Tuesday, August 01, 2017
It's the clever mechanism for drafting tiles that really makes the game. At the start of each round, 25 tiles are laid out in their own 5x5 grid. Each player has four builders valued 1 through 4. When their turn comes, a player must take one of those builders and place them on the end of a row or column of the grid. The value of the number chosen indicates how many tiles into that row or column the player chooses to draft. As the round unfolds, drafting gets trickier and trickier. You can use only the numbered builders you have remaining. You can't place on the ends of a row or column already occupied by another builder. Many spaces now set empty. And you also can't point directly in the direction from which the most recently drafted tile was taken.
Your builders also place a restriction on how your own city takes shape. Your personal 4x4 grid is numbered too. The number of the builder you use to draft a piece is also the same number of the row or column where you must position that piece in your own grid. The piece you want to draft might be there for the taking... but you might not be allowed to put it in the best scoring position in your own city.
The rules are fairly simple, but the strategic implications are considerable. You can do well by focusing on tile types your opponents are ignoring... but you can still thwart an opponent's plans by blocking key spots with your builders. There's enough interconnectedness between the types of tiles that you still keep invested in more tile types than you ignore, so you can still come into conflict with any of your opponents. Then there's an entire "Expert" set of rules that add still more nuances to the game -- a set of rules I have yet to even try.
The icing on the cake here is that even as sophisticated as the gameplay can get, the game is still rather brisk. At just 4 rounds of four drafts each, you essentially make just 16 decisions in the entire game. It's more than enough to make for a satisfying experience... yet that experience takes only 30 to 60 minutes.
I probably don't have enough plays yet to bestow a grade A on the game. But I certainly look forward to playing it more. It's at least an A-, one of the neater board games I've come across in a while.