Gaming Unplugged: Blue Moon City

March 11, 2011

In Reiner Knizia’s Blue Moon City (published by Fantasy Flight in the US), two to four players attempt to reconstruct the ruined city of Blue Moon and claim leadership by making the most crystal offerings to the central obelisk.

They will seek aid from the various races that inhabit the city as well as the three elemental dragons to acomplish these tasks. This board game is a further exploration of a Knizia-designed card game simply called Blue Moon, using the same world and races, but the two games are otherwise unrelated. 

The City itself is laid out using the 21 double-sided tiles; the Obelisk’s courtyard is positioned at the center of a cross-shaped layout, with the palace and three temples surrounding it and the remaining tiles distributed randomly. Players begin on the courtyard, and the three dragon pawns begin off the board entirely. A number of Golden Scale tokens depending on the number of players is set aside, and each player receives eight cards.

On their turn, each player can move up to two tiles (orthogonally, not diagonally), then play as many cards as they wish. Each of the building tiles has from one to four colored boxes, each bearing a number from 2 to 5. Discarding similarly-colored cards of a given total or more allows a player to place one of his ten cubes on the corresponding space. Once all of the spaces on a building have been filled, that building is completed. Each player reclaims the cubes he has placed there are anyone who made a contribution receives the indicated reward of crystals, scales, and/or cards; whoever made the most (or in the case of ties, largest and/or left-most) contributions will receive a bonus reward, and all involved players might also receive an additional “neighborhood” bonus if adjacent buildings have already been completed (this bonus is indicated on the reverse side of the tiles, which represents the completed buildings). If a player moves to the courtyard tile, they can make one offering of crystals and place one of their cubes on the obelisk; the number of offerings required to win the game varies by the number of players, and offerings get more costly as more are made. At the end of their turn, players may discard up to two cards and then draw two plus the number of cards discarded in this way.

In addition to providing effort for reconstruction, many of the cards also have a special ability that can be used by discarding them. Cards can grant additional player movement, an additional offering to the obelisk (at a cost of one or two extra crystals), dragon movement, or change the colors of themselves or other cards for the purposes of contributions to buildings. Once a dragon has been moved on to the board by an appropriate card, any building contributions made while one or more dragons are on that tile award that player one golden scale per dragon (not per contribution). When the last golden scale is claimed, whoever has the most (and at least three) gains six crystals, and everyone else who has at least three scales earns three crystals; if there is a tie for most, everyone just gets three crystals. Anyone who receives crystals in this manner returns their scales, so it can be worth it to trigger a scale-scoring even if you only have one or two as it will probably put you in the lead for next time.

Careful hand management is key to success in Blue Moon City. The cards’ powers can shift the lead in dramatic ways, especially towards the end of the game when everyone is racing back to the courtyard to make the last offering or two they need to win; often being able to move an additional two spaces (or to simply fly to anywhere on the board) can mean the difference between winning and losing. Of course, being able to get to the obelisk isn’t going to help if you can’t afford to make the offering, so the other crucial strategy is to figure out how to get more crystals than your rivals; earned crystals are kept secret, but it often isn’t difficult to keep track of who’s storing up a bunch. Those two tips may be somewhat obvious, but there is one additional resource that must be minded: your cubes. You only get ten, and every contribution you make to a building will tie one or more up until that building is completed; additionally, every offering you make to the obelisk will consume a cube permanently. Spreading yourself too thin can be a recipe for disaster, especially if the other players notice this and do everything they can to not complete buildings that will free up your cubes.

Like most Knizia designs, Blue Moon City combines subtle strategy with easy play. The components are also well-designed, from the colorful cards to the detailed tiles and the plastic dragon pawns. A game of Blue Moon City takes less than an hour; even though there is no actual reading required (the cards use a symbology to explain their powers that is fairly straightforward and universal), the recommended age is ten and up due to the strategy required to succeed. A new copy usually retails for around $30 and is well worth the asking price.