Dale Yu: Review of Mad City (Mayfair)

 

Mad City

  • Designer: Kane Klenko
  • Publisher: Mayfair Games
  • Players: 1-6
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Ages: 8+
  • Times played: 4 with review copy provided by Mayfair

Mad City is the “manic game of parks and re-creation” where players try to construct the highest scoring city areas they can each turn.  The game provides you 54 different city tiles, and on each turn, you randomly draw 9 of these tiles face down.  A 60-second sand timer is flipped over, and players have this time to try to arrange their 9 tiles as best they can in a 3×3 grid.

You will score points based on the number of building icons in each sector of a particular color (red, yellow, blue) that you build.  It is acceptable to have multiple sectors of a color, but you should note that you will likely score more points for a single region with more icons than two smaller ones with fewer in each.

MadCity

Some of the tiles also have roads printed on them, and each round, the player with the longest road will score a 3 point bonus.  There are also special park and lake features on some of the tiles, but these can only be scored by one person each round.  There is a “Park Ranger” token that is placed in the center of the table each round.  Only the person who grabs this token is able to score lakes and parks.  The catch is that once you grab the Park Ranger token, you are not able to further arrange your tiles.

In the base game, these are all the rules, and you play until someone scores at least 150.

It’s recommended that players play the base game a few times first to grasp the basics of the game, and then they can move onto the Standard game.  The Standard game uses all of the rules of the Base game but then adds on some further complexities:

Players get scoring tiles that they keep in front of them – 9 tiles in total for the different possible region scorings (small, medium and large in each of the three colors).  You also get four special scoring markers: for longest road, most yellow, most red and most blue that you keep in front of you.  The Park Ranger token is still in play as well.

2014-09-07 14.50.57

Each round starts similarly – you take 9 tiles and arrange them when the timer is flipped over.  Scoring is somewhat more convoluted though…  The first change is: you do not automatically score for your city regions.  Those 9 special tiles are used to keep track of your builds. You rotate the tiles around to keep track of the number of times you have scored each region.  For instance, for a middle sized yellow region (with 7-12 icons in it), you will not score points for this until your 4th region of this size. The first three regions of this size will be used to rotate your scoring marker.

The Park Ranger scoring works the same as in the base game, with the exception that you are not allowed to pick up the marker if you have more than 50 points scored already.

The other individual tokens (longest road, most yellow icons in a zone, most red icons in a zone, and most blue icons in a zone) can be taken into your hand during the one minute building time IF you want… They are essentially a gamble – if you pick them up, you are saying that you have the most in that category on the board.  IF you are right, you score +3 points. If you are wrong, you lose two points.

The Standard Game is only played to 100 points, but it ends up being a bit longer than then Base Game because so much of the scoring is delayed due to the turning of the score markers.

My thoughts on the game

The Base game is actually a frenetic, fun, quick experience.  Games take between 15-20 minutes, and while each round is the same, the little 60 second puzzles of arranging the tiles are just right.  It seems like oftentimes the optimal arrangement is clearly evident from the draw, but it just depends on what you draw. You can certainly get hosed by an unlucky draw (where you get only tiles that have a few icons on them), but in a quick game, that doesn’t bother me.  For a starter/filler, the Base Game will fit a nice niche.

The Standard Game is less exciting for me.  There are too many rules laid on the game at this level, and it becomes cumbersome to track all the different facets of the game each round.  The delayed scoring changes tactics a bit – in my experience, it does not pay to have varied scoring zones – as the game only goes to 100, it seems better to try to start scoring points as quickly as possible. Thus the puzzle changes a bit, into trying to get the same type of zone created over and over.

There is a bit more to do in that minute as well as you are now constantly scanning the other player’s cities to see whether you might be able to snatch a quick 3 points for most yellow/red/blue – but any time you spend doing this takes you away from your own city planning!

The delayed scoring rules make the game a bit longer, and in my opinion, it makes the game longer than I want it to be.  Others I have played with, though, really like this added level of complexity – so I may be the odd man out as far as this is concerned.

Graphic design of the game is… sadly typical of Mayfair games of late – less than ideal.  The cover art is… interesting.  It looks like an unfinished sketch and I’m honestly not sure what the raccoon and squirrel have to do with building a city.  While it’s a bit better than Global Mogul, there are some small details that I feel could have been ironed out.  The biggest one for me is the base game player board.  The player mat does have a nice recap of the scoring rules so that everyone has them in front of them.  The scoring track is super small and makes about 1.4 laps around the board – it is a track for 1-100.  The crazy thing is… the base game is played to 150.  The mat tells you to move back to 1 and play until you reach 50.  But seriously, how hard would it have been to just make the track go to 150.  It might have meant an additional piece of art had to be commissioned to include the longer track, but to me, this seems like it would have been easy enough to accomplish.

no really - it says to go back to start here at the bottom

no really – it says to go back to start here at the bottom

Varying icon size – confirm with the tiles – the other thing that I have found frustrating is the varying icon size on the tiles.  On tiles that only have a few icons, they have been enlarged to fill up the space, and on the tiles that have many icons, they have been shrunk down to get them to all fit on the tile.  The problem for me (and the gamers that I play with) is that it’s hard to count the different icons when they are different sized, especially with the added time pressure from the clock.  Perhaps this was a conscious design point to make it more difficult, but to me, it just seems like an un-necessary distraction.

See how the upper left icons are smaller than the rest of the tile?  Maybe this only bothers me...

See how the upper left icons are smaller than the rest of the tile? Maybe this only bothers me…

Finally, you have to be willing to accept that luck will decide the game here.  Some of the tiles have 7 or 8 icons on them, and some only have one or two.  IF you draw 9 tiles that have a minimum number of icons while someone else draws 9 tiles that each have 6 or more on them, no matter how each of you arranges the tiles, the icon heavy guy is guaranteed to score way more than you (probably at least 15 points more than you in this extreme example).  If this happens twice to you, you’re essentially out of the game for no reason other than you suck at drawing random tiles.  There is no recompense for a bad tile draw in this game, and in a short 15-20 minute game, that’s acceptable to me – but it has bothered some of the folks that I game with.

This is admittedly an extreme example, but you better hope you draw tiles like the set on the left as there's pretty much nothing you can do with the tiles on the right to compete.  Even if the left were arranged as suboptimally as possible, it would outscore the most optimal setup on the right by a wide margin

This is admittedly an extreme example, but you better hope you draw tiles like the set on the left as there’s pretty much nothing you can do with the tiles on the right to compete. Even if the left were arranged as suboptimally as possible, it would outscore the most optimal setup on the right by a wide margin

My boys have liked the Base Game, and I’ve been able to introduce it to some non-gaming neighbors of ours.  The relative simplistic rules and the short game duration have made it good for these situations.  The Base game will also serve as a nice filler/starter/closer when we’ve only got 15 minutes for a game.

Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): Mad City is, at its heart, a puzzle game, and the first rule of a good puzzle game is that there must be interesting puzzles.  We did not find the puzzles in Mad City interesting enough to warrant further investigation.  Having tried the game back in April, I do not recall which version of the game we played.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

Base Game

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral.  Dale
  • Not for me…

Standard Game

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me… Dale
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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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