Saturday, 19 August 2017


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Urbania is about renewing old buildings in the city. You are urban planners responsible for redeveloping the city. You're going to make this city happening all over again!

During game setup, you randomly fill the board with building tiles. These tiles are double-sided, a run-down side and a renewed side. Most tiles are to show the run-down side. Only the five tiles at the city centre (the fat cross shape enclosed by monorail tracks) show the renewed side. The run-down side of a tile shows some information. The number underneath the safety helmet indicates the cost to renew the building. The number at the top right corner is the victory points you get when you renew the building. Buildings come in seven colours, each representing a different building type. To renew a building, you need to spend helmets in the same colour as the building. However for the blue buildings, their helmet icons are multicoloured, which means you can use any one helmet colour to renew a building.

On your turn you have four options. The most common action is to draw cards. Resource cards are laid out for you to pick. Five are turned face-up. You may also blind draw from the deck. This is like Ticket To Ride. The cards in this photo are the resource cards. There are helmets and coins on resource cards. Helmets are for renewing buildings, and coins for recruiting specialists. Similar to renewing buildings, when you want to recruit a specialist, you need to use coins in the same colour as the specialist. On the rightmost card you can see a multicoloured coin. That's a joker. You can treat it as any colour.

Most of the gameboard is the 7x7 grid representing the city. Outside of the city centre, the city is divided into four quadrants (districts) by highways. The highways are a little hard to see from this photo though. Districts play a role. Some project cards (secret objective cards) are based on renewing a specific district as much as possible. Also, when a district has two or fewer run-down buildings remaining, the game ends.

The track around this section is the score track. The spaces in the middle numbered 0 to 8 serve two purposes. The cubes track how many buildings of each type (i.e. colour) have been renewed. These numbers determine how many victory points the corresponding specialists earn every turn, if they are in your employ. The discs track how much it costs (in coins) to employ each specialist. The price always starts at $1. Each time a specialist is employed by any player, the cost goes up by $1. It is important to compete for specialists, since they give you VP every turn. Also, the recruitment costs of specialists is a trigger for game end. When 3 or more specialists cost $5 or more, the game ends. If you want the game to end quickly, you can try to recruit specialists to push up their recruitment costs.

Three of the six specialists. When many buildings of a particular colour are renewed, the value of the corresponding specialist will increase, making him or her more attractive to players. However the recruitment cost is not always in sync with the VP-earning power of a specialist. Sometimes there may be little competition for a high-value specialist. Sometimes there may be much competition for a low-value specialist.

These are project cards. When you take the draw card action, instead of resource cards, you may draw project cards. These are secret objective cards, and they score points at game end. You may draw as many of them as you want, but you can only make use of three of them. During the game you need to take the Submit action to commit to a project card. In this photo, the card on the left will score based on the recruitment cost of this specialist. You score recruitment cost multiplied by 5. The card on the right will score 6VP per garden renewed. Gardens are L shaped buildings as depicted on the card.

When you Submit a project, you need to pay 10% of your VP's at the time of submission. Naturally you want to Submit early, when your VP is still low. However in the early stage of a game you are likely unsure how well you can fulfill the requirement of the project card. It is an interesting dilemma - when to commit to a project.

The card on the left is a reference card, listing the four possible actions on your turn: draw cards, renew building, recruit specialist, submit project. The card in the middle is a specialist currently in my employ. The card on the right is a resource card which I have spent. When you spend the helmet value of a resource card, the card is played before you and not to the discard pile. When played before you, the coin value of the card is not yet expended. In future, you may still spend the coins. Only then you place the card in the discard pile. You may directly spend the coin value of cards in your hand, but if you do so, the card goes immediately to the discard pile, i.e. you lose the helmet value.

The Play

I played with Kareem and Jeff. The basics of the game are straightforward. There are only four actions to choose from on your turn. You are collecting resources on one side, and then spending them on things to help you score points on the other side. Renewing a building gives you points immediately. Recruiting a specialist gives you points every turn. Submitting a project is a long-term investment and commitment, and gives you points at game end. Urbania looks very different from Ticket To Ride, but feels similar, because of this collect-collect-collect-spend tempo. Furthermore, resources come in different colours, just like the train cards in Ticket To Ride. The collect-collect-collect-spend tempo is oddly satisfying. It is like you are saving some coins every day, and then at the end of the week, you can afford to splurge on a nice meal.

You need to pay attention to what colours your opponents are collecting, so that you get a sense of which buildings types and specialists they are competing in. Hotly contested types will require more effort, but the VP gain may be worth the effort. Neglected types are not necessary bad. They can be low hanging fruits. You can gain some benefits with minimal effort.

There are some tactics when competing for specialists. If you can afford a specialist, you may not want to immediately recruit him. It may be better to let someone else recruit him, and then you recruit the specialist from your opponent. You will be spending $1 more, but it may be much easier for you to retain the specialist for longer, because to take him away from you your opponent would need to pay even more. The turn-by-turn VP gain from specialists can be very lucrative. You must not let any player get away with hoarding many specialists.

It is important to guess your opponents' project cards. You can do so by watching what they do. If you can work out their project cards, you can avoid helping them through your actions. Knowing your opponents' intentions can also help you decide on your own project cards. For example if you know an opponent is working on a specific district, and that district happens to have many hospitals, and you have a hospital-related project card, then it is probably a good idea to submit that hospital project card, because you know your opponent is going to help you a lot. You want to leech!

At this point I had drawn three project cards. Eventually these were the three I committed to. I didn't draw more. I was happy enough with the first three I drew, and didn't want to spend any more actions drawing project cards.

I have two specialists at this point, and I have submitted two projects. The projects are face-down. They are kept secret from your opponents. I have been renewing red and green buildings, thus these resource cards in front of me.

When you do renewal, you must spread out from the city centre. You may only renew buildings which are orthogonally adjacent to an already renewed building. This means buildings in the corners tend to be harder to reach.

The game is coming to an end. There are already four specialists with a recruitment cost of $5 (see the discs). The human shaped pawns are the players' score markers.

When we played, we kept complaining about the poor art direction. Not that the drawings are ugly. They are by Franz Vohwinkel, the master level boardgame artist. The artwork is simply not pragmatic. It is a pain to read the board situation. We all blamed the publisher Mayfair for not doing a proper editing job. The artwork is too colourful and confusing. After a building is renewed, its type is no longer important, so the renewed side of the building tile need not be so flamboyant. The tiles can be just simple square tiles instead of being all sorts of weird and unwieldy shapes.

In this photo you can see more clearly the highway which divides the city into districts. It's the road with a traffic jam.

The Thoughts

Urbania is a middle-weight game that feels like a light-weight game. Despite the simple rules, if you think a little deeper about the strategies, you will discover some interesting tactics. You can play with a simple mindset - collecting stuff and spending them to score points and to fulfill your own project cards. However, if you are playing with competitive players, this won't be enough to win. There is some subtle player interaction and there is an element of reading your opponents. You want to let your opponents work for you, and you want to avoid helping them.

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