You know, if someone asked me what game series I’ve played more than any other, SimCity would probably come to mind. Simcity 2000 was a mainstay in my gaming library in the late 90’s and SimCity 4 was the source of so many wasted hours and failed exams for my buddies and I in college. Since then, I’ve remained a major video gamer but I don’t have time to sink into city builders anymore. So when I heard about Suburbia by Bezier Games, a board game that promised a similar experience, I knew I needed to try it out.
Looks EXACTLY like Simcity
The game is pretty simple. You have a pool of tiles that each player can choose from to build up their community. These tiles provide you with bonuses/penalties to your reputation and income. Income lets you get more money to buy the more expensive tiles. Reputation lets you increase your population, which is the means to winning the game. Also, there are a few randomized goals each game. These can range from having the fewest lakes to having the lowest reputation at the game. Winning these (ties don’t count) gives you a population boost at the end of the game.
Each goal achieved awards the player with a certain number of ….blobs?
That’s the gist of the game but there are some subtleties to the mechanics that you get a feel for as you play more. Every time you take a turn, the remaining tiles in the pool reduce in price, making them more easily obtained by the next player. So you might have your eye on that Farm that you are just dying for because your four restaurants all would give it a boost in income. But dagnabit, you just can’t afford it! You wait it out this turn, choosing to just purchase a Suburb on the cheap instead, knowing the Farm will be available next turn at a cheaper price. But then, a dastardly fiend sitting next to you scoops up that Farm and laughs in your face. Yeah, the game is full of that.
Another interesting quirk is that some of the tiles you play may affect other player’s communities. Yeah you can take the International Airport and it might give you the lead in one of the goals. But it might also boost your opponents income and reputation due to the fact that they are positively INUNDATED with airports, sending you into a downward spiral. So you have to watch out for that and other combinations out there that could help or hinder your opponent.
Maybe you can’t afford a tile that you know is going to be the bane of your existence should it fall into the wrong hands. Or maybe you just need a ton of money now. You can always choose to convert a tile to a lake for free or a small cost (depending on where it sits in the queue). Lake tiles provide money for adjacent tiles, leaving you swimming in funds, drowning in cash, soaked in money or whatever bad water pun you can think of.
Now it would seem like the best course is to build up your reputation to get the most population seeing as that is how you win. However, if you try to grow your city too fast, BEWARE! There are set points on the scoreboard marked by evil looking red lines which every time you pass, you lose one reputation and one income. These points become more and more frequent later in the game meaning you need to have a nice surplus of income and reputation if you want to build that giant apartment building. This is a fantastic mechanic that really feels thematic to how a city needs to manage it’s growth.
My nightmares are haunted by these red lines.
So mechanics wise, I am pretty happy. This game is simple enough for anyone to be able to understand it while having enough options for some more complex decisions. There’s nothing wholly unique about this game other than the risk-reward to growing your city but it all flows together pretty nicely.
This is a fun and relaxing game that does a fairly good job of hitting the “Simcity Lite” spot . The different types of buildings all work together in different ways and there is something intangibly fun about balancing your budget and reputation every time you place a tile.
I LOVE the fact that you can’t just grow your city too fast. It really makes you have to think about what you are doing. You can try for a quick population burst at the cost of crippling you for the next few turns. Likewise, you can go for that big reputation booster that may also decimate your economy.
Turns go fairly quickly so you’re never really sitting around doing nothing. Plus, even if a tile you wanted gets picked up, after the inevitable tirade of profanity erupts from your mouth, there’s always another move you can make. I don’t think there’s any point where you feel like you are completely out of it.
The game is pretty mellow but as you approach the end, things start getting intense as everyone starts trying to play other people’s boards in order to prevent them from hitting big scoring moves. Things can get quietly tense…its not a game where you are going to be trash-talking your opponent but there will be lots of mind games going on. Its not a cutthroat game, but you have plenty of opportunities to cut the legs out from under your opponent, especially towards the end. (So maybe its a cutleg game?)
There are some issues I have with the game though, sad as it is for me to say. Suburbia feels like it almost outstays its welcome. I don’t think its ever affected my enjoyment but I feel like the game might work better with some house rules reducing the number of tiles that are in the game. However, this leads to an actual problem. I spoke about the variety of tile combinations. That’s great and all but sometimes the randomization works against the game. Say some poor sap puts down a lot of money on a Business Supply Store which increases the your income for every office building you build. Then fate rears its ugly face and there are zero, count em, ZERO office buildings that come up all game. Obviously, I am being dramatic and I usually enjoy randomization. However, in this game, I feel like the randomization is slightly off-putting because it hinders some of the strategy.
Probably my biggest problem is that in general, it feels like there is a very specific type of strategy in order to get yourself going in this game. Once you figure it out, it feels like you follow that general pattern each game. The pieces change but the games end up following a very similar road-map.
Finally, just a comment that is neither a positive or negative. I personally wish there were more resources you need to track. Something like health, crime levels or pollution levels would have made me very happy. However, then the game runs the risk of being too complex to be brought to the table too often so its a wash.
I think the theme really shines through in the gameplay mechanics. All of the interactions just make sense and it really feels like the developers put serious thought into each of the tiles.
However, where the game loses me a bit thematically is in the aesthetics. I actually think the tiles look nice and unique but they are a bit too abstract. Other than the colors (which are very attractive), its very hard to just look at a tile and quickly get an idea for what it does. Not a huge deal, but it just doesn’t match what I would have preferred.
Is water just a series of white lines on a blue background???
This is a great game that I always have fun with when I play. I really want to take a look at the expansions at some point but usually don’t want to run this game back immediately after finishing one. In some ways, this game is like a really introverted person who sort of melds into the background, then pops out a few times a year and is a lot of fun. Then promptly fades back into the background. Its a good game, just doesn’t demand to be replayed.
This is a good game and I’m happy its in my library. It doesn’t get played as much as the big hitters in my collection, but its good fun whenever it does come out. Solid all around.