Traffic again. Every morning the same miserable, slow game. The city has grown too fast. Too much emphasis was put on new apartments, but nobody thought about the infrastructure. Who on the city council would have thought of moving all the commercial areas to the other side of the city?
Sure, the location is cheap and the proximity to the railway station and the port shortens transport distances, but at the expense of travel times for the people who work there. The crime rate is also very high there. Of course we are aware of that. The fire brigade, police and other public institutions fit beautifully into our housing estate. But… Oh it goes on!
With Cities Skylines by Rustan Håkansson, KOSMOS is creating another video game as a board game. The spiritual successor to Sim City, however, is trying a different approach. Instead of playing against each other, we play cooperatively in Cities Skylines and try to let our city grow and prosper. And just like in the video game we have to take care of the problems of the city. Because even the flat, analog city has its problems with crime and the garbage that is produced. How Cities Skylines performs as a board game, you can read in our review.
Have fun reading!
Flat skyscrapers in Cities Skylines
I like urban planning simulations. I have enjoyed playing this genre on various platforms, where I am developing my small town to a flourishing big city, only to then undo everything with one wrong decision. Of course I also played Cities Skylines from the Swedish developer studio paradox. And it’s precisely this city planning simulator that I really like, because its complexity is breathtaking. Although I’m still building my city on a large scale and expanding the areas for apartments, factories and offices, the video game offers many small adjustments that I can use to optimize my city or even make it hit the wall. So I was of course very happy when it was announced that Cities Skylines will also get a board game implementation. Also the question how this should work as a cooperative variant made the board game interesting for me.
But after some plays the game left me a little speechless. For me the question simply arises, for whom Cities Skylines is meant.
The video player in me
For me as a video gamer, Cities Skylines doesn’t really work. I can see parallels to the video game. But it’s nothing more than an aha effect. Unlike the original, I can’t even build my streets the way I want to. In the board game variant, the districts are given on which I can build. I have this in the video game as well, but there it is limited to the geography of the individual zones.
I also have to get enough money together, as in the video game in the board game, to be able to unlock a new game tile. But here the similarities already end. After I got a new game tile, which are fixed depending on the scenario, it comes to a rating of my current city. Depending on how well I score in the categories electricity, water and garbage, I have to adjust the happiness of my population.
And this happiness is what Cities Skylines is all about: The happiness also reflects my victory points and that’s what it’s all about in the end. The higher the happiness, the better we did. But if this happiness falls below a particular value, we have lost the game.
But all the small similarities are too little for me as a video gamer. The real decision on how I want to develop my city is missing. The small adjustments are missing, because everything is kept very abstract and simplified, although in video games I am used to having to recognize complex relationships in order to save my city from depopulation.
So I ask myself why this complexity is not shown here and why the difficulty level has been lowered very much. In my opinion this doesn’t really represent the video game well and questions the sense of the license a bit. As a video gamer the board game doesn’t hold me to the table for that long and so mouse, keyboard or controller quickly lure me back in front of the monitor where I play the digital version of Cities Skylines. Unfortunately, the board game can’t display the daily life behavior of the residents due to technical reasons and this is also part of it.
The veteran board gamer in me
The veteran player does not care about the video game license. What counts here is the core of the game and he is also interested in how the cooperative approach was solved in Cities Skylines. And that’s surprising: From my point of view it works quite well, even if I’m not a big fan of co-op board games. Depending on the number of players, each player has hand cards available that can be used to build the corresponding neighborhoods and houses. And we as a group decide together which card the active player plays. Because this should happen in a coordinated manner. Many cards give bonuses depending on where I play them on the tableau. If one of the players has a card in his hand that matches my card, he should play it in the right order to unlock the bonus.
The management of resources is also a collaborative effort. Buildings in Cities Skylines have certain requirements. For example, residential areas consume electricity and water and then give us workers in return. And we need workers in the factories or offices, which in turn generate money for us. And we need this money to build power plants or sewage treatment plants, which in turn generate the resources we need. So, the circle of resources is complete. But we have to keep an eye on our resources. Because you can only play a card if you can pay for its cost. And so it takes a few games to understand how the board game works.
But once you understand it, it usually runs almost by itself. Our city always grows and prospers with a view to the resources, if the right cards are dealt and this is exactly where the multiplayer in me is upset. Because in the Cities Skylines board game I can’t determine when I build what. I need the appropriate hand card. If I run out of electricity in the video game, I simply build a new power plant quickly, assuming I have enough money.
In the board game I can’t do anything in case of a power shortage if I don’t have the corresponding hand card. And if things go really badly, I can manoeuvre myself out of here. I can’t play any other cards because I don’t have enough power, because I can’t play any cards, I can’t draw cards to get the card I’m looking for and as soon as a player can’t play any more cards, the game ends. I can exchange a card but only for money, if this is not available, I am in the same dilemma again.
You are now leaving Cities Skylines
So Cities Skylines leaves me a little confused. Probably casual gamers will have more fun with it, but I can’t judge that. The high level of randomness and the limited planning possibilities that come with it just don’t fit into a game that has urban planning as its theme. It even harms it to some degree, because as a video gamer I don’t get what the video game is all about. And if the city fails just because you don’t draw the right card, it’s frustrating. Or I draw cards in the beginning that don’t help me at the beginning of the game and just block my hand.
I think if the tile-placement game had been given a different theme, because that’s what it is at its core, it might have been better received. For example, it would have worked if we had built a zoo, for example.
Also the replay attraction is not really given, at the beginning we still discover the cards. Of course we need to get to know the cards to plan our strategy. But that’s annoying in later games, because here the random factor comes into play again, when I know that the missing card has simply not been drawn yet. Well, and if I’ve cracked a high level of happiness at some point and my city has developed into a world metropolis, the question arises as to what else I should do with the game. After that I don’t actually take the game off the shelf anymore. Also our players did not have the desire to play another game after an introductory game. So it didn’t help to make the different levels of difficulty, which build on each other, attractive to them.
For many of them it was the topic, which had a rather deterrent effect. It took a certain amount of persuading to get Cities Skylines on the table at all. The table presence of Cities Skylines is quite appealing and the rules are well written and I can get into the game quickly and just start playing.
The bottom line for me is a board game that somehow failed because of its original and whose card randomness has too high a frustrating factor in itself. After a few games the attraction of building analog cities was simply gone.