A Tale of Three Cities--A Double-Take Review of Between Two Cities

Today we're reviewing a recent release from Stonemaier games: Between Two Cities--a semi co-op tile-placement game for 3 - 7 players (with variant formats for 2 player and even a solo game). 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, and...SPOILER ALERT: This one is no different! Let's take a look.

The game is made up almost 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 board.

Jeremiah--There's a Special Edition of Between Two Cities, which came with another full set of famous landmark score-keeping meeples featuring the Eiffel Tower, the St. Louis Arch, and more. They're SUPER cool and the first time we argued over who got which set!

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. I recently played with a very casual gamer, and while learning to place the tiles and draft is easy enough, it did take some time for everyone to get the hang of the scoring. So I would say 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.

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.

The Verdict

Jeremiah--Based on Stonemaier's previous games, I prepared myself to be immersed in a complex 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. It's a diversion for them for sure, but it's such a great game that it works in their catalog and I'm a HUGE fan! Bring on Scythe!

Firestone--It was a surprise, but a pleasant one. I'm always looking for meaty fillers, and fun, fast games to introduce to the family or nongamers. And this certainly fits the bill. 

Even the tile backs are gorgeous!

Even the tile backs are gorgeous!

Jeremiah--We played the prototype version of this just before the Kickstarter campaign, and at the time I thought there isn't much more to do with the tiles, and, well, I was about right. They put a nice backing on it, but for the most part the icons, and artwork stayed really close to what we saw earlier. They did spiff up the score board, and upgraded the score tokens, and they look AWESOME.

Firestone--The new scoring tokens are great. 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! The game comes with handy summary cards, so you're not alone as you try to get people to remember the scoring. 

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. My only negative about this game--though it's a small negative--is that every game finds scores very, very close, so it almost feels...too balanced? Believe me: small complaint. 

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.

I enjoy the occasional solo game (Mage Knight and The Hunters, for example), and the solo variant with this holds its own. It's fun, fast, and makes you want to five it another go right away. That's NOT often true of a behemoth such as Mage Knight. 

Jeremiah's Final Verdict--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! Between Two Cities has the same high-quality look and feel that we've come to expect from Stonemaier Games, and it's an absolute must for fans of co-op and tile placement games.

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. Between Two Cities is a perfect filler. 

Theology of Games would like to thank Stonemaier Games for providing review copies of Between Two Cities. This in no way affected our opinions of the game. 

Thanks for reading!