Tile placement and meeples? "Carcassonne!" I hear you say - but no, there's a new kid on this urban block. Its name? Streets.
Designed by Haakon Hoel Gaarder and produced by Sinister Fish games, Streets delivers a smart, colourful world of trendy locations full of hipsters, shoppers, tourists, and families. Easy to learn, quick to play, and enough decision-making to keep you engaged.
First off, Streets is easy on the eye. The box is graphically beautiful, the meeple people are solid, and the tiles feature bright and cheery artwork that's just the right side of over-cutesy. Everything is well designed and well presented, with boxes for your pieces and an actual money bag for the $ tokens. It all feels lovely to handle and play.
Secondly, Streets is easy to learn and the turns are quite quick. A useful game to encourage non-gamers, with enough substance to give the rest of us something to think about.
In Streets, you build a townscape of gridded streets. Starting with Central Station and City Park set at right angles, you place a Building from your hand of three tiles to add to a street, branch off it, or enclose it. Buildings come in four flavours, with each attracting its own people: Shoppers, Tourists, Families, or Hipsters. Lay your tile, then add the appropriate person and your ownership token. Wild symbol buildings won't attract a person but count as all four types when scoring. Streets are scored when they are enclosed by other streets across their ends. Each building has its own scoring method marked on it; e.g. number of a person type, or for certain symbols in the street. Plus, you get $1 for each person on the tile.
On the Streets
This is where the fun begins! These newly dispossessed people now need somewhere else to go. Your task is to move them to any other building of their type (not wild cards) that are not enclosed. If they can't move, they suffer Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). The first instance I know of FOMO being in a game. I blame the hipsters!
FOMO people are stood upright and remain until an appropriate building is laid. Then they all rush over. People never leave the table, so you end up with herds of them in the later stages - adding significantly to the tile's score. A simple strategy then is to enclose a street with a location that attracts packs of FOMO people.
You lay a building, score $ if enclosed, and draw a new tile. The game ends when all tiles are laid. Whilst tiles are drawn blind, their type is shown on the back. So you can make decisions considering your next tile type and the types your opponents hold.
Player count adjusts the total of tiles. This varies from 30 tiles for 2 players, to 45 tiles for 5 players - the latter giving far greater "flash mobs" of end-game people!
With only five ownership tokens, you can't overdevelop. You only get these back when streets are enclosed. Running out means you must "abandon" a previously built building, take its token, and forfeit any of its potential $. This neat mechanism leads you to keep streets turning over.
At game end, any unenclosed streets are scored as usual but at only half value. Grid layouts tend to vary from long, open streets (max 5 tiles) to tight warrens of back streets.
Player interaction is limited. You can thwart others tile placement by blocking with your tile, but possibly limiting your own scoring. The game is opportunist rather than strategic, with only three tiles to choose from. That said, there are a number of tiles that are worth holding until the right time. Tiles that score for the number of people score more $ towards the end. The Warehouse and Car Park will score for each surrounding tile, so should be saved for a heavily built-up area.
Additional to the base game, Streets has a solo mode and two expansions:
In solo Streets, you control an automated "Grifter" to try to beat. The twist here is the draw stack is face up. You immediately play the Grifter's building from the stack, after playing your own and before you refresh your hand. Thus, you see what the Grifter is going to play before you play your tile. And when you lay the Grifter's tile you see what you are going to get next.
The first expansion makes use of the business icons printed on the top left of the tiles: Restaurant, Residential, Leisure, Retail, and Wild. When streets are closed, you take one token of any type shown on your buildings. Only one token is taken regardless of the number of your buildings. This encourages shorter streets. Tokens earn $ at the end. You get $10 for having the most of one type, or $10 for a set of four types. So a possible extra $30 when you've only scored $90 in the main part. This could affect the outcome dramatically - although it didn't when I tried it!
The second expansion introduces Consultant cards that give players a unique ability. You get one Consultant card at random. This gives the game an asymmetric feel and is only recommended for players who have played the base game.
You can add in either expansion or play both together.
There is also a Deluxe Edition of Streets available. This contains 10 new property tiles, 2 new consultants, 4 big hand-painted people, 2 card dividers to help store your tiles, and the money tokens are made of wood. These were originally included in the Kickstarter promo pack. Some of the new tiles are interesting, in particular the "Construction Site" that lets you swap it for an unowned building and build that instead. There is also the "Board Game Café", named Meeple People, that scores for every person in the street. This can be very valuable in the later stages of Streets when whole flash mobs of people are on the move. You swap these new tiles into your deck at set-up and add the consultants if you are playing that expansion.
Would I back Streets? Yes, I would. It feels really nice to play. Everything is so well designed. The way the cards go together, the little people, the colour coding, all the rules you need on the tiles or the handy Turn Sequence and Street Scoring card you get. All of the rules are clearly explained with many examples. There is not a great deal of strategy, but this means there is a lot less analysis paralysis and the tactical decision making is engaging. It is a bit of a table-hogger - one small tip is to start with City Park to the left side of the table as streets don't tend to go off to the left from it. The gentle humour is nice too. The Hipsters as a group, a tourist attraction called the Colossal Head, and the "Optimistic" DIY store. We've all been there!