Micropolis (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designers: Bruno Cathala & Charles Chevallier
  • Publisher: Matagot
  • Artist: Camille Chaussy
  • Player Count: 2-6 players
  • Time: 30 Minutes
  • Times Played: 7

Ants, what a weird but enthralling theme. It’s estimated that there are approximately ten thousand ant species in the world, and at any one time there are about ten quadrillion ants alive. Ants can also carry about ten times their body weight, which in the case of Micropolis, the game we are reviewing here, means that they can probably carry a single copy of the game with them wherever they go.

Micropolis is a game for two to six players in which each player is trying to build the best and most attractive anthill. You do this through drafting of anthill tiles and adding them to your foundation.

At the start of the game, each player is given one foundation tile and five ants. This foundation tile is where you are going to store your ants that are not being used, it is also the center of your anthill. Around that foundation tile you will end up placing ten anthill tiles by the end of the game.

Ants will be used for two things in Micropolis. They are used as soldiers, and they are also used as currency to gain the tiles that you want from the draft line. At the beginning of a round there will be seven anthill tiles available in the offer. The first anthill tile in line is free, but if you want to get a tile from further down the line, you must place an ant on each tile you want to skip. If, when choosing an anthill tile, there are ants already on the tile, those ants are now added to your foundation tile as part of your ant army. If this is your first anthill tile, you may place it anywhere around the foundation, after that you must place either to the left or right of what is already on your anthill. After every player has chosen an anthill tile and added it to their foundation, check the offer, if there are more tiles still available than there are players, start a new round. If there are fewer anthill tiles than there are players, refill the offer and check to see who has the most ants left on their foundation tile. That player will become the first player. If there is a tie, it is up to the current first player to decide who becomes first player.  

There are five specialist ants printed on some of the tiles to help the players. The Queen is there strictly to score points at the end of the game. The Nurse will give the players more ants to add to their foundation. The Architect will give players the one time ability to choose any anthill tile in the offer and ignore the cost. The Sentry will allow you to move ants around from your foundation and your barracks. When a player takes a tile with a barrack on it, they must immediately decide how many ants from their foundation to place in it, sometimes you may not have enough and the Sentry can help later. Lastly, the Recruiting Sergeant will make the player in possession of the Red Army Token (first player) discard an ant from his foundation, then the player who gained the sergeant gains one to theirs.

The crux of Micropolis is in how you score your points. You are going to score six things at the end of the game. You are going to score for your population, meaning you will gain one point for every ant that is in your anthill. Each player is also going to take a look at their anthill and find the gallery that has the most ants in it, and the player who has the most in one gallery gains five points. You can gather fruits on anthill tiles, and fruits gain the players points based on how many different fruits are in each gallery. Every gallery that a player has in their anthill that contains only one Queen will score points based on the number of tiles that gallery is on. The player with the most ants left on their foundation tile will score five points. Lastly, each player will score points based on the barracks in their anthill that they have completely filled, with points awarded based on barrack size. Most points win!

Streamlined is probably a really good word to describe Micropolis. This lightweight drafting game can be played in about thirty minutes time, including teaching. The most difficult thing that a player will have to do in Micropolis is to think a bit spatially when trying to line up the tunnels to create their galleries. Very few times have we seen actual decisions in the tile drafting lead to players paying a lot of ants to the board, usually there is a good choice in the first one or two tiles. The true difference in tiles, points wise, ends up being negligible most of the time.

In five full games, scores have always been pretty tight, some might even say that the game may have been built to keep the scores pretty close to feel competitive. There is no real way for another player to distance themselves from the rest of the pack. Everything is pretty dead even. If one person is stockpiling ants in their army, they probably are not buying the tiles that benefit them the most and are not occupying barracks with their soldiers. If a player is trying to gather fruits, they will be missing out on the population total scoring since fruit tiles only have one ant of them. Of the strategies we’ve seen attempted, the barracks strategy seems to be the strongest, with points from two points for one soldier barracks, to ten points for four soldier barracks, if you allow someone to get most of those, and fill them, they are probably going to win. In reality, Micropolis is just balanced really well, almost too well.

Micropolis is seemingly built to fill a niche, a spot in a collection that may be ignored. It’s a game that plays up to six people in thirty minutes, more or less, this is a good filler for larger groups that like to stick together when gaming. It’s far less overwhelming on the table than something like 7 Wonders might be, and it’s a little less difficult for new gamers to grasp than the auction evaluations of say, For Sale, which is not difficult to grasp but always leaves one person struggling to find the value of what is in front of them on that first play.

Component wise, Micropolis is another strong showing from Matagot. The little ant figures are fun to use, and dare I say, cute? The cardboard tiles are a nice quality. Sometimes it is a bit difficult to notice whether an ant printed on the tile is a specialist or not, and to counter that they have placed lighter colored symbols on the tiles for the players to see. I do question the inability to use gender neutral pronouns in the rule book, even when noting on the front page as to why they used “he.” To me it’s not really a big deal, I just know that some may take umbrage with that and it’s an issue easily remedied through the use of gender neutral pronouns in a rule book.

One of our “tests” that we tried with Micropolis while playing, was to create a simple bot player, just see if the bot could be successful doing the same thing each turn, with only one or two choices to be made. What we found out is yes, it could be competitive, but there are still human choices to be made. The game is very streamlined, but not so streamlined that you can play it with blinders on, which is what I had previously thought after a couple plays. Now, I do think that giving the bot a couple more choices would make it even more competitive, but as it was, just taking that first available tile every turn, and choosing to place it to the left or right, the bot was middle of the pack, and really hurt the player to it’s right.

Ultimately, Micropolis is one of those games that brings to the forefront my biggest issue with reviewing board games right now. It’s a perfectly cromulent game, and it works exceedingly well. I just don’t think there is anything over-exciting or special here to warrant playing this ahead of a lot of other games that came before it. I’m glad that I did take that chance, but now that I have, I’m glad I didn’t purchase it and I instead played a copy locally available. I have fun chatting with those at the table while playing it, but that’s almost in spite of a game being in front of us. Micropolis fades to the background and can almost be played on auto-pilot. I will gladly play it when asked, but I’ll never be the one to pursue those plays at this point. I think if I wanted to play a Bruno Cathala game in this weight and time range, I’d just play Kingdomino, even if it does accommodate two fewer players.

That isn’t saying that no one will find the game enthralling, I think some folks may. I just don’t think that it will end up being all that memorable in what is increasingly, a very crowded field.

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers:

Dan Blum (3? plays): I like the game somewhat better than Brandon does, but I do agree that it’s not particularly special and I don’t expect I will buy a copy. On the other hand, I think it’s fine that there are games like this on the market. It may not be the best light drafting game out there, but it’s certainly a decent game and some people who want a light drafting game might find it particularly appealing due to player count, theme, or some other criterion. Or maybe a group that really likes light drafting games wants some variety. On the other other hand, I find the art in Micropolis a bit annoying.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it.

I like it. Chris Wray, Eric M., Dan Blum

Neutral. Brandon

Not for me…

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