Friday, 21 May 2021



The Game

Suburbia is a tableau game. Everyone is building is his own city, one hex tile at a time. The tiles have different characteristics and powers. Many of the powers depend on other adjacent tiles or other tiles elsewhere in the city. To build a good city, you must create good tile combos. Since the positioning of tiles affects their powers, there is a spatial element to the game. 

There are two currencies in the game, money and population. Population is victory points, so you can think of the game as having just one currency. Every player keeps track of two key rates - your income is how much money you make every turn, your reputation is how much your population grows every turn. Both these rates can drop into the negative range. The tile powers sometimes affect your income or your reputation. Sometimes they directly affect your money or your population level, i.e. a one-time impact. For example, the freeway increases your income by 1 for each commercial building next to it. The high school gives you 3 population for every residential tile in your whole city. 

I bought the digital version of the game, so all below are screenshots of the app. 

Every player starts the game with the same initial city, consisting of three tiles. Green is residential, grey is administrative and yellow is industrial. At the top left of this user interface you see three stacks of face-down tiles. The tile backs are lakes. These are your draw decks. There is a game-end tile in the third stack. When you draw it, the game enters the final leg. At the top right you can see three stacks of basic tiles. These are always available to all players, unless they are all purchased. They are not very good tiles so they don't often become exhausted. Then you have a row of seven normal face-up tiles available to be purchased. The rightmost two are available at their standard prices, as shown on the tiles themselves. The further left you go, there will be a higher and higher surcharge on top of the standard price. Whenever you buy a tile, all tiles to its left are shifted right to fill the gap. A new tile is drawn to be placed at the leftmost spot. 

What you do on your turn is simply buy a tile, and then add it to your city. You make money every turn, and your population grows too. Both your income and reputation are capped at 15. When your population grows beyond certain thresholds, marked by red bars, both your income and your reputation will decrease by 1. On the population track, these red bars are initially far apart, but as your population increases, they become closer and closer. It becomes harder and harder to maintain high income and reputation as your population grows. 

The tile price is shown on the left corner of the tile. At the top right, you can see the impact to income (circle), reputation (square) or population (meeple). On some tiles there is an icon on the right, which indicates a tile type. That tile at the bottom left is blue, which means commercial category. At its right corner there is a briefcase icon, which means this is an office type tile. The powers of a tile are indicated at the bottom. 

During game setup a number of public and private missions are drawn. A mission specifies a condition, and if anyone fulfils that condition better than everyone else at game end, he scores points. Public missions are open information. E.g. the first mission above is whoever with the most grey tiles scores 15pts. Every player has one private mission. Only you know what it is, but at game end when it is revealed, everyone competes for it. 

When you build a tile, you may decide to flip it over and build a lake instead. Normally you do this when you are dirt poor and cannot afford any tile. Lakes don't cost money and instead help you make money. 

Before you place a tile, you get to preview the impacts to your stats. These numbers above mean your money, income, population and reputation. Placing this lake would give you $6. Your income is $2 per turn. Thus the $8 increase in money expected. Your reputation is 2, thus the +2 increase in population. 

If you are going to construct this office building, you will have less money next round since it's an expensive building. However the boost to income is good for the long run. 

The bottom left bit of the user interface shows the four key stats of every player: money, income, population and reputation. When you tap it, a small table pops up showing the number of tiles of every category and type for every player. This is useful because all the missions need you to pay attention to these. 

The Play

The tutorial in the app is short and doesn't explain all details. I had to download the rule book to properly understand some of the detailed rules. If you just want to get on with it and start playing, the tutorial is sufficient. It is understandable that they try to make the tutorial as simple and quick as possible. Most players on a digital device don't have the patience to read long rules, including me. I certainly skimmed the tutorial impatiently and tried to start playing as soon as possible. This is unlike me when I play a physical board game. 

I stumbled about in the first few games, since I didn't fully know what I was doing. I was not familiar with the tiles in the game, so I only read them as they came up, as opposed to anticipating them and adjusting my play to maximise their powers. I looked at how the AI's played and tried to learn from them. The AI's are a little weird. Sometimes they seem to completely give up on the missions, which to me doesn't make sense. However they do seem to manage some areas well, e.g. they can maintain a strong income sometimes. Overall, I think the AI's are just so-so. Enough to pose some challenge, but not particularly smart. 

When I played, my attention was glued to the four stats: money, income, population and reputation. In the early game income is important, because you want to be able to afford the nice tiles when they come up. Reputation is less important, because in the early game you don't want to grow your population too quickly. A high population makes income growth and reputation growth difficult. You should probably only focus on population mid way through the game or even later. When to switch to scoring mode is  the golden question. This reminds me of Dominion

The missions give big boosts to population, so you have to always keep them in mind. You might not be able to win them all, but you should try to compete. There really is no excuse to not work towards the public missions and your own private mission. You can observe the other players to guess their private missions. It's a no-no to ignore missions. You should only concede missions in a strategic manner, when you have good reason to. 

You can do some long-term planning. In the screenshot above I intentionally left a gap for a lake. When I place a lake here I will earn $8, $2 per tile adjacent to the lake. 

This is an AI city. On the left you see a black 2x marker. Every player has three such markers. On your turn instead of placing a tile, you may place such a marker instead. By doing this you are laying an existing tile again, paying the same cost, and doubling the power of the tile. Usually you do this to tiles which are particularly lucrative. 

This is the end-game scoring interface. I lost to the AI by just one point! At game end, cash is converted to population (i.e. victory points) at a 5:1 ratio. 

One of the missions in this game was to have the most number of connected grey tiles. 

My office building was almost fully surrounded by other blue (commercial) tiles. Every adjacent blue tile increases the income level by one. 

One mission in this game was to have the fewest industrial (yellow) tiles. I insisted on not building any. The only yellow tile I had was my starting tile. 

This was an AI city. The AI is sometimes weird. It builds its city this way, extending a chain of tiles towards the top right. This is probably a depth first search algorithm AI. 

Another AI built its city in the same weird way. 

The Thoughts

Suburbia is a typical point-scoring Eurogame. You try to put together a combination of tiles which work well with one another. Player competition is in the form of grabbing the tiles most useful to you, hopefully denying your opponents what they want at the same time. There is no direct confrontation. It is satisfying to watch your city and your population grow. It's a development game. Suburbia is a popular game, so I decided to give it a go. No new surprises for me, but it's a solid design. 

1 comment:

Joan Jordan said...

Wow! I really love board games and how it brings people together. I can't stress this enough. Games can be fun and exciting, but it's the people really make those experience lasting and memorable. Recently, I've bonded with my family over a game of Lagim Card. It's based on Filipino folklore. You can check it here: