Board Game Review - An Evening of Unhealthy Expansion with Suburbia
I feel a little apprehensive sitting down and talking about Suburbia, since the game of it that I played...well, I never really felt like I was actually playing it. But I have no real intention of trying to play it again, so I guess this is what we are left with. Onward!
To explain: the mechanics of the game are pretty straightforward. You are building a town, and every turn you can purchase a hex tile and place it adjacent to another hex in your town. Depending on what tile you got and where you put it, your income and reputation will most likely change. Then after you place your tile, you collect money based on your income (money buys you more and better town hexes) and gain population based on your reputation (population is points -whoever has the most at the end wins).
And that's more-or-less it. Most of the strategy and complexity comes from what tiles you buy and where you place them. But there is one more rule that I didn't hear during the rules explanation - and it totally 100% ruined my game. At specific intervals on the population track, which get smaller and smaller the higher up you go, you will cross red barriers, and when you cross these barriers, your income and reputation go down. This is a very much needed mechanic to balance the game, and I very much needed to hear it before starting the game, and somehow I didn't.
Without this rule, the strategy is obvious: focus on boosting your reputation as much as possible and start shooting up the population track - those who focus on income will likely never be able to catch up. This is what I tried to do, but, of course, the red barriers mitigate this. I cross a few red barriers and quickly see the error of my ways. My income has been reduced to zero and my reputation is still launching me past more red barriers. I try to get more income, but I can only afford terrible tiles that don't give much, and what they give is quickly evaporated by my growing population, until I finally stagnate, dead in the water around 40 points. Sure, I'm ahead of everybody in population at the moment, but they've got incomes of, like, 10 or 15 plus steady population growth.
We're halfway through the game so all the good, expensive tiles start coming out. I can't afford any of them, so I just sit there, spending multiple turns collecting lakes in the hopes of affording, like, even one of the good tiles while everyone else is buying up everything and starting to shoot past me on the population track. I ended up in last place, not even able to accomplish my bonus goal (more on those later).
So my actions at the beginning of the game just totally ruined everything and then I got to spend the next 2 hours not really able to do anything, knowing I was going to lose badly. Admittedly it was mostly my own fault, but still, I would argue that a better game would at least allow a player to continue playing the game and have fun even if they know earlier mistakes mean they have no chance of winning. By focusing on reputation instead income at the beginning of the game, I was 100% sunk, unable to afford anything, spending entire turns doing absolutely nothing - not exactly fun or interesting.
But, like I said, mostly my own fault, and the complaint is a relatively small one. You can easily neglect family growth in Agricola and end up with half the actions of other players, which would also be frustrating. You could squander your beginning resources in Terra Mystica and end up with half the income of other players.
There are, however, other things wrong with Suburbia, unfortunately. The first being these silly bonus goals. At the beginning of the game, 4 bonus goals are set out on the board. They are things like "Most airports," "Most money," or "Least government buildings." And whoever achieves that at the end of the game - not tied, but superlative in that category - gains bonus population. In addition, each player is dealt 2 hidden goals and chooses to keep 1 of them.
The problem is that some of the goals are just bad, like "Most airports." In the game we played, only 1 airport ever came out, so the guy who had enough money to buy it got the bonus uncontested. Or anything that requires you to have the least of something. If a "least" bonus is public, it is pretty much impossible to obtain, as people can pretty easily avoid buying any one type of building throughout the game. And tying does you no good, so you end up not buying government buildings all game and get nothing for it. It's like playing Chicken, but the risk of not swerving gets smaller as you get closer to the other car instead of the other way around. Halfway through the game, you realize the other guy isn't swerving either, but there's no point in starting to buy government buildings because they synergize with each other, and you don't want to give him free points either.
On the other hand, if a "least" goal is hidden, unless it's, like, airports or something, you are almost guaranteed to get it with very little cost to your game. One person is essentially just handed free points. Yay. These bonus tiles just make the game far too random for my liking.
And speaking of random, I was having issues with the way the town tiles were introduced to the game, as well. You've got a market of 7 (I think) tiles laid out in a specific order, where the first 2 in line are priced at their base cost, and each one after those costs $2 more then the one preceding it, so the final tile in line cost $10 more than its base price. When one is bought, everything moves up the line and a new tile is put in the $10 spot.
The problem is that there are 4 people playing and a tile is removed on each and every one of their turns, so there is almost no way to plan out your purchases from one round to the next. 4 of the 7 tiles that are available on this turn will be gone on your next turn. You can try to purchase one to synergize with something else on the board, but chances are that tile will be gone by the time it comes back around to you, especially if the tile is good. This means there is just very little planning that can take place and you are just at the mercy of the draw stack, only able to take what will be best for you that specific turn.
It's like the Ascension of economy games.
And in case it wasn't clear that was an insult, I really hate Ascension. And I didn't particularly like Suburbia, either, and not just because I wasn't really able to play it. There are some good, interesting mechanics in it, and I did like how tiles could achieve lots of synergy based on their placement, but the game was muddled by too much randomness...and my poor listening skills.
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