Clever Mojo’s Alien Frontiers was one of the first games that really demonstrated the usefulness of Kickstarter in getting your game funded, and one of the most successful. They’re currently running a funding project for an Alien Frontiers expansion, Factions, which had a $15,000 goal and is 287% funded. Simultaneously, they’re running a campaign for a brand new game called:
Sunrise City comes to us from Clever Mojo and designer Isaias Vallejo. It’s a game for 1-4 players aged 10 and up, and takes 45 minutes to play. The Kickstarter campaign (which has 15 days left) has gotten to 141% of the initial $15,000 goal (yes, you can still back it). By comparison, the original Alien Frontiers game only raised $14,885 with a $5,000 goal, so this one is outperforming that one easily. The game’s all about building up a city, which seems to be a theme that is in right now, particularly with the looming releases of Urban Sprawl from GMT and Thomas Lehmann’s The City from AMIGO. I’m primarily interested in it because of Clever Mojo’s pedigree after Alien Frontiers, but it looks cool too. The company’s on an advertising blitz at the moment – in the past week, I’ve listened to three different podcasts that they’re sponsoring. And here I am, giving them free publicity.
Before I begin, I should mention that the rules at this point are still in prototype form, so stuff may change before publication. Just saying.
The goal of Sunrise City is to acquire the most benchmark tokens (the game comes with 70). These are acquired by scoring points, as marked on a scoreboard that shows four skyscrapers that each go up to 10. Every time you cross ten points, you get one. If you ever hit ten exactly, you get two. This is kind of interesting because that means that it’s not necessarily the one who scored the most that will win, but rather the person who manages their city the best. In addition to the tokens and the score board, there are also 60 zone tiles, 60 building tiles, 28 bid markers, 20 floor markers, 16 role cards, 5 community tiles, a city hall tile, and a protester meeple (a protesteeple?).
Players all get a color with matching color bid markers (one of these begins on the bottom of their colored skyscraper). The City Hall tile goes in the middle of the play area, with the building tile stack and combined zone/community tile stack set to the side. The role cards are shuffled and four are dealt to each player. Everyone will choose one and pass the rest. This draft continues until everyone has three role cards to use during the game.
There are three rounds in a game of Sunrise City. Each round follows the same sequence: preparation, zoning, bidding, and construction. During preparation, each player draws four zone tiles and four building tiles. You’ll also select one of your role cards for use in this round (and this round only) and read it aloud. The player with the lowest role number goes first in the round.
In zoning, you’ll be adding zone or community tiles to the city. Zone tiles are either residential (red), commercial (blue), industrial (yellow), parks & rec (green), or mixed use (purple). They also have borders that are sidewalks (gray) or roads (black). Community tiles match the zone tiles, but can’t be built on and earn points for buildings that match the type and are adjacent. The way the zoning phase works is that, beginning with the first player, everyone will place a community or zone tile until all have been placed. The big placement rule is that at least one sidewalked edge must be adjacent to another sidewalked edge. Only one edge has to match like that. If you play a zone tile next to a zone tile of the same type, you get a point for each matching adjacency. This is considered to be a district. Also, in round one, you can place anywhere. In rounds two and three, the first player will designate a direction from City Hall (north-east-south-west), and all new zones must be in that direction.
In bidding, players will try to claim undeveloped zone tiles by placing their bidding markers. Beginning with the first player, everyone will take turns placing one marker on zone tiles. If there’s a marker already there, you place yours on top, effectively taking the lead in the bid. If one player manages to stack a marker directly on top of their own marker, they have locked the tile and no one else can bid there. When all bids have been placed, the top marker from each zone remains in place, and all others are returned to their owners.
Finally, in construction, you’ll be adding buildings tiles to zones, and new floors to existing buildings. Building tiles are essentially double tiles when compared to zone tiles, and match the various zones. In this phase, beginning with the first player, you’ll add buildings, which must go on top of matching zones (residential on top of residential, commercial on top of commercial, etc.). Mixed use buildings and zones count as wild and can be used as anything. On the first level, buildings must go on at least one zone you own. Also, you can only cross sidewalk-sidewalk adjacencies with a first level building, but you can ignore roads on subequent levels. Each building you place scores points. On the first floor, you get the primary points listed on the tile, plus bonus points for zones you own. On upper levels, you get the primary points, but no bonuses. However, you do get one extra point for adding to the third floor, two points for the fifth, three for the seventh, etc. If you can’t place, you pass, but if something comes up later, you can get back in.
The round ends after everyone has made all legal placements. Any unplaced tiles are discarded. The game ends after the third round, and the player with the most benchmark tokens wins. If there’s a tie, the player that is highest on the score track wins. If there’s still a tie, play again.
I generally don’t like games with bidding mechanics. However, I think the term “bidding” is misleading here – this is essentially worker placement. You’re not using money, you’re just distributing your markers to claim a zone. The big difference is that you get your markers back. You don’t lose them, and that’s what bidding implies to me – if you win, you get what you want, but you don’t get your marker back. I think worker placement would be a more accurate description.
So, with that in mind, I think this looks like a pretty good game. Personally, I almost decided to pass on looking at the rules because of the bidding, and I’m glad I didn’t. I really like worker placement, and I also really like role selection. I haven’t studied them out, but I think it’s interesting that you’re drafting these things and playing a different one each round. That could lead to some balance issues that I haven’t really studied out, so I just hope that the Clever Mojo team has studied that out. I’m sure they have. The stacking mechanic reminds me of Antics from last year. I like the concept of a 3D game that can build up as well as out, and I hope more designers explore it in the future.
A lot of the strategy in this game seems to be dependent on your draw. In each round, you’re stuck with what you drew in the preparation phase, so you’ll really need to strategize to figure out what needs to be done to get your buildings on the table. At the same time, I think it’s very interesting that the scoring in the game is based, not on points, but on benchmarks. So a player who scored 131 points and never got ten exactly could lose to a player who scored 80 points and hit ten every time 16-13. I think that’s the most interesting mechanic in the game, and I’m excited to see how it turns out. I think Clever Mojo has another good game on their hands. I don’t know if it will reach the levels of obsession that Alien Frontiers did, but I think backers won’t be disappointed. Thanks for reading!