Dale Yu: Review of Cities: Skylines the Board Game

Cities: Skylines the Board Game

  • Designer: Rustan Hakansson
  • Publisher: Kosmos
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Thames&Kosmos

From the Paradox website: Cities: Skylines is a modern take on the classic city simulation. The game introduces new game play elements to realize the thrill and hardships of creating and maintaining a real city whilst expanding on some well-established tropes of the city building experience. It also includes the ability to mod the game to suit your play style as a fine counter balance to the layered and challenging simulation. You’re only limited by your imagination, so take control and reach for the sky!   I have actually been tempted to download this game for my PC as I have always loved the genre.  (Disclaimer – I really love the genre due to my work on the game Suburbia, from Bezier Games)

I was pleasantly surprised to get a note from Thames&Kosmos that they had advance copies of their new release to play.  Cities: Skylines – The Board Game is a co-operative game based on this computer game.  There have been a number of ports from the digital world to the analog boardgame, admittedly with some varying results (Doodle Jump, Anno 1503, XCOM the boardgame, Starcraft the boardgame, Reigns: The Council). 

Gameplay starts with a number of land boards being visible, the exact number varying depending on the scenario or whether you are playing the basic introductory game. (Note that the rules are actually quite confusing on this – make sure you read the rules to the particular scenario you are going to play.)

The goal is to finish a number of milestones (a milestone being the completion of one of the land boards) and to make the inhabitants of your city happy.   At the start of each milestone, a land board is bought, and it is flipped over to show its developed side. Well, the side to be developed – as it will initially be filled with an empty grid and roads.  Each area of land which is bounded by roads, sea or the edge of the board is called a District. As you add more boards to your map, it is possible to expand districts into larger areas.

Players have a hand of construction cards that show what they can build.  There are actually three different levels of cards, and each will have their own supply deck.  Players start with only Level 1 cards, but are free to draw cards from any stack as the game is played.  The cards tend to get more complex and more expensive in higher Levels, but then they also come with greater rewards.  That being said, many of the basic buildings which your city will surely require can only be found in Level 1. The team will have to carefully examine the growth of their city to decide which stacks they want to draw from.

 As this is a cooperative game, the players should discuss and plan how to best develop the city. The cards show what effects the building will have on the city, for example increasing the need for garbage collection, decreasing crime, or giving a bonus if placed next to a park.  In addition, it is always important to take into account the cards of the other players as you can sometimes take advantage of synergistic effects or you might want to choose a particular card/placement location in order to leave something free for a larger reward for a card held by another player.

There is an administration board which all players can see – this measures all the different variables in the city (well, at least the ones that matter to you).  At the top, you have tracks for the Power needs, Water needs and Garbage status of the city. At the end of each Milestone, you will have to take into account where you are on each of these tracks.  In the middle of the board is your Happiness meter which you can think of as your victory point track. Beneath this is the Employment/Unemployment level. Finally, the bottom of the board has tracks for Pollution, Traffic and Crime.   You must always keep an eye on these tracks because you cannot play a card that would cause you to exceed the final space on any of these tracks. The team also has a shared treasury which is kept on/near the board as well.

So, on a turn, the active player has three options: Play a card, exchange cards or End the Milestone.  The first option happens most often – and to play a card, you discard tbe card, and follow the directions on the bottom portion of the card and place a matching tile to the board.  Cardboard tiles represent residential, commercial, industrial, and other buildings, and they have varied base shapes that are placed on the developed boards on the grid. You have to make sure that you have enough money in the shared treasury to pay for the construction! There is usually a cost to play the card, and then often a benefit immediately gained.  Some cards also have a conditional bonus which is granted if the tile for this card is directly adjacent to a Level 1 service building or in the same district as a Level 2 or Level 3 service building. Other conditional effects only are valid if certain criteria are met as printed on the card. The effects of the tile placement generally affect the stats of your city; look at the markers on the Administration board, and move the markers for the associated stats accordingly.  In general, you cannot play a card if the results of the placement would push any of the stat bars off the red end of the range. The card which is played is discarded from the game and the active player fills his hand by drawing one card from any of the three stacks.

To exchange a card, the player must spend 2 dollars from the group treasury and then may discard any card from their hand and takes the top facedown card from any of the three stacks OR may take a previously discarded card. 

To end the milestone, there must be at least one tile in each district in play. If desired, the active player uses their turn to end the milestone and then some interim scoring occurs.  Looking at the tracks on the top of the Administration board (power, water, garbage), for each step in the negative (red/orange) range on these tracks, the players decrease their position on the Happiness bar below.  Note that if the Happiness track ever reaches negative 5, the game immediately ends and the players lose. Next, after altering the Happiness bar from the tracks above, take the new Happiness level and transfer the score (whether positive or negative) to the Skyline scoreboard.  This Skyline board represents the team’s overall score. If this score ever gets to -10 or worse, the game also immediately ends as a loss. Next, look at the Employment bar. For each space away from zero, the team must spend a dollar from the treasury. If you do not have enough money to pay the cost, then the team loses as well.  Finally, the next board piece must be chosen. There is a cost listed on the backside of each tile. Pay the costs for the tile you wish to play, flip it over and start a new Milestone. Again, if you do not have enough money to pay for a new tile, the team loses the game. Finally, each player can exchange any/all cards from their hands and draw new cards from the facedown piles (you may not choose previously discarded cards at this stage).

If this were the final Milestone, there is a slightly more stringent rule to end the phase (and game) – each district on the board must have at least 2 tiles in each.  You follow the same scoring rules as noted above. There is a final bit of scoring where you assess the bottom three bars (pollution, crime and traffic). For each space away from zero on these tracks, you take one point away from your overall score.   Assuming that you have not lost the game due to excess negative Happiness, excess negative scores on the Skyline board nor going bankrupt, you will compare your score to a chart to see how well you have done. The quick and dirty rubric is that a city is deemed successful is you have scored more than 30 points by the end of the game.

we’re often making a City of No Importance….

My thoughts on the game

Cities: Skylines provides the players with an interesting puzzle to solve.  Like many city building games, each building that you add to the city can positively and negatively affect your city and its statistics.  I like the way that the game is set up in that the decisions are not always simple. Some cards will affect multiple statistics, and you will have to weigh the plusses and minuses of each play.  Some cards may have conditional effects which may require certain board conditions to already exist OR may cause you to play them in areas to avoid invoking a negative conditional effect.

The administration board is a colorful and central way to keep track of everything.  The tracks are color coded to remind you (in general) that moving towards the red areas is bad.   I would have liked the extreme ends of the employment line to also have been red. Further. I would have preferred the board to be textured or maybe even two-layered.  The little cardboard chits can be knocked around fairly easily (always by accident!) – but if those markers move, you pretty much have lost track of where you are in the game.  Having cubes that fit into recesses would have been much more stable and preferable for me. We ended up having to move our treasury to the other side of the table as the Administration board to prevent arms and dangling sleeves from continually being right on top of the board in order to limit any accidental movement of the markers.

There is an interesting risk/reward in the three stacks of cards.  Many of the basic and necessary buildings are found in the I deck, but the service buildings in that stack require later placed buildings to be physically touching them to confer a positive effect.  The service buildings in the later stacks spread their effect over the entire district in which they are located, but the other cards are more costly or have other restrictions which sometimes makes them more difficult to play.

I like the way that the rules are introduced.  There is a basic scenario of only three boards which just teaches you the basics of playing buildings and keeping score.  Then there are four successive scenarios, each of which teaches you one new rule – but in this way, the players are never overwhelmed with all the rules at once.   The game can be truly complex with all of the additions, and I think it would be too much for most people to jump right into a game with everything – of course, YMMV, and you are free to set up the game however you like.

Cities: Skylines appears to be a faithful port of the computer game.  Obviously, it is a little simplified as there isn’t a computer running all the different things in the background, but this game still gives you an enjoyable puzzle of getting things in the right places at the right time.  Players have to work together to form a cohesive strategy, and while the game theoretically plays the same with different player counts; it’s nice to have extra eyes looking at the city to help come up with the plan on how to grow it in the best way possible.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…Nathan Beeler

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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4 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Cities: Skylines the Board Game

  1. Pingback: Dale Yu: Review of Cities: Skylines the Board Game – Herman Watts

  2. Mikko Saari says:

    I highly recommend giving the PC game a go. It’s a top notch city-builder, and I’m not saying it just because the game is made by Colossal Order here in my home town, Tampere.

  3. Garry Rice says:

    I think I enjoyed my one solo play of the game thus far, but it doesn’t ent feel particularly realistic for a city builder as you are restricted to building only the cards in hand…and if you can’t get those services and utilities drawn that you need, well, your city just isn’t going to go very far. I am curious to try it with more players and see if the greater selection of cards will help with this.

    • Dale Yu says:

      Garry, would def try it with more people. or play a mock 3 or 4p game as solo. When you have multiple hands of cards, it’s more interesting. The group has more to choose from, and the timing issues add another depth to the decision making… i.e. Garry could play his water treatment plant now, and then Larry has a Business that benefits from it. But Garry’s water treatment is -2 population, while the one Larry has is cheaper and doesn’t affect population…. etc

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