Game Buzz: Urban Sprawl

image by BGG user Chad Jensen

After the phenomenal success of Dominant Species, a lot of people have their eyes on what is coming next from GMT and designer Chad Jensen.  That game is Urban Sprawl, coming out in August.  This one is for 2-4 players aged 12 and up, and takes up to 3 hours to play – it’s really around 45 minutes per player.  As the name implies, it’s a game about city planning where you’ll be building a tiny town into a mega metropolis.

Board - image by BGG user Chad Jensen

In the box, you’ll get a game board, four player mats, 144 wooden cubes (36 in each player color), four wooden cylinders (again in the player colors), and one orange wooden pawn.  There are 165 cards, including 54 Build Permits, 37 Town cards, 37 City cards, and 37 Metropolis cards.    You also get 128 building tiles, 24 Vocation tiles, six Politician tiles, one Contractor tile, six Wealth markers, three Prestige markers, one Active Player marker, and one Extra Favor marker.  Players begin with 21-27-39 Wealth (for 4-3-2 players), which is paper money.  Sigh.

Turns in the game are in a standard round-the-table format.  On a turn, you have an Investment phase, spend Action Points (APs), and then do some End of Turn stuff.  The Investment phase simply consists of discarding a Build Permit card that you have in exchange for Wealth.  You can make as many “Investments” as you want, including none.

The next phase is the meat of your turn, where you will be spending Action Points.  You have six to spend on acquiring available (face up) Build Permit cards, acquiring available Urban Renewal cards, build an available Contract card, or take an available Contract card as a Favor.  You can spend all of your APs, or some of them, or none of them – however, they don’t roll over from turn to turn.  AP costs for the cards you can take are listed on the board based on the position of the card, which could be anywhere from one to six.  As the game progresses, you can collect favors.  You pay the standard AP cost for the card you collect, but you don’t build immediately.  You save it until later on your player aid, and then build it for free when you want.  You can’t get rid of a favor, and you can only have one at a time.

Let’s talk a little bit about the cards.  The Planning deck contains 14 Events, 4 Urban Renewal cards, and 36 Build Permits.  Events are resolved in the End of Turn.  Urban Renewal cards begin the game in the discard pile, and so only come into play after you’ve gone through the deck once (they allow you to demolish previously built buildings).  Build Permits can be used as Investments or to build Contracts.  They can be used in different zones, as indicated by a three-letter abbreviation: Civic (CIV), Commercial (COM), Industrial (IND), and Residential (RES).  They also come in denominations of 1-4, allowing for extra building in the same zone.  Planning cards go on the table in front of you, visible to all.

There are three types of Contract decks – Town, City, and Metropolis.  Most of the deck contains Contracts, but Events may pop up as well.  Each Contract card shows the zone in which it can be built, the permit cost and lot size, and prestige (point) payout.  It may also show a vocation, which gets you extra money/point payouts for others of that type that you have; a restriction; or even an effect.  Players build Contracts by spending the APs shown next to the Contract, trading in permits equal to the size and that are for the correct zone, and money equal to the value of the space in which it will be built.  The value is calculated by adding the numbers shown at the end of the particular row and column in which it was built.  The number of permits for the contract shows the lot size, so you take a matching building tile and place it on an available location within one of the blocks of four brown squares (they can’t cross streets, and they can’t be built on top of other buildings).  Buildings must be built in spaces that are not adjacent to any buildings, or adjacent to buildings of their zone/color.  Something is considered to be adjacent if it touches another building (even across a street) in any direction, including diagonally.  Completed Contracts are discarded from the game.

At the end of your turn, Planning and Contract cards remaining on the board slide towards the 1 AP slot, and replaced.  For Contract cards, Town cards are used until the City deck becomes active.  When that happens, Town cards will only be used in the 5 AP box, while City cards can use 1-4.  The same happens when Metropolis cards become active – Town cards stay in 5, City cards stay in 4, and Metropolis cards can use 1-3.

It’s possible that an Election might be triggered by the drawing of a Planning card.  This results in payouts based on the number of buildings you have in a particular row.  There are also 5 different politicians that will come into play, and only one will be awarded during each election.  If it’s the mayor (who gets a free 1 lot park), that role goes to the player with the most vocations.  If it’s the District Attorney (who gets a doubled neighborhood bonus), that role goes to the player with the most valuable CIV buildings.  If it’s the Treasurer (who gets 2 wealth from each player), that role goes to the player with the most valuable COM buildings.  If it’s the Police Chief (who gains wealth and prestige for vocations instead of one or the other), that role goes to the player with the most valuable RES buildings.  If it’s the Union Boss (who gets 8 APs to spend instead of 6), that role goes to the player with the most IND buildings.

When The Olympic Games card comes out of the Metropolis deck, the game ends immediately.  Players get one final building point payout, one point per 10 wealth they have on hand, and prestige according to the politicians they control.  The winner is the one with the most prestige.

So I don’t know what to think about this game right now.  Obviously, it’s a case where the way the cards interact is going to determine most of the game’s appeal.  I think this is a definite case where I’m going to have to play it to really understand what’s going on.  There’s not really that many rules, but there are a lot of little things to consider.  I’m not terribly impressed with the layout of the rules – they’re kind of confusing for what doesn’t really have to be a very complicated game.  There are examples and there are illustrations, but they’re not very comprehensible since the text is kind of crammed in there.  Important stuff is not highlighted, and every heading looks just like every other heading.  I’m not sure I’ll really understand them all until I have a) the game in front of me, or b) someone explain them to me.

I think this game is a “wait and see” proposition for me.  I’m sure it’s a fine game, but I think it’s probably going to be VERY prone to analysis paralysis.  I’ll be looking out for the reviews to try and get more information from people who have played the game.  This is a game that is for sure on my radar, but it’s more observational at this point.  Thanks for reading!

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