City Council

Players 3-4
Length 90-120 minutes
Equipment Required one standard piecepack, 50 pennies, one City Grid (combine 4 copies of the 7x7 grid at the end of the rules), one Turn Order/Action sheet (print out), 3-4 Player Aid sheets (print out 1 per player), pencil(s) and paper for scoring, and clear tape
Designer Phillip Lerche, Michael Schoessow, and Stephen Schoessow
Version 1.0
Version Date2004-06
License GNU FDL 1.2 or later


Welcome to the groundbreaking of a new city! Players will develop the new community through adroit manipulation of zoning and transit laws and important city councilors. The player who does this best wins the game.

Players work to accumulate victory points through intelligent bidding, shrewd investment, and clever tile placement. At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins.


Reviews & Comments

City Council is easily the most complex entry for this contest. Imagine Puerto Rico Rails or Sim City: The Multi-Player Board Game, and you'll get a pretty good idea of City Council's scope. The rules are fairly long and dense, and it definitely helps to have the necessary materials available to play with while learning the rules. However, with the exception of what exactly to do with the investor and speculator, the rules are fairly easy to keep in mind, once learned. To some players in my group, this wordiness indicated that the rules could have been written much more succinctly, and that more diagrams would have helped in the explanation of the examples. One of the key bits of equipment for City Council is a Player Aid Sheet for each player. This player aid sheet is the only place to find the important victory points table detailing how many points a city zone is worth, as well as bonuses and penalties associated with its placement adjacent to other city zones. Unfortunately, the Player Aid Sheet somehow got detached from the originally submitted ruleset, but a question to the authors got them to send another copy. Whew! I'm glad they did, because despite its complexity, City Council has quite a bit going for it.

Basically, the game progresses in a series of rounds. On each round, each player (beginning with the player who went first in the previous round) bids one coin for priority in his or her course of action for the current round. Once the priority sequence is determined, the highest bidder gets to either choose to lobby for the favor of a certain city council member or choose a place in the turn sequence. Then the second highest bidder does the same, and so on. This is repeated once through again in the same order, but this time if the highest bidder has already selected a city council member to lobby, he or she must select a place in the turn sequence (or vice-versa), and so on down the line until everyone has both a place in the turn sequence and the favor of one of the city council members. Then the players take their turns in the order of the determined turn sequence, each with the favor of one city council member, which grants that player certain perks. Turns consist of paying to zone one area (tile) of the city (large custom play mat), then optionally placing an investor and/or speculator (they gain some immediate victory points, and may also gain further victory points for later city developments) and then optionally laying rail (pennies or other similar markers) for the city's mass-transit system. There are a few restrictions in the placement of zones and rail that usually don't make things too difficult until near the end of the game. This escalates the importance of tactical play as the game progresses, especially in the three player version. This is a good thing!

So, how does City Council rate? As I mentioned, the rules are very dense, and could use some diagrams to illustrate the examples. But other than that they're fairly well written. Likewise, the appendix is slightly better than average among the contest entries. The political city building theme is engaging, but the complexity of the mechanics sometimes gets in the way. In particular, the scoring is very math-intensive with lots of variables to keep track of at once. It reminded one player of when he was learning to play cribbage, where part of the game is actually seeing all of the points you have. Placing this zone here gets this number of basic points, but since it's adjacent to this zone, there's this penalty, but then since it's adjacent to these two other zones, there's this other bonus. And since I built a rail stop that connects to these other four zones, that's another bonus, plus the points I get from laying the rail are doubled because I have the favor of the transit director. Oh! And here your investor matches this tile's suit, so you also get points here... You get the idea. The complexity of the scoring, all by itself, complicates the rest of the game because knowing what to do to maximize your score relative to the other players becomes a brain burner. Perhaps City Council would be better positioned as a computer game?

Other minor niggles? The number of rail segments is limited to 50 for the entire game, and that struck some players as arbitrary rather than a number arrived at through play testing. Particularly in the three player game, the rail is usually exhausted well before the end of the game, which made lobbying the transit director useless thereafter. If 50 rail segments is indeed a play-tested limit, then limiting the number of rail segments that can be laid per round (perhaps seven in a three player game and nine in a four player game) would even things out a bit, and possibly give more importance to going early in the turn order if you're also lobbying the transit director. Due to its complexity, gamers (particularly train gamers) are the intended target audience for City Council. For that reason, a bit more attention to balancing the various winning path strategies could elevate City Council from a good game to a great game. Ergonomically, it also would have been a nice touch to have had an easy mechanism for keeping track of who went first on the last turn, so they have priority in the bidding on the next turn. We passed a pencil. I had fun playing City Council, at least when the mechanics didn't get in the way of the theme. From the feedback I got from the other players, they had similar experiences.

Conclusion: If you're a train gamer waiting patiently for a route-building and investment game for the piecepack, you're in luck; City Council has arrived. If you like German style games with bidding and various role-based privileges, but want something heavier to soak your brain, you're also in luck; City Council has arrived. But if you're a casual or family gamer just looking for a way to spend some social time with others, you're much better off looking elsewhere. Score: 23.61

-- ClarkRodeffer

Oct 19, 2004

CategoryGame ThemeBusinessCategory ThemePoliticsCategory