Suburbia Review

robsmToday, we here at Gameosity are going to try our hands at a little urban planning with Suburbia. It’s a tile-laying city building game for one to four players, from designer Ted Alspach and publisher Bezier Games. It’s a bit thinky, but that’s just the way we like our games about turning meager suburbs into sprawling cityscapes.

Is it weird that I kind of expect there to be a Delorean hiding behind that billboard?
Is it weird that I kind of expect there to be a Delorean hiding behind that billboard?

Everyone in Suburbia plays the part of a city planner trying to out-city the competition. Some structures will boost your income, others may reduce your popularity, but most of them will play off of each other in some manner – which means that simply buying up whatever looks pretty won’t cut it. And once the construction dust settles, everybody tallies up their points and sees who’s come out on top!

robsmRob: I like the theme and all, but Suburbia’s not a particularly pretty game. It’s more… utilitarian.

dianasmDiana: I’d call it more handsome in it’s simple design; kind of like clean lines in architecture.

robsmRob: I guess so. I mean it’s not like it needs to have intricate illustrations or anything. And I suppose it does look pretty interesting once you really start to expand your little corner of the city.

dianasmDiana: Exactly.

robsmRob: I do think it’s kind of weird that they bothered to include a board section just for the coins, though.

A lot goes into city planning.
A lot goes into city planning.

dianasmDiana: Why’s that?

robsmRob: There’s just so many of them! I mean seriously, this game comes with a rather absurd amount of coin tokens.

dianasmDiana: Well, urban planning is expensive.

robsmRob: Okay, but what about the box? It’s like three times the size it needs to be and there’s no handy insert to help with organization. And you know how I am about organization.

dianasmDiana: Borderline OCD?

robsmRob: You’re darn tootin’!

andysmAndrew: Borderline?

jessmJessica:  Hush you, we’re not supposed to be in this review!

From humble beginnings...
From humble beginnings…

Each player begins with a few basic tiles that determine starting Popularity and Funding, a few million dollars, and a secret objective worth bonus points and the end of the game. Then they all take turns spending tons of money on various buildings that can affect their population or bankroll directly, or adjust the values of their Popularity or Funding. Once a player is finished all the tiles on offer shift down to replace the space left by the now missing building, they collect their earnings (or pay the bank if they’re in the red), and watch their population grow (or shrink) based on popularity.

The strategy comes in how most of these tiles can affect others. For example, you can take a building without paying its cost and place it face-down as a lake – which will give you $2 million for each adjacent structure for the rest of the game – but if you have a particular building you’ll actually earn even more money for lake adjacencies. Some will have negative effects when placed near specific colored tiles, others will give you a boost for every specific type of building (such as schools or airports) in play, regardless of who owns them. It’s like putting together a puzzle and usually earning lots and lots of money in the process.

dianasmDiana: I love puzzles!

robsmRob: I know you do. And I’m particularly fond of Suburbia’s brand of puzzle. There are a fair number of mental acrobatics required toward the endgame when you’ve got tons of different buildings with lingering effects, and it’s possible to earn a ridiculous amount of money in a single turn if you lay your tiles right.

dianasmDiana: The Goals help to keep things interesting, too.

robsmRob: Says the person who slaughtered me in our last game because I ignored them entirely.

dianasmDiana: Yep!

robsmRob: You do have a point, though. The public Goals will have people fighting over specific types of tiles, and the secret Goal everyone has could very well cause a massive swing during final scoring.

dianasmDiana: And since there are more tiles than you ever use in a single game, and because they’re all shuffled around, you never really know what will come up.

... to a sprawling metropolis.
… to a sprawling metropolis.

Suburbia is also a very well-balanced game. It scales nicely to the number of players (anywhere from one to four) by adjusting the number of tiles in each stack and the amount of public Goals. The scoreboard is also fairly clever in how it uses red separator lines that will reduce players’ Popularity and Funding by one when crossed, and these lines start to get closer and closer together the higher the score/population. It does a very good job of keeping one player from shooting too far ahead, as gaining something like 10 points in a turn could drastically reduce their momentum in the next round.

robsmRob: It’s just a very clever game. Clever and satisfying. There’s really no wrong way to play, aside from ignoring the Goals entirely.

dianasmDiana: …

robsmRob: Stop grinning at me like that!

dianasmDiana: Sorry, it’s just that I totally kicked your butt and I’m not that well versed in board games and, well, I just buried you. Um, so yeah… pay attention to the goals folks, that’s best advice I could give for this game.

I even lose when I play against myself.
I even lose when I play against myself.

robsmRob:Yeah, you beat me, I think that’s been made abundantly clear.

dianasmDiana: You’re no fun.

robsmRob: No, but Suburbia sure is!

dianasmDiana: …

robsmRob: Okay that was lame, but it’s true. Suburbia is a fantastic game that’s a blast to play no matter how many players you have. Even the solo game is fun!

dianasmDiana: And it’s a great gateway game, too. The rules are simple, but there’s a lot of complexity in choosing which tiles to buy and where to place them.

Though it may not appear to be when you first punch out all the tiles and tokens, Suburbia is a game that is straightforward enough to appeal to more casual gamers, but which features a depth which will keep you coming back for more.

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