Review: Between Two Cities

I’m always on the lookout for games that will accommodate higher player counts. My group is frequently at six players, and sometimes more, so having a game that will work for a larger number is important. So when I read about Ben Rosset and Matthew O’Malley teaming up with Stonemaier Games to bring Between Two Cities, which would play up to seven, to Kickstarter? Let’s just say I was very interested.

But just because a game will play with seven doesn’t mean that you SHOULD play with seven. After all, Caverna plays up to seven, but you’re in for an incredibly long game at that count. That being said, Between Two Cities sounded like a much quicker game, one that wouldn’t take forever and yet still provided the players with an interesting gameplay experience.

Well, you might ask, does it? Is it worth playing this with seven? Let’s take a look!

Before I get into the gameplay, let’s talk about how the game is set up. Each player will have two cities that they work on during the game: one that they share with the person sitting to their left, and one that they share with the person to their right. Both players will work on both of their cities in each round, so while not a cooperative game, there’s a partnership aspect. To help keep things straight, each city will be assigned a token which goes in between the two players.

IMG_3932At the start of round one, each player will draw seven building tiles. From these, each player will choose two tiles and place them face down in front of themselves, putting their remaining tiles underneath the city token to their left. Once everyone has chosen which buildings they are keeping, everyone flips their tiles face up and thus begins the placement phase.

During placement, each player will work with their partners to determine which tile will go into the city on their left and which one will go into the city on their right. Some tiles will work better than others for a given city, but we’ll get more into that when we look at scoring. There are a few rules about placement:

  1. Tiles have an orientation, and they must be played with the scoring key on the bottom.
  2. Tiles must be played adjacent to an existing tile (they must share an edge).
  3. Once placed, tiles cannot be moved.
  4. Your final city must be 4×4 grid.

Once each player has placed a tile into each of their two cities, they take the stack of tiles which is on their right and this process repeats until you have a hand of three tiles to choose from. Then you will choose two and discard the third onto the scoreboard, removing it from the game. Once placement has concluded, round one is over.

Round two is an abbreviated round with each player receiving three of the larger duplex tiles, choosing two and discarding one. Round three is identical to round one with the exception of passing tiles – those now move counter-clockwise so you pass tiles to your right instead of your left. Once round three is complete, it’s time for scoring.

Now, placement rules are all well and good, but there must be a strategy behind which tiles to put where, right? Correct! At the end of the game the six types of buildings score as follows:

  • Shops: You will score 2|5|10|16 points for each set of 1|2|3|4 shops in a horizontal or vertical line.
  • Factories: Count the factories in each city. The city with the most factories will get 4 points per factory, the second most will get 3 points per factory, all others get 2 points per factory.
  • Taverns: There are four types of tavern tiles. You will score 1|4|9|17 points for each set of 1|2|3|4 different taverns anywhere in the city.
  • Offices: Located anywhere in the city, you will get 1|3|6|10|15|21 points for 1|2|3|4|5|6 your office tiles. In addition, each office will gain a bonus point if it is adjacent to a tavern.
  • Parks: Score 2|8|12|13… points for 1|2|3|4… park tiles in a connected group. Any connected park tiles over three will only give one additional point.
  • Houses: Count the different types of non-house buildings in your city. Each house is worth 1 point per other building type. Caveat: if a house tile is adjacent to a factory, it is only worth 1 point regardless of the normal scoring.

IMG_3935While the scoring rules of Between Two Cities are simple enough, the actual process of scoring each city can create confusion if not done properly. It’s important that each player score the city to their left (or right, I mean…just be consistent) and the person “running” the scoreboard calls out the type of building they are scoring.

Once you’ve scored each one of the cities, the person with highest score of their lowest scoring city is the winner.

Between Two Cities is a breath of fresh air in the recent gaming world. It seems like there are more games than ever coming out, and it’s getting harder to come up with something unique. Sure, you’ll get a new coat of paint on top of some tried and true mechanics, but not much that’s new. Well, Rosset and O’Malley have given us something new here.

First of all, the partnership aspect of this game is great. Your turn finds you wondering what buildings you want to play, and what she will want on your left and what he will want on your right…and whether those are at odds with one another. You make an honest evaluation of both the cities and the players that are next you, truly working together while still competing. It’s frankly amazing that it works so well.

And your choices aren’t always clear cut here. You’ll often be faced with a few tiles that might work well in either of your cities. Here is where the negotiation aspect of the game really comes into play. You’ll need to convince both of your neighbors that your way is the right way. Worst of all is when you get a stack of tiles that are completely useless to one of your cities. Trying to fit a factory into a house dominated city is pretty tough.

The balance of Between Two Cities is amazing. When you look at games with multiple scoring opportunities, especially drafting games, the design needs to be balanced so that one “path” is no stronger than another. Out of the six scoring buildings, I’ve yet to see one that is stronger than the others. This is clearly evidenced by the close end game scores we see routinely.

My only complaint about this game is that the scoring is hard for many people to keep up with the first few times you play. The office/tavern bonuses will trip people up…stressing that you can only get one bonus point per office is necessary. With each marker assigned to a city and not a person players need to call out “green: 12 points” or the scorekeeper will have a hard time moving the right marker. And it’s fairly common that someone forgets the “lowest of your two scores” condition…which leads to premature celebration. It so different from most games that it takes a while for some to adjust.

As Between Two Cities was published by Stonemaier Games, you will find the same level of quality that is present in all Stonemaier products. The art is simple, yet filled with wonderful detail. The tiles are thick and sturdy, and there’s even two different scoreboards for those that prefer a snaking scoreboard to a typewriter style. They’ve even added cards to the game which will tell you what order people should sit in – which we’ve taken to using for other games as well!

I think by now it’s no secret that Between Two Cities was a hit for my group. And that ~25 minute play time? That’s no joke. Regardless of number of players, you’re looking at around 30 minutes per game. Take that, Caverna. So does this one fit in that void when the player count creeps up there nice and high? Well, it sure does. A quick, easy to learn game with some interesting decisions. It’s a good warm up for a night, or even a nice game to wrap up an evening with. This is one that’s going to stay on my shelves.