Dale Yu: Review of San Francisco

San Francisco

  • Designer: Renier Knizia
  • Publisher: rebel studio
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by distributor, Asmodee NA

san francisco

Say the publisher:  “For San Francisco, the first half of the 20th century is an era of dynamic growth and new opportunities. It’s also a chance for you — junior urban planner — to take part in a contest for the most amazing reconstruction plan of the city. Sit down with your sketchbook and create a project that will make you stand out from the competition. Design a beautiful city in this game by Reiner Knizia, world-famous board game designer.  In the board game San Francisco, you become an urban planner whose goal is to create the greatest redevelopment plan of the famous city in California. Design districts in each of the five types, racing against all the other planners. Choose the right moment to take on new projects — but be careful, if you take on too many projects it’ll be harder to gain more. Earn more prestige by cleverly designing a system of cable car connections. Lay foundations and carefully design the nearby landscape, allowing you to build new skyscrapers. Create a new vision of San Francisco that will gain the most rewards, and win through fame and recognition.”

To set up the game, each player takes a city board and puts it in front of themselves.  The main scoring board is placed in the center with the hexagonal completion tokens and the round advantage tokens being placed on the appropriate spaces.  The bonus tokens are placed down the right side of the board. Under the scoring board, place the project board with the foundation tokens on it.  The deck of project cards is placed next to this board.


On a turn, the active player takes one of two choices: place a project or finalize projects.

To place a project, the top card from the project deck is drawn and then placed face up in one of the 3 slots underneath the project board.  Make sure that all the cards in the slot can be seen.  If a Foundation icon is seen on the card, place a Foundation token on it.

To finalize projects, the player takes all the projects from one of the three slots; however, in order to do this, he must have fewer contracts than the number of project cards in the slot.  After you take the cards, you gain a contract; and if whenever there is a time when all players have at least one contract, everyone discards one so that there is always a player who does not have any contracts.  The collected project cards may be placed onto your city board; though you can choose to discard any cards you don’t wish to place.

san francisco cards

To place the cards, the cards must be placed in the leftmost free space of the row of matching color on your board.  Black-colored cards are wild and can be placed anywhere.  The value of the card is seen on the left hand side of the card.  If you are the first person to finish a district; that is place 5 cards in a row, you take the hexagonal bonus token for the corresponding color.  

If the card you placed has cable car tracks on it, check to see if it connects to the depot printed at the bottom of your board; if so, place a cable car token on that card.  As you place cards, you may connect previously placed cards to the network; all of these cards get cable car tokens.  There are also cards which act as cable car depots – if you place this card, this gives you an additional depot that you can connect to in your city.

Cards with foundation tokens on them are special; if the value of the orthogonally adjacent cards in your city are worth 7 or more together; then you can place a skyscraper on this foundation.  For each seaside card that you have built; you reduce the value needed to build a skyscraper by 1.  The first player to build a skyscraper takes the Master Builder token and will keep it until another player has built MORE skyscrapers than him.


City Square cards have a variable value; they are normally worth zero.  However, if it is adjacent to any car that is on the cable car network, it is worth 4.

The last thing about the project cards are the Bonus icons (they look like a compass) – when you place a second card with this icon in a district, you take the corresponding bonus for the district or the wild token that adds cable cars to any previously played card.  The possible bonuses:

  • A token to increase a card’s value by 2
  • An extra card, wild colored baseball park worth 4
  • A new cable card depot card (wild color)
  • A token worth 1.5 points
  • A token that allows you to discard 2 contracts at any time.

The game ends immediately when either the last foundation token is placed on a card OR any player has completely filled their player board with project cards.  When this happens, it is time to award the advantage tokens. Look at each district, and award then based on players’ relative standing in value for each district – ties broken by the leftmost card.  Award the advantage tokens for the most cable cars similarly, breaking ties by the number of cable cars in the leftmost column.

Finally, tabulate your score – the things you add up:

  • District completion tokens (1VP each)
  • Advantage tokens (2.5VP, 2VP, 1VP, -1VP)
  • Skyscrapers built (1VP each)
  • The Master Builder token (1VP)
  • Bonus Token (1.5VP)


The player with the most points wins; ties broken in favor of the player with the most cable cars on their board.

My thoughts on the game

San Francisco is another super interesting design from Herr Doktor Knizia.  For me, the hook is that there are fewer ways to score points, and with the lower VP totals (winners usually are around 10-13), this makes every point count.   I like the way that this granularity makes every decision feel that much bigger.

The card distribution system reminds me of Coloretto – though here the restriction is in the contracts in your area.  Clever management of the contract situation can allow you to get free choice of better cards (well, of course, as long as the right cards are drawn from the deck at the right time).   Also, in this game, though you have to take a contract each time you take cards; you can simply discard cards that don’t work for you. 

When I first read the rules I thought that the contracts would be mostly processional, that players would generally take offerings right after each other, and therefore, the number of contracts would generally stay close to each other – but in most games, players get on different schedules.  We have had times where one player had as many as 3 contracts while someone else had none.  Being in an advantageous contract situation is crucial for picking up the foundation tokens that lead to 1VP skyscrapers OR to get a juicy 3 or 4 value card which will give you enough power to build said skyscraper.

Much of the scoring comes from the six different majority contests (for the different colors and the train tokens) – but with so many different contests, it’s hard to figure out sometimes on what to focus on.   For me, I just try to play in the moment, and only ask where people are in different colors when I’m trapped between choices.   Most of the cards offer some sort of benefit, and it’s often up to whether you’re going for specific cards in specific places or if you’re willing to take as many cards as possible and hope that raw quantity is enough to win the day.  

You might also be willing to take lower valued cards that give you bonus icons as the bonus rewards can be pretty powerful…  Furthermore, it is unlikely that cards can’t be useful to you in some way as there are so many different options.

The game can play quickly, but it might depend on your group.  If you’re trying to check the relative position of all the players in all of the majority contests, it could bog down.  Our games are coming in around 40 minutes now, and there is a lot of game here for that time frame…

Graphically, I like the box art, and I like the color scheme.  I have found the cards a bit confusing – as it is a bit confusing that only the leftmost quadrant of the card determines the color of the card; and some cards are solid in color while others have sectors of varying color.  Second, near the end of the game, the board colors are exactly the same color saturation as the cards, and it can get a bit confusing to my eyes to figure out which spaces are filled with cards and which spaces just show the empty board underneath.


San Francisco provides a game where you have to make decisions on what is best for your growing city.  Though it plays in a fairly short time, it’s not “easy”.  In fact, I think that it’s a bit difficult sometimes to see how your choices early on will end up affecting your endgame scoring situation.  I have very much enjoyed the close competition that the game seems to engender, and I look forward to playing it more to further explore the game.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Lucas Hedgren: In my one play, (I lost, 11 to 10 to 10 in a 3p game) I found the Coloretto-style card drafting to be unsatisfactory. I didn’t feel like I could manipulate the piles into my favor, even when I had the fewest contracts for most of the game. A bit, but not a lot. Considering the pedigree, it is very possible, even likely, that I am missing some nuance to that portion of the game, but I am rating it on what I experienced, not on what I missed. In general I felt not very in control of my outcome in what cards I ended up with. The card placement aspect was more enjoyable, but nothing unique or amazing. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, John P
  • Neutral. Lucas H.
  • 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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