Sunday, 5 January 2014

La Citta

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

La Citta is a year 2000 game which I have heard of since I started boardgaming seriously around 2004. I never got around to play it, and only had the opportunity recently when Allen bought a copy at Meeple Cafe's sale.

La Citta is a city-building game. You run multiple cities, striving to grow them to be populous and sophisticated. Each city starts as one castle with three citizens. It grows as you construct new buildings starting from the spaces next to the castle and then extending outwards. Every building needs to be manned in order to be effective, and every citizen needs food. You need to build farms next to farmland to grow enough food. You need to build mines next to mountains to mint coins. You need markets, fountains and baths to allow your population to grow beyond a certain number. By default every city grows by one each round, unless you hit the limits which you need such buildings to abolish. And very importantly, there are many buildings which provide services to your people. There are three types of services - health, education and culture. Every round one or two of these will be demanded by the people, and if your city does not provide them better than a nearby opponent city, you citizens will emigrate to greener pastures.

The roughly triangular tiles are terrain tiles. They are either farmland, lakes or mountains. Cities always start with a castle hex which is in the colour of the player (light green or dark brown in this photo).

Scoring is done at the end of the game. Most points come from citizens (1VP each). You also score 3VP per city which has all three types of services. So you always want to keep growing your cities. The competition in the game comes in the limited space on the board, and outdoing your competitors in services provided by your cities.

The Play

I did a 2P game with Allen. The game supports up to 5 players. I had thought 2P might not be very interesting, but it turned out to be better than I expected. With 2 players, some sections of the board are not used, which helps maintain the competitiveness.

Since it was only two of us playing, those darker green and beige coloured spaces along the edges were not in play.

I spent the early game focusing on farms and food. If any of your citizens starve, they die (obviously!), and you also lose one action in the next round, so famine prevention was at the top of my priorities. Food supply is not just an early-game thing. Because of the free growth every round, you need to keep up. And there's also the possibility that you gain citizens through immigration. During the game I realised that attracting people to your cities may not always be a good thing. You may find that you don't have enough food for the newcomers. And who do they blame? You! Sometimes stealing people away from your opponents may turn out to be doing them a favour, when they are struggling to feed their own citizens. So the markets, fountains and baths sometimes are not really hindrances to growth. Sometimes they are helpful tools for population control.

There is a strong spatial element in this game. You need to analyse the board setup (which is random) to decide where you want to start your cities. You need to consider not just access to farmland (for food), mountains (for money) and lakes (for growth - baths and fountains can only be built next to lakes), but also how many competing cities are in the vicinity, even whether you would be choking your own other cities.

The competition to win over citizens can be quite brutal. One poorly serviced city can suddenly run short of workers if its citizens get lured away by multiple nearby cities in the same round. This can trigger a downward spiral as buildings get abandoned and the city's service levels further plummet. You can end up with ghost towns.

My (light green) city at the bottom left is hemmed in by two of Allen's (dark brown) cities. Cities are not allowed to merge, so there must be at least one space separating them.

Players actions are mostly limited by what cards are available in the action card pool on the board. However each player also has 3 multi-purpose personal action cards available every round. So there's always a fallback. The action card pool introduces some variability, and also sometimes presents tough decisions, e.g. whether to take an action you really want, or one that you know your opponent really wants.

There will always be 7 face-up action cards to pick from. Let's look at some of them. The first one allows you to build a specific building which gives 1 education (black) service point and 1 health (blue) service point. The second card allows you to peek at one of the Voice of the People cards (these cards determine which service type or types will attract citizens from one city to another that round). You peek at one for free, or you see all of them if you pay $2. The fifth card allows you to gain an extra citizen, or two if you pay $2, three if you pay $5. The 7th card allows you to boost the service value of one building by one, or by two if you pay $2, by three if you pay $5.

The Thoughts

I am probably a little biased towards La Citta. It's the type of Eurogame from the period when I fell in love with Eurogames, so it's easy for me to like it. It's the same principle as how those pop songs from your youth always sound much better than the rubbish that the so-called artists are putting out today. La Citta is not really as simple and concise as its peers (game from the late 90's and early 00's). There are many types of action cards and buildings, so it is not a minimalistic or elegant design compared to its peers. But the various bits don't feel superfluous. I like how prominent the spatial element is. This is a real boardgame. The board does matter. It is a platform on which you actually compete, and not a storage space for game components, or a data recording tool, or a device for executing some abstract mechanism.

I like how direct the competition is. Your city expansion can get blocked. You lose people. You run short of operators for your buildings. People die from starvation. In many other games a poor round may mean your opponents score more points than you do, but here, you feel the pain. The game can be very competitive, if players are aggressive and position their cities to block one another. Even if you prefer to start more peacefully and further apart, sooner or later your cities will come into contact with others' cities. There is no way to avoid fighting over citizens.


Paul Owen said...

What an interesting game. I'd never heard of it. It seems similar in general theme and flow to Through the Ages, but on a board instead of as a card game.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Indeed La Citta has a bit of a civ game feel, but in complexity it is nowhere near Through the Ages. It is also less abstract than TTA. Somehow La Citta reminds me a little of Antiquity. It has more player interaction than Antiquity.