(originally appeared on Boardgamenews.com)
Love Child, never meant to be, Love Child, born in poverty. That song by Diana Ross has been running through my head ever since the last time I taught the game Cities, by Martyn Faber(the designer of Wadi), and described the game as the love child of Take It Easy and Carcassonne. Unlike Diana Ross’ Love Child, though, Cities has no name of shame to worry about wearing. Although this new game, which became available at Spiel in October, was on my “to look at” list while at Essen, I completely overlooked the booth and the game. This may have been due to Emma Games’ out-of-the-way location in hall 5 of the convention center, or maybe I did run past their booth thinking that the game being displayed didn’t look all that interesting.
It wasn’t till BGG.con, where I heard from a number of people that Cities was a pretty good game, that I got the chance to give the game a try. The theme of the game is relatively simplistic: the players are building a city to make it as enjoyable as possible for tourists. The components are pure Euro: 4 sets of 24 thick cardboard tiles, each of which are broken into quarters of different colors, 4 sets of 7 Tourists (wooden Meeples) in 4 different colors, a rulebook, and as a nice touch, some plastic baggies to store the components after you open the game for the first time.
Cities’ gameplay is just as simplistic as the theme. Each player has the same set of 24 numbered tiles. The tiles are divided into quadrants(called fields) that differ in combinations of Attractions(yellow), Parks(green), Terraces(red), and Water(blue). One player is chosen to be the Master Builder. She starts the game by randomly drawing 3 of her tiles and telling the other players the numbers of the tiles she drew. The other players find their corresponding numbered tiles and arrange them in their own play area so that only corners of the tiles are touching. Everyone can arrange and rotate their tiles differently, although during the game, once a tile has been added it cannot be rearranged.
Subsequently, the Master Builder will randomly draw another tile and announce the number. All the players add their same-numbered tile to their player board, but can choose where it’s added and in what orientation, as long as it’s touching orthagonally to at least one other tile, and does not result in the player’s area exceeding a 4x4 grid. Additionally, all player may now either add one of their Tourists to one of the quadrants of the tile they just added. In subsequent turns, players may either add a tourist to a newly placed tile, or may move a Tourist that was placed on a previous turn. Tourists may never be placed on water spaces. Moving a Tourist can be done in one of two ways: Either moving a previously placed Tourist to one of the quadrants of the newly placed tile, or you may move a previously placed Tourist to a quadrant that is orthagonal or diagonal to the quadrant it is currently on(although Tourists may never move onto a water space).
Once all the players have filled their 4x4 grid, everyone scores points for the placement of their Tourists. In the basic game, which the rules describe as the “Easy” version, at the end of the game, if a Tourist is standing on an Attraction, they score one point for each Attraction field that is in the same zone(connected in a contiguous chain to that Tourist’s attraction). Tourists on Parks score similarly. If there are multiple Tourists standing in the same zone, only one of them will score. Tourists on Terraces don’t score anything. The players add up their points and the player with the highest total wins. In the case of a tile, the player scoring the most with a single Tourist wins the tie.
I have to admit that I’ve never played the Easy version. Each time I’ve played, we used the “Dilemma” version which plays exactly the same as the “Easy” version, except at the end of the game, Tourists standing on a Terrace score for each Water field that he can “see”(that lie in a continuous straight line horizontally or vertically from the field he is standing on). I have found that version suffiently challenging that I haven’t felt the need to try the “Brainteaser” version. In this version, Tourists on an Attraction get one point for each Attraction field in the same zone, plus 1 point for each Terrace that borders that zone. Tourists on an Park get one point for each Park field in the same zone, plus 1 point for each Water that borders that zone. And Tourists on an Terrace get one point for each Water field he “sees”, plus each Park field he “sees” as well.
So how does Cities play? As I mentioned before, the game shares the same basic mechanism with Take It Easy: someone calls out a numbered tile and the other players add it to their own play area. Technically, everyone could build the same layout of tiles and score the same number of points with their Tourists, but amazingly, every time I have played Cities, or even Take It Easy for that matter, no one ever builds their board exactly the same as the other players.
This may have to do with the fact that at beginning of the game, you have over 50 different possible starting configurations, depending on how you orient your three starting tiles, and the addition of each tile and Tourist increases the odds against any two players choosing to do exactly the same thing. The sort of random tile draw guarantees that luck will play a sizeable hand in how the game plays out, but I’ve noticed that players can work with this degree of chance by either taking advantage of tiles as they come in to play as well as by leaving opportunities open for the possibility of tiles to come. Trying to build a large zone of Attractions? Then don’t close them up with Water fields.
I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the similar game, Take It Easy. For some reason, the simultaneous tile draw thing isn’t so much fun for me. But Cities sparks something different for me. Maybe it’s the addition of the Tourists, which I can choose to move during the game to increase my score, but it feels like I have a little more control in Cities, and as a result, it feels more satisfying at the end of the game. Keep in mind, though, that Cities is basically a filler game. The only way a game will last longer than 30 minutes is that one of the players is succumbing to debilitating analysis paralysis. So Cities is what I would call a meaty filler: light enough to play quickly, but deep enough that you need to keep thinking throughout the game. To give you an indication of how much I liked it, after BGG.con, after I got back home, I went on Boardgamegeek and bought a copy from the Marketplace.
Number of players 2-4
Theme: City building
Rules explanation: 3 minutes
Effect of Luck: Moderate
Game Length: About 20 min.
Replayability: very good
Scott Tepper wrote:
So Cities is what I would call a meaty filler: light enough to play quickly, but deep enough that you need to keep thinking throughout the game.
That's exactly how I've described the game to some. I tried it a BGG con... in fact, it was the very last game played before I left the con.
I'd like to get it, but not at $40. Thanks for the review.