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Urban Sprawl» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Urban Sprawl - Is not Sim City, but has zones rss

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Julian
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Combat Commander is one of my favorite games, and Figthing Formations is treating to beat it in my preferences. Dominant Species, although more Eurogamer that thematic for my tastes, is getting better after each game played. When the designer of these games publish some kind of Sim City board game, with residential, commercial and industrial zones, with its rich and poor neighborhoods, it caught my attention.



After four games played, I like Urban Sprawl despite some important flaws i perceive, and my opinion about the game improves after each session. So I will share my opinions here, hoping they help you get an idea of how the game plays. I will no not add in my opinion before every phrase, but of course the next paragraphs are just that, mi personal perception ;)

English is not my first languaje, so excuse my bad grammar and phrasing.

Decisions and Elections

After reading the rules (clear and precise, easy to look up the doubts that arise), and take out of the box the buildings and the huge board - with its grid of streets and spaces to place the cards, you get the idea: get money and permits for buildings of various types (residential, commercial, ...). The basic thing is to achieve ownership over the majority of buildings in each of the rows and columns of blocks from the city, which will report a steady flow of money to keep developing, and some prestige points (a.k.a. victory points) as an important bonus. Some streets become more important than others, and some neighborhoods become richer or poorer, and we all know that good things happen in good neighborhoods and bad things in bad neighborhoods.

But of course, game is not just about building in the best place... that have costs, and can sometimes be more efficiente to build up more cheaper properties at modest sites. Especially because every building, represented by a card, has different effects, some of them quite important, and there are various constraints to limit what you could do: you must gather permissions for the type of zone to build, money to do so, and find an area not only useful, but in which the restrictions allow you to build the kind of zone your building is (you can not plant a landfill in a residential neighborhood ... at least not always). You have to choose on wich areas of the game you want to compete for, and on wich ones you will give up.


Some of the diferent buildings. Little visual
diference between a church and a mobile home.


Maybe not clear at first, but the game offers different strategies: Should i try to place strategic buildings in expensive areas? Do not build anything yet, but just hoard those juicy licenses? Do I prefer to place many buildings to get majorities in the districts, and thus have more money later to go up? Or do you just prefer to focus on the effects of buildings wich benefit me more instead of fight over good locations? The strategy you follow will be reflected as the game evolve. Urban Sprawl allows players to be flexible and take opportunities as they arise, but I think the game awards focus on a particular objective, albeit short-term and impliying you sacrifices your progress in other areas.

And meanwhile, you should also control what rivals are doing. The effects of some buildings can damage you a lot, or really help your direct competitor, so you must pay attention to the cards available, since the ones you don´t use will be left for them. Ignoring what you left for your rivals can be disastrous.

Much theme, but does not get delivered - graphic design

The effects of each zone type are quite thematic: commercial generate good revenue, residentials increase the richness of the neighborhoods in wich they are build at the expense of future economic damages, and civics help for the mayor elections, and so on. And the effects of each particular building really fit: the landfill will damage adyacent buildings, the big supermarkets cost money to residential buildings. But during the game, that's not what i feel. I can only see the size, color (type) and effect of the building, just looking for majorities and positions on the board, and economic profits and prestige, in a rather abstract way. I am not putting a hospital, or a polluting factory.

I think this is mainly due to the graphical design on the cards. Very functional, but they lack an illustration. The feeling of picking up a card with the drawing of a smelly landfill, would be really different than to pick up a generic card and simply read his effect without even dwelling on the title. "Celebrity Home", "Church" and "Mobile Home", all three are just a 1-lot sized purple building, without any visual difference, and the lack of images hampers the game to deliver the great theme it contains.


The slums took the brunt of it

This same defect is shared by the event cards. "Earthquake" is visually identical to "Movie Shot," as are "The Heights" and "Slums". Taking an event and seeing a newspaper headline with a photo reporting an earthquake on the city, for example, would have a very different impact than just flipping a card and read its plain text on a white background and apply the effect, as actualy happens.

The events brings memories of "Chance" and "Community" Monopoli cards, slightly reinforced by the appearance of the board, a central square surrounded by a score track that resembles the structure of the Monopoly board. Although they have nothing in common, Urban Sprawl someway reminds Monopoli. Oddly and unfortunate.

The pace of the game, and the chaos

The events do not affect too much the course of the game anyway, but accumulate with other randomly triggered effects: After you finish your turn, you must replace the cards used, and in doing so is likely for two or three events to occur, plus a number of prestige or money payments, and a couple of politic elections, leaving some feeling of lack of control.

I don´t thing this bring too much chaos to the game, at least not as much as in many games with role selection or worker placement wich are usually perceived as little chaotic. The events are not too drastic, and some offset others, elections occur in a predictable order, and payments are also more or less distributed. But when several of these things happen one after another, you spend a good time solving various random events (elections, payments, and events), sometimes asociated with a little cumbersome calculations, wich breaks the the rhythm of the game. I would like that some of the triggers were integrated to the gameplay in a more natural and satisfying way.


Image by diddle74

Another hit on the pace are building cards. During your turn, there are 5 or 6 buildings available to build, each with a different effect - which can be quite powerful. It is important to read each building card before taking one, but the board is huge, and is not comfortable to do so from the other side of the table. And you can not pass the cards to the player in turn for him to read, as relative position of each building matters, being the some positions on the board easier to build. Maybe this problem is aggravated by English not being our native language.

No problem with Planning Cards wich don´t contain text, and are very clear from across the board. These rhythm problems are especially noticeable with 4 players. With 3 players are reduced, and with 2 practically disappear, as the game becomes something different, more tactical and less unpredictable (as usually happens when going down to 2 players).

Summary

In the end, I focused more on the drawbacks I find in the game, possibly because I expected much from him. But the game seems very funny and entertaining, and I am hooked during the two or three hours of a game. There is an option to reduce the duration in the rules themselves, which i have to try - I think a little less playtime will be good for this game. The mechanics fit, there are different strategies you can focus to get the win, and you can see the moves of others and try to block themm. In this respect it seems more manageable than many of the Eurogames "classics", for me at least.

But graphic design and certain unpolished mechanichs hinder the experience. The game fails to convey the great theme that contains, and sometimes events and effects bring some calculations which break the rhythm of the game when you're fully engagend. Urban Sprawl is cerebral and quite abstrat, just a bit cold for my tastes. Despide i like it more than other eurogames, and my likeness improve after each play, I end with the feeling that it´s ok, but not as good as it could (should) be.
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Oliver Paul
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Yeah I liked the game as well, but it became almost an abstract for me, just because when you're playing you're not really looking at the names of the buildings, just what color and how big.
 
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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I would agree that the graphic/thematic implementation is poor. Hopefully GMT will learn from this and do better in their future games which aren't war games.
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Oliver Paul
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I think it looks good, just doesn't really bring out any sort of theme.
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Kirk Thomas
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Nice review! I think you've captured some of the weaknesses in the game even-handedly, such that your enjoyment of the game and your overall positive opinion still shines thru.

I really only have one negative point about the game - the end-turn administration. It feels like there is a lot to do from the time one person finishes taking their APs and the next person actually starting to act on theirs. You captured it perfectly - 2-3 events to resolve, an election or two, several payouts, card flipping, and then reorientation to the "new" card layout.

My opinion is that none of this would seem as cumbersome if there was an improved way to know the key aspects of the state of the board - highest value, lowest value, most of a type, etc. Each thing you have to deal with is pretty simple except that you often have to refer to the board and "figure out" who it applies to, even if only to ensure your recollection is correct.

We've been playing a game via Vassal and these issues REALLY come to the forefront. Dragging 3 $1 bills back and forth between hands and the bank is not particularly exciting. But, as a result, we have come up with a few mechanisms which make the reference piece much easier. First, instead of worrying about taking the vocation tiles into our hands, we put a control marker on the ones we each control. This makes it easy to glance at one spot, determine who has what, how many are left, who has the most, etc. Much easier than calling up each others' hands in Vassal, and I'm guessing much more concise than just looking at each others' hands in person.

We also laid the election cards out in election order and, again, instead of pulling them onto our boards, we put our control marker on any tile we control. This, too, has the advantage of a quick glance to undertand the current state of a very important part of the game.

I think the creation of a "game state" side board would greatly help this one negative - I'm not very aesthetic, but maybe I'll give it a go, as I think it would really help with the rhythm and flow of the game

Like you, other than a small number of areas that could be improved, I really love the game.
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Brad Miller
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Don't drag the bills around!

Use a second marker on the scoring track. Especially when using the Vassal mod. OMG, will save you so much time.
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Don Barree
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Windopaene wrote:
Don't drag the bills around!

Use a second marker on the scoring track. Especially when using the Vassal mod. OMG, will save you so much time.


Great idea! Thanks.
 
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Samuel Hinz
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Great review, I agree with everything.

I think the assal module suffers greatly for being an exact replica Of the boardgame and not using some of the optimisations mentioned above. Even the lack of highest and lowest counters in each colour to stop having to count or remember each round. Which if playing pbem is annoying.
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