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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Urbania! We build this city....

I first noticed this while walking past Mayfair's booth at GENCON 2012 and the riot of colors and the theme caught my eye. I have been looking for a city building game for some time and have been MEH with my purchases of Urban Sprawl, Big City and City Tycoon so I am eager for something that will work with me and my gaming groups. I sat down for a demo, thought it was pretty ok game and decided to get a copy.
Now I am back in Singapore, I have played this game about 5 times and have decided to write a small review here to discuss some of the good points and flaws.

Urbania is a game that a few people has said reminded them of Ticket to ride. This is indeed true as there are several mechanisms that are very similar. In a way, you can say this is Mayfair's version of Ticket to ride with a different theme. Which parts are like Ticket to Ride? Well, for one thing, picking up the cards which will give you resources behaves similar. The resources are what you need to be able to refurnish buildings (using helmets) and hiring specialists (using coins). Buildings gives you a one time number of points while hiring specialists will provide you with points at the end of your turn. Urbania also has project cards which behave like Destination tickets although in Urbania you can only commit 3 project cards and the earlier you commit, the less points you are deducted. The game ends when at least 3 specialists have a value of 5 and above OR one district has 2 or less buildings left to refurnish. The player with the most points (after revealing the committed project cards) wins the game. Its a light weight game that will appeal to families and casual gamers. I am going to break the game down further:

The Good
1) Easy to pick up. Since its very similar to Ticket to ride, its easy to learn and play and great for the family.
2) Good components.Good quality and vibrant colors. The board had a slight warping though but its not a big issue.
3) Helpful symbols. There are symbols and building shapes on the cards and the building tiles to help you decipher which cards belong to which buildings. I guess this will be helpful for the color blind.
4) High player interaction. Usually what other players do will either provide you with points or cause you grief when they take over specialists which you have. Rarely is there a turn where you aren't impacted by another player's actions.

The Bad
1) Board is very busy. While the colors are vibrant and exciting to look at, the board and the building tiles together make it very busy to look at and hard to visualise. As you can see from the image above it can be tricky to see if the end game condition has been triggered or how many points you are potentially scoring.
2) 2 of the colors are very close. The Bank building and the School building are very similar in color. Even though the symbols are there, players tend to get confused.
3) Moving of the building counter. After every building is built, the associated cube will be moved one space to count how many of that building has been built. This also serves as the score during the game for that related specialist. However this part can be overlooked as players often flip over the building tile and want to score the points for that building.
4) Easy to abuse. The game is meant for casual gamers therefore it seems that it is quite open for abuse. There is no hand limit thus there can be a case where either of the decks run out and players are forced to refurbish buildings. Worse will be the discard deck is reintroduced and the same few cards are being recycled. If the project cards run out, then some players maybe stuck with lousy project cards to commit.
5) The score track is very small. I guess this is designed to make efficient use of space and when you reach 50 or 100, you get a card to help you remember that. Still, given the scores we typically get (150 and above), its odd that the score track covers 50 points only.

Here are some house rules which I think may help the game:
a) Limit project cards a player can have (including those committed) to 5. This will prevent players from abusing the game and monopolizing on project cards they don't intend to implement.
b) At the end game scoring, remove buildings that have not been refurbished. This will help when counting how many buildings have been built for that zone.
c) When the deck runs out, each player needs to discard half of their cards they have in front of them (which they reserved for coins) and then a new deck is formed. This will prevent the same few cards from being recycled or the game being abused.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad game if played not so seriously. Game play is fast (usually about 1 hour or so) and you are usually engaged in the game so it feels fun and light. My search for the ultimate city building game continues though and I am hoping to get Suburbia and try it as I have heard quite good things about it! *Cross my fingers*

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