City builders are a great genre of video game. Though my specific favourite is still – after all these years – Sim City on the SNES, there’s nevertheless been some brilliant games in the genre in recent times. With EA/Maxis dropping the ball so badly with the last Sim City title (which is a story unto itself, if you don’t already know it), there was a gap in the market for a rival to steal the hearts and minds of gamers the world over.
Enter Cities: Skylines in 2015, a pretender to Sim City’s throne that seemed to do an awful lot right. It’s simple to play without feeling dumbed down or too simplistic, with plenty of DLC that allows for a great deal of customisation – though it has to be said that the base game is enough fun without adding any of the extra content, if a little lacking in character.
Board games are a great medium for building cities, though we often see the most popular examples being multi-hour, complex games that require an awful lot of time and patience, especially in learning to play them. Thankfully, the board game adaptation of Cities: Skylines avoids this complexity, in favour of a fast moving, simple game that doesn’t require an entire afternoon or significant investment in learning complex rules.
Another great selling point of Cities: Skylines is that it’s actually co-operative, rather than competitive. Though this can make the endgame feel a bit anti-climactic – with no overall ‘win’ condition, just a scale of points to gauge how well you did – it’s very refreshing that you build your way through the game by co-operating and co-ordinating with the other players.
Unfortunately, it isn’t without problems. The suggested introductory scenario is so challenging that it can be really off-putting; though the designer has acknowledged how tough this scenario is, it would have been nice, given that this is a known ‘issue’, to have included a more gentle intro to the game.
There’s also issues where success or failure can be too heavily determined by random card draw; it’s all too easy to fail because not enough – or not any – of the ‘right’ cards are drawn at some stages.
However, it’s a nicely produced game with a lot of scenarios to add variety – and it’s reasonably priced too, given how replayable and variable the experience can be. There’s real satisfaction to be had in fitting the Tetris-esque city pieces together in order to get the bonuses on offer when building and the fact that it feels like a team effort is the cherry on top.
So if you can get over the punishing first scenario and deal with the fact that you can sometimes be dealt a bad hand through no fault of your own, there’s a lot to like in Cities: Skylines – The Board Game. It’s another game that can be played solo too, which I know is even more of a selling point during these difficult times, when it may be difficult or inadvisable to get players together for a board game session.
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