I'm a sucker for games that let me build stuff. Whether it's Minecraft, Cities: Skylines, or Fallout 4, I get a lot of enjoyment out of spending my time putting things together. When I heard about a deck-building card game that was all about developing cities, I wanted in on it right away. That game was Flip City (designed by Chih-Fan Chen and published by Tasty Minstrel Games), and while it wasn't quite what I had expected, I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had playing it.
Flip City is a deck-building game for 1–4 players set around a theme of trying to develop a city. Gameplay consists of raising Cash through playing cards while simultaneously trying to keep yourself below a certain amount of Unhappiness in your played hand. The winner is the person who can reach 8 Points in one played hand. The game is really this simple. The different cards can either help or hinder you and the luck of the draw is a factor as well.
A game for 2–4 players begins by dealing out four Residential Areas, one Apartment, one Convenience Store, one Hospital, one Factory, and one Central Park to each player. Any leftover Residential Areas are set aside, and the remaining cards are separated by type in a general supply. The starting player is the person who last flipped a table, and I imagine one could easily sort out some other selection method quite easily if need be. Flip City also includes an optional Office expansion; we'll get into that a bit later.
Players shuffle their starting cards to form their initial deck. Traditional shuffling won't work with Flip City; however, one of the interesting parts about the game is that every card is double sided. The "Flip" part of Flip City lies in the development and recycling mechanics, which allow you to flip cards over to cause different effects. It's very important that players maintain the orientation of their cards throughout play as there's no other practical way to remember which way a card was flipped. The "front" of a card is generally weaker and the rules advise that any dropped cards should be flipped to the weaker side if there's any confusion about its orientation. My tabletop group found the best way to shuffle was to do it while looking away or with the deck otherwise out of sight (such as under a table).
A turn in Flip City runs on a basic press-your-luck style mechanic. A player only knows what card is at the top of their deck. Each card in your played hand will generate either Cash, Points, or Unhappiness for you. Ideally, a player would want to generate enough Cash to purchase another card to add to their deck from the general supply without "busting" by going over the Unhappiness limit of two.
If a player hits three Unhappiness, their turn is over. If they manage to play some cards without busting, they move on to to the Building Phase. A player has three options in this phase. They can Buy a card from the general supply and add it into their discard pile. They can pay the "Flip fee" of a card in their discard pile to flip it over and change it into a different card. Lastly, they can "Develop" a card from the general supply by paying its purchase cost and its Flip fee to immediately gain one of the (usually) more powerful buildings on the opposite side. Once a player has completed their purchase, they place their played cards into the discard pile and the game moves to the next player. Cash, Victory Points, and Unhappiness only matter for the current turn and do not carry over into the next turn.
The special effects on the cards can and often do throw a wrench in the works. For example, the Residential Cards have an effect where they must be played if they're at the top of your deck. A common sight in our early gameplay sessions was a player losing their entire turn because they happened to draw three Residential Cards in a row. Part of the meta that evolved in my time with the game was to "flip" Residential Cards into the more benign Apartments as soon as possible. An Apartment has the same one Cash and one Unhappiness that a Residential Area has, but you're not obligated to play it.
Not all special effects are bad. The Hospital Card gives you one Cash and one Unhappiness, and its special effect gives you one Cash per Unhappiness you've played so far. The opposite side of the Hospital is the Church. The Church gives you no Cash, Unhappiness, or Victory Points. Instead, its special effect increases your maximum Unhappiness by one. Churches are critical to winning the game, and in the dozens of games we played over the last several months, a Church was always a factor in the winning play. It's simple probability—it's really unlikely that you'll manage to play all of your cards without going over the Unhappiness limit and the Church helps mitigate that.
Generally, the most straightforward way to win the game is by acquiring eight Points. The most straightforward way to do this is through the Central Park card, which also has the added bonus of allowing you to Buy an additional card along with your standard action in the Build Phase. They're the most expensive card to purchase at a cost of seven Cash, but you can easily make that much in a turn if your luck holds out. I managed to win a game only by purchasing three additional Central Parks and two Hospitals (converted into Churches); I wanted to see how few cards you needed to actually win the game.
Players tend not to interfere with one another in Flip City save for buying desirable buildings in the general pool. That said, there is one specific card in the game that can be used offensively. As I said before, the dreaded Residential Area can be flipped into an Apartment for the lowly cost of one Cash. It's a priority of most players in the early game simply because of how quickly the special effect of Residential Areas can ruin your turn. Apartments have a Flip fee of eight Cash with a rather nasty special effect—you turn it back into a Residential Area and place it into another player's discard pile. The Power Plant, the upgraded version of the Factory, allows you to move an Apartment from your discard pile into another player's as a special effect, and it nets you two Points as well. This one card aside, it's generally you trying to get that lucky hand that will win you the game.
There are a couple of other ways to win besides Points. The Convenience Store can be cheaply purchased for two Cash. It generates you one Cash when played. Its special effect is that you can win the game if you play eighteen cards in one turn. It sounds impossible, but if you have enough Churches to mitigate Unhappiness as well as other cards with no Unhappiness, it can be done. A few games were won this way, and a player buying up some of the cheapest and low-risk cards was a pretty big tell that they were going for this strategy.
There is one more mechanic in the game that we didn't use very much. During your Play Cards phase, you can "Recycle" a card. You flip a card in your discard pile from its more developed side back to its basic side permanently and gain something in the process. Recycling a Church back into a Hospital will increase your Unhappiness limit by one. Recycling a Station back into a Central Park will give you one Point. Recycling seemed to us to be a risky mechanic that could just barely squeeze out a win by giving you that last Point you needed or otherwise completing a clutch play, but for the most part none of us felt it was worth the risk to undo our hard work developing property.
The core game of Flip City felt relatively well-balanced with a sensible metagame. The Office expansion changes the meta slightly through the addition of a new card, and it arguably makes the game a bit more forgiving to play.
You don't get any Office cards at the outset like you do with the others when the expansion is in play. They can be purchased cheaply for three Cash, and they generate one Cash and no Unhappiness when played. This alone would make them an underwhelming card if it weren't for the special effect—Office cards may be placed at the top of your discard pile. This means that you can effectively have guaranteed safe income every time you shuffle your deck, and Flip City is a game where you shuffle your deck a lot. At most, you'll be shuffling your deck once every two to four turns; those extra few bits of Cash could be just what you need to make the right moves.
Offices were a priority purchase for that reason alone. Sure, we still tried to flip Residential Areas as soon as possible, but everyone tried to snap up as many Offices as possible. Anything in your deck that can give you an edge against RNG is a godsend in Flip City. The Trade Center on the opposite side was not as well-regarded by us; for the cost of one Unhappiness you could Recycle the card to shuffle your Discard pile into your deck. This sort of "reset button" might be useful in certain situations, but as a general rule we found the guaranteed Cash income every few turns much more valuable.
Flip City also offers a solitaire-style experience if you'd like to play it alone. Gameplay is standard for the most part with three minor changes. First, the general supply only has four of each card (whether or not the Office expansion is in play). Secondly, you begin every turn by discarding any one card of your choice from the general supply. Lastly, you lose the game once the general supply has been exhausted. This gives you an effective countdown of 16-20 turns at most to win the game, and every purchased card or wasted turn will hurt your chances to win. I played a few games with and without the expansion and hadn't managed to beat it once. I came close to winning a couple of times but I always just barely lost. The solo variant as offered is very challenging, and I imagine that players can make it much more forgiving by adding one or two cards each to the pool if they felt like it.
When it comes to the physical product, Flip City neatly fits into a rather tiny box: 6 inches (15.25 cm) long, 4 1/4 inches (10.8 cm) wide, and 1 3/8 inches (3.5 cm) high.. It could easily fit into a purse or even a pocket (if it's large enough). The game doesn't take up too much space on a table, either. All you need is space for the general supply and enough room for someone to place down, at most, 18 cards for their turn. The box seems pretty sturdy, and the cards themselves were printed on a very nice cardstock that wasn't easily prone to bending or peeling.
Aside from the instructions and a catalog for other Tasty Minstrel Games products, Flip City is just the cards. There's only six different double-sided cards in the game and a dozen or more of each type of card. Players fond of house rules could easily remove a set of cards to change up the game if they felt so inclined. What most astonished me about Flip City was just how many different strategies and outcomes there were for a game with so few moving parts. The mechanics being on each individual card also make the game rife for expansions; indeed, the Flip City: Reuse expansion simply adds two new types of card to the game (for a total of four new buildings).
I played several dozen games of Flip City in groups ranging from two to four players and a few solo games by myself. I've played deck-building games a handful of times, and Flip City was the first title that I was really able to sink my teeth into. I found it an elegant game that's a great choice for when you need to kill a bit of time.
I genuinely had a lot of fun with the game. It's easy to learn, and even when you have an understanding of the mechanics the randomness is enough of a factor that you are never truly guaranteed to win until that magic hand comes into play. If you think you'd be interested in a fun card game that doesn't take up a lot of space and can be played in about a half hour then Flip City is the game for you.
You can purchase Flip City directly from Tasty Minstrel Games for $19.95. I highly recommend it and will happily continue to play it for some time.
The copy of Flip City used for this review was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.
What do you think of Flip City? Does it stack up to other deck building games you've seen or do you feel it's too simple? Let us know in the comments below!
Flip City seems like a simple game that nonetheless offers quite a few different strategies for winning. A great choice when you have to fill an hour or less of time playing a game.