Dale Yu: Review of Flip City (aka Design Town)

 

Flip City

  • Designer: Chen Chih Fan
  • Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games / Homosapiens Lab
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30-45 mins
  • Times played: 6, with review copy provided by TMG as well as at Gathering of Friends (Homosapiens)

Flip City

Flip City is “a deceptively simple microdeckbuilder” – or at least that’s what the box says.  Having a natural affinity for the whole genre, I was interested in giving this one a try.  I first ran across it at this spring’s Gathering of Friends, and I played it twice there.  I was actually in the process of trying to figure out how to source one from the Far East when Michael Mindes, head of TMG, sends me an email out of the blue asking if I would be interested in reviewing one of their advance copies.  Apparently Michael had been at the Spring 2015 Tokyo Game Market, and he had just recently signed on to do the EN version of the game.  A few days later, the teeny box was on my doorstep and onto the game table within the hour!

The game calls itself a “microdeckbuilder” which is a fairly apt term.  At the start of the game, players start with a 9 card deck.  Each of the cards is double sided, so you have to be pretty careful about how you hold them.  The remainder of the cards are placed on the table in the supply.  You will hold your deck in your hand pretty much all the time.  You don’t have to worry about how to look at a hand of cards though – there is no hand in Flip City!  You just play off the top of the deck.  Played cards go to the table and then to a discard pile, and then they should eventually return to the deck.

On the “starting side”, each of the cards has a building cost (in the upper right corner) as well as a special ability found at the very bottom.  The income which is generated by the card is in the lower left, and some cards also produce unhappiness which is an orange frowny face also found in the lower left.  Some of the cards also have victory point icons on them in the lower left.  Finally, in the lower right corner there is a flip cost – that is the number of coins that need to be spent in order to flip this card over to the other side.  The “flipped side” of the card is very similar with the exception that there is no purchase cost on that side.  You generally cannot buy the flipped side of the card, you must first buy the first side and then flip it over.

Fun! You can build a grid with Flip City. #boardgamegeek

A post shared by Gamer Geeks Making Board Games (@tastyminstrel) on

Each player turn has two phases: first you play cards and then you build.  When you play cards, you simply play cards off the top of your deck – thus, you can always see what card you are going to play next.  You must play the top card to start your turn.  After this card is played, then you have to choose whether to continue playing cards or to stop playing and move onto the next phase.  However, depending on which card you have played, you might be compelled to play another card from your deck (The Residential area and Shopping Mall cards both require this as part of their special action).  But, if you are not compelled to play a card, you can always look at the top card of your deck to see what it is – in case that helps you decide whether to play or not.

There is a push-your-luck aspect to this phase as you have a limit of only 2 unhappiness icons.  If you ever play a third unhappiness icon to the table, your turn immediately ends and you do not get a build phase.  However, you may want/need to keep playing cards in order to get the level of income that you need for the next phase.

If you ever end up with no cards in your deck, you simply pick up your discard pile – keeping the same side always up – and shuffle them.  We tend to shuffle the cards under the table so that you cannot see what card will end up on the top of your new deck.

Whenever you are done playing (Assuming that you haven’t “busted” by having 3 unhappiness icons on the table), you move to the building phase.  Here, you have the choice of three different options – and you many only do one of these during the phase.

You can BUY a card – to do so, you use the income generated on played cards to buy a single card.  This newly purchased card is placed in your discard pile.

You can FLIP a card that is IN your discard pile – you must use your income to pay for the cost of flipping.  It is important to remember that you can only flip cards in your discard pile.

You can DEVELOP a card – you can pay the purchase cost of a card as well as its flip fee (assuming you have enough income to do so), and then place the newly flipped card into your discard pile.

Once you have chosen and done your action, the next player in order can take their turn.  The game continues until one of the two game end conditions is met.

  •         If you have 8 or more victory icons showing on your played cards, you win
  •         If you have met a victory condition on a played card (i.e. having played the Convenience Store AND have played 18 or more cards to the table this turn), you win

My thoughts on the game

Setup takes a bit of time in your first few plays as you have to fish out the correct starting cards – there is no way to easily mark the cards as they are double sided.  That’s not to say that are not marked though – you can look at some seriously small print in the lower right corner of each card that will guide you as to how many cards of each type should be in the supply….  Additionally, you have to make sure to be very careful not to accidentally flip over your cards and inadvertently change the identity of the cards.

For me, the addition of the push-your-luck mechanic to the deck building genre really makes the game interesting.  You have to constantly be calculating what is left in your deck to help you decide whether or not to keep going.  The price of making a bad decision here can be brutal as you end up losing your entire turn, and this tension definitely keeps me interested in each hand.

Like most deckbuilders, timing is the key to the game.  Early on, you primarily are concerned with increasing the income production of your deck; though you will have to make decisions on how to manage the unhappiness in your deck as well.  At some point though, you will have to decide when to flip certain cards over or when to push your luck to try to get a specific card.  Unlike Dominion, you don’t clutter your deck with VP cards – and, in fact, most of the cards that provide the VP symbols even have their own special ability.

The artwork from the original has been kept, and it is bright and cartoony.  The cards are easy to read and the symbology easy to understand.  The only rules issue that my group had at first was how to interpret the Hospital card.  However, the question we had is actually answered in the new rulebook, and we somehow missed it!  The Hospital’s special effect is: “Gain 1 coin for each unhappiness symbol you gained this turn”.  We didn’t know whether the effect was applied as soon as the card was played or at the end of the turn.  Based on the FAQ in the rules – the calculation is done as soon as you play the card, therefore a second Hospital card played later in the turn would be worth more coins than the first.

The game is well crafted, and there is surprising depth to a game that has only 86 cards. There are 6 different cards – so 12 total different sides to play with.  After playing the game six times, there is a little question as to the long term replay value of the game given that there are only two options for victory and only 12 different cards to use (and all the cards are available each game).  It should be noted that there were expansions produced for the game at the 2015 Tokyo Game Market – the Office/Trade Center card, and this card is included in the Tasty Minstrel version.  Additionally, the designers have hinted at future expansion cards as well as rules on how to incorporate them into the supply, so hopefully the game will continue to evolve.  Mindes has posted on BGG that they already plan to produce the next expansion in English, and I am very glad to hear that.

At the present moment, a few advance copies of the game are available for sale on the Tasty Minstrel website, though widespread release is anticipated at GenCon.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Lorna: see https://opinionatedgamers.com/2014/12/31/design-town-first-impression/

Joe Huber (1 play of Design Town): While I’ve been the one responsible for picking up most of the Asian designs we’ve been playing, occasionally I get help from others; Dan Blum was kind enough to pick up Design Town, along with a number of other Taiwanese games.  It wasn’t a bad game, but it was held back for me by two issues.  The less important one was the limited game space – the very limited number of different cards in the original provided a small space to explore, which never works particularly well for me.  But the big issue is that it’s – a deckbuilding game.  I’ve never been a big fan of the genre, and for me this one didn’t stand out.  Fans of the genre would do well to try the game out; I could even be talked into another play.

 

Dan Blum (2 plays of Design Town):The idea is interesting, and the game is interesting for a bit. However, I found each game to be somewhat tedious even though neither took very long; there are just too many turns where you bust or don’t have enough money to do anything useful. I also had the same concern as Joe did about the limited number of cards giving a limited strategy space.

 

Both concerns could be addressed by having a greater variety of cards in the game. However, I doubt that the addition of one new card in the TMG edition will change it much. Once the expansion is out I’d be interested in trying the game again.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Lorna
  • Neutral. Joe H., Dan Blum, Karen M
  • Not for me…
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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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