City Tycoon is designed by Hubert Bartos and Łukasz S. Kowal. It is published by REBEL.pl and plays from 75 minutes upwards.
City Tycoon is a tile-based city growth game where players aim to score the ubiquitous victory points
James: City Tycoon is one of these recent bunch of games that try to model town-planning in the mold of the Sim-City video game. A year ago I had zero such board-games, now I've got four. Is this a theme that interests you Mike?
Mike: I do like the idea of the city building theme for the most part. I never played a video game on the topic like many have, but see them as similar to Civ-building games that I play quite a lot.
James: Yeah, they are quite similar. City Tycoon comes with English and Polish rulebooks. The rulebook does a nice job of laying out the rules and works as good teaching guide. It has some nice diagrams, and is pretty clear.
Mike: I admit to not having really read the rulebook: you took care of that this time. The adjacent thing is a bit annoying though.
James: True. For me these days the sign of a good rulebook is that silly little issues are what irk me most, and the lack of definition on adjacent is one of those things. In one rule it mentions orthogonally adjacent, but in all other rules it just says adjacent. It's a minor unclarity, but makes a difference. I've always played it that adjacent is orthogonally adjacent. Also, the game is crying out for a player aid. The iconography while clear can be very over-whelming especially when so much is crammed onto a tile.
Mike: Hear, hear. And I don’t mean there needs to be one for every player, but a single sheet would be very helpful, especially in getting going the first time. What you didn’t talk about were the components: the artwork I thought at first to be rather distracting and the iconography confused me a lot. But a couple turns in and it all made sense and actually was quite clear. That is, except the parks which give benefits to the adjacent tiles: this rule was easy for me to forget and the tile icons did not help me remember very well.
The game is split into 4 eras with each one playing out identically. A unique set of tiles are used for each era.
James: Give or take a couple of maintenance phases the game plays out over 3 phases. The players draft 6 tiles, they then lay those tiles, and finally they activate tiles to gain money and points.
Mike: I am not a big fan of other drafting games I have played, like 7 Wonders, but this worked pretty well.
James: As with a lot of other drafting games the tiles gradually get more and more expensive and more and more powerful with the tiles in the fourth and last round being the most expensive and delivering big on the points.
Mike: There was some angst in choosing your tiles, but not so that it slowed the game much. After a few games a you get a good idea of the strategies and combinations on offer it speeds up a bit more.
The game economy is tight and so a balance is needed between earning for the future and grabbing what you can.
James: Early round scoring is always useful, points are points right, but you really need to build an engine to get yourself into a position to score big in the last round.
Mike: In this way you can really do yourself in early. If you don’t have a good route built up to get access to the energy and water, you will be screwed. This does tend to make the map a bit less interesting, I think: if you don’t keep all of your own buildings together and close to the sources, I don’t see how you can do very well, given the costs of acquiring resources from other players. Yes, you can build a building or two close to an opponent as basically an attack to siphon off their materials, but this is not always very productive to yourself in the wide view.
James: The scarcity of resources and tiles always throws up some good tactical decisions. It's a nice balance between doing what's gains you points and money versus restricting other players. I hate decisions like that, I can never resist the shiny shiny.
Mike: There is a nice distribution of tiles, ranging from small and functional (and cheap!) and the big hitting, expensive ones. It is always tempting to go for the latter (and without them in the late game, not sure you can win) but it is often easy to over-invest in them and get stuck.
James: The tactical play really comes out in the tile activation phase as you try to take resources that will harm other players the most. It's a continual game of chicken.
Mike: But, as I mentioned, the tendency to not build away from your own area takes away some of the fun of this part.
City Tycoon is advertised as running at 75 minutes.
James: The 75 minute play time on the box is a joke though. It maybe true for the 2 player game, but no way for more players. I've had games of this hit 3 hours. The thing is it's not a complex game, but if a player is even remotely AP prone it can bring out the worst in them.
Mike: I am not overly AP-prone, but there is a lot of staring at the map and calculating costs and distances, and future gains and translation of goods to scores or money, for example, so it can play rather slowly even if you try to keep pacing up.
James: The key to playing this game fast is to ensure there is no downtime. When it's not your turn continue to plan and evaluate. The game state will change between your turns but not in a huge way, or even in an unpredictable way.
Mike: 75 minutes is a pretty ambitious time. To reach this, I think you cannot be considering your moves much, and in so doing I think are not really playing the game to a level that makes it interesting. It is not a light fluffy.
Tile drafting, tile laying, deliveries, and a tight economy. How complex is it?
James: When I describe this to new players I always say it is like 7 Wonders, but with a real game attached. They laugh and say but 7 Wonders is a real game. Then we play and I am proved right. All of a sudden it becomes apparent that just drafting cards is not a game. Tactically playing what you've drafted and then play in the world you've created is a real game. Don't get me wrong I like 7 Wonders, it does what it does in 30 minutes, City Tycoon is a 2 hour+ game.
Mike: Also as I alluded to, I don’t consider this a light game. There are a lot of decisions and tactics involved.
James: What I still can't work out yet if it is better to build your own little empire in a corner, or whether to really mess with other players and spread yourself out. I always want to try the spread out approach but it is always too tempting to build in isolation.
Mike: I cannot see how you could do well just trying to parasite off others by building from here to there. It is way to difficult to get the right resources to the big scoring areas later unless you set it up yourself.
James: I've said before this game gives you a world to play in, and that is where the fun of this game comes from. It's rules light and very open-ended. It is maybe more abstract than theme heavy, but it comes closest so far to that sandbox world of Sim City.
The Final Word On...
Mike: To be honest, I didn’t get near the feel of city building as in the game Urban Sprawl, for example. There were none of the same restrictions are where you were allowed to build, so we had the city spring up willy-nilly. It was a bit more like a game of Roads and Boats, moving resources via chains to production centers to get other stuff, but at a very basic level. This is not to say I did not enjoy the game: I did enjoy it quite a lot, to the point I am considering trading for a copy myself. It is sturdy and, while a bit garish, well-designed for play with the opportunity to make some semi-nasty moves to derail your opponent. Resources often very tight, which always makes for more fun. I do think players can be semi-eliminated earlier, especially if the engine is slow to develop. It is too long for a filler, but almost feels too streamlined to be the main event, but still would play whenever asked.
James: It's definitely something that's getting quite a few plays. I've introduced to a few people and they all like it, some like it a lot. There's a lot to explore and I still feel like I'm missing a trick or two.
Images courtesy of BGG users.