Game Buzz: The Capitals

City building is a big theme in board games these days.  And here’s another one:

image by BGG user otrex
image by BGG user otrex

The Capitals is a 2-5 player city-building game from Mercury Games and Brazilian designer Thiago Boaventura.  It takes 90 minutes to play.  The theme is that you are building capital cities over a period of many years, from the Victorian era to modern times. with the purpose of hosting the World Expo.  The game features 8-bit art, and purports to have a lot of replayability since it has over one hundred unique buildings.

The game comes with a board, 35 player markers, 5 tourist markers, 75 orange energy cubes, a time marker, 10 construction tokens, 110 prestige tokens, 143 building tiles, 5 icon and symbol summary sheets, and one highest culture token.  In the beginning, you’ll separate the buildings into six stacks – era I buildings, era II buildings, era III buildings, starting buildings, prosperity buildings, and power plants (sorted by the number on their backs).  Two era I building (plus one per player in the game) are placed on the $0 project track.  Each player places a marker on the six board tracks – population, employment, public services, progress, economy, and culture.  Initiative is randomly determined, and this reduces your economy depending on placement.  Each player gets three starting tiles (a level one power plant, a hotel, and a city hall), 2 construction tokens (which are in a corss shape showing an intersection), and a tourist marker.  Your city hall and hotel are set up  with the construction tokens between them in the corners, and four energy cubes are placed in your power plant, which is not connected to your city.

The Capitals is played over three eras, with each era consisting of four rounds.  Each round has five phases: political, building, tourism, executive, and administrative.

POLITICAL: In initiative order, each player establishes a new order (you skip this phase in the first round).  The initiative track has two parts – the upper is next to dollar amounts from 0-3; and the lower is next to multipliers from x1 to x6.  At the start of this phase, you slide all markers from the upper to the lower.  Then, from left to right, each player picks a new spot on the upper half, paying money equal to the dollar amount of their new spot times the multiplier from their previous spot.  So if you move from a x4 to a $2, you pay $8.

BUILDING: In initiative order, players must first choose a building tile from any row in the projects area, then immediately place it in your city.  When choosing a building, you pay the amount shown on the track by adjusting your economy track ($0, $2, or $4).  You then place the building on any of the four sides of a construction token.  It must go next to a building of the same type (color), but if you don’t have a building of that type, it can go anywhere.  If you choose to ignore either of these constraints, it’s going to cost you two prestige.  Construction tokens remain in place until all four corners are filled.  You can then move it anywhere in your city, opening up new construction sites.

After building, you’ll update your tracks.  Each tile has information that tells you which tracks are affects and when.  Some buildings have immediate effects that generally adjust certain tracks, either up or down.  These are resolved when the building is placed.  Some immediate effects are conditional, meaning that you only get the effect if your city meets the condition on the tile.  There are also permanent effects that give you something every time a specific event occurs.  Construction effects happen during the building phase when something is constructed.

TOURISM: In this phase, you check to see who gets the tourist markers.  The player with the highest culture takes the tourist marker of the player with the lowest culture.  There are certain attraction levels on the culture track that can allow you to claim more tourist markers.  These will be important in the next phase.

EXECUTIVE: In this phase, players (in initiative order) activate tiles in their city.  You have a limited number of activations you can do, based on your power plant.  Activations cost energy cubes, and you have to upgrade your power plant to get more of these.  An activation that costs energy cubes requires one more energy cube than what is on the building.  Used cubes are placed on the tile, and future activations will cost more.  Tourist markers can be used as a single energy cube, and can be used in the next executive phase on a different building.

If you decide to pass on activating any tiles, you either gain a point or a cube for your power plant.

ADMINISTRATIVE: At the end of the round, you move any filled up construction tokens, and move any buildings left on the project tracks to the next higher level ($0 to $2, $2 to $4, and $4 removed from the game).  After advancing the time marker, you add buildings from the current era to the $0 track.  You draw tiles from the current era so that the total number of buildings across all three tracks from the current era equal the number of players plus two.  Buildings left from the previous era don’t count towards this.

At the end of the fourth, eighth, and twelfth rounds, there’s a World Expo Evaluation scoring.  Take positive or negative prestige based on your position on the employment track, lose points if you have too much unemployment compared to your population, and lose points if other players are higher than you on the public service track.  At the end of this evaluation, you can remove cubes from building tiles (not your power plant).

After the third era evaluation, the game is over.  Each player must pay for their current space on the initiative track, then you score points for city tiles, one point for each four cubes left on the power plant, one point per $4, one point per 2 culture, and one point for each space a player is beyond their last power plant upgrade on the progress track.  The player with the most points wins.

There seem to be a couple of different types of city building games out there.  There’s games like Sunrise City, Urban Sprawl, and Ginkgopolis where the group is collectively working on a single city.  On the other hand, you’ve got games like Puerto Rico, Keyflower, and Suburbia where players are building their own city.  This one falls squarely in the latter category.  It’s very much an individual game.  There’s not much you can do to affect others, except getting higher in initiative so you can get your building first.  The other thing is that position on the tracks can affect others, so you have to keep an eye on where you are.

Speaking of initiative – this system seems like it’s going to be pretty brutal.  I’m used to games where you have to pay for a certain spot in the order.  However, in this one you’re going to have to pay to get your spot, knowing full well that you might have to pay more to get out.  For example, it’s conceivable that you’d only have to pay $3 to get to the first spot if you’re coming from the fourth spot ($3 x 1).  However, you’re going to have a x6 multiplier to get off that spot, and if you want to stay put, it’s going to cost you $18.  This means you really have to think ahead.  Very intriguing – I don’t know of another turn order mechanism that is this intensive.  MUCH better than an auction.

From what I can tell, this game looks to be pretty deep.  There’s a lot of adjusting to be doing on various tracks, and it doesn’t appear to be an uncommon thing for you to advance on one and fall back on another.  Lots of tracks to keep track of, and yes, lots of different buildings.  The art looks pretty cool – I don’t really care about 8-bit art, but this does look good in this situation.  I’d really be interested to hear some comparisons between this and something like Suburbia from last year.  I’m curious if they scratch different city building itches.  If that’s a thing.

That’s The Capitals.  It should be coming out at Spiel in a couple of weeks, so we’ll see how that goes.  Thanks for reading!

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