Jan 7, 2015

[Games] Suburbia

The tailend of 2014 was pretty interesting with respect to games given a number of discoveries that really got us excited. And while we already have quite the sizable gaming collection, it's always nice to find new games that provide different play experiences and a good amount of fun.

Suburbia has been around for a while now and I've seen a few friends post game night photos including this particular game a few times. But I guess the lack of visual appeal didn't immediately draw me in to a sufficient degree to make me look it up or anything. But then one of Tobie's office mates managed to introduce the game to him and the rest is history.

I've lost count of how many rounds of this game we played over the recent holiday holiday period, but I'm pretty sure the number will indicate just how much we've come to like this game.

Suburbia is a city building, tile-laying game designed by Ted Alspach. It supports 2-4 players and has a solo play mode with modified rules. The briefest summary that we use most often during game nights is that Suburbia is like a competitive version of SimCity, but as a board game.

The game has players trying to build the best possible city given the humble beginnings of the three-tile town. Your path to victory is tracked in terms of your overall population, which are essentially victory points at the end of the game. Throughout the game you'll be managing two driving factors for your development - your income and your reputation. Income naturally means the money you'll earn that will allow you to buy better tiles that represent your city's development. Reputation determines your population growth per turn. However simply growing your population quickly is never a good thing since the score board also includes various thresholds. When you cross those lines, both your income and your reputation drop by a notch, thus overly aggressive population growth will lead to less and less income.

The different hexagonal tiles in the game come in different types and have different effects on their own and also in conjunction with others. Most tiles are affected by the tiles that are around it while others have special effects that are either standalone or are based on different tile types regardless of owner. Figuring out how to use these tiles in conjunction with one another in order to manage your population growth while maintaining decent income is pretty much what defines the overall game experience.

The game's primary mechanics may seem a little complicated at first but get easier over time. The tiles use a pretty consistent pattern of symbols to indicate what effects each tile has as a way to make things a little easier for players. For example, changes to income are usually in a circle, which matches the cylindrical piece you use to track your current income level on the player-specific board. Similarly, changes to reputation are typically in boxes, which again matches the cube that marks your reputation-level on the board.

One of the things that really defines this game is the the decision to create excess pieces. Whether we're talking about the city tiles or the various goals and their associated population bonuses, the game set includes well more than you need to play the game. But given the limited number of tiles that you need to prepare as part of the game's setup also ensure that each play experience is unique based on the random assortment of tiles that you end up with. Thus you'll never know if investing in that first airport will really payoff since you don't know if there will be more airports mixed into the deck and so on. And this really adds a fun mechanic to the game that keeps each play session fresh.

The main gripe that Tobie and I have about the game is the tile art and how lackluster it seems. When you have all your tiles out and your city seems to be at a more impressive level, just looking at the tiles does not evoke the image of a city in our minds. The decision to have rather thick borders as part of the art really breaks the illusion that they all connect as one big city. Sure there are roads that all align when you lay all the tiles out correctly, but these aren't quite as noticeable given the borders that line each tile.

And of course I wish the game supported more players. 4 players is a decent mix, but never quite ideal for large game nights with friends. But still, the play experience is strong enough to justify including it even if it means some players sitting the game out in favor of others.

Suburbia is one of the new favorites in our gaming collection given its internal diversity of play and its clever game mechanics design. And yes, I was quite the SimCity junkie back in the day so this game's flavor is right up my alley. Thus the game rates a solid 5 surprise interactions among city tiles out of a possible 5.

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