Review: Suburbia

Suburbia Review

Town Planning is no easy thing. Well that’s the impression that I get when I look at the cities in South Africa :P. You not only need to cater for the needs of the population now but as it grows in the years to come. Luckily board games on this topic are not as tough.

Suburbia is a Mensa award winning game by Ted Alspach. It was first published back in 2012 by Bezier Games. In Suburbia each player is responsible for building a single borough in a new town. You need to leverage off of the other players suburbs in order to make sure that yours is the place that everyone wants to live in.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the box

Specs on the box

  • 1-4 players
  • Ages 8+
  • 90 minutes

It’s not a particularly full box. There’s a heap of tiles, some board sections, player aids and player board. There’s also lots of cardboard tokens for in game money, investment markers and a few wooden pieces for tracking Popularity, population and income.

Suburbia Review
Lots of baggies, but the components are sturdy and it’s an easy setup/tear down.

There is also a rule book, a reference guide and a first player token. It’s a little skyscraper that needs to have some stickers put on it. The rules are very easy to read, with excellent examples in them. The icons on the game pieces are pretty self-explanatory.

In all the games we played we only double checked something once. Incidentally, our interpretation of the effects of the icons was correct. That being said the rules for the particular tile were very thorough and easy enough to understand.

Theme

So as I’ve mentioned you’re going to be building a borough in a new town. To do this you will have to generate income, which usually occurs through business development but you will also want to have a healthy population. The most populous borough is the winning borough .

People bring their own problems e.g pollution. Let’s face it, no-one wants to live in a place that’s over crowded. So it’s going to cost you to maintain your borough which means less money to expand.

Suburbia Review
I was home alone and it was a nice day so I thought I’d give the solo modes a try.

It’s got a nice balance to it which I think echoes some of the troubles of town planning. The art work on the tiles also looks more functional than fashionable which is apt considering the theme of the game. It reminds me of the old Sim City PC games that I used to play a long time ago.

Gameplay

Setup

Setup can seem like a lot especially with so many baggies in the box, but it isn’t.

Place all of the “A”, “B” and “C” tiles in a 3 stacks sorted alphabetically, image side down. The size of the stacks is dependent on the number of players. Shuffle the “Last round” tile into the bottom half of the “C” stack.

Next give everyone 15 credits “money” (each 1 represents 1 Million $) and their wooden tokens which have specific starting positions. Then everyone gets their 3 starting tiles and 3 investment markers. Some of the remainder of the starting  tiles will be made available for purchase with the rest going back into the box.

Suburbia Review
The market will usually have 7 tiles in it, but this is a special setup for the Dale the Bot Solo mode.

Next give everyone 2 objective tiles and then place an objective on each of the marked spaces on the market board. Each player will return an objective that they do not want to accomplish. Then the first player will pull tiles from the top of the “A” stack and place them into the available slots in the market board.

Turn sequence

In your turn you will be able to select one of the available buildings (tiles) in the market for purchase. These tiles all have a purchase price on them and each part of the market also has a price on it. The final price for the tile is the sum of these 2 numbers so the price on the tile plus the price on the part of the market it belongs too.

The tile that was purchased must now be added to your tableau. The only restriction is that it must touch one of your existing tiles. After you have placed the tile you need to resolve the effects of that tile.

Each tile has a once off trigger on its top tight. This usually adjusts your population, reputation or income. It will have a symbol in the shape of your wooden marker and then a positive or negative number inside the shape. Simply move that marker accordingly.

Next is a bottom row of icons which will usually trigger based on what is next to this tile. For example building a slaughter house right next to your suburbs will cause a loss of reputation because no-one wants to live there. If you build a community park next to your suburbs it will instead cause an increase in your reputation because it improves the quality of life in the suburb.

Suburbia Review
I received good bonuses for having my blue (office) buildings next to each other.

It’s important to note that when you place a tile its bottom row will trigger for every tile that is touching it. Similarly every tile that is touching can have their bottom row trigger because of it. This can lead to some interesting cascading effects. Some tiles will have an impact for every other similar tile in play, regardless of who played them so you need to watch what your opponents do too.

Now you can also buy a tile from the market to use as a lake. You pay the market price only and then flip the tile over. Lakes are useful because they give you a cash boost for building around them.

Also instead of taking a tile from the market you can purchase one of the available basic tiles. These are the same as the 3 tiles that you started the game with. The other thing you can do in your turn instead of placing any tiles is to place one of your investment markers. This means that you are investing in a particular tile and you double all of its bonuses and penalties, if there are any.

If you chose to do either of the last 2 actions then you need to remove a tile from the market. You have to pay its market value only, and remove that tile from the game. The market will always move every turn bringing the game closer to its end.

Suburbia Review
Very early in the game the population is low but it’s not difficult to go over 100.

After you have completed your action for the round you collect income based on your new income value. Then you adjust your population based on your reputation. Positive reputation means your population goes up, negative means that it goes down. Sometimes you might want to have it go down.

With an increase in population come all the burdens of over population, as I have mentioned earlier. When your population crosses a red line on the score track your income and reputation each drop by 1 to represent this burden. If your population dips below a red line then they increase by 1. You can cross multiple lines in a single turn!

Then you adjust the real estate market to let the next player have his turn. As tiles are purchased they are replenished from left to right. First the existing tiles are shifted up so that the new space is on the left. Then a new tile is drawn to fill the gap. So the newer tiles are always more expensive and the tiles that are left over become cheaper.

If the “1 more round” tile is drawn then the game only goes for 1 more round from the starting player. So everyone will have the same number of turns.

Once the game is over final scoring happens. First you can convert your money into population. Every 5 million you spend you can add 1 to your population. Then you check if you have completed your secret goals and which of the open goals you have earned and adjust your population by the value on the goal. The player with the highest population wins.

Suburbia Review
I know it’s not supposed to go there but it made for a better picture.

Conclusion

It’s a lovely little game. The rules seem difficult, I think that is usually because it seems more like a maths lesson than a game, but once you sit down to it you will see it is quite clever. I like that it is easy enough for younger players to learn and the theme is very fitting. You not only need to plan on what you are building in your borough but how you will construct your borough so that all of these elements can work together.

It’s got a fair amount of planning that is not overwhelming to a beginner or youngster but enough to give a fan of heavier games something to think about. The goals add a nice little challenge and do add a means for someone that is lagging behind to catch up.

The one thing that I worry about is the longevity of the game. The overall strategy of the game is to boost your income in the early to mid game and then rocket your population towards the end. This is mostly because of the penalties incurred by too much growth too soon. The variety comes from how you achieve this goal and what your opponents do. Some might find that it will get a bit stale after a dozen games or so.

Suburbia Review
These objectives effectively cancel each other. +20 population for the fewest and the most lakes.

How does it play solo?

There are 2 solo modes included in the game. The first is a pure solo game where the penalties for crossing red lines are tougher, there are no goals and you remove an extra tile at the end of your turn. So you essentially have a race to beat your highest score each game.

The second version has a bot player named Dale. The setup is slightly different to a normal game as you use fewer market spaces. Dale will always buy the most expensive building available but he gets it at a bargain price, you just need to place it in the best possible location for him. There are a few things to consider like he if he has to choose between a spot that increases his income or his reputation; he will chose reputation.

Dale requires you to play for 2 players but it’s not difficult. You will quickly learn to identify where to place the tiles. Dale also earns a hell of a lot of money so give him a final scoring boost so you need to find a way to counter that with what you have available.

There is also a set of target scores to try to achieve so you can rank yourself.  Its not a bad way to spend a relaxed afternoon if I had nothing else that I wanted to do. I didn’t find the solo games particularly challenging though.

Can I play this at a braai?

It’s not something that I would recommend. There’s little to do during your opponents turn but depending on which buildings you have, their turns might impact yours and you will need to keep an eye on things. The game is also relatively quick so you’d rather just have a seat and finish the game.

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