- Designers: Ben Rosset & Matthew O’Malley
- Publisher: Stonemaier Games
- Players:3-7 Players (with 1-2 Player Variants)
- Ages: 8 and Up
- Time: 25 Minutes
- Times Played: 7+
I’m skeptical of Kickstarter: a disproportionate number of Kickstarter games I’ve tried have fallen into the “neutral” or “not for me” categories. Many of the games I’ve tried off Kickstarter simply weren’t good game ideas to begin with. Others had had promise but were ultimately underdeveloped.
But there are a few companies on Kickstarter that I really admire, and I basically auto-back them. One such company is Stonemaier Games. I like Euphoria (which I wish I could get it to the table more often), and I really like Viticulture, which is a go-to worker placement game in my game group.
I was intrigued when I heard about Between Two Cities. This was a different kind of game for Stonemaier. Viticulture and Euphoria are medium-heavy, but Between Two Cities looked more medium-light and family-friendly. I was especially intrigued by the scoring mechanism, which I hadn’t seen in a game before. When I played the game in prototype form, I was impressed. But I knew there were several changes from the prototype, so I was eager to try out the final published version.
Between Two Cities is a tile-drafting game where each player sits “between two cities” and helps build both of them: you work with the player on your left on one of the cities and the player on your right on the other. Your final score is the lower of the scores of the two cities you helped build. As described in the rules, “To win, you have to share your attention and your devotion equally Between Two Cities.”
The game proceeds over three rounds. In the first round, you draw seven square (i.e. single) building tiles, secretly pick two, and pass the rest to the left. After discussing placement with your co-builders, you place one of the tiles into each of your cities. You then select two more from the stack of five passed to you and repeat the process. You do this once more with the stack of three, and the last tile is discarded from the game. Each city should have six single tiles in it at this point.
The ultimate goal after three rounds is to build a 4×4 grid. You must place all tiles so that your final city is a 4×4 grid, and tiles placed in the city are set and cannot move. All cities must be oriented in the same direction.
There are six types of buildings in the game, and each scores differently:
- Shops (yellow). Shops are scored when connected in a straight line (row or column): 2 points for 1, 5 points for 2, 10 points for 3, and 16 points for 4. (Each shop can only be counted once so an L or a T shape is not to your advantage.)
- Factories (grey). The city with the most factories gets 4 points per factory. Second place gets 3 points per factory, and all other cities get 2 points per factory.
- Taverns (red). There are four types of taverns in the game, and having 1 is worth 1 point, having 2 is worth 4 points, having 3 is worth 9 points, and having 4 is worth 17 points. A city can have duplicate taverns: each set is scored independently.
- Offices (blue). Offices score 1 point for 1 office tile, 3 points for 2, 6 points for 3, 10 points for 4, 15 points for 5, and 21 points for 6. Each office gets an extra point if next to a tavern.
- Parks (green). A group of one or more connected parks earns 2 points for one park, 8 points for 2 parks, 12 points for 3 parks, 13 points for 4 parks, and 14 points for 5 parks. In other words, parks have quickly diminishing returns.
- Houses (brown). Each house tile is worth 1 point for each other building type (excluding houses) in the city. However, if a house is next to a factory, it is only worth one point.
In round two, each player draws 3 rectangular duplex tiles. (Put differently, these tiles have two singular tiles combined into one double tile.) They select two and discard the remaining tile. The then put one in each city. At this point 10 of the 16 spaces are used.
Round three is the same as round one, but with passing to the right. Each player draws 7 square building tiles, secretly chooses 2, and passes the rest to the right. They then put one tile in each city. Repeat this process until you finish the 4×4 grid and discard the last tile.
Scoring then happens for each city. Each player’s final score is the value of their lower scoring city. The winner is the player with the highest score.
My thoughts on the game…
Drafting is one of my favorite mechanics, but many of the games that feature it (like 7 Wonders or Agricola) are a bit heavy for non-gamers. A few games have recently tried to make the mechanic more approachable (Medieval Academy comes to mind), but Between Two Cities is perhaps my favorite attempt. This game does the drafting mechanic exceptionally well, combining it with a fun theme and a novel and interesting scoring mechanism. The end product is a high-quality, family-friendly game.
This game is easy to learn, with a rules explanation taking less than five minutes. I’ve played with gamers and non-gamers alike, and everybody seems to pick up Between Two Cities with ease. The most difficult part of the game is the scoring mechanisms, but the well-designed player aids assists in this aspect of gameplay.
But don’t be fooled by how easy the game is to learn: there are some interesting choices here. In my plays I’ve seen about a dozen different types of cities with viable paths to victory, everything from a factory-heavy city to a city full of taverns interlaced with offices. I’m sure there are several others that I haven’t yet encountered.
They key is to pick up on what your co-builders are doing, and to anticipate what tiles you’re about to give them. There can’t be table talk during the drafting, but you can talk strategies during the actual tile placement. And this talk during tile placement sometimes turns into negotiations: your two neighbors may want you to place one of your two tiles in the city you’re co-building with them. This game is highly interactive, requiring communication with your co-builders.
In the end you have to balance your two cities, since your final score is only as good as your worst city. We’ve seen this sort of scoring mechanism before — perhaps most famously in Reiner Knizia’s Ingenious — but it is a fun addition to a drafting game, and I especially like how it combines with the team play element. I hadn’t seen that before.
As is always the case with a Stonemaier product, the production quality is excellent. The tiles are thick with beautiful artwork. The scoreboard is well-produced, and the wooden city tokens used during scoring are a nice touch. (Plus, any game that features the St. Louis Arch gets bonus points with me.)
I don’t generally comment on rule books in review, but I feel compelled to here: the rule book is exceptionally well written. It is logically organized, and it conveys the flow of the game. There are several excellent scoring examples, and there is a nice summary on the back. (Note to publishers: we love it when you include rule summaries on the back!) Coming off this year’s lead-up to Essen, when I encountered several poorly written and typo-laden rulebooks, I found the rulebook for Between Two Cities refreshing.
Will this be the sort of game you’ll want to play twenty times? Probably not. I don’t know that there’s that much depth there. But I haven’t tired of it after 7 plays, and I don’t think I will after another 7 either. This might be a bit light for the tastes of some gamers — there will be countless people who would rather pull out 7 Wonders for their drafting experience — but this is a far more approachable and family-friendly entry into the genre.
In the end, Between Two Cities hits all of the right notes for a family game. It features fun and approachable gameplay, well-written rules, excellent presentation and finish, plus a fair bit of originality. I expect this to be a hit, and maybe even garner some praise come award season next year.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Dale Y (2 plays): Between Two Cities is a very intriguing game, and one that continues the line of solid designs to come out of Stonemaier Games. The mechanics of the game are all familiar to me, but the semi-cooperative nature of the tile placement makes BTC stand out from other tile-laying (and drafting) games.
The three rounds of the game go by quickly – both of my initial plays have lasted less than a half-hour – though there are many interesting decisions to be made. The first few tiles into a city may determine the overall strategy for that particular joint venture – but since the rules do not allow strategy discussion until the first tiles are chosen, you just have to roll with it from the start.
Once it’s clear that a city is going for a particular strategy (say houses or factories), then you can try to make sure that you pick tiles to match the plan. You can discuss after each tile pick (per the rules), but it seems like the spirit of the rules disallows conversation at any other time – as well as prior to the game starting.
I’ve found that I prefer to keep my initial city size compact in the first round in order to try to maximize placement options in the second round. The duplex tiles are unwieldy – and because you cannot change their orientation, you really need to leave yourself both vertical and horizontal placement options so that you can try to use both sides of the tile to maximum benefit.
Remembering the turn order is also important. While you want your own cities to do well, you really still want to prevent your neighbor from being able to improve his city on the other side of you… So, when I’m passing tiles, I do try to keep an eye on the city one space away – if I prevent good tiles from being added to that next city, I might choose to take them now if they fit into either of my two existing cities. Also, you will always know what your partner later in turn order is getting in his new hand, so you shouldn’t be surprised with what he/she picks.
So far, I have definitely enjoyed my first two plays of the game, and the short playing time ensures that we will keep getting it to the table. It looks like it will be fitting into a preferred super-filler slot. There is a very well designed game with plenty of choices in a short playing time. Unlike Chris – this is a game I could see myself playing 20+ times…
However, this is still just an “I like it” because of a possible binding issue. In my second game, we played with some of my son’s younger friends, and it was pretty obvious that one of the boys wasn’t very strong at tactical game playing. The problem with this scenario is that the one solitary poor player essentially eliminated three people from the game because both of the cities which were built, in part, by this kid scored quite low – and as a result, this particular player, his LHO and his RHO all did not compete. Sure, you could mitigate this by only playing with adept players, but you can’t always control that. It would be unbelievably frustrating to know that you have lost a game prior to playing a tile simply based on the player randomization. And, unlike most games, there’s nothing you can do to stop a neighbor from ruining your chances of winning.
Dan Blum (2 plays): It works well and I have enjoyed my plays, but I am not sure that it will hold interest for long. The various kinds of scoring I think promise more depth than they deliver – they all maximize their returns at about the same number of points per tile, and it’s not too hard to hit the maximum-return level for anything except factories. This takes a lot of the interest out of the decisions. It also makes the city scores tend to be very similar. Admittedly, it doesn’t have any less depth than other simple drafting games such as Sushi Go, but Sushi Go costs less, takes up much less space, and is easier to set up and put away – and B2C doesn’t have much MORE depth than Sushi Go either.
Mark Jackson (3 plays): I share Dan & Dale’s concerns… but I’m a sucker for city-building games.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris W.
- I like it. Dale Y, Craig V, Dan Blum, Mark Jackson
- Not for me.