Jonas Hellberg Hellberg
Sweden
Malmö
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20th century supposedly chronicles society during the last century.
We might assume that it’s the development of Europe that’s being modeled. Vladimír Suchý has chosen the perspective that society's purpose is to make life pleasurable for its members. Thus “quality of life” is the measure of success in this game. Economical and technological power are just the means to this end - every player must balance growth with care for the environment.

image courtesy of Filip Murmak (karel_danek)

Gameplay is essentially separated into three parts, which are three different kinds of bidding mechanisms:
- First there’s a straight auction of land tiles. Highest bidder wins. Every land tile comes with garbage, and the more tiles you buy the more garbage you get. Quick growth comes with a cost.
- Secondly you buy technologies, which is a sort of dutch auction. When you pull out of the land tile auctions you get to buy a technology, but they start off expensive and get cheaper for every land tile that’s auctioned off. So your choice is to pull out early, pay high and be sure of what you get, or stay in the auctions to pay less, but maybe you won't get what you really want. Technology gives you different advantages such as improving your overall environment, letting you move people around or giving you the option of paying to remove garbage.
- Lastly there’s a bid to avoid catastrophes, which give you extra garbage and pollution. There are as many catastrophe results as there are players, starting with zero garbage and pollution and getting worse from there. Each player needs to receive one of these results, so the bid is to get the best one.
All the garbage you acquire during a round goes on the land tiles you got earlier, so if you’ve only bought one tile you really don’t want to be outbid on the catastrophes and end up with four extra garbage!

The land tiles are reminiscent of the ones in Carcassonne, but differ in several aspects. Every tile has one or more cities on it, and each produces something. If there are several cities on a tile, you have to choose which will be the one producing. How the tiles are placed in relation to each other matters, but isn’t critical. It’s a matter of efficiency. You could place them willy-nilly, but you probably wouldn’t win that way. If your city has a recycling center you want to connect it to its neighbour tiles so it can get rid of the garbage on those as well.

At the end of every round your cities produce money, science and victory points and you get to use your recycling plants to remove garbage. Money and science are the currencies of the game, and they are used for different things. Money is used for the land tile bid and Science is used for the other two.
Everyone has a little board to keep track of their production and pollution, in a fashion similar to Through the Ages. It’s probably not a coincidence, considering that both are produced by the same company. It’s a good way to avoid recounting all of your cities all the time. You just add the production from the cities you acquired on the current turn and collect.

At the end of the game everyone gets bonus points or negative points depending on how clean their little country is. Having extra garbage you couldn’t get rid of is pretty steep, at minus 5 points a piece. By comparison, the bonus for having the most of any currency is 8 points.
The games I’ve played have been pretty tight, without a runaway leader. The one thing common to all winners has been having a clean environment. The points you accumulate during the rounds does net you a fair sum, but the bonus points for having clean tiles and a clean environment overall can amount to about as many.

The nice thing about bidding games like this is that, for the most part, the value of the tiles will be different to each player. If you’ve got enough cash to go round, you might pass on that money-producing tile and prepare to bid high on that double recycling center instead. Or you might pull out early to make sure you get that extra citizen you need to make the most of your hospital. There are always choices to consider and they change as your opponents act, but not so much as to induce the dreaded analysis paralysis. Your options are quite many and there's quite a few numbers that can be crunched, but they're all pretty easy to see.

My only real gripe is that there is a certain ‘untight’ feeling to the game. I think it’s because there’s a looseness to the flow of the game. You buy your tiles at the beginning of a round, but you don’t fit them to your others until the end of the round, so they sort of hang around and dangle until then. Since most of the time there's only one person who’s read the rules and there are no reference cards, people will be attaching and testing where tiles can go all through the time, sometimes doing mistakes in the process. It's a minor gripe, and it'll probably go away with repeated plays.

I’d recommend 20th Century if you like the tile laying from Carcassonne and long for something meatier, and/or you like the bidding in Power Grid. There are no catch-up mechanisms like there are in Power Grid though, but to me that is a bonus. As much as I like Power Grid, nerfing the leader does feel a bit artificial. It would actually be more thematically appropriate in 20th Century, where you could argue that improving the environment is more costly than expanding your industry. If you play with your kids and want to teach them the virtues of recycling and taking care of the environment then I suppose 20th Century has something to offer as well. The box recommends it from 13 years and up, and that might be just about right. In my experience it’s easy to underestimate kids though.
You might argue that it’s cheesy to say that environmentalism is equal to success, but that's just the perspective chosen. Other games measure success in terms of money and power, but honestly - would you like living next to the city dump?


(edited for clarity)
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