Monday, December 19, 2011

It takes a village (Urban Sprawl)

Chad Jensen is a designer of many games that lots of people like. Mostly, the Combat Commander series and Dominant Species. Although Kozure and Bearbomb are fans of CC, I prefer Conflict of Heroes. We've played Dominant Species a few times, and although I recognize that it's a good game it seems too long by a turn or two, and in my opinion El Grande does a very similar thing in a much tighter package. Anyway, this is a long winded way of saying that although I looked forward to playing Urban Sprawl, i didn't expect to love it.

Kozure and I were once again accompanied by Bearbomb, but this time he brought along a friend. 4 is the maximum number of players for US, so I was a little worried that a long game would go even longer.

Let's start at the beginning. Urban Sprawl is a game about city building. The board is a grid representing a town, and it starts with some buildings built. Over the course of the game, players will take out permits to allow them to build buildings in different parts of the city. Various buildings are randomly made available for construction, depending on the stage of the game. A host of random events come up throughout, giving bonuses or allowing a player to change the landscape in some way. Finally, in the second stage of the game onwards, certain roles are handed out, such as mayor or union boss, based on specific criteria (such as the player controlling the most valuable factory building).

The placement scoring rules encourage players to play similar buildings adjacent to each other, but other rules will motivate players to play elsewhere. The end result is that the city organically grows with some semblance of zoning intact (industrial zones, residential zones, etc), but it's not at all rigid so the final city is realistically diverse and quirky in it's layout... Just like real cities are. That part was pretty cool and well realized. The various building powers are interesting and working out good combos of buildings to play and clever placements of said buildings is definitely fun.

But. But.

Wow, it's long. and the events are really frequent and random. And don't even think that your money or board position will look anything like it does now on your next turn, because it won't.

The main decision a player will have to make revolves around working out the best placement for the buildings he wants to build. It isn't a simple or easy decision, as it requires some calculation and analysis of a fairly busy board, but it's not bad and certainly reasonable and enjoyable. Unfortunately, for me, the sheer number of random events that happen at the end of each turn felt excessive. They often have a significant impact on the game, but more than anything they just added too much time.

From his earlier designs, I know that the designer likes a heavy dose of chaos in his games. Similarly, length almost seems likes a preference. In my opinion, what worked in combat commander didn't really work here as well. It was a fun game, but after nearly 4 hours we still had over an hour to go... That kind of play time isn't justified by the mechanics. I realize that removing the events entirely would kill some of the flavor that the designer intended but a reduction would certainly help.

Anyway, there was quite a bit of movement in points throughout the game, though generally Bearbomb and I exchanged first and second place throughout most of the game. I had concentrated on civic buildings, And gathered the media marker early after Bearbomb had said a number of events gave bonuses for it. He wasn't kidding! It seemed like I was getting an endless supply of 1 dollar + 1 vp awards from all the events.
Bearbomb and Dale seemed to be very good judges of how to place on the board to reap majority bonuses.

At the end of the game, the roles give bonuses to the players that happen to have them. Like Dominant Species, these felt too large to me. I had the mayor and the lawyer, which netted me and absurd amount of points, stealing the game from Bearbomb.

So, I liked it. Some parts were really fun, and quite innovative. However the length, and particularly the wild randomness in relation to the length, bring it down a notch for me.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Keeping Track

Last week we played Troyes, followed by Tribune. I asked if we could give End of the Triumvirate a miss because I was fighting a cold and wasn't up to the requirements of deep strategery.

We had close games in both cases, though in both games the people who were tied or close to tied were Agent Easy and Shemp. My head was not in it that night.

I believe that Easy squeaked the win in both cases (Troyes - tie?, Tribune, tied for victory conditions, but one point difference on score?) but I am uncertain.

My recollection is hazy but I plead illness-induced head-fog.