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City Square Off

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Gamewright Games, 2 teams or players, ages 8 to adult, 15 minutes; $19.99)

 

citysquareoffWhen you have two successful games, it seems inevitable that someone will think “why not combine them?” The two games in question are the vintage game of Cathedral (whose spin-off Cathedral World was reviewed in the Spring 2004 GA Report) and the relatively recent and very successful FITS (Summer 2009 GA Report). The someone in this case is game designer (and it should be pointed out, frequent Gamers Alliance contributor) Ted Cheatham in his latest design: City Square Off.

The aptly titled game has two players “squaring off” in expanding their own city. Each game board is a 9 x 9 grid. The center is marked by the Gamewright company logo and each player chooses a “starter tile” of the four available and places it so that at least some part of it touches the logo. (Starter tiles not chosen are out of the game.) Each player gets an identical set of tiles in either orange or green. The 21 “shape” card deck is shuffled and placed between the two city boards. From that point, the competition begins.

The first card is drawn to reveal the first tile shape to come into play. Each player locates the matching tile in his holdings and must now place it onto his city board. Tile placement has few restrictions (the tile may be placed in any orientation, even flipped over) but there are a few.

Placed tiles MUST touch an edge of a previously placed tile. (Diagonals do NOT count.) No tile may be placed so that it crosses the boundary of the city. Once played, a tile remains in that position until the game is over.

One by one, cards are drawn and tiles placed until one of two things happen: either one player is unable to make a legal placement of the current matching tile (giving an automatic and immediate victory to his opponent) OR neither player can make a legal placement. In the latter case, victory goes to the player who has the largest contiguous group of open spaces. (If tied, check for the second largest group and so on.) The game also provides a few variants for play including a “free for all” ignoring the cards while trying to be the first player to completely fill the city grid and a “sprawl” which ignores city boundaries altogether while placing tiles, awarding the win to the player who has the fewest squares outside the city limits.

Essentially an abstract game in nature, City Square Off takes the theme of urban development (used to excellent effect in Cathedral and its spinoffs), melds it with the geometric challenges of Reiner Knizia’s FITS and does it well. Graphic quality is high, especially for this relatively low price point. As a designer, Ted Cheatham leans towards games that are easy to learn, fun and suitable for family play. In this clever combination, City Square Off shows that all of these qualities are present in abundance.

 


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