- Designers: Eilif Svensson, Kristian Amundsen Østby
- Publisher: Aporta Games
- Players: 1-6
- Ages: 8+
- Time: ~15 min/game
- Times played: 20 (~12 solo) with PnP copy
Doodle City can already be labeled one of my surprise hits of Essen 2014. I knew nothing about it prior to starting my Essen research this year, and when I found out that I already knew one of the principals of the new game company, Aporta, I contacted them to learn a bit more about the game. They were gracious enough to forward a PnP copy of the game to try out now, and I must say that it is a complete hit here at my house. Due to its small size, it traveled with me on a kids’ soccer tournament weekend, and it was constantly played by both teenagers and adults alike.
The game itself is deceptively simple. Each player is given an identical map of the city which is a 5×5 grid. There are 4 different types of squares in the city – parks (one in each column) and scattered taxicabs, hotels and shops. At the bottom of the board is a row of trees. Each of the row and columns has a die (1-5) to help orient you. The goal in the game is to draw in the road segments of the city to score the most points.
At the start of the game, each of the park squares gets a road segment drawn in (based on a die roll). After that, each round in the game follows the same pattern. The start player takes all the dice – which is one blue die and N+1 white dice (N=# of players) – and rolls them. The blue die is used by all players, and it tells everyone which column will be used this particular turn. If the blue die is a 6, then each player can choose a column of their choice. Then, going around the table, starting with the start player, each player chooses a white die – this tells them which row they are using. You must choose a die in which you can draw something. If you have no chance to draw, you do not take a die, and you simply mark off one of the trees at the bottom. If you choose a 6, you may use any row you wish, but you must also cross out one of your trees at the bottom of the board.
There are two different drawing possibilities. If you choose a park, you mark off one of the houses in that space (each park already has 1-2 crossed off at the start of the game). If you choose any other square, you draw a road in that square. The road must connect any two sides of the square, so it’s either a straight line or a 90 degree curve. You may not have more than one road segment per square.
Depending on where you draw, you may need to score. If you have crossed out a house in a park or drawn a road in a taxi segment, your turn is over. But, if you have drawn in a hotel or shop square this turn, you need to see if you’ve scored any points. There are scoring grids off to the right which show the possible scoring for each type of square.
For hotels, you count the total number of squares that are on the road which the hotel is on. You then look at the hotel scoring chart and circle the highest number in the chart that is equal or less than the road length. If there is no number available to circle, you simply don’t score.
For shops, you look along the entire road that is connected to that shop and count the number of X’d out houses in the parks along that road. Again, you look at the chart and see if there is a number available that is equal or lesser to your count – and if so, you circle that number. Furthermore, you check to see if you are eligible for any shop bonus scoring. If your count meets or exceeds one of the bonus thresholds (say 7+), you circle that bonus score. You also announce this to the other players as they have to “X” out that bonus – only one player in the game can claim any particular bonus.
After the round is complete, the dice pass to the next player, they are rolled and chosen again. This continues until one of the endgame criteria are met. If a player crosses out all the trees at the bottom of their board, the game ends at the end of the round. Alternatively, if a player scores the maximum hotel or shop score on the chart, the game ends at the conclusion of the current round.
Now it’s time to count up points – hotel points are summed up as are shop and shop bonus points. Now, you count up the taxicabs that are connected by road to at least one other taxicab – and each will score 4 points. Finally, there in a bonus/malus for trees: the player with the most trees crossed out loses 4 points and the player with the fewest trees marked off gets a +4 bonus. The player with the most points wins.
There is also a solo version of the game where you use one blue die and three white dice – you simply choose one of the three white dice with each roll. The game ending criteria remain the same, and you judge your score against a scoring rubric in the rules.
My thoughts on the game
Though the rules are few, the game is filled with interesting decisions. Trying to figure out how to best set up your road network to score points. As you can only draw one road segment in a box, you have to carefully plan from the start how you want to approach the game. It seems easier from my initial experience to score big hotel scores – as you only have to worry about the road. The shops take a bit more planning as you first need to cross out houses and then get the parks connected by roads to score big – but the shops have the added scoring of the bonuses to make up for the difficulty. The catch here is that since only one person can take each shop scoring bonus, you better make sure that you’re quick about your shop scoring.
In the multiplayer game, there is also a fair amount of interplay between players when choosing the dice. There are many times when you have to decide between taking an optimal move for yourself (which leaves something really good for the next guy) versus a slightly suboptimal move that might completely hose the next guy. This decision does bring to light one of the possible issues with the game – namely a little bit of L-R binding – but it’s not that big of a deal, and if it is an issue, you can simply alternate clockwise/counterclockwise direction of play in successive games. With each game only taking 15 minutes or so, we almost never play just one game when we sit down.
My kids have also stumbled upon an interesting variant – which is partly due to a rushed verbal explanation one night – they had started each game with every player rolling dice for their own setup. So, each player had an individualized set of 5 starting road segments – and this seems to make the initial dice choices a little bit more interesting and equitable because everyone doesn’t necessarily have the same wants at the beginning of the game. In the fixed setup, there is some advantage to being early in player order because you can more easily link up the initial starting roads than those last in player order. With the individualized setup, there is still some advantage to going first, but it is lessened as not everyone is gunning for exactly the same thing from the start.
The solo game has proved to also be interesting, and it’s been something I’ve been using to occupy myself in some downtime at work. I have yet to make it to the highest scoring level – having a top score of 102 so far. There are some different interesting challenges in the solo game, namely trying to figure out how to construct your roads to allow you to score all of the different possible scoring options without scoring one of the max scores which would trigger the endgame.
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (5 plays – 3 solo) – When Dale mentioned the opportunity to try this game – which had stood out sufficiently in my Essen research as to have pre-ordered a copy – I was happy to do so. And I’m equally happy to report that I don’t regret my decision to pre-order the game; my initial impression of the game is very positive. It falls into the same camp as Qwixx or Extra (the Sid Sackson game), but unlike those games adds a bit of a theme – and a reasonable one – to the mix. After playing the game, I’ve actually pre-ordered a second copy, as I suspect this will be very popular at work.
Having a little unexpected time, I decided to try the solitaire game. In three plays, my high score was 102 – the same as Dale’s. Fun coincidence…
Dan Blum (1 play): I agree that it feels a bit like Qwixx, but I think the decisions here will tend to be more interesting. I suspect it will also tend to be swingier than Qwixx, but it’s a short dice game, so who cares?
Nathan Beeler: Plan, hope, adapt. Seems like the recipe for a great little game. One that has been used masterfully in short dice games like Mosaix and Qwixx. Unfortunately, the balance of ingredients was off in my one play of Doodle City (too much hope, too little chance to adapt), such that I felt no draw to play again.
Jonathan: I’ve played it a few times with different groups. It is always fun, if very light. I like building things, so I like this game intrinsically, but feel it ends too soon. I know the game is not designed for you ever to finish your city, but I’d like to get 2/3rds of the way along rather than about ½ way. If you feel this way and want the game to sometimes end by something other than running out of trees, consider tweaking the rules so that if everyone has to take a tree, no one takes a tree.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it. Joe, Dan Blum, Jonathan
- Neutral. Nathan Beeler
- Not for me:
My only concern with this game is running out of the sheets. I believe the pad comes with 100, so I can see burning through them quickly. I figure, worst case I can always make copies, but hopefully they’ll release extra score sheets down the road. Pre-ordered!
We have played it so much that I have laminated 4 of the sheets and we now use dry erase markers on them…
And if I remember correctly (though I can’t find where I read this) – I thought that Aporta was going to include an extra pad with Essen purchases as long as supplies held out
Aporta will include an extra pad in the 1st 150 copies of the game. Curious what the price of an extra pad will be.