Dale Yu: First Impressions of City Hall (Tasty Minstrel)


City Hall

  • Designer: Michael Keller
  • Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by Tasty Minstrel Games

city hall

City Hall is a tile placement, role-selection (or role-auction) game that pits players against each other in the election to be Mayor of New York City.   The board shows a schematic depiction of three of the five boroughs of the city, with multiple plots of land within each borough.  There are 7 city offices that are available to be used in the course of the game, and each of these has its own space.

There are four types of “buildings” which can be built on these land plots: Housing (5), Towers (3), Factories (1) and Parks (0).  Each of these has a maximum star value noted in parentheses.  Star values are determined by what other buildings are adjacent to this particular plot.  Additionally, because Manhattan is intrinsically more awesome, all buildings there get an automatic star on them as soon as they are built. A running total is kept by adding cardboard star tokens to the buildings as the stars are earned – though you can never have more star tokens on the card than the printed max value.  Parks do not accumulate stars, but they do help increase the star value of any adjacent plot of land.  Furthermore, building Parks helps you advance on the approval rating track.

the four different building permits

the four different building permits

At the start of the game, players are given access to two of these land plots.  One building is also build on one of these two spaces.  Turn order is randomly decided for the start of the game (this is tracked on the board), and all players start at the lowest space on the ten-space approval rating track.  There is also a star marker which is placed on the start of the approval rating track.Finally, there is a Population track – each player starts on the first space of this track as well.

There is no overall “victory point” track in the game – your final score is calculated based on your position on the approval rating and population tracks with some bonuses thrown in for your board position at the end of the game.

The game is played over a number of rounds until one of the two end-game conditions is met; when this happens there is a special final round leading directly into end-game scoring.  At the start of each round, you first possibly change the turn order due to the Deputy Mayor action.  Then, each player gets 1 influence from the bank, and any unchosen actions from last turn have 1 influence placed on those unused spaces.  Then, you make sure that you haven’t triggered the end of the game; if one of the two criteria are met, you immediately move into a special Final Round.  Otherwise, all of the other rounds follow the same pattern.

In turn order (based on the chart on the board), the current active player places one of his staffers (meeples) onto any of the 7 office spaces that has not yet been used in this round.  If there are any Influence markers on that space, he immediately collects those.  Then, in clockwise order, players are able to make a bid (using their Influence markers) on that Office – this is a once-around auction and ends with the current active player.  When making bids, you must either match or exceed any previous bids.  When it gets to the active player, he may either match the current high bid and pay his Influence to the back OR he can accept the current high bid and collect influence for any of the players who have that high bid.  Whichever player has paid Influence for the office then takes the action of that office.  Play then passes to the next player in turn order who then places one of his meeples on any unoccupied spot…  There is no limit to the number of office actions that a particular player can take in a round – if you have enough Influence to win multiple auctions, you can take as many actions as you are able to win.  The round continues until all players have had a chance to place one meeple and auction off the powers of one of the offices.  Then, you go back to the start of this paragraph and do it all over again.

money and influence

money and influence

The 7 Actions

  • Tax Assessor –This is the main way to make money.  You collect $1 per current Population point total, $3 for each Tower building that you control and $7 for each Factory that you control.  Furthermore, if you choose to move your meeple on the Approval track backwards one space, you can collect TRIPLE you tax amount this turn.  If you are already on the lowest Approval space, you can DOUBLE your earning without having to move!
  • Campaign Manager – You can pay $0/$10/$30 to move 1/2/3 spaces forward on the Approval track
  • Surveyor – You can reveal the top card of the deck (or pay 1 Influence and choose a card from the deck), and place it on its matching board space.  Then, you can pay $20 to place your meeple on any of the available land spaces.  If there is money already on that space, you collect it now (and can use that money to purchase that piece of land). You are not obligated to buy a plot.  Finally, you add $5 to every plot of land which is unpurchased.
plots of land

plots of land

  • Lobbyist – This allows you to do any/all of the following three options: 1) collect Influence equal to the large number (between 1 and 5) on your space of the Approval track; 2) buy as much Influence as you want for $10 each, 3) sell as much Influence as you want for $7 each.
  • Zoning Board – flip up the top 3 cards from the Permit deck.  Then choose from one of the three options: 1) take 2 of the Permit cards into your hand; 2) take 1 Permit card into your hand and also play 1 card from your hand onto an empty Land plot that you already own; 3) Play 2 Permit cards already in your hand to the board.  For each Permit card played to the board, move the cardboard star token one space to the right on the Approval track.  Finally, you will need to calculate the star values of each newly placed Permit card as well as re-calculate the values of any plots adjacent to the newly placed ones.
  • Deputy Mayor – if you take this office, you will be allowed to move your meeple to the first position of the turn order track.  For all other players, turn order remains the same relative to each other.  If no one chooses this action, there is no change to turn order.
  • Health Commissioner – This is the only office which can affect ALL players.  All players tabulate their total star total for all of their buildings.  The player who controls this office has the option of either doubling his total or simply adding 3 to his total.  Then 1st/2nd/3rd place in cumulative star total gets to move +4/+2/+1 on the Population track.

The Final Round

Again, the endgame is triggered when either the cardboard star token is at the rightmost space of the Approval track (this is from Permit cards being placed on the board) or when one of the meeples is on the rightmost space of the Approval track (usually from the Campaign Manager action). There is one final round of actions.  In this special round, all 7 of the Offices will be auctioned off – so you continue to cycle through turn order until 7 auctions have occurred.  Then, there is an additional and final Health Commissioner action – though in this final case, no one gets the bonus to their total.

There are 9 Endorsements which now come into play: most parks, most factories, most towers, most housing, most influence, most money, most land, lowest position on the approval track and whoever controls the deputy mayor in the last round…    Finally, it’s time to figure out your score.  You get 10 votes for each Endorsement that you win (if there is a tie, no one gets the 10 votes).  This total is added to the product of your (Approval Rating number)*(Population).  The player with the most points wins the game!

The endorsements

The endorsements

My thoughts on the Game

I’ll admit that I had missed this one last year, partly due to my personal choice to concentrate my 2014 gaming attentions to only games that have been published – but I’m glad that the folks at Tasty Minstrel Gaming brought this one to my attention!

What strikes me about this game, and what might not be overly apparent when reading the rules, is that you really don’t have a lot of actions in the course of the game.  I’d guesstimate that my two games have come in around 12-15 rounds each.  The reason for this is that the game end timers only have 9 spaces to move before they reach the end of the track.  The star token moves forward with each built Permit card – which means, after setup, a max of only 9 more buildings will be built on the board.  The meeple movement on the start track is governed by both the Campaign manager action as well as Park building.  With a single Campaign Manager action able to move you three spaces forward on the track, you can see how progress on this can be quickly done.

Knowing that you only have 12-15 rounds to plot your course really makes you value the actions that you take.  Early on, there isn’t a lot of influence in the game, and bids of 2 or 3 are often too tempting to pass up.  However, by the end of the game, with each player getting an additional 1 influence each round, bids of 8 to 10 can be seen.  You really need to monitor your Influence totals closely though – you’d like to be as efficient as possible to get the most actions that you can though!

The helpful player aid

The helpful player aid

The game does take a bit of subtle planning because many of the actions take multiple steps to achieve the interim goal.  For example, if you want to build a building, you have to win the Surveyor action to claim a spot – or you may have to wait for a few to go by until the plot you want is available, and depending on your situation in the game as well as the situation on the board, you may have had to win a Tax Assessor or Lobbyist action to have the $20 needed to buy said plot of land.   At some point, you also have to win a Zoning board action to get the Permit you need – and again, you may have had to wait until the permit you wanted was available to be picked up. Depending on your timing, you might have even needed to win 2 Zoning board actions: the first to pick up Permits and a second to build them.  That’s a lot of things to get done in a game with so few rounds!

Of course, everyone else is caught up in their own mini-loops of actions, and there is plenty of competition for those actions because each of you needs to do something to push their own little plan along.  That’s what makes the auctions so fascinating because usually there is more than one player who wants to do each action.

This isn’t the sort of game where there are multiple paths to victory – in the end, the formula for victory points is pretty straightforward: (AxB) + C.  However, how you approach each of these  variables is up to you.  For example, in a recent 4p game, I lost in a close battle 92-90.  I chose to build housing early and had a jump on everyone else on the Population track.  However, my progress quickly stalled there as I didn’t build any more buildings, and at the end of the game, I ended up with 14 population.  Since I wasn’t building buildings, I was instead concentrating on moving up the Approval Track.  I triggered the end game by getting my meeple all the way to the end.  I got two endorsements for most influence and deputy mayor at the end.  My score ended up being: (5 x 14) + 2(10) = 90.  JP went a different route – mostly doing a little bit of everything but building steady progress on his overall star total on the board.  By the end of the game, he had an impressive lead in the Population chart at 31.  (Getting +8 on the Population track in the final round was a killer…)  He pretty much neglected the Approval track and scored: (2 x 31) + 3(10) = 92.  I very much liked the fact that we were able to pursue vastly different strategies while being competitive with each other on the scoreboard.

Components and artwork are well done.  The cards are sturdy, and I like the fact they all have the same background to better obfuscate your Influence and money holdings.  I do wish though that the board had a slightly different background on the office spaces – it was sometimes hard to tell if there was an Influence card down on the space because the artwork is identical.  Additionally, watch out as the board can be quite cluttered.  Many spaces will have multiple $5 cards on them, and each built space has a card, a meeple and an array of cardboard star tokens on them.  There were a number of times that we miscounted someone’s star total because we couldn’t accurately see all the stuff on a particular space.  Of course, that’s a lot of user error too – because there’s nothing stopping us from just moving everything and counting it up… It just makes it a bit harder to disguise what you’re trying to do then!

examples board - can you tell which office spaces have the extra influence on them? also not the cluttered plot spaces above

examples board – can you tell which office spaces have the extra influence on them? also not the cluttered plot spaces above

Our initial games came in right around the 90 minute mark, and I suspect that with more experience, a 4p game could play in about 75 minutes.  There’s a fair bit of thinking to be done with the OCCASIONAL auction, but many of the decisions are a quick yes/no.  Furthermore, the game doesn’t feel that long because players are constantly involved.  There is very little downtime as you have to make a decision on an auction on every player’s turn.  Admittedly, for all the actions but the Health Commissioner, only the active player gets to do something… but for me, when someone else is taking their action, I’m trying to look at the board and plot my next action (and/or figuring out what my backup plan is if someone is able to steal the action I want away from me).

I’m definitely enjoying this one so far, and though it is at the upper end of my current complexity desire, it is a challenging game that holds my interest through the whole game.


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, John P
  • 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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