Cities: Skylines

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Cities: Skylines – The Board Game is a co-operative game based on the popular computer game of the same name by Paradox Interactive. Gameplay starts with four land boards being visible, the exact number varying depending on the scenario. The goal is to finish a number of milestones and to make the inhabitants of your city happy. At the start of each milestone, one additional board …
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Co-operative polynomio games are uncommon
  • City building aesthetic is very thematic
  • May be suited to young children that need some guidance

Might Not Like

  • Poor quality components
  • Decisions can feel unrewarding
  • Even victory can feel a bit flat
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Description

Cities: Skylines – The Board Game is a co-operative game based on the popular computer game of the same name by Paradox Interactive.

Gameplay starts with four land boards being visible, the exact number varying depending on the scenario. The goal is to finish a number of milestones and to make the inhabitants of your city happy. At the start of each milestone, one additional board is bought, flipped over from its nature side to its developed side. Players have personal cards that show what they can build, and ideally they discuss and plan with the other players how to best develop the city. The cards show what effects the building will have on the city, for example increasing the need for garbage collection, decreasing crime, or giving a bonus if placed next to a park.

Cardboard tiles represent residential, commercial, industrial, and other buildings, and they have varied base shapes that are placed on the developed boards on the grid.

When the players have developed the city to the next milestone, they choose which new board to buy to expand the city, score their current happiness, and start a new milestone. When the last milestone is finished, the game ends, then the total happiness score is summed. There is only one city treasury, and all players add to it when they make money for the city and take money from it for building a hospital or buying a new board. Making sure you have enough money is an important aspect of the game for if you run out of money, you go bankrupt and lose.

A series of scenarios teach the game in steps, with each new step introducing new parts of the game. Each step is easily varied, such as, for example, switching out which unique buildings are used during a playing session.

 

Cities: SkylinesCities: Skylines – The Board Game blends polyomino tile-laying with co-operative action-based card management. Inspired by the beloved city-building PC series SimCity, the Cities: Skylines video game rejuvenated the genre, achieving critical acclaim upon its initial release in 2015. It received almost 100,000 positive Steam reviews and ports for every console in the current generation. But can the board game adaptation reach the same lofty heights? Or does it get bogged down in arduous zoning politics? Let’s take a look and find out. 

City Planning 101

Now that we’ve got the board game jargon out of the way, how does a “co-operative polyomino tile-laying game” actually play, and what are our objectives? Well, Cities: Skylines – The Board Game (Cities, for simplicity) puts you and up to three of your friends and family into city-planning roles, trying to micromanage the needs of an ever-growing city as it expands and develops. Your time is split evenly between playing construction cards and placing the corresponding Tetris-shaped tiles onto a board that represents your city. 

You’ll all be performing these actions separately on your turns, but the ultimate goal of Cities is to reach the highest overall happiness for your city. You can only achieve this if you work together and analyse your strategy carefully. You see, almost every card in Cities will provide an added bonus if it’s built in the same district of land as another type of building. This might mean you first need to place that school strategically to increase the value of the residential area you’re holding, or wait to build your Commercial zone once you’ve built up the industry in one of your districts.

This tactical puzzle serves as the lion’s share of Cities’ gameplay – delaying specific actions so that you can reap the benefits of laying those plots adjacent to something else. This can lead to a long string of developments that skyrocket your money and happiness. However, you’ll often be left with tough decisions that mean you have to forego one benefit to prioritise another – or potentially prevent the downfall of the entire city!

Cities: Skylines

Horticulture, Honking & Happiness

After all, city planning is about carefully managing the needs of your metropolis. Cities: Skylines is no different. Various cards will decrease your water and energy supplies, or increase crime and traffic. In total, you have seven sliding gauges to try and level out before expanding the board, which is even trickier than it might sound. If these sliders get too high or too low, your happiness will take a significant hit. You may be unable to play further cards, or the game might immediately end in defeat! 

When you’ve used up your allotted space – or decided that you can’t balance your books any further – you’ll pay to advance into another block of territory, scoring your happiness (minus the aforementioned penalties). While this does give you more land to build on, balancing when to advance certainly won’t be a simple decision as money is tight, the sliders are constantly moving against you, and the cards you draw will never give you what you need.

Of course I’m being hyperbolic, but many of the so-called “bonuses” on cards actually increase sliders that you won’t currently need – such as an influx of workforce – which piles onto your ever-growing stack of burdens. Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my frustrations with Cities, so let’s take a closer look at the game’s problems. 

Cities: Skylines

Should We Move Out?

Firstly, the quality of the components is quite crude, with poorly aligned punchboard and artwork that ranges from unimaginative to downright cheap (I’m looking at you, iconography.) The biggest issue that struck me when I opened the box, however, was the manual. This slapdash affair features numerous mistakes, grammatical errors, and a stuttering order that’s difficult to follow. 

The saving grace is a QR code on the final page that leads you to the Kosmos Helper App, which features an animated video tutorial with audio commentary and 3D examples. I’d thoroughly recommend this approach over trying to tangle with the manual itself, but many prefer to read their rulebooks, which I can completely understand. I’m afraid the issues don’t end there, though. 

Once you get into the gameplay, Cities ends up feeling very procedural, almost… solved, as if you only have a very limited set of options if you want to succeed. This can lead to the game feeling like it plays itself (at least, if you want to build a successful city) which isn’t what you want from a co-operative title. For this reason, it also suffers from the far-too-common “quarterback” issue quite significantly. The optimal way to play is often very obvious once you have a game or two under your belt, and all player cards remain face up on the table for all to see. 

The main takeaway from all this is that Cities is too straightforward in its core gameplay, with artificial difficulty thrown in via the need to balance so many sliders that affect your bottom line. The game either ends in defeat when you can’t legally place any more buildings, or by downing tools to enter final scoring and see if your city was a mathematical success or not. Either way, it feels quite anticlimactic. 

Cities: Skylines

Final Thoughts on Cities: Skylines

Ultimately, the game shines when played with two; it’s something I’d happily pull off the shelf if my partner was in the mood for some co-operative tile laying. However, I really wouldn’t recommend it for any more than two – or even less, for that matter, as your decision space feels even more limited during solo play. 

The co-op polyomino puzzle of Cities is a treat, but it’s handcuffed by some restrictive rules that never really allow the experience to breathe. This tight manoeuvring within the straitjacket of cards and convention may be the perfect co-op experience for some, but the middling BoardGameGeek rankings certainly suggest that Cities: Skylines is unlikely to wow you. For me, personally, this was a title that sounded brilliant on paper, but whose execution left me wanting.

If you’re looking for something similar but with a little more care and quality, there’s a sea of great polyomino games out there including The Isle of Cats, Barenpark, and Cartographers that I’d rush to recommend.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Co-operative polynomio games are uncommon
  • City building aesthetic is very thematic
  • May be suited to young children that need some guidance

Might not like

  • Poor quality components
  • Decisions can feel unrewarding
  • Even victory can feel a bit flat