Personalized games, or single game experiences, are somewhat of a trade-off. A game that you can only play once, but the experiences can go deeper and be more specific to the players playing them. My City, a new board game by Thames and Kosmos takes this approach with their city builder. While there is an endless game mode, the main chapters are meant to be played together and sequentially changing the experience for everyone involved. But how far should the tradeoff of a unique experience be if it's a board game that you enjoy playing?
To set up My City each player needs their gameboard (whose layout matches all other player's gameboards), the different tetromino~esc buildings with their board symbol on it, and a point token to indicate their current score. There is also a deck of all of the building pieces that can be shuffled and placed in the middle. As cards from the deck are revealed, showing off the building on them, the players are going to place that building on the board. The first building must be adjacent to water, and every building from then on needs to be directly touching another building. Once all cards have been flipped the players will tally their points and then clear the board for the next round.
The concept is easy to understand but even with a foolproof plan, or confidence in your Tetris abilities, it can very quickly all fall to pieces. Large pieces like the 4 long, or the U-shaped buildings can be a godsend to get out of the way early, but that isn't always the case. By the end of each round, you'll start seeing all of the places you could have stacked the board differently, or wasted space if only a different card had been revealed first. Getting good at this game isn't just about knowing to keep a few spaces open for the small pieces to slot in at a later time, but also in being aware not just of the pieces placed, but of those remaining too.
At the beginning of My City, there are simple rules that will help you decide where you want to be placing your pieces. You can't build on the mountains or forest and when the round ends you gain a point for every visible tree, and lose a point for every visible rock, and you also lose a point for every visible green space. Suddenly everything is that bit tougher as you're trying to mentally pack all of these buildings together with a focus on building over rocks, but walling in trees from every angle to maximize points. It gives a clear objective not in the big picture of winning the game, but with every piece placed you might be getting closer to a rock you're trying to stop, or mentally rationalizing covering a tree so that you can get the three green spaces around it. With so much contributing to the addition and subtraction of points you won't ever really know how it's turned out until the end of the round.
Players start the round with 10 points, after sorting out all of the positive or negative points the winners and losers are determined. This is where the game starts to immediately change from another groups playthrough. Winners won't just be able to color in another progression symbol, but normally will also be handed another rock to stick to their board. The players who lose have a chance to be given additional trees for their map. For the winning player that's another chance to lose points on the board, slightly handicapping them with a "you must cover this or lose a point." The reverse of this is true for the players who might need a bit more assistance. A tree space gives the chance of gaining an extra point, but if they do happen to need to cover it up then there's no penalty. While My City gets a little bit harder for the winner, it either gets easier or stays the same for the losers.
This is a really interesting way to try to slowly but surely balance the player's skill, attaching these stickers is also what is meant to make it so that the main story of the game isn't repeatable but uniquely customized. The main story and development of the game is played out over 8 chapters, each slowly adding more elements into the game. Players have new goals added to the game such as new objectives to meet, new buildings to place, or even new structures on the board itself. The second chapter of Episode 1 now rewards players for creating the longest chain of connected buildings of the 3 colors, and the third chapter has players place wells into their city for a new way to earn points. Like trying to juggle responsibilities with each added one there's more you need to focus on, while making sure nothing else falls to the wayside. Later chapters also introduce mining, and new building tiles as the play sessions continue to expand.
With each episode taking roughly 1-2 hours to complete and 8 episodes in the box that slowly add more features, it means that there's more than enough content to be progressing through with your group of friends. The downside here is that if you're not playing with the same friends then someone new might get launched into the game with a board that doesn't properly help/hinder their skill level at the game. If you want the best experience playing the game it's going to be with the same players over the course of the 8 episodes so you'll need a dedicated crew to begin with. This can also make continuing playing the game difficult for a number of reasons. This is where personalization and intention for a board game might get in the way of realistic playability.
It isn't all impossible to replay though. The story mode introduces characters to new features over time building up the skills required and swapping rules in and out, but flip over the story mode gameboard and there is a new board and layout with all of the mechanics that you would have experienced in place already. If you've completed the normal mode and just want to break out My City for a new group of friends then this side can be used at any time. The downside here is that there's no ramp up so new players will have to keep an eye on all of the rules. Where to place buildings, where they can't go, how to get points from a well, building over gold, when you can and cannot build a church and the list goes of. It's certainly a sink or swim approach but it at least means that you can keep bringing out My City for years to come, even if it's not as personalized.
The Bottom Line
Coming into My City I wasn't sure whether the core concept would be enough to pull players in, but I was completely incorrect. The random nature of the cards being drawn with each players approach to achieving their objectives meant that no game board was ever the same at the end of the round. Even though players compete when we knew something bad was headed our way, or we'd locked ourselves out of points it was a communal feeling of fear or elation. While My City might get brought out every now and then, the staying power for 8 1-2 hour sessions with the same group of 4 is just a difficult thing to do. The endless mode will likely get a lot more use before the story is close to being completed, and that's ok. This is a great game for a family setting as the core concept is extremely easy to understand and the complicated features are all added slowly over time.
Get This Game If:
- You have 1-3 dedicated tabletop friends
- You like solving shape puzzles
Avoid This Game If:
- You want a game where players can directly interact
- You don't like the idea of non-repeatable games
The copy of My City used for this review was provided by Thames & Kosmos.