Published on March 7th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen2
In the Suburbs
… I learned to drive and you told me we’d never survive
A wise man once described the suburbs as “that area where they cut down all the trees and name the streets after them.” In the game Suburbia, that saying is only as true as you make it because you’re in control of the development of your own borough. Suburbia successfully blends together several different mechanics into a refreshing new game that was an instant favorite in our group.
Urban planning games are on the rise, at least for the moment there are several on Kickstarter and it seems more keep releasing. While the theme isn’t particularly exciting, the idea of planning a city lets out my inner Leslie Knope. I love being able to layout a region according to my desires and watch the office buildings push out the residential areas of town while other players become industrial district slumlords or an influential home owners association in the fancy part of town. In the grimdark of my Suburbia there is only despair. Your mileage may vary.
Suburbia is a tile placing game, and all the components are printed on a double-sided cardboard. The tiles are thick and sturdy, and the double sided print jobs look great on the hexes. The boards that you use to keep track of your score and the hexes available for purchase are cut at an odd angle and probably could have been smaller, but this doesn’t distract from the game at all.
The art of the game is pretty straight forward. It looks like a nicely color-coded version of the map view in Google Maps, with extruded 2.5D buildings and everything. The minimalist art is very highly polished for what it is, and the design of the cards and the reminder graphics are simple and intuitive, if a bit hard to read for those with certain kinds of color blindness. The art isn’t anything to write home about, but it fits the theme perfectly and it is pleasing to the eye- a job well done.
One of the things that made Suburbia and instant favorite in our board game group was the simplicity of explaining the game to others. The goal of the game is to have the largest population in your borough compared to the other players. The game ends when you draw the “game over” tile in the third tier of tiles available for purchase.
You have two resources to keep track of: cash and population, cash is the money you have on hand to buy tiles and population in your victory point total. You increase your cash and population every turn based on your Income and Reputation tracks, respectively. Tiles you buy will generally give you a way to increase your Income and Reputation values, though sometimes they will give you raw cash or population directly.
Where you place your tiles is one of the most important parts of the game. The majority of tiles give you bonuses based on tiles that are adjacent to it. For example, a Fast Food Restaurant is a commercial building that gives you money for every residential tile adjacent to it. You collect money as soon as you place the tile, but if you ever add another residential tile next to it, you claim the bonus for that tile too. That’s one of the great features of Suburbia: every bonus is retroactive, so you never feel like timing is your enemy.
Tiles are purchased from a line-up, with the two tiles that have been out the longest available for their face value, while the newer tiles all have an additional cost for buying them: the newer the tile, the larger the increased cost is. While this is prohibitively expensive during the early stages of the game, around the mid-game an extra $10 isn’t that restrictive. The mechanics are very well though out and polished.
I love Suburbia. This is a game that I will always be down for playing at any time. The decisions you make on your turn are simple (buy a tile, place a tile, score your board, next player) which makes the turns go quickly and keeps the pace clipping along. At the end game the complexity comes from being able to remember all of your different bonuses and effectively managing your space, not because of increasing complexity of the tiles- a nice change of pace.
I would recommend Suburbia for people new to board games as well as those who like tile-placing games like Carcassone but who have out-grown its simplicity. Suburbia is a solid addition to every gaming library.