original German edition
from 12 customer reviews
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At the beginning of the 20th century, new buildings seem to burst from the earth as though grown from seed. As they grow, they change the shape of American cities. Powerful land developers scheme to forge this new look for the cities while building large fortunes for themselves. In the beginning, building is limited to residences and businesses. When the city has matured and built a city hall, the restrictions come down and players can build streetcar lines, banks and other exciting new buildings. Each building earns points for the builder and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.
Yes, this game has a fair dose of luck, and, yes, I really did rate this game 5 stars. When I think about games that I have played that have been totally overlooked, 3 come to mind: [page scan/se=0908/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Entdecker, Manitou, and Big City. I don't know why Big City isn't one of the best selling games around. It is medium complexity, accessible to non-gamers, interesting enough that even my 'gamer' game group enjoys playing it, and it has really cool bits. Replayability is ultra-high with this game as it is completely modular--and that quality alone ought to interest anyone making a game purchase.
As far as family games go, this is one of the best, maybe very nearly the best. This game is a bit hard to learn initially (with all the different building scoring), but the player aid card they provide is so well designed that you could start playing the game immediately, have everyone just read their player aid card, and they could manage it quite well.
I can't say enough good stuff about this game. I would recommend this to every family as their first game purchase--even before Settlers of Catan. Settlers has more complexity, but can only be played by 3 or 4 players (Big City is 2-5) and Settlers doesn't play all that well with 4.
Big City has all the right parts to be a family classic. Only the lack of shelf space at your local Toys R Us for quality games keeps Big City from such lofty status. Big City, Entdecker, and Bohnanza are no-brainers for family game nights.
Big City is still one of our favorite games after over 40 playings. It's not unusual for us to play 3 or 4 games in one sitting, each game lasting 40-60 minutes. We've played excellent games with as many as 5 players, but find that 3-4 is ideal. Like the best German games, its simplicity belies a variety of subtle strategies. New players recognize this in their first game and want to play again immediately. The bits are first rate. To be sure, there is some luck involved in the card draws, but this is partly mitigated by the rule that allows a player to exchange cards.
We love this game, and hope that an expansion will someday be released.
My wife and I played Big City with another couple this past weekend and we all had a blast. My wife and I played it earlier just between ourselves and it didn't work that well with two people. But with four, it was great fun. There is enough strategy and luck to make it fun and unpredictable. Our friends had never played such a game before--they play cards though--and they really enjoyed it. We played it twice and it took only an hour per game. They want to play it again and so do we. What more can you ask?
Don't fight this City Hall--use it to increase your score. The first pleasure is opening the box to discover the bright components tightly packed in three layers. Just wait until the city unfolds! Eight neighborhoods, with eight or nine plots each, correspond to eight suits of numbered cards, which are played from the hand to place properties covering one, two, or three spaces. Points immediately earned vary with location; for instance, residences on the outskirts are the most valuable. Opportunities and scores multiply when someone places City Hall. It allows new neighborhoods to be added to the initial array, increases the value of properties subsequently built adjacent to it, and permits the addition of very lucrative special buildings. It is also likely to herald the arrival of the Tramway, which doubles the value of adjacent properties. Try not to become too fond of any one neighborhood: Opponents might place factories there, reducing its future value. This thoroughly pleasant game is flexible enough to permit several suggested variants, including trading among players.
When you've got several new games to try which one do you go for? You don't know? It's the one with the nice bits! And Big City has very nice bits. As you peel away the cellophane (with the obligatory deep intake of breath) you are confronted with the scoring board. A good solid one with 0 to 100 in decent-sized squares. Underneath is the set of rules, pleasantly in English, (which it should be since it came from Rio Grande) and cardboard summary sheets showing the scoring options and pre-requisites for the various buildings. These are double sided and in colour with large print and a clean layout. No glasses required here for the short-sighted.
Delving further into the box is a layer of plastic pieces. Looking pretty chunky and in several colours and shapes, it's like the top layer of a box of chocolates. Unlike the chocolates, this one doesn't have a repeating pattern underneath. Another layer of pieces of different shapes and colours. Just when I thought that life couldn't get any better, there was a third layer, even more different than before! In a way it didn't matter how the game played, I was hooked.
The game reminds me of the classic from Ravensburger called Metropolis, in which players compete to place buildings of different sizes on a pre-designed map of a city, points being scored according to the location of other buildings in the city. Big City is very similar to Metropolis in that respect, except that points are scored as you play the buildings to the map. The other major difference is that the city is generated from eight blocks made up of 4 x 2 and 3 x 3 squares that can be combined in a multitude of ways to make the map board.
To begin with, each player receives a hand of plot cards with one card from each of the city blocks that are in play at the beginning of the game. Each city block is named and numbered: so block 1 is Midtown and is numbered 11 to 19, since it is a 3 x 3 grid, while block 2 is Downtown, is 4 x 2 and is numbered 21 to 28. City blocks are then laid to enable the city to have some starting shape. Players take turns to place the blocks (one each) in a way that will be advantageous to them -- this usually means making two of your plot cards adjacent.
The opening session of play sees players placing buildings down on the grid, surrendering the relevant numbered plot cards in order to do so. Early scoring tends to be low. One square residences or businesses have a basic score of only 2 points. Those occupying two squares or three squares have ones of 6 and 10 points respectively, but of course the problem with these multi-square properties is that you must own suitably adjacent building plots. However, there are also bonuses to be received and this is where the higher scoring starts. Residential housing likes to be on the edge of town, whereas businesses prefer the city centre, so there is a +1 advantage for locating these in their preferred areas. This is pretty easy to achieve as there are normally many options.
After placing a building, your hand is refilled back to its original number by selecting cards from one or more of eight face-down piles. Each pile corresponds to a city block, so you know which block you are getting, but not the exact plot. You can only take two from any pile, so it takes a while to build up a good set of cards from one pile. In addition there are factory and park tiles -- see below for more on these. One thing that we asked when first playing the game was how we could trade plots since larger buildings (2 and 3 plot sizes) score more points. The trading is carried out with the bank via the decks of outstanding plot tiles, but since you can only do one action per turn and since your new card is again a blind draw, this tends to be non-productive in terms of your points scoring.
Larger scores only become available after the City hall is played. Unfortunately, this scores no points for the person placing it and so there can be a tendency to avoid placing it. However, properties adjacent to the City hall are doubled in value after all bonuses are taken into account, so it is possible to place it on an area where you have the most to gain. The City hall also allows the development of the tram system, with thin shiny pieces representing the route. These are placed by the side of buildings and also provide a doubling of the building's value. (Buildings adjacent to the both the City Hall and the tram route treble in value, rather than score both doubles). So the City Hall can be a big points earner, which ensures that it does get built.
The building of the City Hall makes other actions possible. The first is adding another 4 x 2 or 3 x 3 city section, something which will normally have been preceded by one person replenishing their plot cards with cards from this new section. And just in case one person looks like monopolising a section, there are the factories that can be placed. These begin as "right to build" cards in two of the decks and they give the person drawing them the right to place a factory wherever there is room for it and irrespective of whether or not they own the land which it will occupy. They have two impacts when played: firstly, they put a blight on all adjacent land, which means that businesses and residences built there will be reduced in value, and just as importantly, the plots that are covered by the placement of the factory are no longer available for building. Disgruntled players who were expecting to place a large housing estate or whatever are left with no choice other than to discard the relevant plot cards and draw new ones. If either factory is played near the end of the game, the options for getting good replacements cards are severely limited.
Parks are established in a similar fashion. Again, it is a matter of drawing the relevant card and then siting the park in a place of your choosing and just as with the factories, the cards for the plots covered will have to be discarded. However, unlike the factories, the parks add value to properties built adjacent to them.
I've skipped over the trams because of the many options involved. Once the first tram has been established, the tram routes can be extended from either end or branched off. The problem, as with City Hall, is that playing these scores no points, though by directing their route, the player should be able to set himself up for a double points score in a later turn. A drawback is that you may inadvertently lay track that benefits another player and hence find that your "sacrifice" of one turn's scoring may thereby have backfired. I understand the balance and decision making that this has introduced, but as a recipient of one such move, I'm not sure I like this game effect.
After several games now, the pattern of play is becoming established. The City Hall causes the game to move on apace, and the whole game only lasts about a hour. The main criticism to date is that it becomes obvious to score points as often as possible. This is for two reasons: the cards flow faster through your hands and you cannot guarantee that saving up for a big score will get you in the lead. I have found that the most secure way of scoring points is to score as frequently as possible and hope that a beneficial set of cards will allow me to place the better scoring buildings. This would lead me to want to allow bigger scores for the larger buildings. I'd be interested in how the play testers considered this because as it stands, the benefit of regular points and card flow would seem to outweigh the higher scoring of large buildings.
Overall, an interesting game, with excellent contents, clear rules and support materials. It is also not too long but as a person who enjoys more control in my games, I'd like a second opinion on the relative merits of the scoring.
SWD: Second opinion requested; second opinion offered. The theme is a good one, the bits are wonderful and the game is enjoyable, but the final impression is of a game that is not quite there. A large part of the problem is the one identified by Barbara Dauenhauer in the letters column: the game has too great a luck element. The first time we played I won by a large margin, the second time I was last by a similar amount and the difference was down to the plot cards I drew. Alan is quite right to say that you don't have enough control, but I don't think that increasing the scores for the larger buildings would improve this. Quite the reverse if anything, because they already tend to decide the game in favour of whoever managed to draw the grouping of plots that enabled them to build the shopping centre. I also think that the factories have too powerful an effect; the way that they are handled in Metropolis -- the game that was clearly the inspiration for this one -- is much better. In fact, I think that the game would benefit from one or two pushes back in the direction of its parent: the replacement of a blind draw by a selection from a small set of available plots being one and the possibility of players combining to build the large buildings being another. It would also be beneficial if players could trade plots.
Fortunately, Big City also has advantages over Metropolis. The older game had a very tight structure that made variants and house rules difficult; the new one has a looseness and a diversity that almost invites them. Indeed a whole page of the rule book is given over to suggestions for variants by way of getting you started. Overall verdict: far from perfect, but still worth considering if the theme appeals and if you enjoy tweaking.