Surviving the Purge: Ginkgopolis (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Xavier Georges
  • Artist: Gael Lannurien
  • Publisher: Pearl Games
  • Players: 1-5
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Times Played: 49

Greg Schloesser also reviewed Ginkgopolis on the Opinionated Gamers, way back in 2013. Dale Yu also took an early look at Ginkgopolis in 2012 before the Essen release that year. 

In the year 2212 urban planning goes green and we the planners, are tasked with building a habitable, thriving city and keeping our resources in check.

Ginkgopolis is a City Building/Area Control game for 1-5 players from Xavier Georges, the designer who helped bring us such games as Troyes, Tournay and Carson City. In Ginkgopolis the players use their resources to build buildings to gain success points. At the end of the game, the player with the most success points wins.

At the beginning of the game, the players will select three character cards which tell them what resources, tiles and success points that they start the game with. These cards will form the beginnings of their tableau of cards, that tableau will continue to grow through the game as you add cards to it. Cards in a player’s tableau give the players bonuses based on the action that they take on their turn. The three starting character cards can be given out either at random, by following the instructions in the rule book or you can have a draft for the cards. The players are then dealt a hand of 4 cards from a deck made up of card A-L and the 1-3 cards of each of the three colors.

On a turn, players simultaneously select from 1 of 3 possible actions, when everyone has selected their action they are revealed and starting with the starting player the players resolve those actions. Players can Exploit, they can Urbanize or they can Construct.

In order to Exploit, the player selects a card by itself in order to gain resources, success points or tiles. If the player plays a card with a letter on it, they get the choice of either a tile or a resource. If a player plays a card with a number on it, the player gets rewarded with the proper reward. If the card is blue, you get tiles, if the card is yellow you receive success points and if the card is red you get resources. Each of those is equal to how many floors the tile of the corresponding card is stacked. For example, if a player plays a Red 17 card and the Red 17 tile is the third floor of a building, the player receives 3 resources. The player then places the card they played into the discard pile.

In order to Urbanize, the player selects a card with a letter and a tile. Around the modular board, Urbanization tiles from A-L are placed outside each tile. So when a player Urbanizes, the card tells the letter where they are expanding the town and building a new building by placing a new tile. Also when placing the tile they gain the item that the adjacent tiles represent, as many of those items as the building adjacent is high. For example, a player plays the B card and the Blue 6 tile. The player would place the Blue 6 tile where the B disc is, moving the disc outside of where they are building, the player would also place 1 of their resource tokens on the tile signifying that they have now built a new building that is 1 floor high. They would then collect the corresponding bonus of the tile adjacent and any other bonuses that their tableau of cards bestow upon them. The player then discards their card played into the discard pile.

In order for a player to Construct another floor to an existing building the player will select a card with a number and a tile signifying that they are going to add a floor to a building that is already in the city. In order to build another floor, the player must have the available resources. If the tile they are going to place would be the third floor, the player would need to have three resources to place on the building. If the player is placing a tile of a different color on top of a tile, the player has to place one extra resource back into their supply as a “penalty” for playing a different color tile. If the player is placing a tile with a number lower than the tile they are building on, the player has to pay the difference in success points in order to be able to build that floor. The player then would place the card that they played into their tableau for bonuses.

After all of the players have played, they pass their three remaining cards to their left and are dealt one new card. If the draw pile of cards does not have enough cards, new cards are shuffled into the deck corresponding to the new tiles that have been played in the previous rounds. 

Play continues along this way until the piles of tiles have run out. When the tiles have run out the players choose how many tiles in their possession they want to return to the draw pile, collecting one success point for every tile they place back in the draw pile. When those tiles have been exhausted the game ends and success points are tallied to determine the winner.

Success points are gained in various ways, through play the players can gain success points via card play, returned tiles, etc. Cards in the tableau that contain an equal’s sign are tallied for success points. Then districts within the city are counted and success points given out accordingly. A district is an area in the city that contains two or more tiles of the same color that are adjacent. Resources are counted up and the player that has the majority gains success points equal to the total number of resources in that district, second place receives the amount of resources equal to how many resources they have in the district and on down the line. Each player also is given two tokens at the beginning of the game that they can turn in when they would like a new set of 4 cards, those tokens are worth two points apiece at the end of the game. The winner of the game is the player with the most success points.

And that is how you play Ginkgopolis.

The hardest thing I have found for new players to get used to is going to be knowing exactly what each action gains you as a player. The symbols on the cards are easily interpreted and once they are properly explained most will have no problem knowing what to do after a round or two. You always want to be aware of what your tableau allows you to do for each action. Keeping track of those things seems an easy thing to do, but it will happen that someone will forget. If you are playing in a confined space, the spread of the game may cause issues as it can be a bit of a table hog, especially at max player count. It’s important to remember to always discard your cards to the discard pile, not to the piles of cards waiting to get in the game and use the grey wooden markers to always mark new tiles as they are added to the board. 

The rule book is well laid out and easy to follow, with well written examples of play and a good breakdown of the end game bonuses on the cards at the end. I always complain about tiny text rulebooks and Ginkgopolis suffers from this. With my old man readers, I have no issues, but it would be nice if we could just go to a normal sized font across the board in gaming. 

The components are top notch, from the wooden resources to the cardboard chits they are all of the best quality and look fantastic on the table as the game is being played. With the tiles being the playing board and the player’s tableau’s constantly changing, it means that no two games will ever play the exact same way, sometimes you will have to try to score victory points as fast as you can based on the cards, sometimes it pays to keep urbanizing the board because of the bonuses you are gaining, but you will need to think on your feet and have the ability to switch up your strategy at a moment’s notice sometimes based on what is going on around you.

I first played Ginkgopolis back in 2013 at Geekway to the West, I believe that was only my second time attending a gaming convention. We played it twice that weekend and then took an immediate trip to Miniature Market on the way home and grabbed a copy, good thing I did that, given the scarcity that soon followed. Since that time there have been 47 more plays, both on the table and via online gaming. The game changes each time organically, there is never a board that looks the same, never a tableau that will be the same.. Some are heavy urbanization games where everything just spreads outward, and others have been heavily fought building games where buildings get to be 5 levels tall. It all depends on the cards that you have built into your tableau. It’s a wonderful thing for me to see each game evolve differently, yet feel comfortable in knowing what I should be doing. There are very few games where I can say that and back it up, but Ginkgopolis is an exception. There are frustrations during the game, sometimes your tableau tells you to do one thing, but your cards and tiles tell you that you should be doing something different. While you need to be flexible and you need to be tactical and do other things, you can’t do that for too long or you will end up falling behind. 

I’d be horribly remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Ginkgopolis has a theme that isn’t the same as every other board game. There is no trading in the Mediterranean here, there are no pirates, no dragons, no vikings raiding. It’s a game all about balancing the precious few resources that we have available. Using them at a pace that allows for more to be produced at the same pace. Those turns where you have no resources to use slow you down and you have to figure out how to gain more, exploiting what is already there. It is a game about the human race and our inability to control our resource usage and how we gain those resources, dare we say it’s a game that has a message, if you want to see it. 

After forty nine plays, a lot via the digital implementation on Boiteajeux — feel free to challenge me Vacabck, but also quite a few on the table Ginkgopolis used to be my absolute favorite game to play, my number one game if you will. After teaching it a few times it dropped though as it is an obtuse game to teach. There really is nothing like Ginkgopolis to help lead your fellow players. That is the only fault I find with the game, that difficulty of explaining how things work. Once you see it in action though, folks get it, it just becomes remembering when to discard or when you keep a card in your tableau that trips folks up. Ginkgopolis is still in my Top 5 games, it didn’t fall that far. In fact, Xavier Georges has two games in my Top 5, which makes me wonder what I am missing in Troyes & Tournay as those never really appealed to me, even after a couple plays. One thing all of his games have going on is that they don’t rely on one thing to drive the game, there are always multiple little mechanisms working. Usually games like this feel like a mess to me, but somehow Xavier and his development team make sure that they work flawlessly. Sure, it may take some effort to teach, but the payoff is always there, each and every play.

Added bonus for those interested, my Top 5:

5) Azul

4) Modern Art

3) Carson City

2) Ginkgopolis

1) Carcassonne

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Larry (3 plays):  Gink was disappointing to me.  The design is sound, but it feels highly chaotic and I really don’t like that level of chaos in my games.  I just never feel like I’m in control and it seems as if the fortunes of the game can turn at a moment’s notice, through events beyond your control.  I know there’s a bunch of folks who adore it, but it’s a game I avoid whenever I can. It’s actually pretty close to a “Not for me” rating.

Brian L: Ginkopolis is oddly themed and a bit hard to initially get your head around but has interesting options and excellent depth. There is a sense of competitive “sharing” throughout, whether it is which card to play or leave in the hand to pass, or the development of the board (or even the number of tiles to return to try to perfectly time the game end). At the same time, you have your own tableau and fight for area control. The mix is compelling and requires fluid strategy. There is no opportunity to build and play in your own sandbox in this game, so to do best you must not only plan your own actions but also leverage the way others are shaping the city. A game that has also survived my recent purge. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it. Brandon Kempf, Brian L. 

I like it. 

Neutral.  Larry

Not for me…  

This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.