Publisher: Amigo/Eagle Games
The City came out nearly 10 years ago by Amigo in a non-English edition. I had my eye on it then but never obtained a copy because of all the hassle. I have played and admired Race for the Galaxy but never officially joined the fandom. I knew it was a really good game with lots of replayability and strategy but somehow, perhaps due to my game group, we never got past the icons and also the theme. Sci-fi is really one of the themes that is polarizing, no matter how much you rave about game mechanics, some people just have a hard time embracing it.
Enter The City, which is supposedly a stripped down version of RftG with a benign theme of city building. It certainly caught my attention, especially the more recently Kickstarted version of the game with much better production values and beautiful artwork. The illustrations are fantastic and really worth mentioning. I have not seen the Amigo edition except for photos posted online and I must say the EGG version is fantastic. I hope the artist, Joao Tereso gets commissioned for other artwork. Also kudos for EGG putting the artist’s name on the cover and making it as prominent as Mr. Lehmann’s name.
In The City, there is a huge deck of cards and players get a hand of cards to build a personal tableau. Rules are dirt simple: you play a card by paying for the cost with remaining cards in your hand, put the card in your personal tableau and then score VPs’ and collect income (in the form of more cards). In this way, you play a card every round and then collect VPs’ and income from all your cards, including the ones previously played. The points and income will snowball each round. Obviously, different cards have different costs and give you different amount of VPs’ and income. You can also build some synergy by playing specific types of cards to score more points or income by having the right combination of icons. If you want to save or not build anything for one round, you can do a survey to pick up 5 cards from the deck and discarding 4 from your entire hand. The person who reaches 50 points ends the game and the most VPs’ win.
First, the game is really short and sweet. The game lasts 7-9 rounds and by the time your engine is up and running in rounds 4-5, the game will be over shortly. Overall, the game should take 10-15 minutes per rounds but in some instances, it can drag a little if your opponent is keen on reading all the card text and planning out which cards to keep or discard. I don’t think the game was built with that in mind since it is meant to be short. Nonetheless, for new players, this can be an issue if you want to read through all the text. It can be slightly daunting with the variety of cards but this is probably an issue only in the first dozen plays.
While The City has its roots with RftG, it is certainly a distant cousin. The game is highly simplified and it’s a race to the finish line. The goal is to rack up 50 points as fast as possible and it can come down to the cards you get allowing you to form synergy between the symbols and icons that gets you more VPs’ or income. Once you assemble the high scoring cards that allow 5-7 VP per round, the game will end quickly. So, one has to pay attention to what your opponent is doing, but otherwise there is no direct player interaction and almost a true multiplayer solitaire.
I love a good filler but unfortunately, The City just did not work for us. I am not sure I can exactly pinpoint where it failed other than we did not have fun with 2p after a dozen back-to-back plays. Perhaps this is better with more players, but I don’t think the game is any different since it is largely a solo effort. For me, the cadence of the game felt very similar for each hand. Rounds 1-4 is to establish some baseline income or engine so that you can target the mid-high value VP cards in rounds 5-8. Once the high-value cards are played, the game is quickly wrapped up in one or two rounds. The game IS a race to see who can reach 50. I have done it in 7 rounds, not sure you can do it in 6. Perhaps there is room for a slow burn where you collect a small steady stream of VPs’ each round without having a high-value card. I have not yet discovered that for myself.
Often, in the early rounds, one tries to form a strategy by playing cards targeting specific icons, hoping to draw the right cards in rounds 3-5 to get that combination going. If that is accomplished, you’d have a snowball effect. If that fails, you will struggle and most likely lose if your opponents gets it going. When you reach the late rounds, if all is going smoothly, you can be drawing as many as 12-14 cards per round, sometimes even more and then discarding down to the limit. I have to admit it feels slightly disjointed, drawing so many cards, discarding them and then looking at cards that are >6 or 7 in value to play while completely ignoring the cards you were so desperately seeking 2 rounds ago. The transition between having not enough cards to an overwhelming abundance is extremely quick and can happen within 1-2 rounds. Even though there are a lot of card in The City, they are all slight tweaks or variants from each other, which makes the game very intuitive and beginner-friendly. So, if you want an icon-laden, text-heavy behemoth, you are looking at the wrong place. This is where I am at a crossroads: I think the point of the game is simplicity and speed, yet I kept on wishing the game had a little more and lasted a little longer. However, by making it longer, the game would have lost its identity.The length and speed of the game is certainly a huge plus and the time it takes for you to complain about luck of the draw is probably longer than it is for you to win the next hand.
There is no doubt The City will appeal to some folks as is clear in online forums. I don’t think that The City is a bad or poorly designed game. Quite the contrary, I think there is an audience for this game which probably just isn’t us. The whole simplicity-depth-low luck-short playing time demands from veteran gamers is not an easy one to solve. I too, want a simple, deep game with short playing time. In that sense, Mr. Lehmann has already achieved that with RftG – if only the theme for RftG is as benign as building cities.
Initial impressions: Not for me