Blast from the Past Review: Suburbia

For a very brief time, I ran another Boardgameblog on Boardgamegeek mostly called “The IT Gamer”.  I didn’t stick with it for very long but I did have a few reviews and so from time to time I’ll post them here, and note them as such.  This one is for Suburbia, which is still one of my favorite games even if it is a bit fiddly.

Originally posted Jan. 14, 2013

Suburbia is a tile placement, city building game for 1-4 players, designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bézier Games, Lookout Games, and uplay.it edizioni. I have played it 5 times as of this writing

Theme (1-5): This is a game about building a city, and the theme really shows. There are all sorts of buildings you can build, from an “Office of Bureaucracy” to a “Mobile Home Park” to “Domestic” and “International” Airports. But the buildings aren’t the only aspect of the theme.

You also get bonuses and penalties if you build inconsistently. For example, if you build a freeway next to a suburb, then you lose 1 Reputation. If you build a Movie Theater, Fast Food Restaurant, or Stadium next to a community area (a green tile), then you get more population or income. If you build an office supply store next to a skyscraper, that gives you a boost as well.

The final aspect of “Theme” is that some buildings affect others throughout the whole game. If you build a fancy restaurant, for example, you get a lot of income up front…but if other players decide to build other restaurants, then you start to lose income: Customers only want to come to the fancy restaurant when it’s the new, hot thing, and there aren’t cheaper offerings.

The only thing that bothers me is that the theme isn’t 100% consistent. There are a few tiles that can be next to each other that don’t quite seem to make sense, such as a power plant right next to a school. This isn’t a huge deal, but could make you take a step back the first time you encounter it and say “Huh. Interesting”

I give theme a 4.5 out of 5.

Components(1-5): The components are nice cardboard tiles and tokens. Apparently there was a problem with some misprinted tiles and money tokens; my money tokens are off-center, but I haven’t experienced any misprinted tiles, and the misprinted money doesn’t affect game-play at all. I did have a bit of a problem punching out some of the tiles without getting either a little tearing on the edge of the tiles (only 1) or with a little extra cardboard stuck to them afterward (5 or 6).

Another unique aspect of the components is the dual sided player board. Each player gets a player board from which to build his suburbs, and you can either build ‘up’ (towards the center of the table) or ‘down’ (towards the edge of the table). This is a nice touch for those gamers who have space limitations.

The components are functional, decent quality, but do have some minor issues.

I give components a 3.5 out of 5.

Gameplay (1-5): The gameplay is pretty straight forward. There are 3 stacks of tiles (A, B, C) . When the A stack is exhausted, you begin placing tiles from the B stack in the market. There is a variable end game tile that is mixed in with some of the C tiles. This means you will never quite know how many more rounds you get to play, even if you do have a general idea.

Each turn, you buy a tile or place an investment token (which doubles the effect of one of your tiles).
The tiles you buy can be placed in your suburb or flipped over to create a lake. When you place a tile, you run through a plethora of steps to add Income, Population, and Reputation to your board. These steps include checking the tile itself, checking the adjacent tiles, checking other tiles in your suburb, and checking other player’s tiles. It may seem like a lot, but after a few plays you get the hang of it. Also (and this ties in with theme), as you score points, you will pass red lines on the scoring track. As you pass these red lines, you must decrease your income and reputation (which you have been building by playing tiles). This reflects the difficulty in expanding a city and providing it the infrastructre and other needs; as your suburb gets bigger, it’s going to take more money and you will need a higher reputation to bring residents to your suburb.

Another aspect of gameplay is the goals, which require a player to usually get the most or the least of something, whether it be a type of building, income, reputation, or even congruent lakes. The goals are cleverly titled (the Libertarian goal gives the player with the fewest Government buildings). Each player gets a secret goal which is only for them to try to achieve, and there are also “global goals” that all players can try to achieve.
The problem with the goals is that sometimes the secret goals of a player and the global goals can be incompatible: You, as a player, could get the “Least amount of Lakes” goal, while one of the global goals is “Most Lakes.” This hasn’t been a big issue in the games I’ve played, but I do see the potential. There have been a few fixes or variants suggested on BGG, and I have yet to try them. One idea a few players and I did come up with was the possibility of themed scenarios or sets of goals that players draw from, that could possibly be themed with actual cities?

Finally, play time. Play takes 90 minutes, according to the official BGG play time, and I have to agree, although this could be a little high once all players know what they are doing.

The game-play is pretty simple when you get the hang of it, and it’s a different take on the Tile Laying that I normally play. While the goals can give some wonky outcomes, this is a solid game.

I give game-play 4 out of 5.

Replayability (1-5): This game has a lot of replayability. There are a ton of tiles, and not all of them are used each game. While there are some repeat tiles, the different goals and tiles that could come up each game means not two games will be the same.

I give Replayability 4 out of 5.

Soloability (1-5): Soloability is very, very important to me. I started gaming as a solitaire wargamer, and there aren’t always people around. Fortunately, Suburbia provides not one, but two different solitaire modes. The first is more of an optimization style game: It’s just you, but you have to be able to get rid of 2 tiles a turn (one that you buy/place and the other to keep the game moving). The second is with a dummy player. I haven’t played the second mode yet, but the first is a great way to get the core mechanics of the game and see what buildings are available. While many designers may not have solo rules in mind, this designer provided two ways for us lonely gamers to play.

I give soloability 5 out of 5.

Difficulty (Scale of 1-5, with 1 being easy): I would rate this at a 2, simply because there is a lot to check each turn to make sure you are getting the most out of your tiles.

Expansions/Promos? There is one set of Promos which feature buildings from Essen. I have not yet played with these promos.

My Overall Score(1-5): Overall, Suburbia is an excellent City development game that is light, fast, and fun. This could even be a [heavier] gateway game for new gamers who may have played one or two style Euro Games prior.

I give Suburbia a 4 out of 5.

thumbsup Best Thing about the game: The theme; It permeates throughout the game (Tile interaction, scoring track, goals).

thumbsdownWorst thing about the game: The ability for the goals to really affect the outcome of the game.

2 thoughts on “Blast from the Past Review: Suburbia

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