"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."
This week we're previewing the latest from Stonemaier games: Between Two Cities--a semi co-op tile-placement game for 3 - 7 players. It's a game of city planning and building, and it has nothing to do with a novel by Dickens, as our flavor quote would have you believe... Stonemaier Games has a ridiculously pristine track record when it comes to fulfilling their promises and delivering games that are not only a TON of fun, but also comprised of great, high quality components. Today we're looking at a prototype, so the images you see are definitely not final, but we can surmise that the finished product will be spit-shined and looking slick when it hits your doorstep or FLGS shelves.
Let's jump in and take a look at Between Two Cities.
Unlike Stonemaier's previous releases the components and gameplay are rather simple. The game is made up entirely of tiles. There are two types of them, regular single-unit tiles, which are square, and duplexes that are rectangular and feature the faces of two single tiles. There's also a set of city markers and a score tracker. Which you will see is VERY prototypy right now.
There are six different building/city block types that make up these tiles:
- Commercial - Score bonus points for being in a line.
- Office - Gain extra points for being next to taverns.
- Tavern - Score a set of four (Music, Dining, Lodging, and Drinks) for extra points
- Parks - Score bonuses for individual clusters of two or more.
- Houses - Score more points in a diversified city. (But only 1 point if it's next to a Factory.)
- Factories - Score more for being in a city with the most factories.
Jeremiah--The toughest part about learning the game is learning the scoring for each tile type. The first time you teach the game to someone it takes almost as long to teach them the scoring as it does to play it. Once you clear that obstacle--which isn't terrible--the game plays smoothly. The iconography is helpful to remind you how the tiles score, just not terribly intuitive when first learning.
Firestone--Gamers will have no trouble learning each type. Nongamers might have a little more trouble, but Stonemaier have worked hard to make the iconography speak for itself. It's really not difficult at all.
Players are in charge of building two cities that will each consist of sixteen tiles--all cities have to be a 4X4 grid--but they have to build that city with the help of the player to either side of them. Because of this, players don't take individual turns. The game uses a drafting system a la 7 Wonders or Sushi Go. Players draw seven random tiles into their hand, and select two of them to play: One will be for the city on their left and one for the right. The remaining tiles are passed either to their left or right depending on the round. Once all the players have selected their tiles they all reveal them and then begin discussing with their partners which tiles should go where.
Jeremiah--We are beginning to see an upswing in drafting games lately and this is a really good rendition of the drafting mechanic; it's a fun way to expand the genre in your collection.
Firestone--I think drafting is a great mechanic. It forces you to really think through what your're keeping, and remember what you've passed--and to whom.
The game plays in three pretty short rounds: Round One players draw seven tiles and discard the last tile on the last turn. In Round Two players draw three duplex tiles, discard one, and allocate the remaining two--there's no drafting in that round. And round three is just like round one except you pass your tiles to the right.
Once you've played through the rounds and have your completed cities, scoring takes place.
A player's final score is the score of the lowest scoring city, so if you had a city that went crazy and scored 89 points (which is a LOT) and you neglected your other city and it scored 23, then your final score is that 23.
Jeremiah--When I heard there was a new game coming from Stonemaier, I thought, "YES!" Then I prepared myself to be immersed in an involved gaming experience that required lots of mechanical synergy to master. And then Between Two Cities showed up and changed all that. This game is a smooth, quick-playing game that really breaks the deep Euro mold of Stonemaier's previous releases.
Firestone--It was a surprise, but a pleasant one.
Jeremiah--Like we said before all things being prototype there's not much to comment on about the components and artwork, only that I'm really expecting great things from the game in that department, although, it is a tile game, it's hard to botch a tile games components.
Firestone--The colors and iconography really do make things easy. They're clear, and you're never wondering what a piece is.
Jeremiah--The toughest thing about the game may just be the learning curve. There are six distinct scoring systems, and you can't just leave one out in order to get the game going, you have to trudge through six scoring explanations. None of them are tough to get a grip on; there are just six of them.
Firestone--I think it seems "tough" because the explanation takes almost as long as a game. Okay, not really. But the game is over quickly. This is a filler all the way--but a meaty one!
Jeremiah--I've been impressed with how balanced the game is. Many times I'll have a diversify-and-build-houses strategy going on to my left, and a load-up-with-offices-and-taverns strategy on my right. Both cities will hit within 1-3 points of each other. It's extremely hard to keep track of each city's score during the game because each tile placed often reacts and alters the score of multiple other tiles, and forget about tracking the other cities you're not working on. But knowing that your lowest scoring city is your score causes you to work equally hard on each one with your partner which makes it more fun and interesting instead just building a city on your own.
Firestone--Yeah, you'll think one city is just crushing because they have a full line of Shops, but then it falls behind due to other scoring. The lowest-scoring mechanism is straight out of the Knizia Playbook, but it works especially well here because it forces you to work well with both neighbors. One of my favorite things is the duplex tiles, because they have different orientations on them. So often, you really have to work together, and sometimes make sacrifices, in order to get those to fit. Also, unlike so many other games, this one actually does scale well. I would happily play this with any number of players--something I rarely say about games.
Jeremiah's Final Verdict--Between Two Cities takes three distinct genres--Drafting, Tile Placement, and Co-op--and blends them seamlessly into a fun, fast-playing nifty little filler! I'd describe the learning curve as a slow starter with rapid acceleration. Lots of player interaction, no down time, and a great time investment-to-fun ratio make this a great game for gamers of every experience level!
Firestone's Final Verdict--Between Two Cities is a clever, elegant game with simple mechanics and unique gameplay. I would feel confident bringing this out in any gaming setting, and the semi co-op nature keeps the competition from getting too out of hand. It's no surprise that this new offering from Stonemaier Games is a Kickstarter worth backing. Between Two Cities is a perfect filler.
The Kickstarter is live now, so check it out right here.
To find out what our ratings and recommendations check out our Insta-Review over on Instagram by clicking RIGHT HERE!
Thanks for reading, and thanks to Stonemaier Games for providing preview copies to us. This in no way affected our opinions of the game.