This review actually has more twists and turns than a City Council meeting trying to issue a policy that will please all of its residents.
I guess I should identify the game I’m talking about first, though.
The City is a tableau-building card game designed by Tom Lehmann with art by Klemens Franz and João Tereso. It’s been published most recently by Eagle-Gryphon Games, which leads me to the story of this review’s genesis.
Early in the Summer of 2020, Eagle-Gryphon Games sent an email to its boardgame content creators list, asking if anybody would like to review a few games.
I had had a decent first experience with The City so I thought “heck, why not ask for a copy to review?” as it was on the list of games they would be willing to send to reviewers.
They sent it out very promptly (June 8, 2020).
And I waited…and waited…and waited. I kept checking the tracking, and it was in Customs. Not sure if it was United States Customs or Canadian Customs, but it was just sitting there.
And sitting there.
It never moved.
I inquired with Canada Post about what the tracking designation meant and they basically said that it meant they hadn’t received it yet and who knows how long it will take?
Finally, I just gave up on it. This was in October or November, I can’t remember when the last time I checked it was.
It wasn’t moving and it seemed to be just lost in Customs.
I didn’t think anything of it. I had given it up for lost.
One day fairly recently (maybe in late August?), a package appeared on my doorstep. I had no idea what it could be as I wasn’t expecting anything.
I opened it up, and there was The City!
Holy crap, I thought. I’d better review this, eh?
So let’s see how it looks.
The City is a tableau-building card game where you are just placing cards out on the table and trying to score the most points.
Ok, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
You start with a hand of cards and each turn, every player chooses a card and places it face-down, waiting for all players to choose.
Then you turn it over and place it in your City. You have to pay for it by discarding the number of cards that the card costs.
After a card is placed, each player’s city is scored and gets income.
Victory points are scored for the number in the hexagons at the bottom of each card in your city (the picture above shows 3 victory points). You also draw cards based on the number in the orange box at the bottom of each card (the picture above showed 2 cards drawn, but perhaps a third if you have Townhouse Row in your City).
You don’t “draw up to 5 cards” or anything like that. If you have no card income in your city, you don’t draw any cards.
Instead of buying a card from your hand, once per game, you can take a General Contractor (there’s one for each player in the game) and place it into your city instead. It doesn’t get you any points, but it does give you one card draw!
You can’t take it if you’ve already played “Construction Crew” or “Factory” (both of those cards also give you card draw).
In addition, if you don’t want to (or can’t) add a card to your city, you can “Survey” and place a Survey token in your City.
This will let you draw 5 cards and then you have to discard 4. You can discard any 4, not just the ones that you drew. It’s a way to cleanse your hand and hopefully get something better.
Since each turn you will be collecting what your current cards give you, you will eventually be getting a lot of victory points per turn.
As soon as somebody hits 50 points, that is the last round and whoever has the most points is the winner!
Thus the game usually lasts 7-8 rounds.
Is The City a beautiful oasis like Vancouver or is it a ghost town like Deadwood?
I have to say that my first play of The City was nice but not necessarily inspiring. I didn’t really get it.
I enjoyed the game well enough so that when I got the opportunity to get a review copy, I jumped at it. I knew there was something there.
And that something is a great tableau-builder that will probably be the filler game of choice at our Sunday game day for the foreseeable future.
It’s just so interesting as, depending on the cards you get, you have multiple avenues for winning.
Many of the cards chain with other cards that you could put into your City. There are three symbols that multiple cards use to chain bonus points (or sometimes card draw).
The fact that you are getting VP along with cards each turn makes this a really interesting game. You need to get your card draw engine going so you can have multiple choices each turn.
However, at some point you have to start getting VP instead. This can be done with Civic buildings or perhaps Luxury Homes (Luxury Homes chain together so if you can get a bunch of them into your City, you will be getting bucket loads of points each turn).
Or maybe you want to get a shopping area, or maybe cars (the instruction pamphlet doesn’t really say what the icons actually represent, so I’ll say cars). Central Park above gives you one point per Civic (I think) symbol in your City. And you have six in that picture!
Some cards just have a ton of victory points by themselves, but they can also chain too.
There are some avenues which may be stronger than others, though I would need more plays to really say that. We played three times in one game session, and one guy won each time. When he built the Construction Crew (which allows you to build two buildings that cost 4 or less in a turn), he ran away with things.
As mentioned above, the Luxury Homes can be quite powerful too. However, I think anything in the game can be countered…as long as you get the right cards.
Increasing your card draw income is essential to being able to choose your route to victory. You have a hand size of 12 but if you’re drawing 16 cards a turn, you can definitely choose which cards you want to keep and then buy next turn.
James won all three games we played, but I came within 2 points of beating him once. I can’t remember which avenue he used that game, though.
Personally, I think each “obvious” route to victory can be countered, but you have to make sure that you are able to get enough cards to do it with.
Thus, the game can be quite random, but increasing your card income can mitigate that. If you don’t like randomness, then why are you looking at a card game?
The game takes 20-30 minutes at most so it’s a perfect lunch-time game, or perhaps a game to play while you’re waiting for your food (like our Sunday game day at Tap & Barrel). This timeframe means you can play multiple times (we played once before food arrived and then twice before we left after doing the “main” game that afternoon).
The artwork on the cards is pretty good but not what I would expect from Franz (unless Franz didn’t do the cards but something else). It gets the point across but it’s not stellar.
The rules pamphlet does well enough to get you started. It’s not super-detailed and doesn’t give a name to the icons, but it’s clear enough that you can start playing after reading it.
And it’s only 3-4 pages.
This is not a brain-taxing game as far as rules go.
(Edit: Should have included this in the original review! Another knock against the game depending on your gaming mindset is that there is very little player interaction. In fact, there is almost literally none. A couple of cards do score higher based on what everybody has in their tableau rather than just what you have, but other than that, you won’t be affecting other players whatsoever.)
The game has some amazing staying power and I’m not sure how long it will take before it becomes tiresome.
Four plays in and so far the game is still being requested. In fact, three of my four plays were two weeks ago and last week James asked whether I had brought it because he wanted to play it again.
That’s a testament to how fun this game is.
It will be interesting to see what more plays brings.
There’s not much to The City that lends itself to deep analysis.
However, it’s a fun game with meaty decisions, if a bit of randomness, and it’s a game that I would choose to play any time it’s offered.
How can you go wrong with that?
If you need a good quick game that doesn’t take up a lot of space, you can’t really go wrong with The City. It has some elements of Race for the Galaxy and San Juan (mainly in how you have to spend cards in your hand to play the card you want) but there is enough difference that you can’t really say they’re the same game.
I highly recommend this one.
Thanks to Eagle-Gryphon Games for providing me a review copy, even if it took a year to get here.
This review was written after 4 plays