Cities – Review

First of all, I need to apologize for the lack of posts lately. I’ve got no excuse other than lack of motivation. I’ve sat down numerous times to write, and really wanted to write, but just didn’t have the motivation to dig in. I’ve felt a hesitance to organize my thoughts in anything remotely coherent and, instead, I’ve gravitating towards some light novel reading, browsing the web, social networking, and your basic time killing/wasting activities of the modern networked couch potato. Sorry about that and I hope to get my groove back. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective), I’ve not slowed down buying new games so it’s not like I don’t have some things to talk about.

So, I thought I’d give a shot at describing a recent addition to my collection, Cities. Matt Evett taught me Cities a couple of years ago at my first GLG and I liked it. I’d looked around for a copy but it seemed out of print and somewhat forgotten. The game was originally published in 2008 by Emma Games and was designed by Martyn F. It gained some notoriety by receiving a Spiel des Jahres recommendation in 2009. A couple months ago I saw that Z-Man games was producing the game using the original artwork by Peter Hermans so I placed a copy on my wishlist and let is stew for awhile until I was sure I wanted to get a copy. As luck (bad?) would have it, an evil friend of mine was looking to get enough games for free shipping and asked if I wanted to order a few games so I caved and Cities was on its way before I knew it.

The game, as packaged, allows 1-4 players to compete in gathering the most points placing randomly drawn tiles into a 4×4 square. The game is played solitaire and the most points at the end wins. Add another copy of the game and it scales to 8 cleanly without lengthening play (barring analysis paralysis of course).

The game is completely abstract although there has been a light dusting of theme. All players start with the same set of tiles numbered 1-24, and containing various colored quadrants representing water (blue), parks (green), terraces (red), and attractions (yellow). In addition, each player is given 7 meeples. The lead player shuffles his cards and randomly sets aside 8 tiles. The remaining 16 tiles will form the 4×4 grid by game end. The lead player then draws 3 tiles and calls out the numbers on those tiles. Everybody else pulls the same numbered tiles from their stacks and the everybody places their three tiles on the table in front of them such that only the corners touch. Each player can determine how they would like to orient the tiles. This completes the set up and then the game begins.

Each turn, the lead player draws a tile and calls out the number and all other players find that same numbered tile. Then all players determine how they wish to orient the tile and then place it in their ever growing “city”. At a minimum the tile must touch corners with another tile or be placed fully aligned with one or more tiles. The maximum width of the city is 4 tiles by 4 tiles so this limits growth in all directions. After placing a tile, each player can optionally place one meeple (from the original supply of 7) or move an already placed meeple onto the tile just placed or walk a meeple one tile quadrant to any adjacent tile quadrant.

After the last tile is placed and the final meeple is placed or moved, everyone evaluates their meeple positions for points and the player with the most points wins. Points are awarded depending on what “level” is played but at a highlevel, you get points for meeples standing on clumps of colors and bonuses for specific adjacent colors. For example, if a meeple was standing on a clump of 5 connected yellow quadrants that had 3 orthogonally adjacent red tiles, then the player would score a total of 8 points. A rock/paper/scissors relationship with adjacent colors and the requirement that a meeple stand in the clump to score any points for the clump makes for some relatively anxious decisions during tile placement. To spice things up a bit, terraces (red) don’t score for clumps but, instead, for what the meeple can see while looking horizontally and vertically scoring for all unbroken green and blue tiles that can be spied before hitting the edge of the city (or of course a quadrant of some other color).

Overall, it’s a very light game and almost qualifies as an activity rather than a game. The nice thing is that it can be played solo if you’re in the mood for such a thing, games are VERY short, and it’s very easy to teach (although what colors means what and how to score can be difficult to remember at first).

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