Gaming Unplugged: Cities

April 8, 2011


Martyn F’s Cities (published in the US by Z-Man Games) is a tile-laying game very similar to the perennial classic Carcassonne.

Each player has an identical stack of 24 unique tiles, with each tile being divided up into quadrants. Each quadrant can be one of four colors (red, yellow, blue, or green), with no more than two quadrants of the same color being present on a given tile. Players also get seven “tourist” meeples (pawns) to be placed for scoring purposes.

Play begins with each player arranging three randomly-drawn starting tiles so that they are adjacent diagonally (thus making a V pattern). The next thirteen turns involve playing a tile and optionally placing or moving a tourist on to one of the tile’s quadrants. Players are restricted to a 4×4 array when placing tiles, although the boundaries of said array are not set until the placement of tiles dictate them. Once sixteen tiles have been laid (with eight remaining unseen) the players score their tourists and the highest score wins.

There are three levels of scoring. If a Level One game is being played, players score one point per quadrant in a continuous series of parks (green) and continuous series of attractions (yellow), but only if a tourist is located somewhere within those areas; multiple tourists in the same area are redundant and the area is only scored once. On Level Two, tourists placed on terraces (red) score one point per  quadrant of a continuous series of water (blue) that they can “see”; Level One scoring is also in effect. Level Three scoring combines the two previous levels as well as awarding additional points for terraces adjacent to scored attractions and water adjacent to scored parks; the scoring for terraces is modified to include parks as well as water, with the tourists’ “view” being blocked by attractions or other terraces. My group has always used Level Three, and unless playing with inexperienced gamers (and/or young children) I would recommend doing the same.

What makes Cities interesting is the fact that all players are forced to use the same tiles within a given session. Much like Reiner Knizia’s FITS, only one player is really drawing tiles at random (including the initial three tiles); everyone else finds the tile that (s)he draws and places it as they desire. How each player places those same tiles will generate different cities and thus different scoring opportunities. Even more crucial, however, is the placement of tourists. Tourists can only be placed on a freshly-laid tile, although you can pick up an existing tourist to place it on the new tile. If you choose not to place a tourist, you can alternatively “walk” a tourist one quadrant in any direction, including diagonally but never onto a water quadrant. Even if two players manage to somehow create identical tile layouts, their tourist placement can still generate different scores. 

Cities supports up to four players, although if you really wanted to, that could be extended to up to four players per copy of the game. In theory, an entire room full of people could be playing the same game, bingo hall-style, and the game would still be over in less than 30 minutes. The only tricky part about playing Cities is scoring, and that becomes simple enough after a few games. Cities is a nice medium-weight game that plays quickly; although the strategy is somewhat dependent on the luck of the draw, careful planning can yield big points if the tile you need is pulled before another tile utterly screws you. You can pick up Cities for around $30 or less, which is a fair price for the thick cardboard tiles and wooden meeples. It is also available for free online play at both (free registration required, up to four players per game) and the designer’s own site (solo play only); the online versions are good practice, but both lack some features of the actual game, like being able to relocate tourists on to newly-played tiles.