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Uptown is a tile-laying game that can be played by 3-5 players (special rules for 2). Uptown is great for serious gamers, new gamers, families, friends... in other words, everybody! The rules are very short (see below), and a typical game lasts 30-40 minutes. But allow more time because you will want to play again and again!
What's the goal? The goal of the game is to try to connect your tiles together into as few groups as possible (maybe just one!). A group consists of adjacent tiles of the same color, but diagonal connections don't count. The player with the fewest groups at the end is the winner!
So how do you play? Everyone chooses a color, takes those tiles, and places them face down in front of them. Then draw 5 of these tiles randomly into your rack so only you can see them.
Let's begin! On your turn take one of the tiles from your rack and place it on the board. As shown in the picture to the left, number tiles go in one of the nine spaces in the corresponding number column, letter tiles go in one of the nine spaces in the corresponding letter row, and symbol tiles go in one of the corresponding symbol spaces. Your single "money tile" ($) can go anywhere!
You may place your tile on an empty space, or you may capture an opponent's tile by replacing his tile with your tile. However, as shown in the picture to the right, you may not capture an opponent's tile if that action would split that group into multiple groups.
When you capture a tile, take it tile and put it face up in front of your tile rack for all to see. At the end of your turn, draw another one of your tiles and put it in your rack. Next player!
All done? Play until everyone has no face-down tiles remaining, and then everyone plays one more turn. The winner is the player who has the fewest groups on the board, and the tie-breaker is fewest number of captured tiles. If you're still tied... you should play again!
Kory Heath, the author, has put together an Uptown strategy guide to get you started:Uptown Strategies (322 KB - PDF)
Players: 2 - 5
Time: 30 - 40 minutes
Ages: 8 and up
Est. time to learn: Under 5 minutes
Weight: 744 grams
All-Time Sales Rank: #91
Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English). This is a domestic item.
- 1 board
- 140 tiles
- 5 tile racks
Average Rating: 4.5 in 5 reviews
Some of the other reviews tell you nearly all the rules, because there are not many of them. Each turn is short and sweet, and so the game moves along. However, since every tile you have can be played in many places, there are still lots of decisions to make. There are many reasonable strategies, and Funagain has a link to a strategy guide. The game rewards long-term thinking and good positional play.
I enjoy the variety of strategies, how each game feels different, and the short turns. I'm good at positional games, and this game is short enough that if you do terribly, you can play again and learn from your mistakes. And yet, a player may have failed to plan for certain tiles and have to make one or two new groups near the end, handing the win to another player who may have seemed to be losing for much of the game. I've seen both aggressive and passive strategies work, when done well, and I've seen them both fail. And although there is some luck, experienced players nearly always beat new players.
Like all of Kory Heath's games, this one is new and different from all other games on the market, and different from his own games. This game has been a joy to play.
Another great game by Kory Heath:
Uptown is a very simple tile laying game that is surprisingly addictive. It is simple to learn, the turns are quick, and there is a great deal of interesting decision making that gets packed into 30 minutes of play. This is one of those rare games that will be enjoyed by your gamer friends as well as your non-gamer relatives. After your first game, it is pretty likely that someone at the table will say "Let's play that again."
- Very easy to learn
- Plays quickly (moves take 30 seconds at most)
- Your decisions are interesting
- Good replay value
- The abstract nature of the theme will be disappointing to some people (but not me).
The object of Uptown is to play 24 of your 28 tiles in as few interconnected groups as possible.
Although described as a tile laying game, that really doesn't do justice to what Uptown is, because this is nothing like Carcassonne, Entdecker or others of the genre. Really Uptown is a game about building connections across the board, battling with your opponents to try and make sure you build in front of them. As such I found it more like Twixt, Knots, PUNCT and other edge-to-edge connection games. This sort of connectivity isn't exactly a requirement in Uptown but it's definitely a good idea, and thus superior gameplay reflects this fact.
Overall Uptown is a great filler. It's a short 30-minute game that nonetheless manages to pack a lot of game into that time period.
The game, played well, is very aggressive. It's a bitter fight to the end as you try and cut through your opponents, ensuring that you're the one that is able to build a solid line from one side of the board to the other (and thus connect all the different rows, columns, and sections you'll need to). Implicit to this is brinkmanship and trying to suss out what you can do that your opponents either won't or can't respond to.
Some of the players I played with complained about the randomness in the game, and it's definitely an element, as is the case in any tile-drawing game, but I think it's a smaller element than they do. Throughout the game you will see all 28 of your tiles, and you will have an opportunity to play 24 of them that you choose, so you can plan for what you'll draw in the future, you just have to be careful to do it in ways that your opponents can't interfere with.
If there's a random element in the game, it's the chaos introduced by other players; if everyone decides to go after you, there's little you can do. This is controlled somewhat by their own self-interest, but it nonetheless can be an issue--but that's a pretty common factor in games which allow very direct attacks between the players.
Overall, I'll stand with my original statement: this is a great little game, and my favorite filler game thus far of the year.
The only downside of the game, and what kept it from a perfect score, is that the components -- though good quality -- are plain.
Kory Heath is certainly a versatile designer. From deduction to logic to party games, he seems to be intent on creating games of several genres. And with hits like Zendo and Why did the Chicken?, his games have become fairly successful. So it's really not a surprise for me to see him delve into the abstract strategy realm with Uptown (Funagain and FRED, 2007 - Kory Heath). Apparently, there is some sort of theme if you read the back of the box (I think), but it's an abstract tile placement game for two to five players.
And it's an exceptionally well-designed game! I balked at playing it at first, merely because it looked like a Sudoku board (and I am SO tired of that theme). But it has nothing to do with Sudoku (and Kory told me he had never even seen that puzzle before designing the game), and I've found it quite delightful. There are some elements of luck within the game, but the game counters it by giving players a chance to play almost all of their tiles. The game requires planning ahead and counters deadly competition with an interesting tie breaking rule.
The board is made up of a grid of eighty-one squares. The nine columns are numbered from "1" to "9"; the nine rows are lettered "A" to "I"; and the squares are broken into nine smaller groups of nine squares - each with a different symbol (such as playing cards, a ring, etc.) Players get a set of tiles in their color - one with each symbol, letter, and number on it, and one with a "$" symbol, which acts as a wild. Players mix up all their tiles face down in front of them and place five of them in a tile rack in front of them. One player is chosen to go first, and then play passes clockwise around the table.
On a player's turn, they simply place a tile on the board then draw a replacement. A number tile may go in any space in their column; a letter tile may go in any space in that row; a symbol tile may go in any of the nine squares that have that symbol; and the "$" tile can go anywhere. Tiles may either be placed in an empty space or may be used to "capture" an opponent's tile. Whenever a tile is placed orthogonally to another tile, they become part of the same "group". A player may only capture an opponent's tile, if by capturing it, they do not split a group into two smaller groups.
Play continues until players have drawn their last tiles. At this point, everyone gets one final turn, then the game ends, with each player having four unplayed tiles. The winner is the player who has the fewest groups of tiles on the board. In case of ties, the player who has captured the FEWEST opponents' tiles wins the game.
In a two-player game, players each use two colors and can only capture tiles of the opponent's colors. Other than that, the game is the same.
Some comments on the game…
- Components: The board and box have some deep shades of purple,
with symbols and artwork from the American '20s era. The back of the
box may feature the most ridiculous back-story to a game ever, talking
about people finding the game Uptown and playing it for some strange
reason. The tiles are nice and thick, and the colors are easy to
differentiate. The tile racks, tiles, and board fit nicely into the
small, square box.
- Rules: The rules are on both side of one sheet of paper and are
extremely simple to understand. Even with color diagrams showing how
to play and some details on the changes in a two-player game, there is
still plenty of space. A few rules - a simple game, right? Well,
that's true for the most part, but I found that several people tend to
get hung up on what tiles can be captured. It's a simple rule; and
after a couple times repeating it, most people get it quickly.
- Strategy: At first the game seems a bit simple, as players simply
put together as few groups as possible. But there is a lot more to it
than that. A player has to gauge how they are going to lay out future
tiles, and watch and respond to what everyone else is doing. It may
seem like the right thing to quickly lay down a row of tiles that one
manages to get quickly, but you can effectively "paint yourself into a
corner" if not careful. Being forced to start new groups that you
have no hope of connecting is annoying and can be avoided by careful
play. Each player also knows that they WILL see every tile during the
course of a game, so they can plan accordingly and choose the four
tiles they will not (and possibly cannot) play. I also think it's
incredibly important to know exactly when to play the "$" tile.
Playing it too soon usually causes regret later in the game - it's too
powerful to waste.
- Interaction: It's interesting that the tiebreaker is determined
by the player who has captured the FEWEST tiles. This is certainly a
reason not to capture many of your opponent's tiles, but I've played
many games in which I threw caution to the wind and started capturing
other's tiles. Of course, not being able to break up their group
seems passive at best (and some I've played with have complained about
it); but if allowed, it would destroy the game play. Instead, players
have to be canny and stop their opponents before they join two
separate groups. Even more importantly, they must do their best to
foil their opponents without adding a new group themselves. What good
is it if you stop your neighbor only to have another group added yourself?
- Players: Some people enjoy the game most with multiple players,
and indeed it is crowded yet enjoyable with five. Yet for some reason
I keep finding myself drawn back to the two-player variant. Three
seems a bit easy - many times a good player can get only one group if
they play well. But with two, you'll find that your alternate color
often chokes off the secondary color, and it adds a very interesting
dynamic to the game. My wife quite enjoys the two-player variant, and
I foresee it being the main use of my version.
- Fun Factor: I enjoy the game because it's fun to gauge what tiles
have already been played (although one mustn't forget to look at tiles
that have been captured, I've been burned before waiting for a tile to
show up that was already played) and deal accordingly. Each space can
only have three tiles placed in it (four if you include the wild); and
if you wasted those tiles in other spots, one may leave a critical
juncture open. In a lengthy game, this might become stressful and
tiring, but I find it invigorating in a short game as this (about
thirty minutes per game).
All in all, I found Uptown pleasantly surprising. It seems that Mr. Heath can nail the abstract genre also with this light and enjoyable tile laying game. While I found it most enjoyable with two, it seems that the majority I played it with wanted a full complement of players. Small, portable, and fast - Uptown is a great game despite its strange theming.
"Real men play board games"
I have played the prototype of this one at The Gathering, and recently had the chance to play the released version twice. I really like it. The game is very quick (one's turn comes 'round rapidly) and it has that basic appeal of seeing exactly what you want to do, and going for it. There is a tolerable level of luck in how the tiles come out, and a little 'get the other guy' interaction, but mainly it is a fast, fun game. Rules are learned in no time at all, the tile laying is intuitive, and you really want to play again straight away. Highly Recommended.