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BETWEEN TWO CITIES

Reviewed by Herb Levy

BETWEEN TWO CITIES (Stonemaier Games, 3 to 7 with 1 and 2  player variants], ages 8 and up, about 25 minutes; $35)

 

Ever since Antoine Bauza rediscovered and re-implemented the game mechanism of card drafting (and made a monster hit by using it in his game 7 Wonders), card drafting has become more and more popular in recent game designs. But in the new design from Ben Rosset and Matthew O’Malley,  that mechanism of drafting has been shifted from cards to tiles as players compete and cooperate to build cities in the aptly titled Between Two Cities.between2citiesbox

In the game, each player shares responsibility for constructing two cities to be built between them using tiles. Cities are each given their individual token: a pagoda, the Eiffel Tower etc. but this is purely for atmosphere and identification, having no game effect. Cities must be built so that the tiles align precisely to create a four by four grid: one grid on each player’s left and one on their right.

There are two types of tiles in the game: singles (“buildings”) and doubles (aka “Duplex tiles”) . Choosing the right tiles for the job is the key to victory.

In the first round, players are dealt seven tiles. They now pick two of them, one to be used for each city, and pass the remaining tiles left. You MAY discuss tile placement with your partners (and even change your mind about which city to place which tile without penalty). Tiles are placed so that their icon is in the upper left hand corner and may not be rotated. This procedure is repeated until you are left with only three tiles. Again, you pick two with the remaining tile removed from the game.

The second round is where those Duplex tiles come in. These tiles depict TWO buildings. No drafting in this round. Players are dealt three of these, pick two of them (one for each city) and discard the last. Duplex tiles have their two buildings arranged either horizontally or vertically and must be placed like that. Their spatial arrangement can NOT be changed.

Finally, the third round is a repeat of the first, with a hand of seven tiles and drafting (this time, passing to the right). With the final tiles placed, cities are scored, scoring based on just how you’ve arranged those tiles.

There are six types of buildings in the game. Shops (yellow) score when connected in a straight line, 2 points for a solitary shop, 5 for two connected, 10 for three connected and 16 if you have managed to connect a solid line of four. Be aware that shops cannot be counted twice. So, for example, a single tile abutting a line of four is STILL a single tile despite the apparent “connection”. Factories (gray) have a variable value. The city with the MOST factories will receive 4 points for each. The city with the second most will get 3 points per factory. All other cities will score their factories at 2 points each. (Ties are friendly. If tied, ALL get the same, higher, value.)between2citiescomp

Taverns (red) depict one of four different symbols on them and will score 1, 4, 9 or 17 points depending on how many different symbols a city contains. You may have taverns with the same symbol in your city but they get scored as part of a second set. Offices (blue) do not have to connect and score on sheer volume, 1 to as high as 21 depending on how many are found in a city. If a tavern is adjacent to an office, that office gets an additional point. (Apparently, office workers like to socialize!) Parks (green) can be solitary or connected (and not necessarily in a straight line). Parks are worth 2, 8, 12, 13, 14… per group. Finally, there are houses.

Houses (brown) are another tile with a variable value. At the end of the game, each house is worth in points the number of DIFFERENT building types in the city. (So if a city has Shops, Taverns, Offices and Parks, each House is worth 4 points.) But not all is positive. No one wants to live next to a factory (all that noise and pollution).  Any house next to a factory is worth only 1 point.

City values are charted on the scoreboard provided. Each player now has TWO scores, one for each of his cities. A player’s score is the LOWEST of the two scores and the game winner is the player with the HIGHEST LOWEST score! (So, for example, if player A’s two cities have scores of 61 and 55, his score is 55. If player B’s two cities have scores of 59 and 56, her score is 56. In this case, player B wins 56-55!)

There are several things that make Between Two Cities an excellent choice for a gaming evening. First of all, the game works well with groups from three to as many as seven! Because everyone plays at the same time, game play is quick no matter what the number.  What’s more, rules for two player and solo games are provided (and they, too, work).

Additional strong points are the graphics and play aids provided. Every tile has icons to remind players how those tiles are scored and each player gets a card detailing how each type of building is scored as well. These are most welcome additions (and ones that should be adopted when possible with other tile games that score based on groupings) as this makes it easy to remember what scores and how which is, after all, the core of the game.

As with 7 Wonders, you can, of course, decide which tiles get passed but the more players you have, the less impact and interaction will occur. If you prize more direct interaction, games with 3 or 4 players will have a stronger appeal. Fortunately, this does not detract from the central challenge: to choose the “perfect” tiles to maximize your city scores. (The solo variant eliminates this interaction concern as does the two player version in which city scores are added and the winner being the player with the highest combined score.) With the ability to communicate with your erstwhile partners on your left and right, there was a concern that conversation would slow the game down. Fortunately, not so. Because cities are restricted to a four by four grid, placement possibilities are limited so once you commit to a particular scoring strategy, decisions and, to a degree, placement are apparent. This reduces angst over which tile to place and where, a design decision in favor of keeping the game moving.

In our sessions, we’ve found final scores remarkably close, often being decided by a point or two.  The important thing to remember is to try to keep scores balanced. Having a high scoring city at the expense of your secondary city will undermine you as your score is your LOWER score of the two. Ties, when they occur, are resolved in favor of the player with the higher city score and then, if needed, the most shops, factories, taverns, offices, parks and, finally, houses. With all those potential tie-breakers in play, a single winner will emerge.

The ability to take a winning game mechanism (such as drafting) and morph it into something fresh and engaging is no small task. Designers Rosset and O’Malley have managed to make it work. Between Two Cities is an ideal game to teach as the rules are clear as crystal and an ideal vehicle to introduce potential gamers to the technique of drafting, all in a game that plays quickly and scales well.  – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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