Recommend
25 
 Thumb up
 Hide
30 Posts
1 , 2  Next »   | 

Underwater Cities» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Underwater Cities - a Light Bites review rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Mike Poole
United Kingdom
Huddersfield
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Light Bites – Amuse-Bouche Reviews.

Enough that you get a taste, not too much that you choke.



What’s it about?

Guess what? it’s about building Underwater Cities! It’s the future and you are presented with a fairly blank seabed canvas and it’s up to you how, where and what you build over the course of ten rounds, divided into three eras. As with another start-from-scratch-and-build-something-up-in-an-inhospitable-environment game, that I’ll mention later, you have cards in your hand which determine your actions. But from there, things start to diverge. Take a deep breath and dive on in with me to find out what exactly is going on under the waves…

So, what happens?

The main mechanism in this game is an interesting one. You have three turns in a round and have three cards in your hand at the start of each turn. On your turn you simply play one of those cards and select one of the colour coded action spots around the edge of the board or one of the one of the neutral spots in the middle of the board. Four of the action spots around the edge of the board are green, four are orange and four are red. Likewise the cards you have in your hand are similarly colour coded. If the colour of the action spot and the card played match, then snap, you get to do both the action on the card and the action spot. If it doesn’t match, then you ONLY get to do the action of the action spot. Once an action spot is taken it can’t be taken again in that round.



The green action spaces are the weakest yet the green cards have the strongest actions, whereas the orange action spaces have the strongest actions yet the orange cards are the weakest and the red action spaces and cards are just so-so in both cases.



Some of the cards give you instant, once-and-done effects, while others give ongoing permanent effects which may improve other actions you take during the game. Some allow you to trigger Action cards, which you will have hopefully played out into your personal tableau in previous turns. However, they can only be activated once during each era, so need to be activated wisely. Other cards give you end game scoring opportunities; some only trigger during the Production phase.

The various actions let you build cities on your player board, connect them with tunnels, build laboratories to produce the resources ‘Science’ (for upgrading things) and ‘Steelplast’ (for building things), kelp farms to keep your underwater inhabitants fed, and desalination plants to produce credits and victory points. There are certain city building regulations (apparently zoning requirements apply underwater too) but they generally make sense even if they add a few degrees of complexity to the rules explanation. You can also upgrade buildings and tunnels to improve their output of resources and building two upgraded buildings round the same city also improves your production yield.

At the end of each Era (4th, 7th and 10th round) there is a Production phase where your cities, tunnels and building produce their resources and a new deck of cards comes into play for the new era. You’ll also need to feed your cities with kelp at this point as, as we all know, any self-respecting underwater dweller is perfectly happy to chow down on some highly nutritious seaweed.



You are also given several Metropolitan hexes at the beginning of the game which go straight on to your board as part of the setup and if you manage to connect your Underwater city to those overpopulated and polluted land based ones you will get bonuses, production bonuses and/or will trigger certain end game scoring conditions.

At the end of the game points are gained from connecting to certain Metropolises, end game scoring cards, left over resources and the underwater cities themselves, with more points for those that have different structures next to them.

Any good?

During my investigations in preparation for a visit to the Spiel fair at Essen in 2018, I, at least cursorily, had a look at each of the games on the release roster. I tend to look for games with interesting themes, different or interesting mechanisms, nice art, a decent amount of gaming crunch and designer pedigree. Quite a few games floated to the top of my wish list from the ocean of releases but then sank back down into the murky depths as I ruled them out for one reason or another. Underwater Cities was one that floated to the top of my list and stayed there.

City building as a theme is fairly common but not so much when it’s done under the sea. Underwater Cities definitely has a similar vibe to Terraforming Mars in that you start from scratch and build something up and like in that game you use cards to build a personal engine-building tableau that you can use to improve your actions later on in the game.

The ‘take an action and play a card but do both actions if the colour matches’ mechanism differentiates it from that game. It offers an intriguing decision space which at first glance seems suspiciously straightforward. Take 3 actions, play 3 cards, take the card actions if they match, round over, rinse and repeat. But don’t let that fool you.

Very quickly you realise this isn’t the case as you see the decision tree blossom in front of you like a healthy outcrop of coral. WHEN you take a certain action and/or play certain cards becomes critical. But beware because of the ‘worker placement plus’ mechanism, if you are not careful you may end up with an action that is less beneficial to you instead of the really useful action that you wanted. Or maybe you won’t be able to use the action of the card you wanted to because there are no action slots of that colour left. You can also draw more cards into your hand through actions which gives you other opportunities to consider that you didn’t have before.



For some people this may promote the accursed Analysis Paralysis but this is thankfully mitigated to a decent degree by the fact that, while you have to discard your hand down to three cards for the start of your turn, you can use other people’s turns to mull over the combinations you could play before you discard down at the start of your next turn. This does a great job of mitigating downtime between turns. Of course, like any worker placement style game worth its salt, the preceding player or players may take the action spots you had your eye on so you’ll need to try to plan for a few possible actions. And therefore, before you know it, it’ll be your turn again. If, however, someone waits until their turn to see what the board state is and then starts working out the action spot/card permutations you are probably in for a loooooong game.

I would describe Underwater Cities as a tactically deep game more than a strategic one. You can aim to do things in the longer term but you certainly don’t have carte blanche to enact a strategy from beginning to end. Turn order can be vital to getting the actions you want around the outside of the board. Miss out on a key spot and there may not be another way to do that thing elsewhere or you may not be able to colour match a hand card to that alternate action and you’ll have to come up with something else to do.

The hand of cards you have will also dictate what action spaces you consider as it feels like a waste of a turn to simply discard a card that you can’t use because it’s not a colour match. Draw a handful of cards of one colour or if you find other people focusing on taking those actions on their turn and it may seem like you have poor choices but you can mitigate your hand to a degree through getting more cards with certain actions.

This balance of tactical play over strategy and luck of the draw on cards may frustrate some people who want as little uncertainty as possible in their games but I really enjoy and find quite exciting the drawing of cards that are all quite different and then trying to find the best thing to do with them and the tight action spaces adds a degree of interaction to proceedings as well. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not a purely tactical game. You can still work towards those end game strategies.

The game has a nice flow to it as well. You start off with fairly few resources and seem to be scrambling about for resources to do things with and to get a bit of an engine going. Early on, you look at your player board and think how are you going to get close to filling all those gaps with your meagre supplies. When you hit first the first production point at the end of the first era, you may not have built that much but you hopefully get a modest return of resources that will set you up for the next era. By the final era your engine should be up and running and combined with the cards from each era ramping up in power, you can carry out some pretty cool combos and it feels great when you do so, pumping out resources left, right and centre.



The art on the cover, the player boards and on the cards is well done and adds a good bit of flavour to the unusual theme, even if they are window dressing for fairly standard euro-style actions, i.e. give this in to get that etc. The graphic design and use of icons is clean and easily grokable. Text is also included on the cards to help with learning the various icons used in the game and speeds up that process immensely. The rules themselves are well written and allow you to pick up the game quickly.

The components themselves are fine, rather than exceptional. The player boards are thin card (think Terraforming Mars here again) and the cards, tokens and player aids may not feel as luxurious as in some other games but they are perfectly serviceable. The building tokens (little green, yellow and white squat discs) are reasonably functional if a bit fiddly when you have to stack them one on top of another to show that the structures have been upgraded. Again like Terraforming Mars there is the possibility that you could nudge your player board and these little token towers may need to be reformed. Knock them too far and you may not remember where exactly they came from. But like with Terraforming Mars, while it CAN happen, a bit of care during the game should see you through fine. Special note however should be made of the little domes that are used to represent cities. They look really neat and add a bit of flair to your burgeoning seabed conurbation.



There is a considerable amount of variability in the game too. As each era has its own deck you are not going to see each card yourself in each game and even then a card’s use will be situational and dependent on more general strategies and your point in time developing towards that strategy and the actions others have taken. The metropolis tiles and various end game scoring cards which you can acquire as Special cards also nudge you in certain directions from game to game giving you the opportunity to explore different synergies. Whilst there are end game scoring conditions that are applicable to all players, I do really enjoy games such as this one, that allow you to set your own end game scoring conditions. The flip sides of the player boards have different more asymmetric layouts too which will change things up quite a bit too. The solo version of the game is very solid too, replicating the feel of the multiplayer game by having different action spaces blocked off each turn and providing the solo player with a good challenge. I haven’t got close to achieving the win condition stated in the rules yet. Finally, there are some Government contract cards included in the box as well, which you can play with or without, that give bonuses for being first to complete certain goals.

TL;DR

Delicious Games, set up by the game’s designer himself, Vladimír Suchý, and his wife Kateřina as a means to self-publish Vladimír’s games, have clearly put love and effort into the design and execution of the game itself. Vladimír has consistently designed crunchy medium-heavy weight games with interesting uses of mechanisms and with varied themes. Shipyard, 20th Century, Last Will and Prodigals Club all attest to this. Pulsar 2849 from last year turned out to be one of my favourite games from last year, even though I had paid it fairly short shrift at Essen as it had seemed quite dry at first glance, on playing it, I found it to be a crunchy game with nifty mechanisms served up in a reasonable frame. While I was much more excited about Underwater Cities from the beginning, like Pulsar 2849, it turned out to be another intriguing design from Mr Suchý and fits perfectly in my wheelhouse.

There should be no danger of this game getting mixed up in the flotsam and jetsom of this year’s Essen releases (especially now that it has been picked up by Rio Grande for a US release) and when you are dredging the depths of your wishlist for your next purchase (when it is available again as it has sold out recently in Europe), I’d heartily recommend that you consider pulling Underwater Cities to the surface.


Rating: ****** excellent
Author: Mike Poole

1 horrific, avoid like the plague
2 bad, few redeeming features
3 subpar, not for me
4 reasonable
5 good
6 excellent
7 perfect, brilliant. Stop reading and go out and buy it.
26 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Curtis Frantz
United States
State College
PA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I don't think analysis paralysis is a big problem, but I do think this game takes far too long for the kind of game it is. Our 4p game at PAX took almost 4 hours.

As I was playing, I heard Tom Vasel discussing with someone behind me that he would never play it with more than 3 players (and I've since heard that sentiment from many others). That's a pretty big issue for me - a 2-4 player game that I shouldn't play with 4 would see much less table time.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A Huynh
Canada
Vancouver
British Columbia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
To be fair playing/learning games at conventions do take a bit longer though, I tought 4p last week and it was 2.5 hours after teach with 3 new players.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David desJardins
United States
Burlingame
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
tribefan07 wrote:
As I was playing, I heard Tom Vasel discussing with someone behind me that he would never play it with more than 3 players


That makes a 4 player game pretty tempting, at least I know Tom Vasel won't be in it.
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Curtis Frantz
United States
State College
PA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
DaviddesJ wrote:
tribefan07 wrote:
As I was playing, I heard Tom Vasel discussing with someone behind me that he would never play it with more than 3 players


That makes a 4 player game pretty tempting, at least I know Tom Vasel won't be in it.


Oh, you're so clever.

There, is that the pat on the back you were looking for?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
G.G. Teagan
Canada
flag msg tools
Avatar
tribefan07 wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
tribefan07 wrote:
As I was playing, I heard Tom Vasel discussing with someone behind me that he would never play it with more than 3 players


That makes a 4 player game pretty tempting, at least I know Tom Vasel won't be in it.


Oh, you're so clever.

There, is that the pat on the back you were looking for?



You get a pat on the back too for the name dropping
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David desJardins
United States
Burlingame
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
tribefan07 wrote:
There, is that the pat on the back you were looking for?


No. I'm not looking for a pat on the back. Is that what you're looking for?
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Curtis Frantz
United States
State College
PA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
thats_how_i_roll wrote:
You get a pat on the back too for the name dropping


The difference is my comment provided context and had purpose.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David desJardins
United States
Burlingame
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
tribefan07 wrote:
The difference is my comment provided context and had purpose.


You are the man! I wish I could pat you on the back.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Curtis Frantz
United States
State College
PA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Vasel aside, if you peruse the user comments on BGG (those who have actually played/rated the game), many of them mention the very long playtime and tendency to avoid it with >3 players.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A Huynh
Canada
Vancouver
British Columbia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
DaviddesJ wrote:
tribefan07 wrote:
As I was playing, I heard Tom Vasel discussing with someone behind me that he would never play it with more than 3 players


That makes a 4 player game pretty tempting, at least I know Tom Vasel won't be in it.


Who is it that you think cares that you feel you are too good to play a game with Tom Vasel. I doubt anyone in this thread cares that you hold yourself above others like that. Insufferable.
6 
 Thumb up
5.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Rob Pearson
United States
Ankeny
Iowa
flag msg tools
Loves Theme
badge
Des Moines Area Boardgamer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Our first game was with 4 players and we played in 2 hours. It is very much multi-player solitaire though (which I don't mind). You also have to be trusting of your other players. There were a lot of turns where it was almost back to me by the time I was finishing all of my stuff from my previous turn and this didn't cause any issues at all.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David desJardins
United States
Burlingame
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
katanan wrote:
Who is it that you think cares that you feel you are too good to play a game with Tom Vasel.


WTF? I am not "too good", I just don't want to. Disliking people has nothing to do with being above or below them. There are lots of people who like Tom and lots of people who dislike him.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A Huynh
Canada
Vancouver
British Columbia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
DaviddesJ wrote:
katanan wrote:
Who is it that you think cares that you feel you are too good to play a game with Tom Vasel.


WTF? I am not "too good", I just don't want to. Disliking people has nothing to do with being above or below them. There are lots of people who like Tom and lots of people who dislike him.


No one cares that you dislike Tom then. Why even bother* voicing it in a public forum when people are trying to respond in a constructive manner.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A Huynh
Canada
Vancouver
British Columbia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
repthrd wrote:
Our first game was with 4 players and we played in 2 hours. It is very much multi-player solitaire though (which I don't mind). You also have to be trusting of your other players. There were a lot of turns where it was almost back to me by the time I was finishing all of my stuff from my previous turn and this didn't cause any issues at all.


It's not quite too multiplayer solitaire though, the action draft is definitely competitive, especially in the third round. The jostling for turn order has been very competitive in my games so far. You definitely mostly focus on your own actions, but once you know the game you start to figure out what actions to prioritize based on the state of other players.

For example, if a player has a disconnected city and production is coming up, you know they will want one of the tunnel building actions. Or if a player has a few basic buildings and a stock of upgrade tokens you know they will probably want the upgrade action. But more useful is what they won't take, if I see other players have already enough of X building type of resource then I can likely safely wait until my second or third action in a round to take it. I think watching other players tableaus becomes pretty important after a couple plays.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Rob Pearson
United States
Ankeny
Iowa
flag msg tools
Loves Theme
badge
Des Moines Area Boardgamer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Oh I know there is some interaction with the spots. We especially noticed this as the rounds went on. But if peoples games are going to long because you wait for someone to finish their complete action you can save some time by playing after the player before you chooses their spot and their card. We noticed sometimes the total turn time was a bit longer but choosing what we were doing was not too bad.

Now I could see some peoples plays taking forever due to AP on your action selection - but that is luckily not my group. I couldn't image the game going 4 hours ever. I think 2 seems right if everyone knows the game. Not 100% sure we could have done it faster then that but maybe it was our first game.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Curtis Frantz
United States
State College
PA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
repthrd wrote:
Our first game was with 4 players and we played in 2 hours. It is very much multi-player solitaire though (which I don't mind). You also have to be trusting of your other players. There were a lot of turns where it was almost back to me by the time I was finishing all of my stuff from my previous turn and this didn't cause any issues at all.


Maybe this is the case. I'd like to try it again before deciding whether to buy it. I've just heard more "would never play with 4" rumblings than I have for Grand Austria Hotel.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Rob Pearson
United States
Ankeny
Iowa
flag msg tools
Loves Theme
badge
Des Moines Area Boardgamer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
It is on my list to not play with an AP player but that is most games these days...I am getting crotchety in that case today. Everyone has that 1 AP turn in a game like this and that is fine. Just don't make it every turn.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David desJardins
United States
Burlingame
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
repthrd wrote:
It is on my list to not play with an AP player but that is most games these days...I am getting crotchety in that case today. Everyone has that 1 AP turn in a game like this and that is fine. Just don't make it every turn.


Who is it that you think cares that you feel you are too good to play a game with an AP player. I doubt anyone in this thread cares that you hold yourself above others like that. Insufferable.

8 
 Thumb up
0.01
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Curtis Frantz
United States
State College
PA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
DaviddesJ wrote:
repthrd wrote:
It is on my list to not play with an AP player but that is most games these days...I am getting crotchety in that case today. Everyone has that 1 AP turn in a game like this and that is fine. Just don't make it every turn.


Who is it that you think cares that you feel you are too good to play a game with an AP player. I doubt anyone in this thread cares that you hold yourself above others like that. Insufferable.


So, back to discussing the game, I agree that it's one to avoid with particularly AP-prone players. 3 actions per player in each round x 10 rounds is a lot of individual decision points, as straightforward as they might be.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Rob Pearson
United States
Ankeny
Iowa
flag msg tools
Loves Theme
badge
Des Moines Area Boardgamer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
It is I am just trying to keep people from being scared away from this one. If a first play can be 2 hours there is hope!
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David desJardins
United States
Burlingame
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
What about playing with slow players who aren't "AP-prone"? Would that be better? It seems about the same.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A Huynh
Canada
Vancouver
British Columbia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
tribefan07 wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
repthrd wrote:
It is on my list to not play with an AP player but that is most games these days...I am getting crotchety in that case today. Everyone has that 1 AP turn in a game like this and that is fine. Just don't make it every turn.


Who is it that you think cares that you feel you are too good to play a game with an AP player. I doubt anyone in this thread cares that you hold yourself above others like that. Insufferable.


So, back to discussing the game, I agree that it's one to avoid with particularly AP-prone players. 3 actions per player in each round x 10 rounds is a lot of individual decision points, as straightforward as they might be.


Yeah generally I make a note when I'm teaching the game that players really have to start planning on other players turn, you have 3 cards (well, often more) between your turns, so it's actually not hard to plan which actions would be best for you to take, the only wrench is when someone takes the space you really want.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mike Stevens
United States
Nebraska
flag msg tools
I protect the sheep in our society from the wolves.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Wish I could remove all the "Pat on the Back" comments from this thread but so be it, to each his own.

I got to play Underwater Cities with 4-players at BGGCon and all 4 of us really enjoyed it. One of the Team Geek guys taught us the game and he was awesome, he actually stuck around and answered questions for the entire first era. We finished up the game and Final Scoring in just under 3 hours. We all enjoyed the game and actually thought it had a very nice pace to it as it was one of those games where you start playing and when you are finished you are quite surprised that you had been playing for almost 3 hours. It is a great feeling when you have enough resources and your cities and tunnels start coming together. Dont let the time and possible AP scare you away from giving this game a try. All 4 of us thought it was well worth the time investment.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Martin
Germany
Duesseldorf
North-Rhine-Westfalia
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmb
Thank you for the summary of this issue, tribefan07
I was so excited for this game and I think I'm skipping it now.

I watched a playthrough and he also said not with 4 players.
The playtime is too long for such a game, that means playing Solitaire for hours.
While in other games, such as Otys (almost solitaire, except market, X-tile, contracts and agents), the game is over really quickly.
4 
 Thumb up
0.05
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
1 , 2  Next »   | 
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.