So let’s get back on board the Kickstarter train. Between Two Cities is a recent successful Kickstarter from the great people at Stonemaier Games, who also brought you games like Viticulture, Euphoria, and the upcoming Scythe. As you can see, they’re kind of pros at the whole Kickstarter business at this point. But where their other games tilt more toward the heavy game side (moreso for Scythe and Euphoria than Viticulture), Between Two Cities is an attempt to make an accessible introductory game. How’d they do? Let’s find out.
For some minor backstory, Between Two Cities is set at the start of the 1800s (the 19th century, for all those who like me mess that up) and you are a person tasked with helping to build two cities. That’s a lot of work!
So, you’ve probably got a ton of tiles in the box, loosely (an insert would be helpful here, but with some effort you can fit everything in pretty neatly). There are purple-backed single tiles and yellow-backed duplex tiles, so take them out first. There are also a bunch of cards, including these really cool player turn order cards:
These are pretty awesome if you’re looking for neat ways to determine player order if Chwazi isn’t your style (or you have an iPhone with a limited number of simultaneous touchscreen inputs [might be … six?]). Anyways. You can also just draw the cards since they’re numbered, which is fun. Set those aside once you’ve determined player order. As you can tell from the picture there’s also a massive scoreboard, and it’s double-sided depending on whether or not you prefer the scores to snake left-to-right-to-left or to always have the 10’s on the right side. Neat!
Other than that and the player tokens, there’s not much in the box. So once you’ve given everyone two player tokens (matching) of their choice, we should move on to Gameplay to talk about how this actually works.
Right, so, as I said you’re building two cities. That’s hard work. Luckily, you’ve been assigned a partner. Unluckily, they’re also building two cities. It’s like nobody in this day and age can give anything their undivided attention. That being said, you want to make sure you’re the most successful builder, so you need to build two great cities. The key insight to this game is that your lower-scoring city determines YOUR score. So you can’t just screw over one city and expect to be successful. But how do you build a city? Well, you see all those tiles? They’re your city tiles. You’ll use them to create your cities. Every turn you will add some tiles to your city and that will adjust your score, ultimately ending up with an impressive 4×4 (16) tile city. Before we talk about those logistics, let’s take a look at the tiles.
Meet the Tiles
So you might notice that you have a handy player aid with the game:
That tells you how the tiles are scored (and, incidentally, how to break ties). Conveniently, it’s also the order in which I’ll present the city tiles.
This is a shop. It’s pretty nice, people like it, but it’s really effective when you can hit more than one shop in a trip. Sort of like a mall. As such, shops score best when they’re placed in a straight line, like in the bottom right of the card or like so:
They’re scored in a set, so having just one earns you 2 points, having two in a line earns you 5 points, three for 10, and four for 16. Note that since your city must be 4×4 you can’t ever have five or more in a row. Also note that shops in more than one line (like an L- or a T-shape) can’t be double-counted. This means you should try to keep your shop lines parallel, if you choose to have more than one line of shops (I have never seen this).
The factory chugs along and does manufacturing things. Fantastic! The factory is also really easy to play — if you have the most factories (ties are okay) then each factory is worth 4 points. Second-most? Each of your factories are worth 3 points. Other than that, each of your factories are worth 2 points. Note that if 2+ people are tied for the most, then the second-most still gets 3 points per factory. Also note that your factories do not need to be contiguous. They can just go wherever, but other factors might influence your decision…
Taverns are fun. This is a scientific fact, and it has been extensively researched and proven by actual real-life fun scientists. That being said, they’re more fun when they’re not all the same. Imagine every bar in your town was themed after Poseidon, King of the Seas. Every. One. That’d be weird but also impressively nautical? Or, more practically, imagine your hometown had no hotels, only bars. Sure, people would come party, but they wouldn’t stay the night! You’re losing valuable tourism dollars. So variety is a bit important here, and that’s how they’re scored, as a set:
There are four different types of taverns, and you can have as many sets as you’d like. Similar to Tokaido, though, you’re better off completing a set you’ve started rather than starting a bunch of new sets, if possible.
- If you only have one tile in a set, it’s worth 1 point.
- If you have two tiles in a set, it’s worth 4 points.
- If you have three tile in a set, it’s worth 9 points.
- If you have all four tile in a set, it’s worth 17 points.
As you can see, it starts to add up! If you have two of the same tiles (two drink tiles, for instance) they count as different sets.
Every town needs professionals, probably, unless you only draw factories and want a straight 64 points. To be fair, that will probably win you the game as long as your other city is also good. In most other cases, though, offices. Offices score a bit weirdly. Similar to taverns, they score as part of a set, but they don’t have differentiating icons. They simply work as follows:
- One office: 1 point
- Two offices: 3 points
- Three offices: 6 points
- Four offices: 10 points
- Five offices: 15 points
- Six offices: 21 points
- Seven offices: (Six offices) + (One office)
- Eight offices: (Six offices) + (Two offices)
And so on. As you can see, the set loops around back to start when you hit more than six offices. HOWEVER, there’s one exciting thing. People like offices, sure, but the workers are happier if there’s something fun to do nearby. Like a tavern! If an office tile is orthogonally adjacent to any (non-zero) number of tavern tiles, it is worth an extra point! So, for instance:
Each of those offices is orthogonally adjacent to one tavern (the same red music tavern), so each of them are worth an extra point! Now instead of being worth 6, the set of offices are worth 9. Not bad! So while a tavern can get many offices an extra point, each office can only earn AT MOST 1 extra point.
As Leslie Knope would tell you, people are big fans of parks. Your city may be no exception, as you can add parks to improve its quality. While small parks aren’t particularly impressive, a park can only get so large while still being valuable. Surprisingly, this idea is captured quite well by how parks are scored:
Park tiles are scored as a set for every contiguous park tile you have, as follows:
- One park: 2 point
- Two parks: 8 points
- Three parks: 12 points
- Four parks: 13 points
- Five parks: 14 points
- Six parks: 15 points
And so on. If you notice, the value of parks is pretty low at the beginning (small parks) and tapers off pretty severely if you have too many park tiles connected (too large of a park). So, while this park is only worth 15 points:
This next park, or, rather, parks, are worth 24 points!
Note that it’s because they’re split apart by the factory (diagonals don’t count as connected). So make sure that you’re not placing parks in such a way that you end up combining two small parks into a large park — you’ll torch the score of your city.
Finally, if you’ve built a diverse city people want to live here. Well, as long as you don’t put them in the noisy part of town. Houses are worth 1 point each for each type of tile you have present in your city, to a max of 5. This means that if you have a factory, tavern, park, office, and shop in your city (like so):
Then every house you place is worth 5 points. Well, almost. People HATE living next to a factory. Sorry. If you happen to put a house next to one, it’s only worth 1 point, maximum. Try to avoid that.
That all make sense? At least, the player guide should make much more sense now. It also helps that the tiles have their scoring rules printed on them.
Finally, there’s one more tile, but it’s not really a type of city feature as much as a type of tile:
These nasty tiles rear their head during the second round of play (more on that soon), but they come in a horizontal and vertical variety. They cannot be separated and must be played in their provided orientation. That CAN REALLY MESS YOU UP. Thankfully, in a spot of avoided cruelty, there are no Factory-House duplexes (since that would automatically nullify the house and make the duplex tile pretty much worthless).
But let’s get to the actual game.
The Actual Game
So, Between Two Cities is another example of both a tile-laying (Carcassonne, Lanterns, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Saboteur, a bit of Roll for the Galaxy [I have a type]) and a drafting (7 Wonders, Tides of Time) game. It’s very exciting! So what does that mean for you?
Well, start by giving each player seven tiles. That’ll comprise their starting hand. Each turn, you pick two and pass them (LEFT in Round 1, RIGHT in Round 3). Once everyone has picked two, reveal your tiles. Now for the fun part! You can freely discuss your tiles (without telling your copponents [co-op opponents? eh, that’s what I’m going with] what tiles you’re passing them) and figure out which of your two cities gets which of your two tiles. NOTE THAT YOU CANNOT DISCUSS YOUR TILES BEFORE EVERYONE HAS REVEALED. Just in case that wasn’t clear. There’re only three rules:
- All tiles must be placed so that they orthogonally (along the top, bottom, left, or right) connect to at least one other tile. No diagonals!
- All tiles must be oriented the same way. This really only matters for duplex tiles, but it does make the tiles annoying to read if some of them are upside down. It’s in the rulebook, so it’s a rule.
- The final grid must be 4×4. You cannot play any tiles such that you would violate that rule, no matter how much you want to.
There are three turns per round (since you only have seven tiles). After your third turn, discard the remaining tile and proceed to the next round. Round 2 uses the duplex tiles — draw three and don’t pass tiles. Once you’ve played both your duplex tiles and discarded the remainder move on to Round 3 (where, as mentioned, you pass your tiles to the RIGHT, rather than left).
Now, there’s some debate about scoring, and I usually just tell people the best thing to do is to score after every round by having every player score the city on their right. This allows everyone to have every score, and you can ask the player on your left what their city scored. Since everyone has two tokens, I put both of my tokens on the scoreboard until everyone has their tokens on, and then I remove my higher-scoring token. That way my lower score is on the scoreboard, but I also can see what other people are scoring. That’s a bit nuanced, but, it works. Trust me.
After Round 3, total up again and whoever has the most points wins! If there’s a tie, you can either just call it a tie or break the tie with the highest scoring city. If there’s still a tie, you go by the player aid and whoever has the most of that tile type from top to bottom (Shops -> Factories -> Taverns -> Offices -> Parks -> Houses) wins. If you’re still tied at that point for some unknowable reason, you may want to contact the developers, as your copy of the game might be broken. Or, quite honestly, you’ve probably spent more time on the tiebreaker than the actual game at that point. Might as well just play again.
Very easy game to get, though the actual strategy takes a few more games to set in. Let’s talk a bit about that, actually.
Your mileage may vary with some of these, as always:
- Focus on trying to pick a strategy for each city in Round 1. Is one going to be an industrial powerhouse? Is another going to alternate Offices and Taverns? What about Parks? If you make it clear what your intention for a city is early, your partner can help. You don’t really want a disjointed city unless you’re just trying to get every tile type early to go all-houses.
- In general, I find a greedy algorithm tends to work well in Round 3. Trying to figure out what two tiles get you the most points per play is generally a good plan in Round 3, since you’re finishing things up and you really shouldn’t be, say, trying to start a Tavern set or placing your first office (unless you’re going for houses). Round 1 is setting up, Round 2 is complicating, and Round 3 is finishing.
- Usually in Round 3, you don’t want to play a tile that will score you fewer than 4 points. You should have at least four different tile types in your city (so Houses are worth 4), the lead in Factories (so Factories are worth 4), or some set you can add on to to get 4, 5, or 6+ points. If this isn’t the case, you’re probably hosed.
- Houses are much better in Round 3 than Round 1. It’s hard to intelligently place them to try and avoid Factories. Usually I try to build a wall of Parks.
- Shops kind of suck. Just my opinion.
- All Houses isn’t terrible. Assuming you place your Factory and Office/Tavern smartly, that’s (2 + 1 + 1 [Office/Tavern bonus] + 1 + 2 + 2 + (5 * 11)) = 64 points, which is as much as you’d get if you only placed Factories. That’s pretty impressive.
- All Factories is also not bad, for the same reason. 16 * 4 = 64.
- Never place more than three adjacent Parks. If you do, your points per tile drops from 4 (good!) to 13/4 = ~3, which isn’t great. There are better tiles to place. You can place multiple disjoint sets of three Parks, but do not place four+ adjacent Park tiles.
- Never put more than six Offices.
- Never put more than four Taverns unless you HAVE TO. This is slightly salvageable since you can use them to boost Offices, but it’s still pretty crappy.
- Never intersect your Shop lines.
- Don’t try to screw over your partners. You’ll really only end up hurting yourself. Giving them bad tiles isn’t the worst thing, but actively sabotaging your own city is just … bad.
That seems like a lot. Let’s talk Pros / Mehs / Cons.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Really nice art. It’s pretty to look at, even if all the tiles are the same. It’s just well-done.
- Light drafting game. I always call this a nice intro game for 7 Wonders, since it has some but not all of the complexity.
- Solid construction. The tiles are nice and thick, the scoreboard is solid, and the cards are weighty. Excellent component use all around — you really feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
- Satisfying semi-cooperative gameplay. It’s actually nice because more experienced players can work with newer players without necessarily playing for them (quarterbacking), though that doesn’t always happen. It’s just a nice middle ground between co-op and competitive (unlike, say, Marvel Legendary, which doesn’t really do competitive that well imo).
- Really encourages table talk. You basically have to communicate with your partner to do well in this game, and I’ve heard it called a wonderful icebreaker for that reason. Game night off to a rough start? Between Two Cities is a solid fix.
- Different. It’s not like any of the other games in my collection (though it borrows from them in some ways). It’s nice, for that.
- Tile-laying game. I just love games where you lay tiles. It’s a thing.
- Successful Kickstarter that I think shipped reasonably early / on-time. Props to the designers for getting everything together so well.
- An insert would have been nice. Just to keep the tiles organized. I’m hoping it’s so that an expansion can just pop inside. Though while we’re on the subject of missing things…
- Another tile-heavy game that doesn’t come with a tile bag. I think Roll for the Galaxy is the only tile game I’ve bought that came with a tile bag, and tile bags are just the best. Didn’t realize how irritating it was until I finally got a tile bag, but it’s a bit annoying.
- Not a particularly overwhelming amount of tile variety. There are only six types of tiles. Though I hear they’re planning an expansion soon…
- People with analysis paralysis can REALLY slow down this game. For everyone’s sake, just tell people to not try and re-score their city every turn. It’s doable, but tell them to keep a running total. It makes the game slow. Not the biggest problem but is a problem with all simultaneous play games (7 Wonders sees some of this, too).
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Yeah, I know, an 8.75 is a weird score to give out. But while I like Between Two Cities a lot I couldn’t quite justify a 9 (I do prefer 7 Wonders, though it’s a bit more effort), but it’s definitely not an 8.5, either. I’m fine with this score and I think it’s definitely a great game to have in everyone’s collection. Is it the deepest, heaviest game? No. But it doesn’t try to be. It tries to be accessible, fun, and novel, and I think it achieves all three of those things quite handily. I’m very glad I Kickstarted this, and I look forward to the future expansions.