Dale Yu: Review of Happy City

Happy City

  • Designers: Toshiki Sato, Airu Sato
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Players: 2-5
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played, 5 with review copy provided by Gamewright

happy city

Happy City is a new light city building game published here by Gamewright.  In this game, players start with a single building, and over the course of the game, grow their city to as many as 10 cards.  The main goal is to have a happy populace – your final score mostly being the product of your population (green people icons) and your happiness (pink hearts) at the bottom of your cards.

To start the game, each player gets a starting building and 2 coins.  The middle of the table is set up.  The three types of basic green residences are placed on the table (one less than the number of players for each type).  Then the 3 different decks of building cards are shuffled and placed in a row.  The backs of each deck tell you the costs of the buildings found in that deck as well as the relative distribution of colors in that deck. Finally, the special cards are set out – randomly chosen, 2 more than the number of players.  There are both regular and expert special cards – choose one type to use in this game.


The game will be played in a number of rounds – until one or more players has ten buildings in their area.  There are two phases to each round.

A] Income phase – looking at the bottom left of all the cards in your area, sum up the amount seen in the coin icons there and take that much from the bank.  In the first round, all players collect one coin, as all the starting buildings have 1 coin in the bottom left corner.

B] Action phase – this is done clockwise starting with the player holding the Start Player card.  The first thing to do is that the active player may discard one of the cards in the central array.  Then, the player draws new cards from the stack/stacks of their choice until three cards are face up in the center.  Now, the player can purchase one of these three cards or one of the basic dwelling cards by paying the cost seen in the upper left.  This new card is taken from the center and placed in their playing area.   If they do not or choose not to buy a building, then the player simply collects a coin from the supply.  

Finally, the active player may choose to get a Special Building.  You may only have one in the entire game.  To do so, you must have collected cards which match the distribution shown on the special card.  Take the special card and add it to your area as well.


You may never have more than one card with the same name, and you may never have more than 10 buildings.

The next player then takes their action phase, and this continues until all players have completed their action phase. If one or more players has 10 cards at this time, the game ends.  Otherwise play another round.

End of the game – once one player has 10 buildings at the end of a round, it is time to calculate your score.  Your main score is calculated by multiplying the number of green people icons with your pink hearts (as found at the bottom of your cards).  Some cards may subtract hearts from your total, so be sure not to miss that.   Tiebreakers go to the player with the most coins leftover.


My thoughts on the game

Happy City is a super simple and elegant engine builder.  There is admittedly not much complexity here, but it is a great starter/entry game.  I played it twice with my adult gaming group, and it was enjoyable enough, but I could tell it wasn’t something they were going to ask for each week.  Then, over the holidays, I played with my 8-year-old niece, and it was a smash hit.  It was a good level for her, and it was certainly interesting enough for me to play it repeatedly.

At the start, you only have one building and all it does is make you a coin.  Most of the buildings in the lowest level deck provide more income, and this is what you need to get your engine going.  There are certainly a few cards which offer hearts and people, but not many.  This deck is also a good place to start collecting the colors you want for the Special cards.

While at first I thought the game was processional, after a few plays, there is a surprising bit of subtlety in building the engine.  The biggest step is figuring out when you need to pass.  The game is quite short, as you only get to add 9 cards total to your starting building before the game ends.  If you add only basic (lowest level) cards to get your engine going, you’ll only have room for 2 to 4 “big” cards to generate most of your points.

However, if you skip a turn (or two) along the way, you can set yourself up for stronger cards earlier in the game.  For instance, if you have 3 coins and an income of 3, you could pass on a turn, collect your coin for passing, and then when you take income again, you’ll now have 7 coins – enough for any card in the middle deck, and a decent chance of picking up a card from the highest level.  As the cards get more expensive, they tend to come with more income/points.  Sure, you might end up having one card less at the end of the game, but you might be able to do more with the stronger cards.  Also, if all your opponents pass along the way, you might end up with the same number but stronger cards – also a good end result for you.

The basic Special cards may offer strong scoring possibilities or great income.  As you can only choose one each game, and you have to be the first to collect it, you will need to carefully watch what the other players are doing.  The expert special cards are a bit more complex as many of them give ongoing bonuses – this is definitely the version of the game I’d play with my gaming group.

However, that will never happen… Not because the game is too simple, but because it got the ultimate vote of confidence from my niece.  After playing it a few times, she fell in love with it and asked if she could have it.  Given that it’s Christmas time (and also her birthday), how could I refuse?  So the game now has a new home, where I’m sure it will get played to death – and that is the best fate for a game to have.

Happy City would have been a keeper for my collection otherwise.  It is a great entry level game, and likely could serve as a gateway game as well.  The rules are short, easily digestible, and the game plays quickly.  The artwork is simple and clean, and this is a game I would easily recommend for people who are looking for something on the lighter side.  Definitely not a game for hard-core gamers, but it really hits the mark for the entry level.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Brennan: Each round, get your income and buy a card from the common pool (placing it in your 10-space tableau) that either provides income, green icons, or pink icons. Your score at the end is the multiple of the last two. It only goes 10 rounds or so (depending on whether people pass so as to save for bigger cards). The main decision is when to switch from buying income cards to scoring cards. Each player can acquire one special effect to differentiate themselves but there are no other effects in the game so this is the lightest of tableau builders, very family oriented (and short enough to suit), but nothing much to drag a gamer back for more.

Dan B.: I generally agree with Patrick. I enjoyed my plays well enough and I’d be willing to play again given how short it is, but I wouldn’t suggest it with gamers. If I wanted an engine-building game to play with non-gamers I’d certainly buy it for that purpose.

Simon N.: I got to play this game a fair bit during lockdown as it’s available online (Boardgamearena). It is easy to explain and the gameplay is straight forward. Apart from restraining your purchases to grab their more expensive cards in a later round there isn’t much to keep a Gamer entertained. That said it’s a good entry point into an engine building card game.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y
  • I like it. John P, Eric M.
  • Neutral. Steph H, Patrick B, Mark Jackson, Dan B., Simon N.
  • Not for me…

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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