Buzzworthiness: Blue Moon City

It’s Reviewsday, and time for a review of

image by BGG user FC Dynamo Turbine
image by BGG user FC Dynamo Turbine

Blue Moon City is a 2006 game by Reiner Knizia, published in the US by Fantasy Flight (KOSMOS was the original publisher).  The game is for 2-4 players and takes about an hour.  It’s a board game based in the same world as Knizia’s two-player game entitled Blue Moon, and is a thematic sequel – the city of Blue Moon has been destroyed, and you are working to reconstruct it.

The game comes with 21 building tiles, an obelisk, 80 cards, 4 player pawns, 40 cubes (10 per player), 40 crystal tokens, 15 dragon scales, and 3 plastic dragons.  To set up, you place the obelisk building tile in the middle, and four preset building tiles on each side.  The other tiles are then randomly distributed so you have a cross pattern.  Each building tile is face down, showing its blueprint side.  Each player begins with a hand of eight cards.

The object of BMC is to be the first to reach a certain number of offerings on the obelisk (6 in a 2-player game, 5 with 3, and 4 with 4).  Offerings are marked on the obelisk with cubes.  Each space on the obelisk contains a number which lets you know how many crystals are required to fill that spot.  There are four spaces with a 7, then two with an 8, two with a 9, two with a 10, two with an 11, and one with a 12.  To place a cube, your pawn must be standing on the obelisk tile, and you must turn in the required number of crystals.  Usually, you can only make one offering per turn.

So how do you get crystals?  Well, there are two ways.  One way is by collecting dragon scales (I’ll get to how you get those later).  When the last dragon scale is taken, there is an immediate scoring.  The player with the most dragon scales gets six crystals, and all others who have at least three scales get three crystals.  At that point, all dragon scales belonging to anyone who got crystals are returned to the bank (meaning anyone with 1-2 get to keep theirs).

The other way to get crystals is by making contributions to the construction of the various buildings.  Each blueprint has 1-4 boxes that show a color and a number.  If you turn in cards with numbers equal to or exceeding the number in a box, you can add a cube.  When all boxes are filled, every player that has contributed to the building gains the tile’s reward, which can be cards, crystals, or dragon scales.  If there are completed buildings next to the new one, they add to the reward.  In addition, the player who has contributed the most gains an extra bonus.

On your turn, you can first move if you wish.  If you do, you can only move up to two orthogonal spaces.  Then you can make any contributions you wish, or (if on the obelisk) you can make an offering.  When done with your turn, you can discard up to two cards, then draw two more cards than you discarded.

The cards in this game serve a dual purpose.  Not only are they used as currency to complete buildings, but each color represents a race that has a special ability based on the value of the card (value 3 never does anything):

  • Vulca (black): You can use the 1 to move the red dragon anywhere on the board, and can use the 2 to move the red dragon up to three orthogonal spaces from its current position.
  • Terrah (red): Same, but with the green dragon.
  • Aqua (blue): Same, but with the blue dragon.
    • If any dragons are on the same space as you when you make a contribution to a building, you get one scale per dragon per contribution made.
  • Flit (gray): You can play the 1 during movement to move to any space.  You can use the 2 to move up to two extra spaces (still orthogonal).
  • Khind (green): All Khind are value 1 wild cards.
  • Mimix (brown): Any two valued at 1 or 2 can be combined to be a value 3 wild card.
  • Hoax (white): A 1 can change four cards of the same color to another for the purposes of making one contribution.  A 2 can change the color of one card.
  • Pillar (yellow): When making offerings, you can discard a 1 to make a second offering (it will cost you one extra crystal than it would otherwise).  You can discard a 2 to make an additional offering for two extra crystals.

When a player reaches the required number of offerings on the obelisk, they win.

COMPONENTS: The tiles in this game that make up the playing surface are very nice.  They are made of thick cardboard, measuring about 8.5 cm square.  They are double-sided, with the blueprints on one side and a nicely illustrated completed structure on the other.  The art is great – the  cards are all illustrated with different characters from the Blue Moon universe, and the buildings are all very attractive.  The oblisk is flat and made of cardboard, and is perfectly functional for what it needs to be.  The crystals are on cardboard tokens, which is a little obnoxious – I’d rather just use those little plastic crystals.  The dragon scales are also cardboard tokens.

The color scheme of the player colors is pretty unique – you get white-gray-purple-light blue rather than the traditional red-yellow-blue-green.  The pawns are like chess pawns with pointy heads.  There are ten cubes per player, and these are used for contributions and offerings.  The dragons are plastic molds that I think have been used in other Fantasy Flight/KOSMOS games – Dragonheart, for example.

Overall, I think the components are very good.  I’ll talk about the box later.

THEME: Reiner Knizia is not known for theme.  He is known for having clean mechanics, but not for creating a thematic experience.  Blue Moon is an exception in that it’s a whole new world.  I haven’t played Blue Moon, and I’m not sure how involved Knizia was in creating the theme.  However, I do know that its addition to this game enhances the experience.  This game very easily could have been players as builders in Renaissance Italy, making contributions to various cathedrals to gain favor with the Church.  By moving it to this fantasy universe, it becomes much more interesting and engaging to me.  Understanding the theme is not essential to your experience, but it does help with framing the game.

MECHANICS: Blue Moon City is primarily an area control game.  You are trying to spread your influence around to as many areas as possible in order to collect different types of rewards.  By having the majority in a region, you’ll gain a little bit more than anyone else.  With a modular board, the particular layout will be different every time (though there are four big ticket tiles that are supposed to be placed right next to the obelisk tile in the center of the board).  By having the tiles also provide a reward once completed, the game allows you to try to build combos and put yourself in position for big scores as you go.

The card powers are all fairly well balanced, though some are a little wonkier than others (it is Knizia after all).  The Pillar have special abilities that are only valuable maybe once or twice per game, but you’ll find a lot more use for most of the others.  The Khind are low-valued wild cards, but can be quite useful to tweak your influence totals.  The Vulca, Terrah, and Aqua can be used to move the dragons around and can be combo’d to give you lots of scales as you try to get that bonus.  The Flit are nice for moving you around on the board – you’ll often find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time – and the Hoax are helpful for getting the colors you need.  The Mimix are perhaps the most difficult to understand as you have to combine two cards to get their beneift, and don’t tend to get used very often.

The flow of a turn is easy enough to understand – move, play cards to make contributions or offerings, and draw.  Understanding the special abilities on cards is the key to the game, and knowing when to play them can make all the difference.  It’s also nice that you can discard before drawing, which allows you more quickly try to find the cards you need.

I have to say one more thing about gameplay, just because it happened in the most recent game I played.  It was a four-player game, and we got into a stalemate at the end.  All four of us had three offerings on the obelisk, but no one had enough crystals to claim that last spot.  There was only one building remaining, and two players had staked their claim there.  The resulting crystals for both, regardless of who had majority, would give them enough for the last offering.  So they both parked on the obelisk to wait, since if either of them popped the building, the other would win.  This put the other two of us in the position of kingmaker, but it couldn’t be helped – the only way the game would end was if one of us finished the building, resulting in a win for the next player in turn order.  This has never happened before in any game I’ve played, but I feel that I should mention it as a possibility.  It was an exciting conclusion, even if the guy who was next in line got shafted.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Knizia does a good job of packing lots of strategy in his games.  You often have to figure out the best thing to do with what you have.  This is the case here – you have a lot of choices, and you have to determine the best way to apply your cards in order to maximize your crystal-producing potential.  There is luck of the draw, but it’s primarily a strategy game.

ACCESSIBILITY: BMC is not a very difficult game to understand.  It’s a fairly simple game to understand, with the most difficulty being in figuring out all of the card powers.  These are indicated by symbols at the top of each card, and they are well-laid out so that you know exactly what they are.  It’s very good for teaching game concepts like set collection, area control, and hand management.

REPLAYABILITY: I’ve never played a game of this that has felt like another.  Part of this is the variable board setup, part of it is the way the cards come into your hand, part of it is different playing styles.  There are four extra official tiles that you can use, as well as some unofficial alternate layouts.  But I think it’s pretty replayable out of the box – even if it’s not something I get to play very often.

SCALABILITY: The game is for 2-4 players, and I think it works pretty well for all of those numbers.  I tend to like it more with more people, but it’s not too bad with 2.

FOOTPRINT: The game doesn’t take up a whole lot of table space.  You just need enough room for the tile layout (which is essentially a 5×5 grid with the corners missing), places for the crystal and dragon scale supplies, and a spot for the obelisk.  Cards remain in your hand until played, and then they are discarded, so you don’t need table space for that.

I do want to rant a little bit about the size of the box.  The game comes in a Ticket to Ride size box, and all the components fit perfectly well into a KOSMOS two-player size box (I tried it out with Lost Cities).  The box is WAAAAY bigger than it needs to be.  It has a generic plastic insert that has six different sized slots.  If the game ever gets reprinted, I really hope Fantasy Flight cuts down on the box size.

LEGACY: As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, I am not the biggest Knizia fan.  I generally find his games to very mechanical with no heart behind them.  That said, if I had to make a top ten list of my favorite Knizia titles, this one would be number one.  I think the theme puts it over the top – it shows that a well-thought out theme can really bring out the good points of a solid game.  Other Knizia titles that I’ve played and have felt kind of “meh” about include Tigris & Euphrates (feels very abstract even with the ancient civilization theme), Lost Cities (it’s building runs of cards with no relation to the exploration theme), Battle Line (I just don’t like it), and Lord of the Rings (a well-thought out theme with really clunky mechanics).

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I would recommend that you go out and buy it, but it’s currently out of print.  With the recent release of Blue Moon Legends, hopefully Fantasy Flight will be reviving the franchise and this game will come out of the vault.  Still, I’d try to seek out a copy if you can.  It’s a good one.  Thanks for reading!

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