My City (Final thoughts)

Designer: Reiner Knizia

Artist: Michael Menzel

Publisher: Kosmos

Manifest your destiny…over and over and over again (Photo credits: Eric Martin@BGG)

My City is Knizia’s first legacy game. Of course, Knizia’s output is legendary, but he has never produced a legacy game. His recent forays into other prominent mechanisms has led to a bunch of amazing games including Chartae (micro) and The Quest for El Dorado (Deck Building). While My City was recognized by the 2020 Spiel des Jahres committee as a nominee for the main award, it failed to win the coveted prize, losing out to Pictures. Clearly, the game has gained enough attention from the general public, but whether this game has earned accolades among lifestyle gamers is another matter.

There is no good way to write a review for a legacy game with spoilers. So, I won’t even try. In a way, I am writing this review partly for my own use, but also partly to share my experience with other gamers that have completed the game. But be forewarned, there are spoilers to the review and you read at your own risk. The first half is more spoiler free, but the latter half of the game are all my thoughts on each chapter.

The game’s basic premise is classic Knizian: My City is a polyominos game that harkens back to the days of FITS, BITS, etc. Players each have a series of polyomino-shaped buildings grouped into three colors, which they place over a fixed grid printed on individual player boards. Each chapter starts with a clean slate (at least in the beginning), and players will construct their city using these polyomino tiles. A deck of cards representing each building is shuffled and one card is flipped over each turn. Players pick up that building and figure out where to place it on the map, orthogonally adjacent to any previously placed building.

In the beginning, points are scored for avoiding landscapes while penalties are assessing for not covering up certain terrain. As to be expected of a legacy game, more elements will be progressively introduced into each episode as player game boards slowly diverge and become individualize. Players will likely attach stickers onto the board as rewards or penalties after each game. It will likely have new features, new buildings and new scoring rules as the game progresses. Part of the fun in playing a legacy design is to explore how the game evolves over time.

My City has 8 chapters in total, with 3 episodes per chapter for a grand total of 24 episodes in the entire campaign. There is also a pre-printed “Eternal” board on one side of the player boards where players can play one of the scenarios within the game. This serves to make the game more enduring beyond just the legacy aspect of the game.

Being Knizia’s first ever legacy design, I am excited to see how he implements this mechanism. It is not the easiest mechanism to adapt and the legacy genre has had an uneven success till this point. Euro games are notoriously incompatible with the legacy mechanism partly because the nature of Euro games being compact, procedural and less luck-driven which makes it hard to evoke a compelling story arc or sustain an engaging narrative. That said, it’s hard, but not impossible. I think Alexander Pfister has done a great job in making some headway.

I will write my final thoughts on My City at the end of the article when the entire game is completed. (Edit: I have since completed the game).

**Spoilers**

Chapter One: The New Land (Episodes 1-3)

The first three episodes of the game feel like a setup. Players earn 1 point per uncovered tree; minus 1 point for not covering up stones and minus 1 point per empty space. In addition, mid-way through the chapter, similarly clustered buildings also score 1 VP if they are part of the largest cluster for that color. For example, if you have 5 red buildings clustered together on the map, and it is the largest red cluster of buildings, score 5 points. You also get a well in episode 3 where if the well is surrounded by buildings you get 4VPs’. Overall, I think Chapter 1 is there to randomize individual player boards. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but this is still early days.

I have to admit, I don’t quite like that winners are rewarded with a penalty while losers are penalized with a reward. It makes sense design-wise as a catch up mechanism but it does not make sense from a player perspective. Nor does it feel good to win a match and be handed an obstacle. Still, the rewards/penalties are minor and aren’t game changers. I suppose the greater evil might be a runaway victory half way through the campaign and in the spirit of keeping things tight, this might be one (or only) way out of the predicament.

So far, Chapter 1 seems to be a warm up. I hope the game still has some surprises in store. I also hope this is not the case that each Chapter merely increases complexity without really tweaking the game. It is easy to just continually add elements to the game, making it more and more complex. I kind of want to avoid something that starts off as Knizian and end up Feldian. I love Feld games, I also love Knizia. I just want them to be distinct to match the our rotating preferences. Rating: B. This is just the initial chapter. A B rating sounds reasonable.

Given the pandemic situation, we transitioned from a 4 player to 2 player game after Chapter 1.

Chapter Two: The Churches (Episodes 4-6)

Played all three episodes in one sitting with 2 players. Made a mistake in not awarding the loser of the 2 player episodes with a sticker as they are considered as “others”. This chapter sees the addition of 3 church buildings. The churches are punishing. You must place the churches down whenever the card is flipped. Failure to do so means you are out of the episodes. The shape of the churches are also interesting. Several of the pieces are mirror images from the standard pieces which are very helpful. There is the dreaded cross-shaped piece as well. I hate that piece in almost any polyominos game that I play. But, each church does score 3 additional points (5 if you are the loser) if they are surrounded by at least one of type of building. So, each color must be adjacent to the church to score those points. Pesky but fun.

Overall, the churches appear to provide a different avenue from scoring that is opposed to the “similar-colored group” scoring. While not always true, having 3 differently colored buildings touching a church means that it is probably harder to score bonus points for similar color groupings.

Thus far, more and more items and rules are added to the chapter and the rules are getting more complex so to speak. Still, at this point, it is manageable. I will give this chapter a B rating. The churches do shake up scoring quite a bit.

Chapter Three: The Flood (Episodes 7-9)

This chapter is short. Makes sense since we are using half the board for most of the episodes. However, the forest eventually opens up once the sawmill comes into play. The opening up of the forest is a huge relief since land is scarce. The churches are still around and if they come out late in the game, you are pretty much guaranteed an automatic end-of-game scenario. In addition, since uncovered forest squares are not penalized, there is more freedom for placing pieces. Starting at the Sawmill also means that pieces are added bottoms up, tetris-style. Episode 9 in particular really reminded me of FITS, another polyomino game by Knizia. Just like FITS, pieces are placed on the board from the bottoms up with certain squares to be avoided while others, covered up. It is pretty much FITS with theme but there aren’t a lot of changes in chapter 3 that are unique. Eager to see the Chapter Four. I will rate this a C even though I like the Tetris style placement. Somehow, the restrictive scoring just feels…..restrictive.

Chapter Four: Gold Rush (Episodes 10-12)

As mentioned in Chapter 3, the decision to establish the sawmill and thus forcing the game to start at the bottom row is an interesting decision and must have come with some fair amount of consideration. For one thing, a common starting ground means certain objectives such as the race to pick up gold nuggets in this chapter is possible. But as I also mentioned, the game starts to feel eerily similar to FITS. I was surprised at how different the polynomino arrangements felt if the initial placements happened at the bottom or in the middle of the board. It feels much easier in a way stacking up tiles bottoms up as opposed to in all directions. Still, the cluster scoring of similar colored buildings benefits from having access to a lot of options during placement and hence, it favors a mid-board start.

The gold rush chapter is cool. This is my favorite chapter thus far. Part of the reason I suspect is because this chapter is more relaxed for scoring. The forested areas opening up meant that there is now more space for tiles and starting at the saw mill meant that it is easier to stack the polyominoes and plan ahead. I noticed that in this chapter, I am starting to leave exact slots meant for future pieces. I think this was only possible because the game now starts at the bottom row. The church scoring for building adjacency are now easier to plan as well. Moreover the gold nuggets add a different way for scoring. One no longer has to win the round to earn progress pips. Overall, the game is still getting more and more complex. Something I have been fretting. Still, at this point, it is not overwhelming. I will rate this chapter an A.

Chapter Five: The Factories (Episodes 13-15)

The age of industrialization is now upon your city. To my relief, this chapter introduces new ways of scoring, but also removes a few older ones. The walk back is actually quite pronounced. For instance, the sawmill and well are completely removed from the board and the forest squares are now protected space once again. Rocks as penalties also make a come back in the form of pollution. Moreover, contiguous scoring of like-colored buildings has also been removed. This is by far the most drastic change in terms of scoring. The gold nuggets from chapter 4 are still around though, so the race element is still present. I have been wary of the scoring categories, fearing an eventual point-salad extravaganza, but luckily in this chapter, the scoring is balanced out. That’s a positive for me. The changes to the age of industrialization are quite mild though. Episode 13 sees the arrival of the investor that hops between adjacent buildings during tile placement. It will score one point for each movement. Obviously, you want your tiles to be clustered together one after another during placement to promote investor movement. So, if you scatter all your placements on the board, you won’t get many investor points. I have managed to get a maximum of 8 points from investors and a low of 4. Investor points matter in one important way: the game now starts at 0 points on the VP track instead of 5. That means if you do not have any points from investors, you cannot skip a piece which requires a -1 point penalty. This is a critical constraint since the forest is no longer available for placement AND two new factory tiles are introduced. So placement is tight once again and skipping pieces might be necessary.

The new factory tiles are blue and will score two additional VPs’ for each cluster of blue buildings that contain a factory. You start with two new factories, but if you lose the game, you will get to place new stickers on your existing pool of blue buildings and converting them into factories, allowing you to gain more points. The loser will get more rocks thrown at them. This is just a straightforward addition. Nothing particularly exciting.

Overall, this Chapter features new scoring methods, while removing some old ones. I was never a huge fan of contiguous scoring as it often conflicts with other scoring methodologies like church placements. But I guess the conflict is there to promote tension in choosing which routes to score. On the flip side, it does provide an alternate avenue for scoring apart from churches. Its just that I rarely bother to plan for contiguous scoring and see that merely as a byproduct of placement. I try but never go out of the way for this scoring mode as opposed to churches. I will give this a B.

Chapter six: The Mines (Episodes 16-18)

A new wave of scoring with the mines. Actually it’s more a reskin from earlier chapters where there is contiguous scoring of similar-colored buildings. Somehow, I knew this scoring would come back with a vengeance.

There are a series of mountains on the left side of each board and new stickers are placed on the map in the form of mines, but stickers are also applied on the frame of the board for scoring. In each successive episode for this chapter, a different colored mine is introduced with episode 18 having all three types of mines on the board. For each mine, players will score points based on how many similar colored buildings are adjacently placed to form a continuous connection to the matching mine. So if you have 5 blue buildings that are contiguous and at least one that touches the mine, you will score 5 points. More importantly, scoring mines will also allow you to progress on a mine “track”. Each color has its own track and the scores are cumulative between episodes. Presumably, the score track will stretch out across multiple chapters as well. As you hit different milestones on the track, players will reap benefits in the form of progress points, gold nuggets, etc.

The mines are new in this chapter, sort of. As I said, this is just another form of contiguous scoring seen earlier in the game, except now, there is a position attached to the mine with blue and yellow mines at the top and bottom half of the map respectively and red in the middle. I like the extra benefits earned in the game and also there is a race aspect down the mine tracks as some of the benefits are time-sensitive. However, there is some conflict in scoring. Optimal scoring for blue factories require that you form multiple clusters and that is opposed to the contiguous mine scoring. Similarly, church scoring also forces you to spread out placement of different colored tiles that is again opposed to contiguous scoring. The sacrifice for church buildings, I can fathom because some churches score up to 5 points, but the factories feel diluted. To do factory well means doing poorly for mine scoring. So factory scoring usually loses out because mine scoring gives you points in this episode, but also cumulative benefits across chapters.

Overall, a decent addition to the game. The scoring opportunities are ramped up once more and there is a lot more to think about. Consequently, the game is slower. But not by much. I rate this chapter a B minus.

Chapter seven: The Railroad (episodes 19-21)

The railroad comes into town! I suppose with the mining boom, it’s inevitable that the railroad track is now skirting the edge of town. Right at the edge of the board is set of newly laid tracks leading to several branch points with access to different benefits. These tracks have not been laid and part of this chapter is to earn the right to build additional tracks. As tracks are laid, players can take a detour from the main track to pick up benefits like progress points or gold nuggets. However, the further along you move on the main track, the more powerful the benefits at the end of the track. If you constantly take detours, you likely won’t reach the end. On the other hand, if you go all out, there is no guarantee you will win often enough to get the tracks necessary to reach the end. This is the major plot point for chapter 7. Players earn track rights if they completely cover the entire row closest to the train tracks with their polyominos. If you are the first to finish, you get an additional track sticker. The mines from chapter 6 are still ongoing, though its presence might be diminished slightly if you have already finished a couple of the colors along the way. But one of the rewards for the mines at the end are train tracks. So, that remains a potent objective. I noticed that winning the game in this scenario feels less important as there are so many side objectives that can win you progress points, including gold nuggets. Not a bad chapter. I like it. I will give it an A. Definitely one of my favorites

Chapter 8: Prosperity (Episodes 22-24)

We have reached the end of the journey. The finale is here after 24 episodes which took us a total of more than one year to play. The gap between chapters 7 and 8 was probably one of the longest but the game felt familiar and a quick reminder was all we needed. Going into the final chapter, I was ahead by half a dozen points after being quite aggressive with the mines and railroads in chapter 7. After reading the episode scenarios, I felt the coda was quite anti-climactic. No space race, no nuclear winter, no zombie apocalypse. I jest, of course, but the game feels like coming a full circle in that you start off slow, the city development ramps up in the industrial age, and then reaches prosperity where the people want to revert back to nature. In this chapter, players strive to enclose area with red buildings to form parks and putting a tree sticker. Placing yellow buildings around trees also score points. The more trees you plant, or rocks you remove, the more bonus points you will get at the end of the chapter. That’s it. The railway track scoring and port connections from the previous chapter is still around. I get the sense that Knizia intended to end the game by winding things down and going back to the very beginning. I thought linking Chapter 8 with climate change would be good, and in a way, it sort of does by promoting planting trees and going back to nature. Of course, chapter 8 is still more complex than the earliest chapters but it does serve as a good way to wrap up the game. I will give this Chapter a solid B minus for a simple but satisfying end.

Final thoughts

As a Knizia fan, My City is a wonderful attempt by the maestro to add a legacy design to his portfolio. The legacy aspect of the game do not make this game any less of a Knizia. His fingerprints on My City are unmistakable and so his fans can rest easy. I am not surprised that his design strengths – simple and intuitive rules – remains an integral part of My City. However, I do think interaction takes a hit in My City as there is no shared space in the game. This is largely an individual effort with a race element. Still, I find each chapter integrates seamlessly with the overall narrative of the game even though there is a disconnect in city building where one has to constantly rebuild the from scratch. Luckily the continual sculpting of the landscape on your individual player board is a reminder of how things change from game to game. In any case, most of the large changes between chapters happen uniformly for every player and involves a different mode for scoring. So while you might add some rocks, trees or an occasional structure on your board, most player boards would still look pretty similar overall. I consider My City to be a “mild” legacy game where the changes to each chapter are fun and interesting, with minimal preparation or upkeep. This is a good thing. I suspect My City will hit all the right notes for gamers who enjoy a simple legacy game that is not burdened by an array of miniatures, mind numbing stack of cards loaded with texts or a trying setup and tear down routine.

Having praised My City, I will now say that I am unlikely to play it again. In fact, playing this and also Jaws of the Lion, it is clear to me that legacy or campaign style games just don’t sit right with me. The only other legacy game I have completed is Pandemic Season 1. That game started off strong but quickly wore us down. To a lesser extent, I felt the same way with My City. This may sound contradictory, but I liked everything about My City except the idea of “forced” repetitive play. To me, a legacy game shines when it is played within a short period of time to maintain the momentum of story telling. Even for a game like My City where it is decidedly more abstract than Pandemic or Jaws of the Lion, the narrative can get diluted over time if the game starts and stops with long gaps in between and the game drags on. There is nothing we can do to rectify this and it is just a feature of legacy games which goes against how I normally enjoy playing. I love trying out games in “bursts” and cycle through different titles only to eagerly revisit a familiar title with vaguely fond memories of the recent past. This keeps things fresh and I don’t burn out. This doesn’t work for legacy games and My City unfortunately falls into a similar trap. I admit toward the latter chapters, I didn’t really feel a desire to wrap things up especially after a long hiatus mainly because the story feels disconnected and picking it up involves some effort. Again, this sounds contradictory but if this was a stand alone, it would be a non-issue but the legacy label made all the difference. I fully admit this is quirky logic, but does reflects how I feel. Admittedly, legacy games gives you sense of completion which a regular game can’t. I mean after a marathon of any sorts, one feels closure regardless if the feeling is positive or negative. I wouldn’t necessarily call it epic, but I guess this is as close as it will get for a Knizia.

Overall, My City will work just fine with most folks. In fact, I know I like it more than Pandemic or Jaws of the Lion. As repetitive as the overall structure of the game is, each session is short. Certainly, I think one should at least play one chapter per sitting as significant rules changes occur after each chapter. If you haven’t played a legacy, I actually think this is a good place to dip your toes in. For me, I think the once around for My City is a good enough experience. If I want to play a Knizia polyominoes, I will have to reach for FITS.

Lastly, it is possible to play My City without destroying the board with stickers – we used Blu-tack instead. It works just fine.

Final word: Good
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