The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Sprawlopolis
Sprawlopolis, a solo and cooperative city-building game, is the latest microgame in Button Shy’s wallet line. It was designed by Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, and Paul Kluka, the same design trio that created the competitive tableau-building microgame Circle the Wagons.
Fans of Circle the Wagons will notice the design of Sprawlopolis shares two key similarities with its predecessor. The first similarity is the unique scoring objectives on the back of each of the eighteen cards. The second is the way the cards are broken into quadrants with different terrain types, called zone types in the urban sprawl-themed Sprawlopolis. However, despite sharing this design DNA, Sprawlopolis plays very differently due to its collaborative nature, where players plan and build one city tableau together, managing the game’s base scoring conditions along with that particular game’s unique scoring objectives.
At the start of the game, the cards are shuffled and three are flipped to find that game’s unique scoring objectives and target score to beat. Then a hand of three cards is drawn from the remaining cards. Cards are placed one at a time into the tableau, drawing one for each placed -- in multi-player games, the hand is passed around. Play ends when all the cards have been played, and the game is scored.
The completed tableau scores one point per block of the largest area of each of the four zone types -- Residential, Commercial, Industrial, and Parks -- and one point is subtracted for each distinct road in the city, regardless of length. That number is added to the total of the three unique scoring objectives to get the final score. Check that against the target to beat for that game.
The game’s main card laying mechanism is smooth and simple, but creates decisions that are anything but simplistic. Trying to grow zones while avoiding creating too many roads can be tricky enough, but adding in the unique scoring objectives really makes the game a rewarding puzzle to try to solve. Here are a few examples of the unique scoring objectives, to show how varied they are:
- Sprawlopolis (18): Add the number of blocks in your longest row to the number of blocks in your longest column (skipping any gaps). Score that many points.
- Go Go Green (3): 1 point per park block in your city. -3 points for each industrial block in your city.
- Bloom Boom (2): 4 points for each row and column with at least four park blocks in it. -1 point for each row and column with zero or one park blocks in it.
- Morning Commute (16): 2 points for each road that passes through both a residential block and a commercial block.
- Looping Lanes (14): 1 point per road section in a completed loop. You may score multiple loops in your city.
While some scoring objectives are easier to accomplish than others, they are also coupled with higher target numbers to hit, making each of them challenging in their own right. Of course, some objectives combo better with other objectives, and experimenting to find and exploit those synergies is a large part of what makes the game so satisfying.
Pros: Sprawlopolis takes no time to set up and plays quickly. It features attractive artwork, but not at the expense of the clear and easy to track graphic design. The eighteen unique scoring conditions are quite varied, and mean that no two games play the same (The publisher says there are 816 possible scoring combinations). Each scoring condition also shows a graphic representation of the rule, making them clear and unambiguous. Sprawlopolis plays excellently solo -- in fact, that is my preferred player count. All of Button Shy’s wallet games, including this one, are as portable as games can get.
Cons: There are lots of things to keep track of during the end game scoring, although this is easily mitigated with a pen and paper. Additionally, the more people that play, the fewer cards each person plays, making for a shrinking decision space, especially at four players, where each player will only play three cards over the course of the game.
Button Shy Games already has a successful solo title in its catalog with Mike Mullins' Pentaquark. Sprawlopolis continues that tradition, taking the card laying, tableau building, and variable scoring goal elements that were such a hit in designers Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, and Paul Kluka's first wallet game (Circle the Wagons) and bringing them to an elegant and beautiful city-builder that plays wonderfully both solo and with up to four players cooperatively. Sprawlopolis is a deceptively big game hiding in a slender Button Shy wallet. I strongly suspect they have another big -- or should I say wallet-sized -- hit on their hands.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Sprawlopolis from Button Shy Games.
The Sprawlopolis Kickstarter campaign launched on May 15, 2018, and will be available to back until May 26, 2018.