The puzzle joy of My City

The game I want to talk about this week is My City.  My City is a family style legacy game but what does that mean? Well, when I’ve written about legacy games in the past they have generally been pretty involved and complex. Certainly not brain burners or games with massive rules books or play times, but definitely a bit more involved than Settlers of Catan. My City was nominated for the Spiel Des Jahres which is the German award aimed at family friendly games, so it certainly has the industry stamp of approval for being approachable, but how does it accomplish this?

It does so by adopting a lot of the mechanisms of Roll and Write games that I have discussed previously. The game is so simple up front that it only takes about 5 or 10 minutes to explain total. Each player has a city board that shows a lovely countryside broken into a grid of spaces with a river running down the center and  a set of identical buildings in various shapes. The buildings are a bit like tetris pieces, long and short, L shaped or a cross etc. There are many games recently that incorporate these so called “polyominos.” Think of it like mutated dominoes that come in lots of strange shapes. Each turn a card is flipped over and players must place that building somewhere in their grid, adjacent to at least one other building, or next to the river if it’s the first piece. This functions like a sort of bingo, with a bit more flexibility. A building is flipped from the deck and depending on your strategy and how you’ve placed the other buildings so far that piece may fit perfectly into your puzzle, or it might really throw a wrench into your plans. The end goal of each game is to cover as much of the map as possible and group buildings of each of the three colors in as large a clump as possible. There is an additional wrinkle in that your city apparently loves a bit of greenery as each free that you leave uncovered is worth a point. But each empty space and each rock is worth a negative point.

A game in progress

That’s it in terms of up front rules overhead. The game is truly a spatial puzzle where players are sitting next to each other, enjoying the same puzzle and certainly going about it differently, but not interacting directly through the game. With enough pieces in the box 100 people could play this at once like a real bingo hall. Here is where it is similar to roll and write games, like Cartographers or Railroad Ink. The deck is the randomness that builds a different puzzle each game.

The legacy part of this then builds on this simple foundation. Here players are keeping score across multiple games, with each win counting as two points towards overall winner, and second place counting for one. Every three games a new wrinkle is introduced, telegraphed by the title of each envelope containing the next bit of pieces and rules. My group just finished the second chapter that introduces churches pieces into the mix, and the next chapter is ominously titled The Flood. Unlike other Legacy games that thrive on plot twists and surprise elements tucked away in non-descript numbered boxes and envelopes, here the arc is much more plain. There is not necessarily a story either other than historical development that happened to cities in general as they moved towards industrialization. The surprise and fun then comes in how the new chapters new mechanics fold into the existing experience. 

The game lets you know what’s coming next, but how it plays is still a surprise

In another nod to being a more family friendly style of legacy game, the legacy elements here often help players who are behind catch up, while making the game more challenging for players who are in the lead. For example, the players who lose the first game get additional tree stickers to add to their board giving them more opportunity for points, while the winners each get rock stickers that are one more element on their map that they have to make sure to cover up. Much like a good game of Mario Kart there is a sort of rubber-banding here that helps players catch up and aims to keep the game tight until the last play. This is critical for a legacy campaign like this that plays out across multiple games. Losing a game is fine, but continuing to fall behind in combined scoring might sour the experience. My City plays out across 24 games and is broken into 8 chapters, so it’s important to make sure folks have a chance to win all the way through till the final play.

There is a flip side of the board that is for the so called “Eternal Game” which skips the chapters and legacy elements for just the basic game I have described above plus a few bells and whistles. I am not sure that game on its own is compelling enough where I would want to keep coming back to it. Currently the most interesting thing is seeing how the game changes, so a more static experience is… less exciting. But across 24 games even if I never play it again after that, this seems like a great starting place for trying legacy games with a group and definitely worth the investment. It doesn’t hurt that it is half the price of most other legacy games as well. It’s not terribly interactive between players but it is so light and breezy it leaves plenty of time for conversation and there is a certain joy in seeing a card flip that perfectly matches your plans while simultaneously hearing your neighbor curse under their breath since it is the exact wrong piece for them.

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