Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Suburbia Inc.

Suburbia is an excellent game that already offers a lot of variety straight from the box and I previously reviewed it here. But for a game that offers a lot of variety and differing strategies already straight from the box, expansions can often feel unnecessary or add unneeded bloat to an already streamlined system

So what does Suburbia's expansion, Suburbia Inc., offer to the base game? Essentially, it adds to familiar elements, but also introduces a few new ones, but each has an impact on the game.

New Tiles: More variety is more good. And Suburbia Inc. adds 26 new tiles to the mix. The tiles are thematic and fitting. The Cemetery tile reduces your population, but gives you money for each adjacent Residential tile, the Law Office allows you to score a tied Goal at the end of the game, and the Redistricting Office allows you to steal population from other players as you zone portions of their boroughs into your own. I am a fan of the new tiles as they continue to add to the theme and story of the players' growing boroughs.

Pros: The added variety and theme is a nice addition to the base game. Adding more tiles also lowers the chances of certain combinations from appearing, which is good because some players believe that the appearance of certain tiles early in their stacks can lead to overpowered strategies. While I don't necessarily agree with this assertion, the fact that the tiles are less likely to show up because of added variety shuts those players up a bit, which is a good thing.

Cons: The issue with flooding the stacks with new tiles is that you may be even less likely to see other tiles appear, which could hinder strategies and Goal competition. I may have the Air Traffic Controller goal and never see a single airport tile appear in the game. Furthermore, it breaks up the distribution of types even further and sometimes games simply feel odd when next to no Residential tiles appear.

New Goals: This simple addition just adds five new Goals to the mix of Goals in the game, two of which pertain to new elements in the expansion.

Pros: More Goals add to the variety, which is always a positive. Although the addition of more tiles can nullify the chance for certain Goals to ever be completed, four of the five Goals should always have the potential to be completed. The Guard Goals pushes players to use the new Borders in the game.

Cons: The Goals continue to be contrary pairs. While not a huge problem, I would appreciate more single Goals rather than adding both Most of something and Fewest of something in the same mix. We have had a couple of games where the Public Goals were set out and a player drew two Goals that were contrary to the Goals on the Public Goal track. Again, it is not a huge problem, but it means that if a player holds a Goal for the Fewest Commercial tiles in their hand and the Most Commercial tiles Goal is public, then it will be impossible for them to complete one of the Goals. Personally, I would rather have seen the Goal stack watered down with fewer contrary Goal pairs, but at least the added number of Goals lessens the chances of a pair being forced on a player.

Border Tiles: Border tiles are laid out next to the track and are available for purchase, such as the Basic Tiles are. In other words, when one is purchased, the player must still remove a tile from the track. Three borders are laid out, though there is no escalating market cost for their position. Borders are large notched pieces that can be laid adjacent to up to four tiles on one side. However, tiles cannot be placed against the other sides. Multiple borders can be purchased, but they are large and cumbersome and cannot overlap one another. Also, like tiles, they can be flipped over and used as large lakes that pay $4 per adjacent tile.

Pros: While potentially very powerful, Borders force a player to be much more strategic in their borough's build to maximize its placement as well as being able to continue to build effectively. It is also the biggest direct change to how the game is played, while still being intuitive to the core play's ruleset.

Cons: Frankly, cities can begin to look ugly. While in no way a con for gameplay, I enjoy looking over my city and reliving its story at the end of the game. But Borders often make a city just look like a mess and more unappealing to the eye. It also makes the game appear even more dry and almost mathy, which could easily turn off spectators from being drawn in from the sight of a game being played.

Bonuses and Challenges: Bonuses and Challenges offer rewards for a player who can meet their requirement when they come up. A random Bonus tile is placed face up on the top of the B-stack and a random Challenge tile is placed face up on the top of the C-stack. They are face up so that the players know the requirements to fulfill them. Once the first tile from the stack would be needed, the Bonus or Challenge is first assessed. For the Bonuses, meeting the requirement means a boost to Income, while meeting the requirement on a Challenge gives a boost to Reputation. Unlike Goals, multiple players can achieve them and each would get the reward. Bonuses require things such as having at least three Civic tiles, or having at least 13 Population, or having at least 2 Lakes. Challenges have requirements such as needing at least 5 Industrial tiles, or having at least $45, or having at least 10 Reputation. Once the Bonus or Challenge is assessed and rewards are given, the tile is discarded and the next tile is drawn as normal.

Pros: Both the Bonuses and Challenges can offer a direction for you to build your borough in to maximize your rewards. While I like sandbox building, I do appreciate the ability to take my borough in a specific direction. Also, like Goals, the variety of the Bonus and Challenge tiles actually changes the value of the tiles on the Market for purchase. If you see that the Residential Bonus or Challenge is available, suddenly the Housing Projects becomes a more valuable tile than it was before. This means that a game with the exact same tiles coming out in the exact same order (statistically very, very improbable) would play different with different Bonuses and Challenges since the value of the tiles intrinsically changes.

Cons: The number of tiles in each stack is altered when using the Bonuses and Challenges from the expansion. In a 4-player game, there will be a total of 3 more playable tiles in the stacks, which would roughly add one additional round of play. In a 3-player game, there is a total of 3 fewer playable tiles in the stacks, which equates to a round less of play. But in the 2-player game, there will be 5 fewer playable tiles in the stacks. This is a loss of 2-3 rounds of play, which the brunt of the fewer tiles coming from the C-stack of tiles (3 fewer). I suppose that this was to counter the perceived problems of the PR Firm showing up in the C-stack early and having a larger impact in a 2-player game. However, it does hurt some of the strategic play in two-player games. For example, if I purchased Municipal and Domestic Airports in hopes of cashing in on the International Airport showing up in the C-stack, I have less of a chance of drawing it. While my assumption is that it was done to limit certain tiles that are more powerful in 2-player games early in the C-stack, it ends up making the two player game feel a bit rushed at the end.

Overall: Suburbia was a game that I didn't feel like it was missing much or that it felt like it needed anything to make it better. It really was a solid game on its own. That being said, I don't feel like the additions of Suburbia Inc. feel shoehorned in. The additions to the game are natural and intuitive. The tiles continue to be thematic and useful. The expansion adds even more variety to a game that already has so much. The variety can be a little overwhelming to grasp, as games can end up having next to no Residential tiles or strategic play or Goals can be lost because certain tile types can simply not appear, though this is more likely to happen with fewer players. Goals and Challenges offer a lot of direction to build in, but they do shorten the 2-player game. I still think that the variety to the worth of tiles that they add is worth their inclusion in 2-player games.

At the end of the day, Suburbia Inc. is a fantastic expansion and its pros outweigh its cons and it feels intuitive to the base game without adding much in the way to bloat to the game or rules. If I have one lament about the expansion, it is that the Borders make my cities uglier. But I think that I can live with that for everything else that the game offers.

A copy of the expansion was provided from the publisher for review.

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