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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What I think - Suburbia

by Jared

I’ll preface this by saying I enjoy—no, I love Suburbia. I studied to be an Urban Planner in my undergrad years, and while this game has in no way any ability to be influenced by that specific of a skill-set, it’s a theme that grabbed me as soon as I saw the goofy box art.

I've taken a hint from my favorite video games website Rock, Paper, Shotgun and chosen not to present you with arbitrary score of Suburbia, but my impressions of the game and its mechanics. I feel that board games (Euro-games in particular) are very much in the eye of the beholder. The mechanics that will set one player’s heart-a-flutter will fail to impress another, and vice versa.  My intention is to lay the mechanics, game play, theme, and components before you bare--ready for your discerning judgment.

Setup and ready for a two player game.The game includes support
for solitaire play too. 

Suburbia is a one to four player game that pits you against other crafty urban planners in a race to see whose freshly developed suburb has the highest population at the end of the game. Throughout the course of the game you must balance the ever changing effects of both reputation and income alongside constructing your city in a way that will expand your population and meet the goals (both public and secret) set out and established at the beginning of the game.

The game’s core mechanic is that of tile-placement—akin to another Euro-game favorite: Carcassone. Three tiles are arranged in stacks A, B, and C. As each stack of tiles is depleted through the Real Estate Market, “B” and “C” stacks bring in more specialized, powerful, and expensive city-building options which further expand upon the synergies you are capitalizing on between tiles in your suburbs.

The real estate market and tile stacks. I forgot here to include the smaller stack
of basic tiles available for free use that go in the top three hexes. 
The second mechanic is similar to what is most readily called “auctioning” or “bidding.” Except, in this case, without the auction. Tiles move linearly down the line in the real estate market until they are either purchased or discarded. Every consecutive turn makes these coveted city-building pieces of cardboard cheaper and thus more easily attainable to other competing urban planners. Likewise, for the right price any tile can be purchased and used, or trashed so another player can’t purchase it on a later turn.

Keith "Urban" Planner has some disrespectful denizens, but he's rich and
 can afford to force that mobile home community to keep quiet.
The tiles will do a number of different things for your suburb. First, they will (usually) confer some sort of static or situational bonus. These show up in the form of reputation (the square on your suburb tracker) and income (the cylinder on your tracker.) Certain tiles will pair well with others—this is a no-brainer. Placing a landfill next to anything is going to make your eager little wooden denizens unhappy, thus costing you reputation. Likewise, placing or stringing multiple commercial tiles near each other is a good way to boost your economy. Putting a community park next to a residential tile? That’s going to nab you some reputation.You can practically feel the love radiating from your happy wooden people.

Allow your reputation to fall into negative numbers and you’ll be paying your not-so-content denizens millions each round to keep quiet about the smells coming from the slaughterhouses next to their schools. Meanwhile Nicolas "The Cage" Planner has a population that deeply respects his fiscal contributions to the community, but he’s so broke in the meantime that the bank calls and asks for their calendar back.

Herein lies the absolute beauty of Suburbia: everyone can play their city differently. Four goals are made public at the beginning of the game, along with one secret goal known only to the player. These goals, when the end of the game arrives, adds additional population to the population scoreboard. While raw population-building actions will seem to secure a player or two the obvious victory early in the game, those players will also pay a penalty prior to the end game for having such large populations. Victory rests in the hands of those who can accomplish/meet the most goals at the conclusion of the game to earn consequence-free population boosts. The astute planner will also note the trends of his fellow colleagues and surmise what goals they might be working towards and can score themselves as well.

This secret goal means that whoever holds the highest reputation at the end
of the game gains +10 population. 
Additionally, no two games of Suburbia are alike! With the random dissemination of goals at the beginning of the game, everyone’s cities take on a unique plan or strategy towards victory conditions they are aiming for. There is no tried-and-true method to building your city and winning without bowing to the mechanics of the randomized goals.

So you ask, “What’s the downside to Suburbia?”

Well, there’s math-- but it's not that bad, I swear! Tiles play not only by themselves, but affect other tiles around them. This often means calculating a chain of events in a specific order each time you place a tile. This is by far the most daunting task a new player undertakes—and is only made more complicated in “B” and “C” stacks as many of the times these tiles will begin playing on effects in other player’s suburbs as well.

Likewise the theme is a bit specific. I could argue that it really isn't, but at the end of the day if city-building doesn't sound like a lot of fun then you will probably enjoy watching paint dry more than you will enjoy Suburbia. Suburbia is a Euro-game, and as such lacks the focused theme and mechanics of the oh-so-popular Ameritrash genres gaining popularity in the market as of late. Its theme is a general one, but therein lies its strength and weakness—just like every other Euro-game. You aren't playing Suburbia Detroit (gosh, can you imagine?), or Suburbia Chicago with wacky in-the-know rules, but instead a generalized look at the sort of suburb you can find anywhere.

Regardless, the cardboard chits and wooden bits are superbly made with an eye to thick sturdy cardboard and clearly identified colors. The rule book is short and easy to understand and the game includes an accompanying cheat-sheet of each tile and a specific explanation of that tile’s effects if it ever comes into question.

The included go-to reference guide for each tile is a life-saver. 
Suburbia would be a great game to play with a group of friends new to “Euro-style” gaming. It doesn't involve a heavy geek-laden theme such as Cthulhu (gosh, again, could you imagine?) that will scare your friends away, but rather hook them into way of thinking and interacting with each other that takes them beyond the boundaries of Monopoly, Life and other dreary “traditional” Ameritrash games.

The game is made better with a PLANO 3860 for organization. 

I personally can’t recommend Suburbia enough—but if Urban Planning isn't your thing, then I’d probably avoid it.

Be sure to check out Episode 2 of Outpost 309 (coming soon) in which I’ll dive a little deeper into what makes a game “Euro-style” or “Ameritrash.”

Here's a link to the Plano 3860 mentioned above on Amazon.

Jared has been board gaming, war gaming, and just generally gaming for the better part of his whole life. When he’s not trying to get his hands on the next big thing he’s co-hosting Outpost 309 alongside Rich every few weeks. Catch up, discuss, or say hi on the WWPD Forums by finding his handle, JMHahn.


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