Town Center

I recently received my copy of Town Center. I have enjoyed and admired the maps that Alban Viard has done for Age of Steam and was quite curious to see what he had designed as a stand alone game.

Town Center is currently only available in a small home-made print run from Alban. It’d be cool to see a nice production but the current one is perfectly functional and it’s quite small in size as well.

Town center is playable by 1-4 players. The game involves drafting buildings and placing them in your city to maximize points. The rules seemed easy enough intellectually but conceptually it took me a few rounds for them to click.

Each player has their own board or town a 3 x 3 grid with 4 “suburbs” along the edges. You start with a City Hall (purple cube) and $3. The active player draws # of cubes = 2 x the # of players and makes stacks of 2 cubes. The active player then drafts the first cube and the draft proceeds in order Settlers style so the first player gets first and last cube. Only the topmost cube in each stack is available during the draft.

The available buildings are Parking lots/Elevators (black), Power Plants (yellow), Shops (blue), Apartments (green) and Offices (red).
After drafting you construct the buildings just acquired. A single black cube is a parking lot and earns income. Stacked black cubes require power and form elevators. The height of buildings is limited by the height of a powered elevator in your town. Power Plants power orthogonally adjacent buildings. Shops earn income during the game. Apartments are worth points at the end of the game. Offices cost $5 to build and help with development. Here is a Town in progress in a solo game.

Then, depending on the building type and its adjacent buildings development automatically happens. You cannot construct Shops next to Shops or Apartments next to Apartments but they can develop and merge into larger buildings that are worth more.
The slightly confusing part at least to me is considering the third dimension (height) in thinking about adjacency. This is also the fun part of the game in trying to work out the puzzle in maximizing your building acquisitions.

The games ends when all cubes have been drafted. You earn 1 VP per $5. Powered Apartments earn VP for the number of cubes in the apartment and the height of the apartment. You lose 1 VP per cube in the suburbs. The player with the most VP wins.

A finished Town.

Town Center has a fitting theme but the play and production and gives it a somewhat abstract feel. I happen to like abstracts, but this may be off putting to some. It also has a bit of multiplayer solitaire although the drafting is quite interesting. It is puzzle-like in maximizing VP but again I like that part of the game. The original rules needed some fine tuning but the designer has clarified them in the forums on BGG and posted a better rule set. Not a game for everyone but I think some people will really enjoy it. I am certainly looking forward to more plays.

Opinions from the Other Opinionated Gamers

Larry Levy:  I’ve played this once and I’m not certain what I think.  The thought process is certainly interesting, but we all had a little trouble wrapping our heads around it.  I was constantly checking the cheat sheet to review the rules for development.  My main issue with the game was that the luck of how the cubes come out each round was considerably greater than I thought it would be.  The first player each round potentially has a huge amount of power, so the swing between a fortuitous or a bland collection of cubes can be large.  It can also really affect things if a much needed color doesn’t show up at all.  Our game lasted longer than expected, with players having to work out all the permutations during both the drafting and construction phases.  Finally, despite what I thought was a pretty poorly organized town, I wound up winning (much to my surprise), due, I think, to some one-cube apartments at the highest level (I hope we got the scoring rules right for those).  Despite these concerns, this is a fairly intriguing game and there’s just enough theme to mostly mask what is pretty much a pure abstract.  I’d like to give it another shot, but it’s not a high priority at this time.

Lorna: On luck, I think the cube draw does have some luck to it but it’s also interesting to try and cope with it. Being able to purchase a parking lot/elevator or power makes a big difference in mitigating cube draw at the beginning of the game. I think that the red/blue/green draw luck is much less as you can do a lot more with those cubes through development. There is a lot to the game and  I really look forward to another play.

Dale Yu: (13 plays – 8 solo and 5 multiplayer) – This was one of the games that I took on my recent vacation, and it got a fair amount of play each night in the hotel.  Obviously, I very much like the game as I’ve played it >10 times already!  The game has a big sandbox feel to it – for the most part, you are building your own city on your board, and there isn’t any interference from your opponents.  Granted, there is player interaction in the layout and selection of cubes in the first phase of each turn – and after multiple plays, there is definitely room for clever play with the cube selection.  There are times when you can deny someone a certain color based on how you set the cubes up, or even better, times when you can force someone to take a color they don’t particularly want.

It is definitely vital to get the right color cubes at the right time, and sometimes it’s just good to be lucky.  Being able to buy a single black or yellow is a good way to give players some flexibility – though there are times that I’ve spent all my money to get one of these cubes, only to have them come up in the next draw… or to be totally broke and forced to choose a red cube which I then had to discard because I didn’t have the $5 to play it.

The solo game is a fair version of the multiplayer game, but not quite as good in my opinion because the cube distribution is guaranteed in the solo version (you know for certain that you will get 6 green, 4 black+yellow and 3 red+blue) whereas there is some variation in the multiplayer versions.  It makes the solo version a bit more “solvable” since you always know which 21 cubes you play with.  After 8 games, I have toyed with making up my own rules to increase variation – by putting in the number of cubes for a 2 player game, drawing one out at the start of each round and discarding it, then drawing 3 – keeping 2 and discarding the last.  In this way, the cube selection would be more like a 2 player game, and you will have a chance at getting a different cube draw.

The rules are OK, and there were a few times that we missed a couple of important rules: 1) must pay $5 to play a red cube, 2) in the construction phase, you cannot build blue adjacent to blue nor green adjacent to green, and 3) in the expansion phase, you count the number of blue CUBES against the number of different green APARTMENTS.   Screwing up any of these can significantly change the game.  Also, the scoring isn’t totally clear from the rules, though this has since been clarified via email and on the BGG forums.

My only complaint about the game is the components.  But – not the quality – it’s more that the little cubes are difficult to stack together, and it’s common to knock down the towers of cubes on your board when you try to place a cube in the middle.  I am digging through my kids’ LEGO set to see if I can put together a set which interlocks, and if I manage that, I’ll post pics later.  I have spoken with Alban via email, and he is also exploring the possibility of a LEGO version of the game.

Finally, I’d make one recommendation for this game – there are some player aids on the Geek which are a big help.  One is a chart that does the math for you calculating money for the blue buildings and VPs for the greens.  Can’t play the game without it!  Also, there are player aids which are quite nice at summarizing the rules so that players can refer to them.

For us, the game goes pretty fast, with most 4p games coming in around 30 mins.  The solo game is super-fast since the only limit is yourself.  My most recent games took about 10 minutes each.  I’m definitely looking forward to getting more plays in of this in the coming weeks!

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!: Dale
I like it: Lorna
Neutral:
Not for me:

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3 Responses to Town Center

  1. Scott Russell says:

    We tried this for the first time Friday and we missed the rule to replace red cubes on the first draw. As a result, we were short red cubes in the game, so not a lot of apartment development took place. The player that did manage to get two red cubes on his board early (due to being first player at the right time) won handily. I want to try it again (with correct rules) and maybe some solitare plays before I decide what I think.

    Glad to see a review though, it sounds like otherwise we were doing things correctly.

    Any thoughts on letting first player make the stacks, but start picking with the player to his left?

  2. Scott Russell says:

    Skimming BGG for anything else that we had done incorrectly and I turned up a really important rule. City Hall is an office (seems obvious in retrospect). Really looking forward to trying again now.

  3. lornadune says:

    I’m really interested in trying this one again as well, I don’t have too much problem with the draft as it is now but I think I need to give it a few more plays before I’d start going for variants.

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