#9 ALBS, English language edition
List Price: $37.95
Your Price: $30.35
(Worth 3,035 Funagain Points!)
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Building in New York City is booming and everyone wants to get in on the new fad -- buildings that touch the sky: skyscrapers! Players compete to build their skyscrapers in the best locations, but what is a good location? One with shopping -- and the more shopping, the better!
Players always have more to do than they may in this exciting game of building and bidding. Players place businesses, acquire building materials, and get bidding cards so they can later bid on the building spaces. When a player wins a bid, he erects his sky scrapers immediately! Building commissioners move about the city, deciding where buildings should be built and giving awards to players with good locations.
This game seems like an elegant design until you get down to actually playing.
The five plot color card decks make for endless pile lifting, card flipping, and general boredom. It is extremely difficult to get around to scoring on your own plots, and there is an incentive is to free-load off of others' scoring rounds. I.e. wait around for others to score plots because they're bored off of their skull.
Once someone gets ahead it's pretty hard to catch up, since their surplus of points gives them more time to gather resources.
Each auction phase is incredibly long and involves too much arithmetic. I could hear sighs of irritation around the table (including those from my own mouth) every time a commissioner moved from central park to city hall.
Simply too slow. After reading the rules, I thought it'd be a blast. While playing, I snored. A disappointment.
Some of the Alea Big Box series are my favorite games (Chinatown and Ra), while others I think are merely good. But one thing is for sure, I haven’t played one that I dislike. So it was easy enough to ensure that Fifth Avenue (Alea and Rio Grande Games, 2004 - Wilko Manz) was on my “must-buy” list, as it was #9 in this illustrious series. The theme, that of building skyscrapers in Manhattan, also interested me; so I thought there was the possibility of this becoming one of my favorite of the series.
Sadly, not only is this game not going to achieve that lofty status, but it also has a high possibility of achieving the “never played” status. The odd thing is that the game actually works, with plenty of tactical options. It’s simple to understand; and while the strategies are elusive, they are present. The problem is that the game simply wasn’t fun for me; and everyone I played with, while not specifically stating their dislike with the game, sort of collectively shrugged their shoulders in a “ho-hum” sort of way.
The game board is formed of nine areas: City Hall, Central Park, an area underneath Central Park, and seven districts arranged in three columns (2,3,2). Each district is split into five building plots in five different colors (purple, brown, gray, yellow, and green). A bunch of business tiles (each showing a different ware) are shuffled, and one random tile is placed face up on one building plot in each district, with every color receiving at least one tile but none receiving more than two. Twenty businesses are then placed face up in a row above the districts, split into eight groups of three or two. Five stacks of colored cards, each corresponding to one of the five different colored plots, are shuffled and placed face-up, after one is dealt to each player. Another stack of black cards are shuffled and placed face down, after four are dealt to each player. Each player takes five skyscraper pieces of their color, placing one on a scoring track, three on the “supply space” on their summary card, and two on any empty building plot on the board - one at a time, in player order. The rest of the skyscrapers are placed in a general supply area. Two commissioner pawns and three markers for each are placed on the City Hall. One player is chosen to start, and the game begins.
On a player’s turn, they perform three different actions in a specified order. They have four different choices for their first action:
If the player chooses to score a district, their next action consists of drawing two black cards, adding them to their hand. If they choose any of the other three actions, however, they take two different colored cards of their choice. The player’s third action then consists of them moving one commissioner, which may trigger another set of auctions. When the last business from the supply row is placed or if two business stops occur, the game ends immediately. All districts are scored one more time, as well as Central Park. The business tiles in the park are shuffled, and three of them are chosen. Depending on how many of these three are different determines the victory point value of the skyscrapers in Central Park (2, 3, or 5). The player with the most victory points is then declared the winner.
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: The game is packaged in the same box as all the rest of the “Big Box” Alea series with some excellent early twentieth-century style artwork. A plastic insert in the box holds everything fairly well, although plastic bags are probably needed for the business tiles and skyscrapers. The skyscrapers are little plastic buildings that are the exact same as those used in the game Shark - but they look nice on the board and are easy to handle. The cards are of good quality, although I think they should have differentiated between the colors more; the only difference is that the numbers in the corners of the cards are of different colors. The commissioners and commissioner makers are some bland pieces that are functional but a bit drab. The business tiles are small annoying little tiles with sometimes indistinguishable artwork on them. The double-sided board (one side is used in a variant), however, looks very nice with a simplified map and some illustrations of famous buildings giving the game a nice thematic touch. While some of the components (cards and tiles) are sub-par in my opinion, the overall package works fairly well, and most folk won’t complain.
2.) Rules: If you didn’t understand my description of the rules, I wouldn’t be surprised; because to learn the game, one should really look at the summary cards and illustrated diagrams in the rulebook. The rulebook is typical Alea fare, which most people really enjoy (I find them a bit confusing) - twelve pages of full colored, illustrated rules. The game is easier to teach than learn from the rulebook, and the summary cards make it extremely simplistic for new players.
3.) Strategy: The strategy to the game is not as intuitive, however. Obviously, players are trying to get a lot of skyscrapers next to a large variety of businesses. Since one can only do one action per turn, it’s hard to set up any lucrative scoring opportunities, and one well-placed “building stop” can absolutely mess up all one’s plans. To do well in the game, a player must be able to see outside the seemingly chaos that occurs between their turns, and figure out how to force other players to move the commissioner to the spots that most benefit them. The Central Park is a nice touch, but the scores from that area don’t really seem to affect the game too much. In fact, not much scoring is done during the game, in my experience, because the commissioner is almost never where you want it to be. I found the game slightly annoying in this regard; one can do so little on their turn that it’s hard to do any type of planning. Some have expounded online that there is a great deal of strategy to the game, that it’s hidden, and that it can be found on multiple playings. Frankly, I’d prefer it to be a little more obvious.
4.) Variants: The rules include a variant for two-players, which is nice and complicated. I’d rather just get out a two-player game, thank you. The other side of the board also has six building plots per district, which allows more room. I personally prefer this side of the board, especially with four players, it gives each player a little more room to breathe. Some folk might like the extremely small board space on the “normal” board, but I feel the extra plot gives more options = more strategy = more fun.
5.) Fun Factor: I really didn’t enjoy playing this game. I understood it, I saw the strategies (I think), but I just didn’t have a lot of fun playing it. It certainly pales besides it’s bigger brothers (Puerto Rico, Chinatown, etc.) It’s not my least favorite of the series (Mammoth Hunters takes that award), but it’s close; because I simply didn’t get much enjoyment out of my playings. Yes, it all made sense, and the game mechanics all worked together well; I just didn’t enjoy them much. I consistently felt like I was working my hardest to stop others from scoring, rather than score myself. The auctions were a bit bland, and often one’s turn was frankly - boring. Sometimes too many auctions occurred in a row, and it just seemed to drag the game down into drudgery. The game wasn’t horrible, but I would pass on playing it again.
For those of you intent on completing your Alea Big Box series, I suppose you’re going to pick the game up. Other than that, I can’t really recommend it. I love the theme, the time frame, and the idea. I just don’t love the game play; while functional, it just isn’t much fun. Fifth Avenue is a prime example of a game that works well, and flows fairly seamlessly, but without a soul. There were no, “Aha!” moments, not much laughter, not much of anything. There was nothing unique in the game to catch my interest; so I can’t imagine why I would waste my time on it, when there are so many fun games out there to play.
“Real men play board games.”
Fifth Avenue didn't seem to last very long, utilize all of its features or involve that much interaction.
As noted, the game can end very quickly if all or even most players flood the board with business right away. If everyone agreed to hold off, there would be a little more time for long term strategies but the temptation is too great. There should have been some kind of limiting mechanism that forces players to slow down business placement.
There are much better resource games out there which offer greater challenge and strategy choices.