Reviewed by Joe Huber
5X5 CITY (OKAZU Brand, 1 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes; 3000 ¥ [about $27])
Hisashi Hayashi is among the most prolific Japanese game designers, releasing four or five games a year through his OKAZU Brand label. These releases are roughly evenly split between longer, more complex games such as Yokohama (featured in the Summer 2017 Gamers Alliance Report) and shorter, more accessible games such as Rolling Japan (Winter 2015 GA Report). 5×5 City is in the shorter, more accessible category.
This is s a tile drafting city building game; each player’s 5×5 board is divided into twelve sections, ranging from one to three spaces each. The first player for the round, after drawing to determine which section is to be filled, draws a number of sets of tiles equal to one more than the number of players, with each set having as many tiles as there are spaces in the area. The tiles come in nine different types – from factories to homes to shops to warehouses, and more – and, in turn player order, each player drafts one set of tiles, with the remaining set returned to the bag. The set of tiles taken must then be placed to fill the indicated section – but any tiles not desired may be turned into parks, which also are required to avoid penalties for factories. When a third park in placed, the placing player gets an immediate opportunity to swap two tile placements. Scoring occurs when all twelve areas have been filled.
Each different type of building scores according to the rules for that building and then a penalty is assessed if a player has more factories than parks. The player with the high score wins. To add variety, there are two different scoring rules for each type of building, and an additional deck of special scoring rules.
5×5 City, which was released at the December Tokyo Game Market, is a good, solid, game. Everything works, and works smoothly; the game is easy for players to learn and play, and the game usually finishes easily within a half-hour. And the scores tend to be quite close. But – I’ve played the game ten times and there’s been something nagging at me for at least six of the plays.
Everything works well but…what makes this game unique and worthy of continued play? And in the course of writing this review, I’ve come to realize that for me, nothing. I like the game, but it’s too smooth, too polished, too dull, really. There are other games that aren’t nearly so well designed but which do something so brilliantly that I am drawn to play them more; that just isn’t the case here. The theme is fine, but common, and not done in a way that’s really new or innovative. There are plenty of choices available strategically but they all tend to lead to similar scores. The parts are all perfectly acceptable (while the original player boards were misprinted, thin but acceptable replacements are included). The rules are straight-forward and clear and the game has been popular enough to be easy to get to the table many times.
It’s really hard to knock a game that I have enjoyed enough to play ten times. The game is a fine one and, to be fair, 5×5 City is far from the only game to have the “flaws” I’ve come to see with it; many of them I count among my favorite games. There’s more than enough here to make it easy to recommend trying. Whether you find it enjoyable but passing as I have, or a favorite, or not for you – it is still a fun game to try and not one that’s likely to be painful even in the worst of circumstances. The game plays well with 3 or 4 players and (although I haven’t played it with 2) likely with just 2, as well. The challenge currently is tracking down a copy, even just to play. Like most Japanese games, it’s difficult to locate and expensive to import though at least, like most OKAZU Brand games, it is produced in sufficient numbers to give one hope for tracking down a copy and, even better, hope for eventually seeing a widely available English language edition. – – – – – – – Joe Huber
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