Dale Yu: Review of Gingkopolis

We’re continuing on with our series of followup pieces to the Essen Previews for 2012.  .

Ginkgopolis
Designer: Xavier Georges
Publisher: Pearl Games / Z-Man
Players: 1-5
Ages: 13+
Time: 45 minutes

Theme: City building in the future
Main Mechanics: Card Drafting, resource management

Times played: 4 with review copy provided by Pearl Games

Gameplay:

A city is laid out in 3×3 grid, using 3 colors of buildings numbered 1-3.  There are also urbanization locations around the outside of the city in the 12 possible exterior locations in clockwise alphabetical order.

The initial setup diagram from the rules. The square tiles in the center are the buildings. The round A-L markers around the outside are Urbanization sites. Apologies for the low-res picture as I have lifted them (with permission) from the ruleset

Players get 3 Character cards (from a deck of 27). Each player is dealt 4, and chooses one to keep and hands the rest to their neighbor. This is done twice more so that all players have 3 Characters to start the game. Each of these Character cards has a bonus that is triggered when certain actions are taken during the game.  In the basic game, players are simply given a predetermined set of 3 cards.

There is a card that matches each tile and ubanization location, and a deck is created from the matching cards from pieces in setup.  [There are 3 colors of tiles, numbered 1-20 – so 51 tiles/cards are not in play at the start of the game.] Each player is dealt a hand of 4 cards from this deck.  The bottom portion of each card has an action or bonus on it.  Cards numbered 1-9 provide resources (if red), tiles (if blue) and VPs (if yellow).  Cards numbered 10-20 provide endgame bonus scoring.

Examples of 3 cards from the game

The tiles represent buildings in the city of Ginkgopolis, and through the course of the game, you will build buildings taller and taller by playing tiles onto the 3×3 grid and at times expanding that grid. Each building has an ability/bonus associated with it – there are 3 separate currencies in the game, each associated with a color: Resources (red), Buildings (blue), Success points (yellow).  The winner is the player with the most Success points.

On your turn, there are 3 phases – 1) choose a card, 2) resolve cards, 3) check endgame and setup next round.

Choose a card (and possibly a tile)

All players secretly and simultaneously choose one of their 4 cards and places it in front of their screen.  If desired, a tile can be played with the card.  If you don’t like your options, you can play one of your 2 “New Hand” tokens which allows you to discard your current hand and get a new set of 4 cards.  This does cost you 2VP at endgame however.

Resolve cards

Now, the cards are flipped over and resolved in clockwise order from the start player. There are 3 situations that can occur here: Exploiting, Urbanizing, Constructing.  Exploiting allows you to use a building to generate things. Urbanizing allows you to expand the city laterally. Construction lets you build upwards.

1) Exploiting – play a card by itself – you take resources (if red card), tiles (if blue card) or VPs (if yellow card) – whichever thing matches the color of the card.  The number of things you get is equal to the height of the building.  If you play an Urbanization card, you simply get your choice of 1 resource or tile.   Finally, you now look at the cards in your play area – both Character cards as well as those gained through Construction – and take any Exploit bonuses found on those cards.

2) Urbanizing – when you play an Urbanization card with a tile – you place the tile you played on the space on the table where the matching urbanization marker is.  You move the urbanization marker to the outside of the newly placed tile, making sure you keep the clockwise alphabetical order. You can then exploit (use) the special abilities of the adjacent buildings to the one you just built – depending on the location of your newly built tile, you may get to exploit multiple tiles.  Place a single resource from your supply on the tile as this is a one-story building.  Mark this new tile with a grey New Construction marker. Finally, you now look at the cards in your play area – both Character cards as well as those gained through Construction – and take any Urbanization bonuses found on those cards.

Card bottoms from the cards numbered 1-9. Top row is exploiting action, middle is urbanization, bottom is construction. Note how all the red cards provide resources, yellow provide VP and blue provide tiles.

3) Constructing – when you play a Building card with a tile – you place a new tile on top of the tile depicted on the card you played. Return any resources found on the old tile (if it is an opponent, they score 1VP per resource returned), and place your new tile on top of old one.  You will need to pay extra resources if the color of the new building is different than the old AND/OR if the number of the new tile is lower than the old.  Then, place a number of resources from your supply equal to the height of the building you built.  Mark this tile with a grey New Construction marker.  You keep the card that you played in your play area, and will get its benefits for the rest of the game.  Finally, you now look at the cards in your play area – both Character cards as well as those gained through Construction – and take any Construction bonuses found on those cards.

Illustration of a game in progress

End of Round (and game)

The game ends at the end of a round when either end-game condition is met:

  • at least one player has placed all of their resources to the board (these are placed each time you construct or urbanize)
  • the tile supply is exhausted for a second time – when the tile supply is exhausted for the first time, the game pauses and all players secretly and simultaneously select tiles from their personal supply to put back into the main supply.  When all have chosen, the tiles are revealed, and each player gets 1VP per tile placed back in supply.  All returned tiles make up the new supply – and when this is new supply is gone, the game would end.

If either of these have happened, calculate end game scoring.

If the game isn’t over, all players hand their deck of unused cards to their right-hand neighbor.  If the deck is empty, a new deck is made from the discards on the table as well as new cards matching all of the buildings with grey New Construction markers on them. The grey markers are removed from the board as the new cards are added in.  All players draw until they have 4 cards in hand..

Game end scoring

  • Points earned thru gameplay
  • Bonus points on cards (those numbered 10-20)
  • 2 points for each unused New Hand token
  • scoring districts (at least 2 adjacent tiles of the same color) – the player with the most resources in a district scores VPs equal to the total of all resources there, second place gets VPs equal the THEIR OWN resources there.

My Thoughts on the Game

Thus far, I like the game, but it still has a chance to move into the “love it” column as I get a few more plays in.  What I like about it is the depth of play and strategy that you get in a quick playing, easy to teach game.  Games will definitely finish in around an hour in my group.

For me, the challenge is to try to get the bonus actions that I want in my play area while balancing things out with the end game bonus tiles and region scoring.  You’ll need to have a decent engine setup with the bonus actions to make sure that you keep getting the resources/tiles/markers that you need – but in my experience, the game is won or lost in the region scoring.

I like the simplicity of the rules.  The gameflow is simple, and there aren’t any exceptions to rules.  The graphic design of the cards is clean, and the iconography is easy to follow from the cards.  There are few of the bonus cards which I needed to look at the rules to grok, but now that I know them – after 3 games – I do not need the rules for any of the cards at this point.

The secret and simultaneous selection isn’t quite so secret because players should be able to infer what you are doing based on whether or not you’re playing a tile with your card! In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter that much as I’ve never been in a game where a player was really trying to deduce someone else’s move before planning their own move.

Overall, I think there is a lot of game here in the 45 minutes it takes to play.  Sure, there is some luck involved with drawing the right tile, but the game gives you plenty of diffrent ways to mitigate the luck.  Right now, I like it, I could see this raising up to the I Love It! stage with more plays.
Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers:

Patrick Brennan: A fairly abstract tile laying affair which at least has the benefit of being a decently interesting abstract tile laying affair, as abstract tile laying affairs go. Get a hand of 4 cards, choose 1 each turn to play out. They can be used to generate dudes or get tiles (necessary because you can also …), play a card/tile combo to expand the city horizontally (placing a dude on it, get some one-off benefits) or play a tile on top of another tile that matches a card in your hand and get the permanent ongoing benefit related to the covered up tile. It also means whoever was covered off gets kicked off the map – and as area majority scores big at the end of the game (areas being adjacent tiles in the same colour), there can be some big king-making swings towards the end. Which I’m not so enamoured with and will hinder much long term replay. The other downer is that you can only cover up the tile you want if you draw the appropriate card – BIG luck factor as the end-game approaches. Otherwise, the decision process each turn (what’s the best play with the 4 cards you have), where each card can be played a few ways, is engaging. But it doesn’t get away from the fact that this is, essentially, an abstract tile laying affair and as such doesn’t have a lot of legs in my world. I liked it, but not enough to seek it out over the many games I like more.

Larry Levy (1 three-player game):  See my thoughts about this game in my First Impressions #4 article from last week.  To summarize:

  • The game was kind of fun, but it felt very chaotic to me;
  • Switching my focus from area majority board play to engine-building card play may alter that perception quite a bit;
  • I’m still concerned about the likelihood of accidental kingmaking;
  • This very well may play best with 2 players, which, unfortunately, is a number I rarely play with.

Tom Rosen:  I’ve played Ginkgopolis twice and would say that, aside from the name, I love it.  Assuming actions speak louder than words, I should note that it’s one of the few Essen games that I’ve actually purchased.  After playing roughly 35 games of the new crop, I’ve ordered three – Keyflower, Ginkgopolis, and Myrmes – and I’d probably rank them in that order.  Ginkgopolis was surprising because, based on the OG rules preview, I did not expect to like it at all.  Luckily it got a lot of good buzz at Essen, so I gave it a shot and found that there was more depth to the game than the impression I’d formed from the rules preview.  It is a relatively simple game, but just about every turn you’re confronted with an interesting tactical decision.  You could go in with an overall strategy that tended toward area majority points, bonus card points, or in-game points, but each turn you’re faced with a new hand of four cards and probably ought to go with the one that is best at that moment (with perhaps some thought to not passing your neighbor a particularly good card for them, depending on the player count).  I think some people will be turned off by the chaos of overbuilding and constant hand passing, but given the speed of the game, I enjoyed the challenge of constantly re-evaluating the game state and my best course of action at any given time.  I’m hoping to play it many more time when my pre-order finally arrives.

Ben McJunkin:  Ginkgopolis is easily my favorite of the shorter, lighter games released at this year’s Spiel fair in Essen (with Keyflower a not-too-distant second).  I liked it enough to pick up a French-language copy, rather than bother waiting for the domestic release, and have already played it at least once each week since its arrival.  Impressively, the game gets better for me with each play.  Although many players will initially view the game as a chaotic area majority game full of tactical decisions but devoid of real strategy (I certainly did after my first play), with experience players should recognize that the game is considerably deeper than it first appears.

I often go out of my to stress to new players that they should not primarily think of Ginkgopolis as an area majority game, because I believe the use of that lens tends to blind players to the game’s strategic options.  When players begin their turn thinking, “How can I impact a particular majority in my favor?” their primary focus is on the color of the tile they are placing and the location that they are placing it.   Any other positive stuff that flows from their decision is typically viewed as a bonus — a sort of tactical decision tiebreaker.  However, the game contains many other important considerations that, in my opinion, should take precedence over affecting majorities:

1. “What card do I want to keep?”  Rather than just thinking about where they want the tile to go, players should always think about the ramifications of adding cards to their tableau, as this is a large source of points.

2. “What card(s) do I not want to pass to my opponent?”  Sure, playing tile x at spot y may temporarily swing a large majority in your favor, but passing a card that is worth a large number of points to your opponent for that temporary majority advantage is borderline insane. Card points can never be lost; majorities are fragile.

3. “What tile do I want to play?”  This is the question that I think separates beginners from experienced players.  When players choose which tile is added to the board, what they are actually determining is which cards will enter the game, including which scoring cards will be available in later rounds.  The best players structure their play from the outset to fill the deck with cards that benefit themselves far more than their opponents. You control the scoring opportunities in the game; utilize that control!

4. “How can I minimize the value of majorities?”  This one always gets me: a common sight in beginner games is to watch three new players fight over a majority, growing it to astronomical size before one player wins it (usually on a last round play) and earns beaucoup points in a rather unpredictable fashion. Ginkgopolis does not have to be some swingy, winner-take-all game. Playing tiles that break up larger regions into several smaller ones with multiple different winners balances out the area scoring and allows skilled players to rest on the advantages gained by your clever card play.

In short, I love the game.  With each play, I find it far deeper and more engaging than it initially seemed, and it has quickly outpaced all other contenders for that super-filler space in my recent weekend gaming days.  It is chock full of challenging, but meaningful decisions, and and skilled play can more-than-compensate for the inherent randomness and chaos of the card drafting and tile play.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it! Ben McJunkin, Tom Rosen
I like it. Dale Yu, Joe Huber, Jennifer Geske, Lorna, Luke Hedgren, Patrick Brennan, Larry Levy
Neutral.
Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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9 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Gingkopolis

  1. gamekahuna says:

    Forgot to comment on this one – I love it. It is a bit twisty and fiddly for the first go, as it has some counter intuitive rules, but it comes together in grand style with not too much to overwhelm, but plenty of clever moves that others might not see. Very high ‘aha’ moments to playtime ratio, which is awesome in my book.

  2. Dan Blum says:

    I forgot to comment on this, too.

    I enjoyed the one game I played, but we had an important rule wrong (and when I say “we” I mean the person who taught the game): we didn’t pass the cards after each round. I hate to be that person who plays the game incorrectly and then thinks their way is better, but how do you manage to plan anything with the card-passing?

    Also, there is an error in the review: if you play a lower-numbered tile on a higher-numbered tile, you pay the difference in points, not resources.

    • gamekahuna says:

      Dan, You raise a good point. We discussed ‘keep 1 card & pass 2’ as the optimal balance. Some also wanted to draw 2 tiles and keep 1 for each tile draw.

      • Dan Blum says:

        I’d definitely want to play with the correct rules before fiddling with them, but I’ll keep that in mind.

        I thought the tile draws were fine, as the cards generally gave several ways to use each tile.

        • gamekahuna says:

          I agree on the tiles, but I like the game enough to give those who want more control a bit more control in order to get it to the table. Some definitely felt that passing your whole hand made it too tactical/reactive.

  3. bmaxwell78 says:

    I like the game but will never love it. The game has no arc for me – it goes in a straight line, if that makes sense. I get little tension from the experience. It’s perfectly pleasant, but it doesn’t fire me up. I realize none of this tells anyone else anything about the game, but it’s one I have trouble summing up. I don’t dislike it but it doesn’t excite me.

    It’s the strawberry yogurt of the boardgame world.

    • gamekahuna says:

      I often complain about that in games, but there is tension in Ginkgopolis as the end approaches. Do you fortify your majority in one location or break up a large majority into two smaller ones by nuking (changing the color of) a pivotal tile? Building on the exterior is not great for points early on, but later in the game, you can score 6 points or more if the stars align. The issue for me is more the lack of control than the lack of arc.

    • Ben (chally) says:

      Strawberry yogurt is the best yogurt. #themoreyouknow

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