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Subject: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a game rss

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Introducing London



Beauty, much like art, is one of those things that is difficult to define exactly. Yet you sure know it when you see it! The haunting call of a bird as it soars over a moonlit lake? Beautiful! The charming smile emerging from the chubby cheeks of a two-month old baby? Beautiful! The low, throaty growl of a Lamborghini Gallardo as is cruises down the highway? Yep, that’s beautiful too! A perfectly grilled quarter-pounder on a toasted sesame seed bun, topped with melted cheddar cheese, crisp lettuce, a healthy dose of chipotle mayonnaise, and a couple slices of thick-cut maple smoked bacon? Mmmm... beautiful, and now you’ve got me feeling tingly!


Wallace & London
But do you know what else is a thing of beauty? When you’re playing London and you decide to run your city and absolutely everything comes together in a single moment of perfect harmony and efficiency. Those of you who have played London know exactly what I’m talkin’ about! There’s that wonderful moment in time when your opponents look at your tableau and they realize that you have the Hospital in play. And on the one side of that Hospital sits the East India Company Card, while on the other, sitting there all brash and saucy, is the Fleet St. card. And you look into the eyes of your opponents and you glimpse their fear as they silently wonder: will he go for the extra money or will he stick me with a double dose of poverty points? And then it’s almost as if time slows when you make your move. You confidently flip your Shops card that’s been quietly collecting money for a few turns. Next, you casually pitch that troublesome Pauper card to the display as you activate the East India Company and collect your £12 payout. And then, with the svelte grace of a black panther on the hunt, you reach towards your Hospital, flip it over, point towards your Fleet Street card, grab two poverty cubes and toss them disdainfully at your buddy across the table while taking another £5 for yourself. And the best part? Everybody knows that the Fleet Street card is going to be sitting right there the next time your run your city! And that, friends and neighbours, well that’s truly a thing of beauty!

The versatile Hospital


And whom do we have to thank for the opportunity to play such a beautiful game? Well it’s none other than Mr. Martin Wallace, whose 2010 Treefrog Games release London makes your dreams about the gaming moments described above come true for you and yours. London is a two to four player game that seeks to tell the story of the rebuilding of the city of London after the Great Fire of 1666. At its heart, London is a card game that gives players the task of ‘rebuilding’ the various London boroughs they control as beautifully and extensively as possible. All the while, however, they’re going to have to balance their desire to build majestic boroughs with the challenges of finance, overcrowding and poverty. The player who most successfully manages these various tensions will earn the most victory points and be declared the winner. Sound good? Oh it is! Very, very good, the heights of eurogaming goodness type good - as much as that's possible in a card game! It's a thing of beauty - a stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a card game! But you’ll have to read on to find out why!

COMPONENTS

Game box

You can sense something of London’s beauty from the moment that you first pick up the box. The slim, sleek lines of the box manage to convey an immediate sense of the elegance that waits just beneath the cover. The box cover also alerts us to the fact that there be art in this Wallace game! The fellow on the cover is Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723) who was responsible for rebuilding many of London’s churches following the Great Fire – including St. Paul’s Cathedral which is under construction in the background.


Box cover

The back of the box features some of the components that are included, and gives an overview of the game in the three languages in which rules are provided for the game: English, German, and French.


Box back

Component list

Here’s what you’ll discover when you open the box:

• 1 Game board
• 110 Cards (25 form the ‘A’ deck; 50 form the ‘B’ deck; 35 form the ‘C’ deck)
• 44 Player Building Counters (11 in each of four player colours)
• 10 Underground counters
• 40 Poverty counters (10 black disks representing five poverty points; 30 black cubes representing one poverty point)
• Money Counters (~30 gold coins worth £5 each; ~40 silver coins worth £1 each)
• Loan Counters (twelve £10 loan counters and four £40 loan counters)
• 56 Victory Point counters (in values of one, five, ten and twenty points)


Everything inside the box

Game Board

The board for London is classic Wallace – simple, clean, some might say stark, but ultimately eminently functional.


Game board featuring London

There are essentially three areas on the board that need to be noted. The top two-thirds of the board depicts the city of London, divided into various boroughs, and by the Thames River. Over the course of the game players will have the opportunity to buy these boroughs. Each borough has been illustrated in way that communicates the key pieces of information you need to know as a potential purchaser. Each borough has a name – and only one player can own/occupy a named borough. Directly below the name of the borough are several symbols that indicate: how much it costs to purchase that borough; how many cards you will draw after you’ve purchased the borough, and finally, how many points that borough will be worth at the end of the game.


Details of the boroughs in the city center

Note also the Poverty Points Table in the upper right hand corner. We’ll have a lot more to say about poverty when we get to the Flow of Play and End Game sections of this review – but for now you need to know that: (1) poverty points are bad because they can score minus points at the end of the game; and (2) the number of minus points you will receive is calculated by this table.


Poverty Points Penalty chart

The bottom third of the board shows what is known as the Card Display. This is where players will be discarding cards over the course of the game. Players will begin discarding to the space on the far left of the top row and continue filling spaces from left to right until the top row has been filled. At that point, the next card will be discarded to the space on the far left of the bottom row and filled from left to right again, until such time as the bottom row is filled. At that juncture any cards on the top row are gathered up, placed in the discard pile and the cards on the bottom row are moved to the top row, and the process continues on from there. When playing with two players only the first three spaces are available to be discarded to; whereas with three players the first four spaces of each row are available, and with four players all five spaces in a row are open. Not only will players be discarding to the Card Display, at times they will have the opportunity to draw cards from the Card Display as well.


Card Display area

Cards

Did we mention cards? Yes, London is very much a card game - which is why you get 110 of them with the game! The artwork on the reverse side matches the artwork on the box cover. Here they are in shrinkwrap, just begging to be delivered from their prison and get into the hands of gamers!


All 110 cards

General comments about the cards

The cards in the game have been divided up into three decks: an A, B, and C deck, consisting of 25 cards, 50 cards, and 35 cards respectively. Note the circled letters towards the bottom right, which distinguish the cards from the different decks.


The A deck, B deck, and C deck

The rationale for this is that each deck represents a stage in the gradual rebuilding and growth of London from 1666 down until the early twentieth century. As such, you get a sense of historical progression as you move through the deck and the game – London, and its many notable landmarks gradually come into shape right before your eyes as the game progresses! Further, these cards have been beautifully illustrated – something which hasn’t always been the case with Wallace games of the past. In his comments at the end of the rulebook, Mr. Wallace laments the challenges of producing a game with so many artistic demands – so perhaps the aesthetic charms of London aren’t something that we should be getting used to! Finally, the cards have been durably constructed and should stand up to repeated play. Having said that, if you can afford it, sleeving them wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Colours of cards

Since London is a card driven game, it’s important to have a sense of the kinds of cards that are in the game and how they work. First of all note how all of the cards have a coloured background: brown, blue, pink or grey. The brown cards are associated with economic activities, the pink cards are related to politics, and the blue cards deal with science and culture. There are also cards with a grey background and these are the Pauper cards; they cannot be built as buildings into your city and they essentially serve as hindrance to your other building efforts by clogging up your hand. Having said that, there are ways to deal with the pauper cards, including several cards that provide a means of transforming these cards into victory points. The colours of the cards is not only important for thematic reasons, but when put a card into play in your city, you also need to expend (discard) a card of the same colour in order to do so.


Sample card in each of the four colours

Anatomy of a card

There is also a certain amount of iconography on the cards – however, the iconography is clear and quick to learn. In the top centre of the card you will find the name of the card. In the upper, left-hand corner some cards will indicate a cost in pounds that needs to be paid when the card is played. Some cards will have several lines of text immediately below the card name, and this tells you what occurs or what benefit you receive as soon as the card is placed into your Building Display area.

Sounds like Monopoly?

In the centre of the card there will be an illustration, in which there may be several icons in the bottom corners. In the bottom right corner of the illustration there will be a letter (A, B, or C) which indicates which deck of cards that particular card comes from. In the bottom left hand corner of the illustration, some cards have hexagon with a number inside it; this number indicates how many VPs that particular card will be worth to you at the end of the game. Certain cards may also have text directly beneath the artwork; this text describe an effect that will occur when the card is activated (activation of a card occurs when you choose to run you city as your turn action – more on that below).

Finally, with a few exceptions there will be a ‘stone base’ at the bottom of each card. This base has been divided up into three sections all of which tell you something about how the card works when it is activated. The section on the left side of the stone base indicates whether or not a card needs to be discarded or any other costs paid when the building is activated. The centre section of the stone base tells you what effects will occur when the card is activated, and these effects include: taking money from the bank, acquiring victory points as well as discarding or gaining poverty points. The final section of the stone base, on the right side, indicates whether or not the card needs to be flipped over once it has been activated. Cards that are flipped over provide a single-use benefit, while cards that remain face up in your building display provide repeatable or continuous effects.

All in all, it’s quite straightforward and learning the iconography shouldn't prove difficult even for newer gamers. The image below is excerpted from the back page of the rule book, where you can find a very handy summary of the various icons and text that you will find on the game cards. The rule book also provides a handy reference for all the different individual cards, of what happens when each card in the game is activated.


Breaking down the parts of a card

Poverty Points

Poverty points - those are the 30 black cubes you see here, representing one poverty point each, while the 10 black discs each represent five poverty points each. Let’s be honest, as devoted gamers, we here at BGG have gotten pretty blasé when it comes to little wooden cubes – after all, just about every Euro game has them. We’ve collected them, traded them, sold them, transformed one kind of cube into another and then traded those cubes in for VPs. When it comes to cubes we’ve been there and done that! But friends and neighbours, if there was an award for the most despised wooden cube in gaming history these black poverty point cubes would surely stand in the ranks of the most hated cubes of all time!


Poverty points in discs and cubes

You see, thematically, these cubes represent overcrowding in the boroughs you control. Over the course of the game you’re going to be constructing various buildings and monuments in the boroughs you control and, at various points, you are going to be running your city (more on that later). And every time you run your city you need to deal with the tensions of population growth and overcrowding in those boroughs – a tension that is tracked via the acquisition of poverty points which are represented by these little black cubes. And not only is there virtually no way to avoid gaining these points, you actually start the game with five of them! And the kicker is that at the end of the game they will potentially function as minus points that are subtracted from your hard won victory point collection! Over the course of the game you are going to find yourself constantly counting them and wondering how in the world you’ve managed to get so many of them so quickly. Trust us, you will rarely hate a small chunk of painted wood as much as you will come hate these particular cubes! As an aside, from a strategic perspective, if there is one commodity in this game needs to be judiciously monitored it’s these poverty points. If you let them get out of control it can be very, very challenging to rectify the situation later in the game! Fortunately, there are also ways to get minimize or eliminate some of them as well!

Player Building Counters

Each player is going to receive eleven of these counters in their player colour at the start of the game. These counters are placed on the game board each time that you purchase a borough, to indicate ownership. This matters not only for end of game scoring, but because several cards reward players for owning boroughs in certain locations. These counters have been made of good solid cardboard stock.


All the player building counters, in four player colours

Underground Counters

As noted already, the cards have been divided up into three decks and as your progress through these decks you are, from a thematic perspective, moving forward in London’s history from 1666 down to the early twentieth century. As part of this there are several Underground cards include in the ‘C’ deck which allow players to construct Underground stations in the various boroughs on the board. These tokens are used to indicate in which boroughs those stations have been built, and will reward the players who built them with extra VPs for those boroughs.


All the underground counters

Victory Point Counters

And here are those beloved Victory Point counters - another eurogamer staple product - in fact 56 of them in values of one, five, ten and twenty points. They are single sided, so that you can keep your VPs hidden as they are accrued.


Victory Point counters in four different values

Money Counters

London comes with the same plastic coins that came with Martin Wallace's Brass and Age of Industry. The gold coins are worth £5 while the smaller silver coins are worth £1. These plastic coins are perhaps not the ideal choice from a components perspective, being somewhat small and slippery, but they're functional enough for game purposes.


Money counters in two different values

Loan Counters

It wouldn’t be a Wallace game if there wasn’t an element of economic hardship and risk in the game. The loan counters come in £10 and £40 values, and you may take as many loans as you need to during the game. But beware, because for every £10 that you borrow, you will need to pay back £15 pounds at the end of the game. But the worst is yet to come - because for every loan that you can’t repay at the end of the game you’ll be penalized by seven victory points! Ouch!


Loan markers in two different values

Rules

Three rulebooks are provided with the game, one in English, one in German, and one in French. The English rules can be downloaded from the publisher here.


Rulebook cover

The 12 page rules include a page with designer notes, a couple of pages explaining functions of particular cards, and a game overview, so the actual rules for gameplay are really not that long or complicated, and there's a good number of illustrations and examples to help with the learning curve.


Sample pages in the rulebook

Especially helpful is the Player Aid Sheet on the reverse side of the rulebook, which includes a summary of the sequence of play, and a break-down of the key symbols and icons used on the cards.


Player Aid Sheet

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

To get started, place the board in a central location on your table, with the various markers (money counters, loan counters, Underground counters, Victory Point counters and poverty point cubes) in a convenient location along-side the board. Separate the cards into three decks with each deck comprised of cards marked with the same letter (A, B, or C). Shuffle each deck thoroughly and place the ‘C’ deck face down on the table. Then place the ‘B’ deck on top of the ‘C’ deck and the ‘A’ deck on top of the ‘B’ deck in order to form one common draw deck.


Components needed for each player at set-up

Each player should receive:
• 6 cards dealt out from the top of the draw deck
• 11 building counters in their player colour
• £5 – money must be kept on open display through out the game
• 5 poverty points

Randomly determine the starting player, and you are now ready to play London. Read on to find out how!


Complete set-up for a two player game

Flow of Play

Beginning with the start player, play will proceed clockwise around the table with each player taking their turn in order. When it’s your turn, this is how your turn will progress: 1. Draw a card; 2. Take one action; 3. Discard down to 9 cards (if applicable).



So the first thing that you must do at the beginning of every turn is to draw a one card from either the draw deck or from the card display. Now listen to me friends and neighbours – this is not optional! You must draw this card – even when you really, really don’t want to! Despite its simplicity this is one rule that people tend to forget, so make it a habit and insist that all players draw a card first before proceeding on to carry out any other actions on their turn.

Having drawn a card at the beginning of your turn, you must now choose and perform one of the following four actions:
• Play cards into your city.
• Run your city.
• Buy a borough.
• Draw three cards.

After this if you have more than 9 cards you must reduce your hand down to nine cards, and then it's the next player's turn.

The heart of the game lies in the four different actions, so let's explain what each of them involves.

• Playing Cards Into Your City

If you choose this action, you will be playing cards from your hand into your Building Display – which is really just a fancy way of saying the empty space on the table in front of you! The cards you play into your Building Display are representative of the ‘city’ that you are building and these cards will be played in stacks.

Paying the cost

So how do you get cards into play in your Building Display? Well, to play a card into your Building Display you select a card and place it on the table in front of you and then you must discard a card of the same colour as the card you have just built. The card that you choose to discard is played into the Card Display area on the board. When you discard cards to the Card Display, you must place them in the first available space on the board, beginning with the top, left-hand space on the display and working from left to right and top to bottom. In addition to discarding a card of the same colour, some cards also require you to pay a certain amount of money in order to put them into play – a cost that is listed in the top left-hand corner of the card. For example, if you wanted to play the Shops Card into your Building Display you could do so by simply discarding the Ship Building card to the Card Display. If, however, you wanted to reverse this play and put the Ship Building card into play instead, you would have to discard the Shops card to the Card Display and also pay £2 to the bank. Note that Pauper cards may never be placed in your Building Display, and there are a few special cards (The Huguenots, Jewish Immigrants, Wren)
that work slightly differently.


Do I expend Shops to play Ships, or Ships to play Shops?

Forming stacks

When you play your first card into your Building Display, that card forms the first stack in your Building Display. All subsequent cards which you play into your Building Display must either be played on top of an existing card, or must form a new stack in your Building Display. Your stacks should be arranged in a line and the order of the stacks is of no importance. You are allowed have duplicate cards in your Building Display – so, as an example, you could have two Shops cards in play simultaneously. Note that if a card provides you with a permanent power, that power is available to you as soon as it is in play in your Building Display.


I like shopping - a sample Player Display with five stacks

There are several things you need to be aware of when it comes to the rules about placing stacks into your Building Display: To begin with, you may not place a card on top of a card that you have played in the same turn. On subsequent turns, however, you may build over existing cards, regardless of whether or not that card is face up or face down. Second, you may have any number of stacks in your Building Display – but be aware that there is no way to reduce the number of stacks in your Building Display once they have been built! You must also realize that the more stacks you have in your Building Display, the more poverty points you will generate when you go to run your city!

Discarding cards

A final word about discarding cards to the card display: As noted above, you must always, if possible, place that card on the top row of the card display, working from left to right. When the top row has been filled, begin placing cards on the bottom row, again working from left to right. If you need to discard a card and both rows have been filled, move the cards from the top row into the discard pile and then move the cards in the bottom row to the top row and continue discarding as per normal. Experienced players will recognize that strategic discarding can be a very important factor in terms of playing the game well!


Early stages of a two player game

• Run Your City

So what’s the point of playing all these cards into your building display? Well, once you have constructed a number of buildings in your Building Display you are going to want to run your city so that you can take advantage of the benefits which the buildings that you have constructed provide. How do you do that? Well, here’s how!

Activating buildings

When you run your city you have option of activating some or all of the buildings in your Building Display. If you choose to activate more than one card, you may activate them in any order that you wish. In order to ascertain what effect a building will have when it is activated, you will need to look at the stone base at the bottom of the card. If there is a symbol or money value in the left hand block of the stone base, then you will have to expend a card of the indicated colour or spend that amount of money in order to activate the building. As an example, if you wish to activate the East India Company card, you will need to discard a card of any colour to the Card Display in order to do so. The middle block of the stone base indicates the effect that a card has when it is activated. As an example, if you were to activate the Theatre Royal you would immediately receive £2 and 2VP. Some cards allow you to take money, others allow you to discard poverty cubes, require you to take poverty cubes, or to acquire victory points when they are activated. The rule book provides a handy reference for each card in the game which tells you what effect a card has when activated. The final section of the stone base tells you whether or not the card has to be flipped over once it has been activated. Some cards are flipped over once they have been activated and, as such, provide a single use effect. Other cards remain face up and maybe activated repeatedly. As noted above, a card may be overbuilt regardless of whether or not it is face up or face down.


Ready to run a city

Collecting poverty points

One solution to poverty:
put the poor in houses?

There is one final, but tremendously important, process that needs to be carried out when you have finished activating buildings in your Building Display – you need to collect poverty points. Remember those dreaded black cubes that we noted above? Well this is how you get’em! In order to calculate how many poverty points that you will receive from running your city, follow this simple calculation. Count the number of cards your hand, add to that the number of stacks that you have in your building display, and subtract from that the number of boroughs that you own on the board. The result of this calculation tells you the number of poverty points to collect. Here’s an example of how the process works. If after running your city you had two cards in your hand and five stacks in your building display and you owned two boroughs you would collect: (2 + 5) – 2 = 5 poverty points. It sucks, we know, but dem’s the berries! But herein also likes some strategic considerations: having too many cards in hand when you run your city is bad, while owning lots of boroughs when you run your city is good.

• Buy a Borough


Player building counters
You might also elect to buy a borough as the action for your turn, and this is what your player building markers are for. Buying boroughs is a good idea because as just noted, the more boroughs that you have the fewer poverty points you will get when you run your city! But there are more benefits yet! Boroughs will also generate you VP at the end of the game, and they are also a means of drawing cards from the draw deck – although drawing cards can at times be doubled-edged sword.


Battersea borough
So how do you buy a borough? Well you simply locate a section of the city that has not already been purchased by another player. Below the name of the borough you will find three symbols. The first symbol tells you how much the borough costs to purchase – the purchase price is paid to the bank. The second symbol tells you how many cards you will draw when you purchase said property – these cards must be drawn immediately - these may be drawn from either the draw pile or the Card Display in any order that you wish. The final symbol tells you how many VPs the borough will score for you at the end of the game. Once you have purchased a borough, place a building counter of your colour in the borough to indicate that you own it.

Some extra restrictions are in place about building boroughs: The first player who purchases a borough must choose to purchase one of the three central city boroughs, i.e. City, Southwark, or Westminister. Any borough that is purchased subsequently must be adjacent to an existing building counter – the colour of the token in that borough is irrelevant. The Thames River divides the city along a north/south axis and if there is a bridge symbol between two boroughs they are considered to be adjacent.

From a strategy perspective you want to be aware that boroughs should be purchased early because they go fast, and they are all important to keeping your poverty points down and for acquiring cards. It is often advantageous to purchase boroughs that are adjacent to each other because there are cards which provide benefits for players who own boroughs in certain geographic locations, e.g. there are cards which rewards players for boroughs located along the Thames, or for boroughs located North or South of the Thames river. Owning adjacent boroughs also means that placing the Underground Tokens will be the most profitable for you!


For a cost of £5, Green will get 4 cards now and 4 VPs at game end for Southwark & Bermondsley

• Draw Three Cards

Alternatively, you might choose to draw three cards as your action that turn. These cards may be drawn from either the draw deck or from the Card Display in any order that you wish.


Let's draw some cards!

So those are all the actions that are available to you on a turn, of which you must chose one as your action each turn.

End of Game

Triggering the end

The game will enter its final round as soon as the last card has been taken from the draw deck. Then the active player finishes his turn, and each of the remaining players get one more turn, at which point the game ends.


End of a high-scoring two player game

Counting the score

When each player has completed their final turn it’s time to tally up the scores and see who won. To do that follow these steps:

Pay outstanding loans!
• Pay off as many loans as you are able to re-pay. You must pay £15 to the bank for each £10 that you’ve borrowed.
• Earn one victory point for every £3 you have remaining.
• Earn the number of victory points indicated on the board for each borough that you have claimed (adding two victory points to this value if there is an Underground token in that borough).
• Each card in your building display (flipped or not) scores the number of victory points (if any) indicated on the card.
• Receive one poverty point for each card remaining in your hand.

[But wait, you’re not done yet – oh no! Now it’s time to deal with any outstanding loans and those dreaded poverty points. At this point you now need to subtract from the above total:
• Seven points for every unpaid loan.
• The player with the fewest poverty cubes discards all of his cubes and receives no penalty points, while the remaining players discard the same number of cubes as the player with the fewest poverty cubes. They then consult the Poverty Points Table on the board to determine how many victory points they will lose based on how many of poverty cubes they have in hand after discarding.

When all of this is said and done, the player with the most points is the winner. There are several tie-breakers in place - the first is that the player with the fewest poverty points is the winner; and subsequent tie-breakers award the game to the player who occupies the most boroughs; and the player who has the single highest value victory point card is the winner. If there is still a tie the only way to resolve things at this point would be a steel-cage death match!



CONCLUSIONS

What do we think?

Nasty or nice?

Elegance - `Ringing that Bell!': In terms of game design the ultimate achievement must surely be to design a game in which players are presented with an extraordinarily clear and straightforward set of rules which at the same time requires players make difficult decisions about how to act within the context of those rules. Well if that’s goal, then London comes as close to ringing that bell as any game we’ve played. We have seen Martin Wallace games where the complexity is such that you need PhD as a town planner to learn the game (Brass anyone?), but in contrast London is a very accessible game easily within the reach of most eurogamers - it's easy to teach and plays intuitively and smoothly once you get started. But it can be absolutely agonizing in terms of decisions and is really challenging to play it well! The real key is one of balance and timing: given the cards that you have drawn, how can you build the optimally sized city and how can you run that city on the absolute knife edge between reward and overcrowding? It’s a real challenge to juggle optimally the three currencies of money, victory points and poverty points, but trust us it’s a thing of beauty when you get the balance right and you construct a city that runs like a finely tuned Swiss watch!

Interaction - ‘Is anybody out there?!’: There’s no doubt that London is a multi-player solitaire style game – and that’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. There are only a few cards which let you interfere directly with the actions and/or board state of your opponents - and the ones that do tend to be rather more irritating than debilitating in their effects. Having said that, however, we have discovered that as you become more experienced with the game, you become much more aware of what the other players are up to – especially as the end of the game draws near. You really need to be conscious of just how quickly the game can be ended by a player who feels that they are in a position to benefit most from that conclusion. You also need to think carefully about what, when and how many cards you discard to the card display because if you aren’t careful about what you throw out, you could be helping your opponents and hurting yourself. The placement of your building markers on the map and which buildings are adjacent can also be of great importance. Additionally, particularly in the end game you need to keep a close eye on the amount of poverty points owned by other players in comparison to your own - so you can try to end the game quickly while hanging them out to dry with more than you, or perhaps avoiding this happening to yourself. So while it’s true that there is not a great deal of direct player-vs-player interaction, experienced players will begin to discover the subtle interactions that are no less important for their being subtle. Furthermore, the somewhat multi-player solitaire style of game will be considered as a plus for some gamers - it enables you to begin planning your next turn while your opponents are taking their turn, and prevents what is already a tense game from becoming too much of a brain burner.

Workhouse - the evil genius
solution for paupers

Scalability - ‘How many ya’ got?’: London has been designed to play with two to four players and there is no doubt that it plays well with any number within that range. Having said that, three players does seem to be the optimal number of players for the game. To be sure, London is a solid two player game – and a number of users have pointed out that the two-player game creates its own unique tactical and strategic challenges. But with two thing are pretty wide open in terms of purchasing boroughs and it does tend to diminish the tension a tad - the two-player game seems to go just a little longer than it should, almost making it too easy for players to deal with poverty points. It's still an excellent two player game in its own right, but you will find several discussion threads from folks who have experimented with rule variants trying to improve the two player game experience (for some good suggestions, see the Ben & Zen-Luca variant). London is also a very good game with four players – with the minor caveat that down time between turns can draw the game out a shade longer than is preferable. With three, however, you’ll find that there is just the right balance between competition for space and smooth, quick play. What's more the trajectory of a three player game is just perfect, and just when you're at the point of getting the optimal balance between earning income and victory points while avoiding poverty, the game comes to a conclusion.

Strategy - ‘Which way to go?’: The beauty of London is that there are a number of strategies that you can attempt to play out over the course of the game. You can try to run as small and tight a city as possible. Or, you could develop a sprawling metropolis and attempt to deal with the pressures of overcrowding via the card combinations that you can piece together. You can try to become a land magnate and buy up as many boroughs as possible. You can try to play without taking a loan – or you could borrow lots of money and build as many buildings and monuments as you can. You can try to hurt your opponents by opting for a strategy that causes them to lose money and gain poverty points. To be sure, balance seems to be the general key to success – moderation in all things so to speak. But you can also take some big risks and hope for some big payoffs as well. And the variety in the cards will enhance this replay value even further, because which ones are available to you will change from game to game. All in all there's no doubt that London will keep you coming back for more, because there's lots of different toys to try in this playground!

Another solution to poverty:
add water and light

Theme - `It's there even if it aint dripping!': Remarkably, for a game that involves the collection of wooden cubes (even ones as hated as these) London does exude a pleasant degree of harmony between mechanics and theme. As you progress through the various decks of cards you have the feeling of the passage of time and gradual growth and development of the city. You can also watch the city grow and expand before your eyes as players claim and purchase boroughs. And even the poverty cubes do a nice job of exemplifying the tensions of overpopulation and poverty. One wouldn’t describe London as ‘dripping’ theme but it is there to a larger degree than with some eurogames, and it certainly `evokes' the theme.

Cards - `Could this be my lucky day?': Card games are usually associated with randomness and luck of the draw. In the final analysis, even though London does employ a board, it is primarily a card game - although an absolutely superlative one. In that regard it bears comparisons with other card games that fall squarely in the eurogame camp, like San Juan and St Petersburg. As one critic remarked, "This game is what San Juan would be if it had managed to pass an 'O' level in British Social & Economic History. It is essentially a card game despite the board." For us however, that's not a criticism, but high praise! It would be a mistake to think that because London relies heavily on cards, that the element of luck is significant, or that Martin Wallace is making a transition from producing strategy games to a mediocrity that gives too much room for chance. Being able to draw from the card display very much prevents the game from coming down to the luck of the draw, and ensures a significant element of control. As far as card games go, euros really don't get much better than this, and Martin Wallace has somehow been able to use elements often associated with randomness to create a very elegant, compelling, and yet strategic euro game of the highest calibre!


An opening hand

What do others think?

The criticism

Lucrative Shops!

London has proved to be a huge hit, and many regard it as one of Martin Wallace's best games, but not everyone likes it. Some readily concede that games with cards just aren't their thing, particularly having some luck of the draw, so despite acknowledging the incredible accomplishment Wallace has attained in creating this game, it's just not their taste. Others bemoan the lack of more significant player interaction - but again this is just a matter of personal preference rather than an objective weakness of the game. As such, a quick perusal of the negative comments from critics shows that there is nothing really inherently wrong with the game design itself - it's just that not everyone is going to like a game of this type . So if you are looking for interaction that borders on confrontational nastiness, or a game that has barely an ounce of luck, London is not your game. But for the rest of us, London is rightly proving to be one of the best games that emerged out of Essen 2010, and even one of the top medium weight eurogames from that entire year, rivaled perhaps only by Troyes and Navegador.

The praise

There's also ample praise from those who adore the game, as these quotations more than illustrate:
"It's genius. Quick, original, and remarkably deep. And it's just a joy to see London grow." - Martijn Vos
"An excellent game. Love the play balance with variable approaches to your own development." - Chris Geggus
"Combines classic Wallacesque excruciating decisions (and painful loans, of course) with great cardplay mechanics that we haven't really seen from him before. A great, fresh design that still retains its wonderful Wallaceness." - Holmes
"I have always been a huge fan of Martin's games, but this time he is better than ever. Wonderful simple card game, that is agonizingly tough to play!" - Mik Svellov
"Initial impression is this game is incredible! In fact, with a few more plays it could be my favorite euro game. I love the card interactions, the meaningful decisions every turn, the mixture of grand strategy and turn by turn tactics, the feeling of being overwhelmed by poverty at the beginning only to later get a handle on it, and pretty much everything else about this game." - Sean Johnson
"Brilliant design with a perfect level of choice and consequence. Plays fast and keeps you wanting to try something new." - Francois Petitclerc
"London is fairly simple and easy to teach but has some real depth. Martin Wallace continues to impress." - Terry Egan
"Great card game with lots of replayabilty...and this game is fun!" - David Siskin
"Martin knocks it out of the park again! This one is a tight game that plays in about an hour. It's easy to explain but plenty of interesting choices." - Ray Swan
"Such simple gameplay, such tough decisions." - Stan Mamula
"An instant and accesible Martin Wallace classic. Takes many of the common concepts found in his other games (tight economy, penalising excess) and produces a card driven mechanism for implmenting them." - Dave (SunnyD)
"Wallace dips his toe in the card game genre and doesn't disappoint. Like his other designs, there are some agonizing decisions to make, especially regarding debt and poverty points. But it feels remarkably fresh and new. Fantastic." - Spencer Sloe
"To my mind, this is Martin Wallace's greatest game. I find the theme so evocative. The mechanics are clever, tight and suspenseful. The combination of three artists gives TreeFrog games its finest looking game to date - by far. I enjoy every minute of playing this game. A highly highly rated game. " - David Morris
"Another classic from the master. Card driven! Watch out for the poverty points and the payback of loans is brutal. Great game with multiple options." - Howie Dawson
"Card game awesomeness. Love. It. Currently my favorite card game by a mile." - Mr_Bickman
"One of my favorite Wallace games. Reasonably quick and streamlined for Wallace. Plays amazingly different with different amounts of players. With two-players its a race to the finish, with four its a brutally tight balancing act." - Evan Pulgino
"Great game, one of his best I think. It is actually not that complex but has all the Wallace touches -- very tight economy, loans, accumulation of negative points, many ways to advance your position and score. Yet, with experienced players, this approaches 75 minutes play time. Terrific!" - Mike Haverty (SiddGames)




Recommendation

So is London a game that might be right for you? Well we certainly love it! Its simple rules make it quick to teach and it’s possible for new players to be up and running quickly. Yet there is a real level of skill involved in playing the game well. It plays clean and smooth and it is eminently satisfying even after many plays. Ultimately, if you interested in a game that is card driven, elegant, offers indirect, yet subtle and important player interaction, as well as genuinely tense decision making – well then yes indeed, London might just be what you’re looking for! Thanks to Mr. Wallace for providing yet another stunningly beautiful game, truly a eurogamer's dream come true!



Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between EndersGame and jtemple.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Andy Andersen
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a card game
Yet another fantastic visual review. Thank you. My copy arrives tomorrow and I can't wait to get it to the table this weekend.
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a card game
Great game, awesome review as usual

I guess you meant "learning the iconography shouldn't prove difficult even for newer gamers" - at least that's my experience gathered from explaining it to several groups.
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Doug Bias
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a card game
Great review for such a beautiful game. My wife and I have played a couple times, and I love it. We've been playing with the Ben-Luca variant and the game hasn't taken that long for us to play. I own San Juan and have played Race for the Galaxy. San Juan just never seemed to do it for me; it always leaves me saying, "That's it?" And RftG will never make it onto my shelf due to the iconography-it's just too much. London hit the right spot for me.It's a very elegant game with tough choices. Great game!
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Ender Wiggins
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yzemaze wrote:
I guess you meant "learning the iconography shouldn't prove difficult even for newer gamers" - at least that's my experience gathered from explaining it to several groups.

Thanks for pointing that out - edit made.

Yes, the learning curve for the rules is pleasantly straight forward, despite the tough choices demanded by the gameplay. In many respects it's a model of what we gamers call `elegance'. New gamers need not shy away from it fearing complexity, while experienced gamers need not shy away from it fearing lack of depth. It really does have the potential to please a wide variety of gamers, and is remarkably accessible.
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EndersGame wrote:
Yes, the learning curve for the rules is pleasantly straight forward, despite the tough choices demanded by the gameplay. In many respects it's a model of what we gamers call `elegance'. New gamers need not shy away from it fearing complexity, while experienced gamers need not shy away from it fearing lack of depth. It really does have the potential to please a wide variety of gamers, and is remarkably accessible.

I couldn't agree more. The paragraphs concerning elegance and interaction are very well written and do express exactly what I feel about London after a mere 7 plays (5*4, 3 and 2 once, but we'll try the recently discovered and promising looking Ben-Luca-variant).
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Judit Szepessy
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I love London England, London Ontario, and London, the boardgame. And I love this brilliant review too. Great job for an awesome game. thumbsup
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Sean
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Great review as always Ender
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Ken Dean
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Another fantastic review. I only wish I had as much time as you seem to have so I could play all the games you have reviewed. I'll certainly buy London. Then I'll wait to get it to the table.
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Quote:
These plastic coins are perhaps not the ideal choice from a components perspective, being somewhat small and slippery, but they're functional enough for game purposes.


"perhaps not the ideal choice"

Ha!

These tokens are, in no uncertain terms, awful. Yes they are functional, but I have long since ditched them and use poker chips instead. I have always said that I will play a game with cruddy components if the game itself is good, and with a game as fantastic as this, I can forgive it, but honestly, the rest of the game looks absolutely amazing. Give us cardboard money, or even paper money, over the tiddly winks.

Great review as always my friend. I keep thinking of doing a review for this one, but then people like you and Jeremy have already done such a great job, I don't think there is anything more I can add.
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UndeadViking wrote:
Quote:
These plastic coins are perhaps not the ideal choice from a components perspective, being somewhat small and slippery, but they're functional enough for game purposes.


"perhaps not the ideal choice"

Ha!

These tokens are, in no uncertain terms, awful. Yes they are functional, but I have long since ditched them and use poker chips instead. I have always said that I will play a game with cruddy components if the game itself is good, and with a game as fantastic as this, I can forgive it, but honestly, the rest of the game looks absolutely amazing. Give us cardboard money, or even paper money, over the tiddly winks.

Great review as always my friend. I keep thinking of doing a review for this one, but then people like you and Jeremy have already done such a great job, I don't think there is anything more I can add.


Seconded! I despise this type of game money. Please, anything but this.
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Yup, hate Treefrog money. I guess they ordered a billion of them or something, so they have enough to use for every new game release for years.

Just print up cardboard money, it's probably cheaper, and looks and plays much much better.
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Doug Bias
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Ender, I'd love to see you do a review for Automobile. That's another Wallace game I recently picked up, but I haven't had the chance to play it yet. It seems very well done.
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If I didn't already own the game I would have bought it based on this review. Well ok, it is a Wallace game so it was on auto buy but seriously great review! Please, never go video!
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Your review makes me want to run and buy this game right now!
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A stunningly beautiful review, Ender. Bravo!
Thanks, Ender, for another awesome review. I've been waiting to read this (and you didn't disappoint!) ever since a certain fellow geek alerted us to what was coming. Not naming any names, but...N/A Hahah. jk, Lee Thanks for the heads up, even though I nearly died from the suspense.

UndeadViking wrote:
I keep thinking of doing a review for this one, but then people like you and Jeremy have already done such a great job, I don't think there is anything more I can add.
If you decided to go ahead with it, I for one would be turning up my computer speakers to tune in! Maybe just a mini-AVRAW to review your thoughts and anectodes around London? Just a cute little baby AVRAW? please?
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Thanks for the great review!
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how can you not give this a thumb up? impossible i say...
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Wow, great review.

I've had this on and off my wishlist a few times.

How long did your games seem to last on average?

Did you have any pre-teens playing with you? Did it interest them?

I have put this back on my " buy list". We like games with cards and building stuff.

Thanks.
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Leisurely Pursuits wrote:
Wow, great review.

I've had this on and off my wishlist a few times.

How long did your games seem to last on average?


I've found games tend to take an hour or longer to play, which didn't compare well for me against Glory to Rome or Race for the Galaxy when it came to choosing a 'tableau-builder' to hit the table.
 
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Judit Szepessy
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Quote:
Did you have any pre-teens playing with you? Did it interest them?

My younger son is 11 yrs old and I played London with him as a two player game more than once, and he played with us in three and four player games. First, he did not like having to discard cards at least once (build your city), and neither did he welcome the idea of poverty points, but he soon became engaged in the game and has always done very well. I just played a game with him this afternoon, and he built a big city, bought lots of boroughs and managed his poverty cubes very well.

For us a two and three player game lasts about one and a half hour, if it is a learning game, the game takes longer. We once had a four player game where one player had played it once earlier, the other one had never played it, and the game took about two and a half hours, but we enjoyed every minute of it.
Believe me, it is worth it!
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Nice review, but after the discussion on BGG forums, I'm surprised not to see any comments about the alleged "broken" strategy: to borrow up and buy burroughs the first several turns (taking multiple loans), cycle cards, and then prepare and run a city that can be re-activated every turn (cards that don't flip, etc) for the rest of the game.

I'm still undecided whether this is an obviously optimal strategy, but there is enough sentiment that it is, that I'd expect a counter-opinion if you disagree.
 
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cornjob wrote:
Nice review, but after the discussion on BGG forums, I'm surprised not to see any comments about the alleged "broken" strategy: to borrow up and buy burroughs the first several turns (taking multiple loans), cycle cards, and then prepare and run a city that can be re-activated every turn (cards that don't flip, etc) for the rest of the game.

Because it only works if you are the only one doing it.
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I bought Age of Industry on the strength of your glowing review of it (and have not been disappointed). Since I have don't feel I have exhausted the depths of that game yet (and its expansion boards on the way in the mail), I am not currently in the market for another Wallace.

Nevertheless, I would like to know how you feel London compares to AoI (and Steam -- the other Wallace game I own)?
 
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cornjob wrote:
Nice review, but after the discussion on BGG forums, I'm surprised not to see any comments about the alleged "broken" strategy: to borrow up and buy burroughs the first several turns (taking multiple loans), cycle cards, and then prepare and run a city that can be re-activated every turn (cards that don't flip, etc) for the rest of the game.

I'm still undecided whether this is an obviously optimal strategy, but there is enough sentiment that it is, that I'd expect a counter-opinion if you disagree.


It is is not a "broken" strategy, buying neighborhoods is what you are supposed to do in London. It would be like playing Puerto Rico and having players pass their action because it is not their turn.

I think when people play London the first few times they think the cards are the "main object or goal of scoring", mostly I suspect because A) they think this is a deck building game similar to dominion with a fancy center board. or B) because in some Wallace games loans are a bad idea if one is not careful. However, in this game, loans are essential for starting capital (kind of like other start up companies) and the cost of loans is no big deal as long as you generate and save enough money for the end game score. The city areas are part of the necessary synergy and where the real points can be generated.
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