What's Eric Playing? #248: Expancity
Full disclosure: A review copy of Expancity was provided by Breaking Games.
Alright, time to dive into the Gen Con games I’ve picked up. I’ve been kinda going breadth-first on these, so I apologize in advance for the length of time it’ll take me to get consistent reviews out for all of them. I basically have 1 – 3 plays across 20+ new games (except for Railroad Ink: clocking almost 10, now).
Anyways, let’s talk Expancity. In Expancity, you’re tasked with breaking ground on a new city and helping with construction in both residential and commercial zones (similar to Supertall, to be honest, but with tiles instead of cards [and Sprawlopolis, if I’m rattling off Button Shy games]). You all seek to make your mark on the city that you’re building, and given that you’re semi-cooperatively building it up, you’re definitely going to end up with some fairly unique constructions. Will you be able to (high) rise above the rest of your challengers?
So there’s actually not a ton of setup to do (it’s fairly similar to Carcassonne, if I’m being real). First, take out the City Hall tile:
That’s going to be the heart of your city, even if it doesn’t end up being the actual center. Add the other tiles to a bag, even though the bag they give you in the game is a bit too small:
So just any opaque sack works fine. I usually recommend the tile bag from Roll for the Galaxy (that’s about the right size) or just … any tote. Anyways. Give each player a set of building tokens in their color:
Every player then puts one building piece on the Score Tracker:
Set the Roof pieces aside, for now; you can grab them later:
Last bit — shuffle the Contract cards. You’ll be dealing with those a bit later:
Shuffle and flip three of the end-of-game Goal Cards:
Then you’re pretty much ready to start! Every player draws two tiles to form their starting hand.
Again, gameplay is surprisingly similar to Carcassonne. It’s some hybrid of that, Sprawlopolis, and Supertall, which is neat. On your turn you do three major phases: Zoning, Building, Completing. I’ll cover each in turn.
During Zoning, you’re earmarking certain spots for use. You’ll play one tile from your hand such that it’s orthogonally adjacent to at least one tile on the board. Generally, there are three types of tiles:
Green is Residential, Blue is Commercial, and Red is Modifier. That’s kinda all there is to say about this one.
During Building, you’re going to take three actions (essentially spending three action points or however you like to think about it). The actions are:
- Build: You may move one building piece from your Supply to any open space on the board (or any space with one of your buildings). There are some Building regulations that you must follow, as well:
- You may only build on Commercial or Residential tiles. Makes sense. There’s a space for it and everything.
- You are not restricted to only tiles that you’ve placed. I implied that earlier but it’s better to just say it. If your opponent placed a tile and didn’t use it, well, it’s yours now if you want to build on it. Otherwise it’s a Vacant Lot and that’s not great for anyone. More on that in a second.
- A building can only have one type. You can’t get mixed-use permits, currently.
- You may only build on empty spaces or spaces you control. This isn’t Manhattan; you can’t steal other players’ buildings. That … will make a lot more sense once my Manhattan review is up. Look forward to that.
- You may only have three incomplete buildings at a time. More on Completing Buildings soon. But yeah, this is the most commonly missed rule in games I play. So make sure you double-check that.
- You have height restrictions. So, for one, you can only build a building such that it’s, at most, one block taller than your previously-completed highest building of that type. Otherwise, each type of building has a minimum and / or maximum height:
- Residential: Minimum 1 block, maximum 3 blocks.
- Commercial: Minimum 4 blocks. This means that your first Commercial Building must be 4 blocks high, even if you haven’t completed any buildings yet.
That’s about it, honestly. Once you’re ready, move on to the Completing phase.
So, during this phase, you can complete Buildings and use that to earn more Contracts. If a building meets the requirements for being completed (a Residential Building of at most three stories or a Commercial Building of at least 4 stories), you may (for free) take a Roof token and place it on the building to complete it. When you do, you score:
- Normally, you score 1 point per floor. A five-story building will earn you 5 points, in that case.
This is where Modifiers come into play. Modifiers are those red tiles I mentioned earlier:
Modifiers change how much blocks in your building are worth. Each tile has a + / – and some number, and you apply those to buildings that share an edge (orthogonally adjacent) with the Modifier. So if you have a +2 Commercial Modifier next to your 5-story building, suddenly the building is worth 15 points, not 5. That’s pretty good! Unfortunately, there are also negative modifiers, if you want to live that lifestyle. Furthermore, there are Vacant Lots. These are Commercial or Residential tiles that haven’t been built on by any player, yet. These are considered a -1 Modifier to all adjacent buildings. So, uh, try to avoid that, if you can.
Once you’ve completed a building, you can collect a Contract! Draw two Contract cards from the deck — these are challenges that you can complete to score additional points (and you kind of need). Whenever a Contract is completed, immediately reveal it and score the points. This means that you can complete a Contract on an opponent’s turn or you can draw a Contract only to notice that it’s already been completed. That’s just easy money.
END OF TURN / END OF GAME
At the end of your turn, draw two tiles and keep one. Put the other one back in the bag.
Play continues until all tiles have been placed, at which point you score the final Goal Cards. The player with the most points wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
So I’ve really only played at 2 and 3, and I’ll probably stick to it. It’s not too difficult to extrapolate that extra players just adds more downtime (and adjusts the points spread since, again, like Carc, you’re personally placing fewer tiles). That said, it’s not bad, just, like Carc, I have a preference for it at two because generally I am bothered less / ganged up on less than in three-player games. My best recommendation is just do whatever you like for games like that, but I’ll generally stick to it at two. Plus, last time I played it two-player we rushed through a game in … 45 minutes? That’s about the right length of time for this game, to be honest.
- Building a lot of small Residential Buildings still doesn’t seem all that bad. While it’s not the most points-dense action you can take, you get lots of Contracts from it, which might be a great way to make some points (especially if you’re lucky enough to have already completed a Contract you’ve drawn, which usually happens at least once per game, in my experience). Plus, at least three of the Goals are positively affected by doing this (Most Residential Buildings, Most Properties Controlled, Most Contracts Completed), so, you’re highly likely to have a game with at least one of those (< 25%?).
- If you’re going to build a tall tower, make sure you have plenty of Modifier tiles. There’s no point to building a 7-story skyscraper that’s going to be worth 7 points; that’s just a waste of turns. You’re better off building a 4-story tower next to a park (8 points, since the +1 Modifier) than spending 7 turns adding a block to that tower. Don’t undervalue your time.
- Never make a 2×2 block of the same color unless you have that Contract. You do not want to give another player 15 points for no reason. You don’t necessarily have to block them (though you can, you monster), but you should not actively help them. Similarly, try to keep 3×3 blocks relatively light on the same color, to avoid those two Contracts.
- You can pretty aggressively thwart other players once you have a good sense of what the Contracts are. For one, if you don’t have any Contracts that deal with a special Modifier building, then there’s no point to you placing it on the board once you get it. Just hold on to it and watch your opponents squirm (or place it on the second turn when it’s unlikely that players will have useful Contracts for it). Generally, good ones to do this with are the Hospital and Stadium. Churches aren’t bad either. You can also, as mentioned above, wait until a player has almost completed a 2×2 block of the same color and then just add a Modifier or tile of the other color there just to mess them up. Jerk move, but very effective.
- Vacant Lots are great if you can’t build there. Just pop those puppies next to another player’s really tall tower or something. Now they either need to build there or else their tower is now a bit less valuable. You can be pretty rude if you’d like to be. Generally, I find that it’s not worth it (not my favorite way to play), as it’s much more valuable for you to find a way to eventually use that lot.
- Keep an eye out for openings. You can often find spots where your opponents have placed really good combinations of Modifiers, but since you can only place one tile per turn they’ve left a nice, perfect spot for one of your tiles. Try to capitalize on that.
- Try not to have three incomplete buildings at once. That’s the limit, and that means if a really good spot opens up, you can’t claim it. It’s a shame to see someone else get a really good spot because you’re full up.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- So tactile! The pieces are really nice and surprisingly well-balanced. You can definitely hit some pretty tall towers in this one. They also have more than one roof type, which I appreciate.
- Amazing table presence. For similar reasons as above, it looks really cool on the table. It’s just got skyscrapers everywhere and that’s kind of awesome? Really appreciating it.
- Really easy to learn. It’s just Carcassonne with tiles that you can build on and a vastly simplified control mechanism. Both of those are marked improvements, in my book.
- Seems really easy to expand. I assume new tile types / new modifiers would be the most interesting bit, or maybe something with roads? I would be really excited to see a bunch of expansions for this one that turns it into a several-hour-long city-building monstrosity (similar to playing Carcassonne with 5+ expansions). But there seems to be a lot of potential, even if it’s just more Contracts for players to try and get.
- Bright and colorful. Not only is it physically nice to like, play, but it’s also super nice to look at, which is just another big win.
- Fairly interactive. You’re highly incentivized to mix your buildings in with other players’ buildings, so the board ends up being more multi-colored and also you’re now trying to figure out how to make your buildings excellent without helping your opponent, which is more interesting.
- I really like the idea of Contracts. I like micro-goals that you can work towards in the game, especially since each one is unique. It gives players slightly asymmetric goals, which means that nobody’s going to try and necessarily attempt the exact same strategy across two games (unless their card draw luck is really good). Plus, it’s a nice way for players to be invested in the game’s end-to-end experience.
- Having the Goal Cards be a really weird shape is … a choice. They’re not the easiest to shuffle, if I’m being honest. Like, go knock yourself out with nonstandard card shapes, but it is making my life marginally more annoying when I have to set the game up.
- It’s really easy to accidentally Godzilla the game. I wish the bottom blocks were a bit heavier so that the building wouldn’t automatically fall over if you tap it slightly poorly. I’ve seen some rough domino effects and I guarantee you they’re not covered by insurance.
- What’s up with the tile bag? You can fit all the tiles in, but not enough to like, shake them around and use it to randomize; it’s more of a tile transport bag than anything else, which isn’t terribly useful.
- Maybe a tiny bit longer than I want it to be. I’d really love if this were 45 – 60 minutes, not 60 – 90. I think if you’re playing with players that are familiar with the game and willing to move quickly, that’s feasible (45 – 60), but if you have players with a lot of analysis paralysis, this could easily take … a while. Just be mindful of your players.
- The luck of the draw on Contracts is going to frustrate some players. There are many games that might be won or lost depending on what Contract you drew at the last turn, and I’ve seen it happen. I could see some variants eventually coming into play where you draft Contracts every X rounds or something to alleviate the randomness, but I think it would be nice to have something codified in the rules about it for players that prefer a slightly lower-luck game. Note that this isn’t me; I’m fine with it, but I can see how it would be frustrating for other players who don’t have my luck tolerance.
OVERALL: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I’m a big fan of Expancity! At two, it’s a challenging but fast-paced game of city construction and management, and at higher player counts it flourishes into a colorful yet challenging game of upward escalation, sideways modification, and occasional exasperation. I particularly think the smart choice here was investing in making the pieces nice, as enhancing the tactile experience of the game both gives it a strong table presence (as mentioned elsewhere) but also makes it the kind of game that you’ll stop and ask about as you walk by a table where someone’s playing it. That’s a good marketing tactic, but it’s a mutual benefit; I like playing games that are super aesthetically pleasing, and Expancity’s got that in spades. I think Breaking Games has a really solid game on their hands, and if you’re into the idea of competitive city-building or you want to see a modern take on a tile-laying classic, I’d recommend checking out Expancity!
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS REVIEW AND WOULD LIKE TO SUPPORT WHAT’S ERIC PLAYING? IN THE FUTURE, PLEASE CHECK OUT MY PATREON. THANKS FOR READING!