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BLUE MOON CITY

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Kosmos/Fantasy Flight Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; about $40)

 

Reiner Knizia has a reputation as one of the most prolific and adept modern game designers. He has also claimed not to play games designed by others, preferring to draw his ideas from within himself. True to his word and inspired by his own Blue Moon collectible card game, Knizia has come up with a very engaging and entertaining Blue Moon City boardgame.bluemooncity1Blue Moon City comes with 21 building tiles, an “obelisk”, a deck of 80 “People” cards (10 cards each in 8 colors), 4 player tokens with matching sets of 10 building stones, 15 “Golden Dragon scales”, 3 large molded plastic dragon pieces (in red, blue and green) and cardboard chips representing crystals (the currency of the game). (Although the game is completely language independent, rules are in German but Fantasy Flight Games has announced the release of an English language edition which is scheduled for release around the time you are reading this.) The object of the game is to build city tiles to earn crystals which allow you to make offerings on the obelisk. The first player to make the specified number of offerings (four with four players, five with three players or six with two players) will win.

The “board” consists of a layout of the 21 city tiles. The centerpiece tile is the Marketplace which is bordered by the palace and three temples. The rest of the tiles are randomly placed to make a layout of three rows of five tiles bounded by two rows of three tiles each at the top and bottom. Players place their tokens on the Marketplace and keep their color-coded building stones in front of them while the red, blue and green dragons remain off-board. The deck is shuffled and all players begin with a hand of 8 cards.

Each turn consists of three basic steps. First, a player may move their token up to 2 tiles, horizontally or vertically. Upon reaching a tile, he may then place one or more building stones if possible on that tile. Finally, a player’s turn ends by drawing two cards AND, if he so wishes, discarding up to 2 more cards (before seeing his new cards) and drawing replacements.

Each city tile shares certain attributes. There is from one to four fields (boxes) with values from 2 to 5. The fields tell you the color and value of cards that must be played to place a building stone there. You’ll also find the bonus (in cards, crystals or dragon scales) players who have placed stones on the cards will earn when the tile is scored. Which brings us to the question: Just how are these cities built? And the answer is: by using those People cards.

People cards come in 8 colors. Generally, the cards come in values of 1, 2 and 3. However, cards also have special abilities which may be used INSTEAD of their standard values.bluemooncity2

The special abilities of the 1 cards in the black, red and blue card sets allow you to teleport a red, green or blue dragon (respectively) to any city tile on the board. The 2 cards in those colors allow you to move that specific color dragon up to three spaces. Gray cards have a similar effect but on YOUR player token. The gray 1 can teleport your token anywhere on the board and the gray 2 allows your token to move up to two additional spaces. The green suit is an exception to the rule as ALL green cards have a value of 1 but are wild and can be used as ANY color.

Brown cards have the power to “mimic”. Two brown cards valued at 1 and/or 2 played together are worth a value of 3 in ANY color! A white 1 has the power to transform up to FOUR cards of one color into ANY color. A white 2 has the same power but only works for ONE other card. Finally, a yellow 1 allows you to make a second offering to the obelisk on a turn (at the cost of 1 more crystal) and a yellow 2 does the same (but at a cost of TWO crystals).

Once all the fields on a city tile are filled, that tile is scored. The player with the most stones on a tile (or if there is an equal number, the player who claimed the highest valued field) gets the first player bonus (which can be extra crystals, cards or dragon scales). But ALL players on the tile receive substantial awards too. In addition, any adjacent previously scored city tiles will add to the bonuses collected by ALL the scoring players. After scoring, the newly built tile is turned over so that it will now generate bonuses (as seen on the card) when a new adjacent city is built. This is one way to earn crystals. Another way is through dragon scales.

There are 15 dragon scales in the game, earned when you build in a city where a dragon is present. (If more than one dragon is present on a tile when you build, you earn one scale per dragon.) When all of the scales have been claimed, there is an immediate scoring. The player with the MOST scales in his possession receives six crystals. ALL other players with at least three scales receive three crystals. (If a tie for first, then ALL players with three or more scales receive three crystals.) All scoring players return their scales to the “bank”. Players who haven’t scored KEEP their scales so they are in a better position to score the next time.

When a player has enough crystals, he may make an offering to the gods by going to the marketplace. There is room on the obelisk for 4 offerings costing 7 crystals each, then 2 offerings at the rate of 8, 9, 10 and 11 and a single, final, offering at 12. Only ONE offering may be made for each marketplace visit (unless using the special power of a yellow card). The first player to make the required number of offerings wins!

Blue Moon City is a game of competitive cooperation. To have the best chance to win, you need to enlist the help of other players. Having them contribute to the completion of a city to trigger city scoring saves you time, effort and, more importantly, cards. Since you only get to draw 2 cards per turn no matter how many cards you play, a dwindling hand size puts you at a sizeable disadvantage. The dual nature of the cards creates a series of challenges for players to maximize hand holdings (although it does get easier as colors become rare and less useful as tiles gets flipped). The ability to discard cards each turn is an excellent design touch giving players a chance to jettison useless cards. Payoffs for coming in first in a city, while significant, are not that much greater than those for other players there so there is an incentive to join in completing a city even if you’re not first. These semi-balanced payoffs make the game very balanced. As the obelisk fills, we’ve found that when the final turn does arrive, several players will have victory within their grasp.

While not of the depth and brainburning tendency of some of his best known and applauded designs (think Euphrat & Tigris, Spring 1998 GA REPORT, for example), Blue Moon City may be Knizia’s most commercial boardgame in some time. The game is colorful and visually striking (borrowing artwork from the Blue Moon CCG and let’s not forget those large plastic dragons). More than that, it combines ease of learning with a strong sense of timing regarding where to place your building stones and when to trigger scoring making you feel that you’re always doing something. A worthy addition to the Knizia resume of quality games. – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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