- Designer: Tom Lehman
- Artist: Joao Tereso
- Publisher: Eagle Gryphon Games
- Players: 2-6 (with expansion cards)
- Time: 20-30 Minutes
- Game Mechanisms: Hand Management, Simultaneous Action Selection
- Times Played: 4
♪ “We built this city on lots of caaaarrrrds!” ♪
I’ve played Race for the Galaxy a handful of times, but because I was playing with folks who have played it possibly hundreds of times, I have never really understood exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. They seemingly value speed of play over my understanding, and that’s fine, I hate being the person holding up the group. Recently I discovered Res Arcana and I felt like I understood it almost from the word go. It was fun and it felt good to build a tableau of cards and know what to do with it, but it didn’t translate into me understanding Race any better. So I continued to look for more tableau builders, in hopes of finding one that truly clicked and helped me understand the way of things, and along comes The City from the same designer as both of the previously mentioned titles, Tom Lehman, and publisher Eagle Gryphon Games. It promised to be a simpler, quicker, and most importantly, fun city-building tableau builder, instead of thrusting me into space or some kind of fantasy theme.
The City is almost too simple to explain, honestly. There is a deck of cards that represents both the buildings the players will be building in their tableau, and the currency the players have access to, much like the wonderful San Juan (a tableau builderTom Lehman had a hand in developing). The building cards, when placed in your tableau, can score you points, can give you income — drawing new cards — and can give you icons that can combo with other buildings in order to score more points or gain more income.
Everyone starts the game with a hand of seven cards. Out of those seven cards, players choose two to discard and begin play with five in hand. Victory point chips are placed out near the player area for everyone to be able to grab, General Contractor cards are put out equal to the number of players, and survey tokens are also placed out.
Gameplay in The City is all done simultaneously.. In a round, each player will choose a card to build and place it face down in front of them, or they could take a General Contractor card, or choose to take a survey token — but I’ll explain those two in a minute. Once everyone has chosen their card, or what they are going to do, the players flip their cards and pay the cost listed on the upper left hand corner of the cards. Each card in hand counts as one card, so you simply place as many cards in the discard pile as the cost says. The General Contractor action can be taken one time per person, per game. You simply place the General Contractor card in your tableau, and on a future turn, you can use the General Contractor to build two cards. The Survey action allows players to draw five cards from the draw pile, and then they have to discard four from the cards that they have, including ones that were previously in their hand.
After everyone has paid and taken the needed actions, there is a victory point phase where everyone will pick up tokens for the victory points awarded the cards in their tableau at the end of that round. Victory points are noted by a blue hexagon icon on the cards. Some buildings give victory points based on the number marked on the card, while others require other symbols to be in the players current city, or sometimes even other players’ cities. After assessing victory points, players collect income based on the card symbols on the cards in their current city. After both of these phases are done, assess players scores. If any player is over fifty points, the game ends and the player with the most points wins, if no player is over fifty points, continue playing until someone reaches that point barrier.
Simple tableau builders like this are a pleasant enough experience on the table, but sometimes designers seem to favor simplicity over fun, leaving out a lot of the challenge of building an engine that is going to propel you to the front. With The City, Lehman has managed to be both simple and fun, while leaving enough meat on the bone to create some challenge for players. But that’s not to say this is a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a good quality filler that probably is worth looking into for folks who like, or want to like, tableau building games.
The City moves at a quick pace, with the simultaneous turns helping to keep the pace of play snappy and engaging — although it can possibly bog down a bit if multiple people are using the Construction Crew, which allows them to build multiple buildings on subsequent turns, but never does the game seem to slow down too much. Now, of course, this is all reliant on the players themselves, but most folks who have played a few games before will latch on to the gameplay quickly and be up to speed in no time.
Typically, a game lasts us seven to ten rounds, so you have to find some synergy fairly quickly and get that engine rolling. You are wanting income first, so you can play down those bigger cards that give more victory points, but cost a lot more to do. You have to find that switch though, and figure out when to turn off the income gathering and start heading for the victory points. In a game this quick, needs to happen sooner than later. You cannot allow your opponents to get there first, you don’t want to be the person trying to play catch up.
The cards do have some synergies, and most of the time they are pretty easy to see. You gain points for having fountains or cars in your city, and those types of synergies seem plentiful. The required buildings can sometimes be hit and miss, though. You can’t afford to hold on to certain cards that require other cards for too long, which can be frustrating, creating a need to dig for certain cards to help you build what you want to build — and card digging is one of my biggest pet peeves in games. Not the digging itself, that’s a necessary evil, it’s when it can become excessive digging. Now, in The City, especially at higher player counts, you will be shuffling discards back into the draw pile, so if you miss cards once, you will probably have a second chance at them, but that also depends on just how much income is being taken each round. So the digging here doesn’t feel quite as excessive as in other games.
The art on this new production from Eagle Gryphon is top notch, the wonderful watercolor look is a lot more pleasant on the eyes than that original glaringly red edition that we never saw here in the States. Along with the art, everything else is top notch on the production side, as we’ve become more prone to expecting from EGG.
Now the question is, will this sell in retail? I don’t know, I’ve heard mixed responses. It isn’t on the websites of my favorite OLGS’ and I don’t see it on the EGG website either, so maybe this is a Kickstarter exclusive game, which is kind of a pity as I think there is a calling for a really good, entry level tableau builder, that doesn’t rely on over-production to sell copies. I can’t imagine it not being sold in retail for the simple reason that this was a review copy though. I do know that The City has also been re-designed and morphed into Jump Drive, which puts everything back in space, but I have not had a chance to play Jump Drive yet, and I couldn’t tell you if there are any major differences here. My preference is going to always fall to city building just simply based on theme, over something in space, although building cities in space could possibly work. Edit: See Joe’s comments and Mark’s review in the thoughts section.
The City isn’t going to be a game that replaces the tried-and-true tableau builders that folks love and rally around — like Race for the Galaxy or San Juan — but it’s a wonderful filler, or game night opener, for folks who enjoy these types of games. Now, it’s time for me to move on and see if this helps me understand Race for the Galaxy any better, something tells me I know which lightning quick group I can get to play it with me.
Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber: I played the new edition of The City a couple of times as a prototype, and can at least answer Brandon’s question with regards to Jump Drive. Jump Drive, in addition to changing the setting, added a number of features from Race for the Galaxy, splitting the cards into developments and settlements, and the settlements into military and non-military. This makes for a significantly different game from The City, for me, even if the central mechanism of spending cards to buy cards is common to both. It also makes Jump Drive a better fit for me – but The City is a fine game in its own right, and almost certainly a better fit for some.
Mark Jackson: When Jump Drive was new(er), I wrote a review for the OG that specifically answers the comparison question – as well as a bunch of other questions. You can read it at https://opinionatedgamers.com/2017/04/03/10-questions-1-about-jump-drive/.
I’ve played the original version of The City 90+ times… but I haven’t had the opportunity to play the newest version. For the most part, my boys choose Jump Drive over The City, but we still play it on a regular basis, so both games have a place in my collection.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it. Mark Jackson
I like it. Brandon Kempf
Not for me…