I like this best with 3.
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Rodrigo Trocado
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benme wrote:
When you place a card you need to remember what it was you placed (what strength value and powers it has...


You can allways look at your own cards anytime adn also the cards you have been given the "right" to look at.
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Stephen Buonocore
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Thanks, Mina!

Much <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 to you!

Thanks,
Stephen M. Buonocore
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Gil Orey
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Thank you Milena meeple
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Milena Guberinic
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KABIA66 wrote:
Great job, I really enjoy your reviews and the format you use for them, I always learn about new games to add to my wish list.

We picked up City of Spies last week and we agree with your review, we love the game! There's much more to it than you would think at first and lots of interaction.

Happy gaming, I look forward to your next review!


Thanks! Happy gaming to you!
 
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Milena Guberinic
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bortmonkey wrote:
How do you think it will scale for more players Mina?

I'm expecting it any day now, so I guess I'll see for myself this weekend.

And have you seen Guilds of London, which seems to *somewhat* similar (maybe a bit drier). Well, they both have cool big tiles at least.


Have you played yet!? I think it would be wonderful at any player count, but perhaps a little more unpredictable with more players involved.
 
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Milena Guberinic
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benme wrote:
I have played it at all player counts and as a two player game what I did not like is the difficulty remembering things. When you place a card you need to remember what it was you placed (what strength value and powers it has), if you get to look at a hidden prize card or an opponents card you need to remember it. I have memory problems so this might be more of an issue for someone else. If I was playing this a lot i would probably invest in some standees so instead of the hidden cards and cubes it would be more like stratego/block war games so you always "see" your cards and if a card get revealed it can be placed down flat face up.

I like it at all player counts but at 4 players you only get to place 3 cards a round so you have less choices and less control each round. You also going to win just over 1 card on average (1.5 is the mean if all the cards are taken but occasionaly 1 wont be) a round so your choices of what to keep/discard are less significant and with only playing 3 cards a round you do not need to balance too much what cards to keep for their abilities to help you and what to keep for their scoring at the end of the game. Still fun with 4 but I like this best with 3.


Thanks for this! Good to know! But as the poster below commented, you can look at the cards you've been given a right to look at...
 
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HotRod wrote:
benme wrote:
When you place a card you need to remember what it was you placed (what strength value and powers it has...


You can allways look at your own cards anytime adn also the cards you have been given the "right" to look at.


Thanks!
 
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Milena Guberinic
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HotRod wrote:
benme wrote:
When you place a card you need to remember what it was you placed (what strength value and powers it has...


You can allways look at your own cards anytime adn also the cards you have been given the "right" to look at.


Haha. Thanks Stephen!
 
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Milena Guberinic
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gil orey wrote:
Thank you Milena meeple


Thank you, Gil!
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milenaguberinic wrote:
bortmonkey wrote:
How do you think it will scale for more players Mina?

I'm expecting it any day now, so I guess I'll see for myself this weekend.

And have you seen Guilds of London, which seems to *somewhat* similar (maybe a bit drier). Well, they both have cool big tiles at least.


Have you played yet!? I think it would be wonderful at any player count, but perhaps a little more unpredictable with more players involved.


No, and I'm dying to! We had 5 players last weekend, so it didnt get played...
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bortmonkey wrote:
milenaguberinic wrote:
bortmonkey wrote:
How do you think it will scale for more players Mina?

I'm expecting it any day now, so I guess I'll see for myself this weekend.

And have you seen Guilds of London, which seems to *somewhat* similar (maybe a bit drier). Well, they both have cool big tiles at least.


Have you played yet!? I think it would be wonderful at any player count, but perhaps a little more unpredictable with more players involved.


No, and I'm dying to! We had 5 players last weekend, so it didnt get played...


Bleh. Well, I hope it gets played SOON!
 
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