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Subject: Review of a dead CCG: SimCity rss

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Aaron Tubb
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I picked up a couple starters and boosters for SimCity: the Card Game upon seeing it in a game store not too long after it was released (1995). The only extra sets they ever made for it were starters based on specific cities (there was one for Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, and New York). It shouldn't be hard to find cards cheaply online nowadays. Unlike most CCGs, you only need a couple starters to have all the cards you need to play.

As a CCG, it's sort of weird; Mayfair has managed to make a CCG devoid of most things that define CCGs. All players play from a common deck and lay cards (city blocks) to score points. Each card has a bunch of numbers on it (like value, population supplied or required, polution, and crime) along with depictions of power lines, roads, and/or rails, and a plain-looking photo of the building represented by the card. Everybody builds a single city together. You don't really get to screw anybody over and you definitely don't attack anyone.

Basically, on your turn you draw a card into your hand and play a card, gaining money equal to the "value" on the card you just played, plus any bonuses from neighboring blocks. The winner is the first person to accumulate $250. It feels like multiplayer solitaire and what you play (up until the endgame) is completely dependent on how lucky you are drawing cards. The good thing about it is that it's kind of fun to watch the city grow and develop. Kind of feels like the PC game (only slower, and YOU need to do all the math instead of the PC). Interestingly, the multiplayer aspect feels like a tacked-on afterthought.

The only part of the game that seems like it could be fun with a group is the voting bit. Whenever a player wants to rezone a block (replace an existing card) with a different type of block, players must vote on it. They can bribe other players, threaten, make alliances, or whatever. The biggest problem with this is that it seems like you'd need a group of at least 3 or 4 players for this to work. With 2 it just doesn't work at all, because one player is the "Mayor" and gets two extra votes and breaks ties. There are other cards, called "city counsil members" which will give you an extra vote or two just for getting lucky enough to draw them. The other problem with this voting bit is that there is almost no incentive to rezone anything, so I don't imagine it would even come up very often. The only time you'd really want to rezone is if you were placing one of those special long cards.

(A couple of those long cards)

The long cards came one to a booster pack and are actually pretty cool (in theory). It's a super long card that takes up two blocks in the game, and can only be played as a rezone of two regular blocks. There was a bunch of weird and crazy long cards made, like Niagra Falls, the World Trade Center, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Panama Canal, even the Big Chicken! (a locally famous KFC in marietta, GA. Yes I'm serious) A lot of them don't make a whole lot of sense as long cards (I'm rezoning this office complex so I can replace it with the Pyramids?), but I guess it would make your little city... interesting?

Anyway, as far as scoring goes, there's way too much numbers to count and keep track of. Let's say, for example, that your city has an elementary school (with the text "add 1 to residentials within 5 blocks"), a well (add 1 to residentials within 2 blocks), a police station (that has coverage=7 and reads "add 2 to residentials/commercials/industrials that have police coverage." Police Coverage is calculated on an individual block basis; e.g. a block has crime=2 and is 4 blocks away from a police station with coverage=7. If Coverage - range - crime > 0, the block has "police coverage"), a swamp (subtract 1 from residentials within 3 blocks), 3 university blocks (that say "University 3"), and 7 other residential blocks. If you manage to stick a frat house (a residential block worth $5 that reads "University 2") right in the middle of it all (so that it gets all the bonuses mentioned), you will score $30! (base 5 + university bonus 9 + police coverage bonus 2 + zone bonus 13 + other bonuses/minuses 1 + 1 - 1)

Now, there aren't that many bonuses for the first phase or two of the game, but near the end of the game it can get annoying. Part of the annoyance is from having to constantly check over the text on a lot of your city blocks every time you place something, just in case it affects how much it's worth.

Another thing I don't like about the rules is the "zone bonus" you get when you connect multiple blocks of the same zone. This bonus gives a ton more than pretty much anything else in the game, and it discourages players from upgrading blocks. You can probably win the game by simply drawing the most residential blocks since the residential zone usually ends up being the biggest and gets you a lot of bonus points by the city phase. (I suppose this could easily be house-ruled to be capped at 5 or so, though)

I don't like the photos they used for the cards; most of them are pretty uninteresting and/or bland. I think this is was my first disapointment with the game, right from opening the box and seeing the cards. I think the game would look a ton better if the photos were taken from a bird's-eye view, or if they were simply illustrated from a top-down view. It would have looked more like a city during the game. And while I'm on the subject of card asthetics, the designers chose a strange color for the borders of the cards. Not black or white, like every other CCG I've ever seen, but green and purple. The actual FAQ answers the question of "WTF?" with the answer: "The colored borders have no significance to game play, card rarity, game editions, or anything else. They do make the game look pretty."
If by "pretty," they meant "garishly green and purple," then yeah, I guess so.

Welcome to Green&Purpleville

Last complaint: the disasters are totally broken. Any damage done by a disaster (the total value of any blocks removed from the game) must be paid out of the Mayor player's pocket. A tornado event can demolish up to 25 city blocks, instantly making it impossible for the mayor to win the game. The fire disaster is unstoppable unless your deck is very heavy on fire departments. Most of the other disasters and events don't really affect the game much though, having effects ranging from very mild to pointless.

Who doesn't want to play as this lovable ham?

The game does have some things going for it; it is sort of fun to place blocks one at a time and slowly build up the city over the course of the game. Your city needs a minimum population before you can place blocks belonging to the "Town" phase, and "City" cards cannot be played until you have a number of businesses and a power plant on the table, so the city does grow in a somewhat natural-looking fashion (first come woods, rivers, individual homes and agricultural stuff, then come businesses and industries, and lastly come all the "City" stuff like apartments, stadiums, and... the Big Chicken).

Another interesting thing it had going on was that non-residential buildings usually had a "sims required" number, and in order to place a block you had to be able to trace a path for that many sims in residential blocks to get there by either road or rail. It was kind of cool to see who worked/shopped where as you built stuff.

Oddly, I actually kind of dig this game, in a weird sort of way. I must be strangely attracted to games with strong themes and convoluted rules. Though it is sort of like the PC game (only more tedious), it's what I would consider a light city-building card game that has some strong theme and is low on confrontation, and it plays with two or three or more just as good as it plays solo. If you don't mind the math, it's really not bad as a mindless, casual, card-flopping activity that you can play with other people (sort of like Phase 10 or other mindless casual games). I'd play this over Phase 10 any day (is this praise for the game? YOU decide!).

Originally posted on F:AT.
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Steve Wagner
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I'd play Phase 10 ten times straight before trying Sim City again. I just remember it being one of the worst games I've ever played. Part of me wonders if the card game was part of the reason I stopped playing the computer game.
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Aaron Tubb
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SVan wrote:
I'd play Phase 10 ten times straight before trying Sim City again. I just remember it being one of the worst games I've ever played. Part of me wonders if the card game was part of the reason I stopped playing the computer game.
Interesting. Myself, I would say Phase 10 is one of the worst games I've ever played. SimCity TCG, while not being a very good game, takes less time to play than Phase 10 and it has a city building theme and feel.
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Steve Wagner
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I agree with you. Phase 10 is pretty terrible. But the Phases part of the game is a great mechanic. Put that in a game that is much shorter and with some other interesting mechanics and I would love to play it.

Sim City has some decent mechanics also, but none of them work right with the game. At least Phase Ten's mechanics work. Although, putting them together makes a long tedious game.

And if anyone's read Inquest, when the guys in there would play Magic versus other CCG games in a big brawl, one game had Sim City and Magic in the finals. Magic played Armageddon and in one swoop play, all of Sim City cards were destroyed because they were all "land" cards. Cheesy, but that's what they were good at. And that reminded me again why Sim City was so terrible.
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Tom Servo
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I remember buying this and really wanting to like it. I thought the idea of laying down cards and building a city was a great idea. Then I played the game... it was a big let down. Its been so long that I can't remember the specifics, but after a few games I put it away, never to be played again. soblue
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John "Omega" Williams
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Good review with some interesting approaches and views on what worked and didnt for you.

Personally I thought the photos worked fine. But I agree that a top down system of drawm art would have better captured the feel of the original.

The ever increasing math and numver crunching involved as the city grows and the interactions of cards becomes the real problem of the game. With a big city its a mess to keep track of.

On the other hand it is fun to see the city grow. Though on my last play it ended up as this massive sprawl about 8ft in diamiter! heh-heh
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Robert Cannon
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The Big Chicken was a famous landmark long before KFC bought the building. It even has a Wikipedia entry!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Chicken
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Dylan McNamee
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Big Letdown is exactly how I felt. Many, many years after I bought and forgot about it, I pulled it out with a vague "this wasn't as good as I thought it should be" but "I was probably being too picky"...so I got to relive the Big Letdown again. Two of those is two too many, so off it went to my local shop, for a grand $1.50 in credit.
 
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Jevon Heath
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Rezoning is incredibly powerful if you're playing with cards that give bonuses to other buildings within a specified number of blocks (e.g. Police Stations, Fire Departments, Parking Lots). Barring special cases, all it takes is a passing vote for anything to be rezoned. Since the Mayor starts with two votes and breaks ties, every card the Mayor plays will almost always garner at least $5 extra due to favorable rezoning. This is also why the disasters pack such a punch: the Mayor has a massive cumulative advantage due to rezoning fiat; and disasters, or the threat of disasters, are the biggest tool the other players have to keep the Mayor in check.

This political aspect of the game can be very intense, and is the most interesting part to me. It also addresses the points you made about Sim City being a low-confrontation game. Sim City is meant to be a game of negotiation and backroom dealing. Unfortunately, a small collection of cards isn't going to provide the Council Members and political events needed for a deck designed with such an intent. Sim City should not have been a CCG.
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Eric Jome
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First, let me say, excellent review!

Aarontu wrote:
The only part of the game that seems like it could be fun with a group is the voting bit.


Let's be on honest here. This game is going to take some serious variation on play to go from boring clunker to interesting game. And the first bit is definitely going to need to be the voting. Instead of drawing the council members from the deck, deal out a set of them at the beginning of the game and have the players draft them. Give each player at least 1 corrupt and 1 regular in a different area from their corrupt. Leave out the Mayor completely - and probably the disasters too.

There are lots of other little tweaks that vastly improve the game as well;

1) Play with a timer. A strict timer. You get 1 minute to play your block or your turn is skipped; consider playing 30 seconds. Pause the clock if you call a vote, but you aren't allowed more than 1 vote per turn.

2) Deal each player a hand of three cards. Play cards from your hand. Draw one as soon as you play one. This helps to mitigate the luck factor and speeds play and makes more interesting choices. Ideally, you'll deal each player a single double card at the beginning of the game... and if you are kind you'll let them discard and redraw once per game.

3) Another crucial thing is to build an interesting deck! A good deck is not just a random jumble of cards. And it does not include lots of complexes. Build a farm deck broken up with rural places. Build a suburban deck. Build a Hot Night On The Town deck - fires and fire departments. But keep it pretty simple and pretty straight. Tell everyone what the deck is before you begin. In fact, consider building a deck with period 1 cards and when half gone, shuffle in the 2s, and when that is half gone, shuffle in the 3s. And these decks are maybe 20 to 30 cards each for a 4 player game... play fast, don't let the game drag on.

I've spent a lot of time trying to rehab this old house... I too wanted to like it. But it's just not a very good game to start. So, you have to make it a good game with variants. Worked on, you can get this game to an interesting point... bring it from a 4 to 6, maybe even a 7 with the right group.
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Eric Jome
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cadavaca wrote:
Sim City should not have been a CCG.


It isn't. Not anymore. Now, it's just a cheap game that comes with a lot of extra packaging. When the bottom falls out of a CCG, the first C loses any meaning. Now, it's a card game. Tweak it and you are good to go.
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Aaron Tubb
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cosine wrote:
First, let me say, excellent review!

Aarontu wrote:
The only part of the game that seems like it could be fun with a group is the voting bit.


Let's be on honest here. This game is going to take some serious variation on play to go from boring clunker to interesting game. And the first bit is definitely going to need to be the voting. Instead of drawing the council members from the deck, deal out a set of them at the beginning of the game and have the players draft them. Give each player at least 1 corrupt and 1 regular in a different area from their corrupt. Leave out the Mayor completely - and probably the disasters too.

There are lots of other little tweaks that vastly improve the game as well;

1) Play with a timer. A strict timer. You get 1 minute to play your block or your turn is skipped; consider playing 30 seconds. Pause the clock if you call a vote, but you aren't allowed more than 1 vote per turn.

2) Deal each player a hand of three cards. Play cards from your hand. Draw one as soon as you play one. This helps to mitigate the luck factor and speeds play and makes more interesting choices. Ideally, you'll deal each player a single double card at the beginning of the game... and if you are kind you'll let them discard and redraw once per game.

3) Another crucial thing is to build an interesting deck! A good deck is not just a random jumble of cards. And it does not include lots of complexes. Build a farm deck broken up with rural places. Build a suburban deck. Build a Hot Night On The Town deck - fires and fire departments. But keep it pretty simple and pretty straight. Tell everyone what the deck is before you begin. In fact, consider building a deck with period 1 cards and when half gone, shuffle in the 2s, and when that is half gone, shuffle in the 3s. And these decks are maybe 20 to 30 cards each for a 4 player game... play fast, don't let the game drag on.

I've spent a lot of time trying to rehab this old house... I too wanted to like it. But it's just not a very good game to start. So, you have to make it a good game with variants. Worked on, you can get this game to an interesting point... bring it from a 4 to 6, maybe even a 7 with the right group.
Thanks for the reply and the tip!

Those are some good ideas that may help make the game more fun.

I've considered taking all council members out of the deck and giving one to each player when someone becomes mayor. And the mayor is reduced to 1 vote instead of 2. Drafting is a good idea.

1) This is a great idea. It will definitely prevent people from over analyzing their turn and keep the game moving.

2) Do you think a 3 card hand works better than the default 7 card hand? If you use a timer, you probably don't have to cut it down to 3 cards.

3) Yeah, I agree, the deck composition really matters. The deck I have together now is sort of a mountainous college town; it has mountains, mountain-related industries, and university buildings, along with the usual residentials and commercials. I also stack the deck in the following manner:

At the beginning of the game, divide the cards by phase into separate stacks. Put a power plant or two in the Phase II stack. Shuffle each stack, and then each player draws cards from any stack he wants to, to make a starting hand of 7 cards. Then put the Phase I stack on the II stack, and place that on top of the phase III stack to make the deck. Include just slightly more than the minimum required cards for the first 2 phases and most of the game will be spent in the city phase. You also won't be drawing useless phase I cards late in the game.

I don't think this will ever become one of my favorite games or anything, but I do enjoy toying around with house rules that possibly make a game more fun.
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Eric Jome
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Aarontu wrote:
2) Do you think a 3 card hand works better than the default 7 card hand? If you use a timer, you probably don't have to cut it down to 3 cards.


I do think that limiting the choices helps focus attention, speed play, and makes a more flowing game. This is why light games like Carcassonne have you drawing exactly 1 tile in hand for your turn - you should be spending your time offturn looking for scoring opportunities, not paralyzed in analysis with too many options.

If you make the deck richer in playable targets, you don't need a larger hand.

And I like your variant for deck stacking too.
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Aaron Tubb
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cosine wrote:
Aarontu wrote:
2) Do you think a 3 card hand works better than the default 7 card hand? If you use a timer, you probably don't have to cut it down to 3 cards.


I do think that limiting the choices helps focus attention, speed play, and makes a more flowing game. This is why light games like Carcassonne have you drawing exactly 1 tile in hand for your turn - you should be spending your time offturn looking for scoring opportunities, not paralyzed in analysis with too many options.

If you make the deck richer in playable targets, you don't need a larger hand.

And I like your variant for deck stacking too.
Ah, that does make some sense. A hand of 7 cards always seemed so large, too. I always thought they just chose 7 as the hand size because Magic and other CCGs did the same thing. I may try using a 3 or 4 card starting hand if I play again.
 
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C. Kevin Jackson
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The previous comments are accurate. I have two starter decks of the SimCity CCG. I have tried to organize the cards and make sense of the rules. I suppose it might have worked 70+ years ago as an improvement on "Monopoly".

My kudos to Mayfair Games for even trying to simulate an automated City simulation as a simple card game. It just doesn't work.
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Nathan Muenks
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I have enjoyed playing the game with my siblings. Using glass markers to keep track of police, fire, and electric coverage made a huge difference.
 
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