Monday, August 10, 2009

Game Central Station: Big City

I described this now-classic Eurogame as "SimCity 3-D" in the header to the original webpage. I went on to say that Big City is "surprisingly strategic with 2-3 players... enjoyable chaos with 4-5 players." (I'm not sure I'd agree with that now - I really prefer to play it with 2-3.)

In other news, Valley Games has made a lot of noise about
reprinting Big City - the timetable (according to them) is to release it in the last quarter of this year. They have not been the most reliable company about nailing release dates, so don't hold your breath. (I will say that I really like the new box art.)

First Things First

Going Last - The Only REAL Problem

In order to fix one of the few real problems with Big City, Greg Schloesser and the Westbank Gamers created a variant for the start that is very effective. The player who was last in placing one of the initial neighborhoods is allowed to draw one extra card BEFORE he placed his neighborhood and then plays first.

Aaron Fuegi (the keeper of the Internet Games 100) independently came up with the idea of reversing the normal play order for the placing of the initial neighborhoods starting with the player going last.

Conductor's Note: I've since come to believe that this isn't important in 2-3 player games... and that I'm not a big enough fan of the game with 4-5 players to worry about it. Still, I post it here for those of you really like a lack of control in your games.

Rules Clarifications

Small Village

According to Jay Tummelson (the owner of Rio Grande Games ), "The rules specifically say that if all players pass in turn (having nothing they can or want to do) the game ends. Of course, this is how all games of Big City (or "Small Village") will end. It is true that there is no mention of this as a special case, but since it follows the normal rules for game end, I see no need for a special rule." So, although we've never seen it happen here, it's possible.

Public Information?

Not to be mistaken for the ongoing debate about public vs. private information in Acquire... but still important. According to Jay Tummelson, you can count the number of cards left in a neighborhood draw pile. As well, you have to reveal the neighborhood cards you have in your hand if asked.

How Many Players?

Frank Branham (Moo of Gaming Dumpster fame), Doug Adams (Billabong Gamer extrodinaire) and Jay Tummelson (the Grand Poobah of Rio Grande Games) all feel strongly that Big City turns hopelessly chaotic with 5 players. Doug suggests using the trading variant to alleviate this... an alternative we've tried at Game Central Station with great success. Jay, who edited the English version, wishes he had limited it to 3-4 players. (We here at Game Central respectfully disagree, as we find it an enjoyable 2 player game as well.) You make your own decision.


Recommended Variants

We here at Game Central Station have been using the "single streetcar line" variant listed in the rules. No branches are allowed. According to Jay Tummelson, that is the standard rule in the German version - one he changed for the English version.

As well, we use the trading variant outlined in the rules. It's seldom used, but does give players another option if they're looking for particular parcels of land.

Finally, we use the alternate start variant the Westbank Gamers created, giving the person who goes last an extra card and the opportunity to go first.

An Interesting Two Player Variant

Ronald Hoekstra had an odd first experience with Big City - he was taught the game wrong. "We played that you could build as much as you could in one turn (instead of just one build). It actually played very well (with two players)." Here at Game Central Station we haven't tried this yet, but it seems like it might work.

Bigger City

This variant is the brainchild of Richard Irving.

  • Use two sets.
  • Shuffle both card sets together (All 1 cards from both sets are shuffled together.) Each card can be used to build on either square of the matching number.
  • On set up, I don't know if both sets of boards 1-5 should be used or just one. I am thinking a better game might be created by starting with just one set of boards and expanding from there under normal rules. (This might encourage more exchanging of card or an early placement of a city hall.)
  • Use both city halls (think of the second one as a police precinct.) Maybe some rule to prevent them form being placed together might be useful.
  • Streetcars either allow using all of the them. The other idea I had is allowing having two separate "lines" : A red line and silver line (use Siedler roads for the red line.) The first one of each line is placed according to regular rules. Both lines can be expanded on the same turn--one car each. The lines may cross or junction, but never are placed in parallel along the same street.

I think Bigger City would work better for 5 players and go up to 6 players tops. More players would still be too chaotic. But the game would be bit more strategic as each card may get more uses.

Additional Buildings

The ones listed here are the daydreams of the ever-creative Richard Irving. We'd love to make this a repository of variants here at Game Central Station, so if you have any other ideas, please send them on.

  • Stadium: 2x2 lot square. Requires city hall. 20 pts. + 10 pts. if in city center. x2 if placed on streetcar line. (It certainly will be hard to play.)
  • School: 2 lots. Requires city hall. 3 pts. per each (orthogonally) adjacent lot that contains residences (up to 6--maximum 18 pts.) Also adds +1 to each residence built later.

The Games Journal ran a wonderful variant article adding a number of new building ideas for Big City. Give it a whirl!

Strategy Hints

  1. Don't run out of cards as you near the end-game. This is especially true in a 2 player. If you run out of cards early, your opponents can play their remaining cards as they wish, very often for double+ points. It's important to account for the possibility of decimating your hand early, which tends to require calculation whne placing larger buildings in the last stages. (Andy Danglish)
  2. You can protect your properties from the dreaded factories by looking at the board, figuring out the legal positions for factories, and placing buildings that make it impossible to legally place a factory over your properties. Drawing large numbers of plots on neighborhoods that have not yet been played is a real power-grab, and the factories are a counter to this. (Robert Rossney)
  3. Watch for the formation of a shopping center plot... when there are two spaces together with streetcar access and a special building (or the space available to build that building), do what it takes to break up those two spaces (extend the streetcar line between them, build a park over one or both of them, build a factory over them or over enough adjacent property to render the area unfit to meet the building conditions. )
  4. Be careful about laying down parks. Laying down a park early in the game for your benefit allows other players to circulate cards from their hands (due to discards). As well, parks next to large areas of property that you don't own simply gives free points to other players.
  5. It is possible to prevent the building of a church by passing if your only playable card would allow you to build on the last available square (except for the one with the double digit for the church). You have to watch for this - and occasionally sacrifice points not to give your opponent that 15 point "church" boost. (Ulrich Bauer)

And after I went to all the trouble of preparing that list, here comes RayT of the Silicon Valley Boardgamers with own (possibly better) list of strategy tips.

  1. Be sure to understand all the requirements and legal placements of buildings. This also means to understand all the illegal placements of buildings such as parks and factories, so that if one of your cards become illegal, you can exchange it for a new one.
  2. Recognize at any point in the game, what each of your cards potential is in scoring. Potential can include parks and doublers/triplers not yet there. This sounds obvious, but a lot of people don't even realize what they can put down or put down the wrong thing!
  3. Notice the stockpiles of buildings. A lot of them run out, especially streetcars. This can greatly affect what building you build, especially if 2 or more types have only one building left!
  4. Notice when the cards run out! I just recently figured this out. You may want to put down cards, just to grab the last couple and give you that slight edge in buildings.
  5. Parks and factories -- I don't quite understand yet the true nature of these cards. They aren't just simple "screw your opponent" cards that you can play at any time without thinking or when you're bored. First, you don't want to play them too early because you could possibly screw yourself if you draw that card. Second, you don't want to play them too late when they become illegal. Third, you want to target your greatest opponent, not just a big, open area. Finally, if you hold onto these cards, they clog up your hand and reduce your options on cards. I'm even thinking they may be good cards to exchange for new ones...

Parks, Factories & City Hall

The Great Park & Factory Debate

For those of you who've grown tired of the "Settlers is too random" debate, here's a new one. It seems there are some VERY split opinions on the power level of the park & factory cards. No less a gaming guru than the fabled Mike Siggins implied in his G3 review that they were too dominant... a feeling that is shared by a number of people.

Both Mark Biggar & Chris Dorrell have ruminated about a possible fix for the supposed power imbalance that involves requiring the play of one of the deeds being covered in order to play the park or factory. Richard Heli wisely responds, "If that were the rule, I don't think I would ever use up an entire action and cards to play them. I would just stick the park or factor card back in the deck for someone else to waste time with."

Steve Pedlow's solution is a bit more radical - remove the parks & factories altogether. (Granted, this may be a viable option with playing with folks who don't like any kind of 'hosage' in their gaming.)

However, there are a bunch of us out here who think this part of the game works just fine as is. In the words of Ted Cheatham, "I think this is really part of the character of the game. To avoid problems with parks & factories, capture some know what stack they are in." (For those of you who don't: Lincoln Park - 2 spaces - is in the #2 neighborhood, Central Park - 3 spaces - is in the #4 neighborhood, Stanford Corporation - 3 spaces in an L shape - is in the #6 neighborhood, and Rockwell Industries - 4 spaces in a square - is in the #8 neighborhood.) For my money, Lincoln Park & Stanford Corporation are the more valuable deeds, as they (a) smaller and easier to play, which makes them (b) more difficult to defend against. I often find myself stuck with Central Park or Rockwell Industries in my hand at the end of the game.

A good last word on the whole subject comes from Robert Rossney: "I think these cards are very powerful, but their power and presence in the game is not, or should not be, a surprise to the player, and you can plan accordingly. The factories in particular cannot be played just anywhere: they're big, and they have to be placed adjacent to the outskirts of town. If you're grabbing cards for a neighborhood that has a big open space on the outskirts of town and the factories haven't been played yet, well, where the heck do you think they're going to get played?"

Why Build And/Or Fight City Hall?

It's worth zero (zilch, nada, nothing)... by itself. It drives some people crazy. (Really. Just read on dejanews.) But, once again, we here at Game Central Station don't buy the hype.

Al Newman, a talented game designer in his own right, weighed in on the subject: "From a design viewpoint, there is a tremendous problem. You can't have City Hall placed too early, so you have to penalize the player who places it by not allowing him to use it until everyone else has had a go. Meanwhile, you cannot reward the player who places it, because it will then be placed too early. It is a mechanism (IMO) that is designed expressly to allow the game to develop to the right point before placement."

Al's point taken, there is an underground movement (mainly consisting of Aaron Fuegi) that gives 3 points for building the City Hall, as they believe that any advantages gained by placing the City Hall are outweighed by the opportunities lost (the opportunity to place the first streetcar, for example.)

Greg "Bayou Boy" Schloesser responds: "I can see the problem ... but let me tell you what I did in my game at the Gathering. I exclusively picked cards from the 3 stack for the first several turns and waited until everyone else had built their plots in that neighborhood. Then, I selected the right spot and built the City Hall without fear of another player being able to build next to it in such a way that would force me to be unable to build what I wanted on my plots. It worked ... and I won the game in a landslide. Timing is the key to City Hall placement." We here at Game Central agree with Greg... timing is everything. We leave the City Hall rules as is.


Hop the streetcar and head for these other stops in the Big City...

  • BoardgameGeek entry for Big City
  • Funagain Games with reviews from John McCallion (Games Magazine) and Alan How (Counter Magazine)

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