Ah, Flip City. Flip City, originally Design Town, is a self-proclaimed “microdeckbuilder” released by Tasty Minstrel Games, who just recently had a successful campaign for Thief’s Market on Kickstarter. They’re also great to follow on Instagram, since they’ll actually comment on and reshare images and are just generally responsive. Generally, cool people.
But Flip City itself is more about building a tiny town (with tiny people, I imagine, but unconfirmed) by playing and buying cards like Dominion or Paperback. The interesting twist is that cards are double-sided, and can be flipped (hence the name) or recycled (more on that later) to gain various effects. While this does make the deck really difficult to shuffle (see Cons), it also adds an interesting layer to the gameplay. Let’s talk a bit more about that after Setup.
There are only cards in this box (no fancy metal tokens [oh, Dominion] or low-quality cardboard tokens [also Dominion, disappointingly]), so take them out. I’ll go through them in Gameplay to talk a bit more about what each one does, so don’t worry too much about them right now. The major thing you need to do is give each player a starting deck, which is:
- 4 Residential Areas
- 1 Apartment (the other side of a Residential Area)
- 1 Convenience Store
- 1 Hospital
- 1 Factory
- 1 Central Park
Note that the Office cards are not in the starting deck (they are an expansion), so they can go with the other cards to form the buyable card area, which is:
- 12 Convenience Stores
- 10 Offices
- 12 Hospitals
- 8 Factories
- 8 Central Parks
If you are anything like me, you may want to also display the flipped version of the card below that card’s stack, so that players can read it at their leisure during the game. If you do, just make sure you’re not adding an additional card that will confuse other players. I tend to also leave the Residential Areas / Apartments out for the same reasons (just for reading), but perhaps not the best idea for your first game.
When your play area looks like this, you’re ready to begin:
Let’s talk more about the game in Gameplay.
A turn in Flip City goes like this:
- Play Cards. You play a card by taking it off the top of your deck and putting it in front of you. You may also Recycle any cards in your discards that you’d like, gaining their Recycle effect and flipping them over. This continues, with some caveats:
- If you do not have three frowny-faces, you can keep going or choose to stop playing cards. If you run out of cards in your deck, you may also stop or choose to reshuffle.
- If you ever play a third frowny-face (by choice or otherwise), your turn immediately ends, and you skip Steps 2 and 3, meaning you cannot win this turn. Tough!
- Building Phase. During this phase you may take one of these three actions:
- Buy. You may buy one card from the available cards by paying the cost in the top-right corner of the card. Add it to your discard pile.
- Flip. You may flip one card currently in your discard pile by paying its flip cost in the bottom-right of the card. Flip the card over. If your discard pile is empty, you cannot flip anything. Bummer. Note that cards currently in play cannot be flipped.
- Develop. You may pay both the buy and flip cost of a card in the buyable area, adding it to your discard pile flipped-side up. This is handy, sometimes.
- Did You Win? If you made it this far, check:
- Have you played at least 18 cards, one of which is a Convenience Store?
- Have you scored at least 8 points?
If either of these are true, you win! If neither of these are true, you did not win and it’s the next player’s turn. Note again that if you get three frowny-faces, you skip this phase and the building phase. It’s a bummer.
And that’s about it! Play continues until one player wins.
Now that we’ve talked about the game generally, let’s go through each card; I find that usually helps. I’m gonna go with the Primary side and the Flipped side, just noting which is which by the card’s title, for instance, Apartment (Flipped Residential Area). I’m also paraphrasing the effects.
Meet The Cards
Cost: N/A (cannot be bought)
Flip Cost: 1
Effect: When Residential Area is the top card of your deck, you must play it, unless you’ve already hit your three frowny-face limit and your turn has ended. Then it just waits to be the first card you play next turn.
This is an awful card to have in your deck, and luckily you start with four. This is usually how you end your turn via the frowny-face rule, since you’re forced to play them.
Apartment (Flipped Residential Area)
Cost: N/A (cannot be bought)
Flip Cost: 8 (yes, it has a flip cost, not a recycle cost)
Effect: When flipped, place the now-Residential Area in another player’s discard pile, you jerk.
Aggressive move! Expensive, too. This is the only Flipped card that costs money to flip back, for that reason.
Flip Cost: 3
Effect: Once you’ve played this card, if you end your turn having played 18 or more cards total, you win!
This is a bit weird because other cards are basically an effect that happens once you play the card, but you do not have to play 18 cards after this one; you just have to successfully end your turn having played 18+ cards without going over your frowny-face limit.
Shopping Mall (Flipped Convenience Store)
Cost: N/A (cannot be bought)
Recycle Benefit: Gain an extra 1 money when you Recycle this card.
Effect: When you play this card, if your deck isn’t empty you must also play the next card.
This is also a great way to screw up your turn, because you might force yourself to play any card with a frowny face. Be careful.
Flip Cost: 4
Effect: When you’re recycling your deck, you can take this card out and put it on top of your deck once you finish shuffling.
Great card, just free money on top of your deck. It also means that the top card of your deck will never be a Residential Area again. 10/10.
Trade Center (Flipped Office)
Cost: N/A (cannot be bought)
Recycle Benefit: Gain a frowny-face. Wait, that’s not a benefit!
Effect: When recycled, flip this card then shuffle your discard pile back into your deck. This is a bit confusing to me, but it means that it becomes an Office, then you shuffle your discard pile back into your deck (and probably top-deck the Office). But you also gain a frowny-face. Use wisely.
Flip Cost: 4
Money: 1 + X
Effect: When you play this card, immediately gain X additional money, where X is the number of frowny-faces you’ve already played this turn (including this one).
This means that the Hospital is always worth 2 at minimum, since it has a frowny face. Note that this only applies to already-played cards this turn. Playing more frowny-faces does not mean that previously-played Hospitals are retroactively worth more money. Just that the first Hospital played is worth 2, the next is worth an additional 3, and so on.
Church (Flipped Hospital)
Cost: N/A (cannot be bought)
Recycle Benefit: Your frowny-face limit is increased by an extra 1 frowny-face this turn.
Effect: When played, your frowny-face limit is increased by an extra 1 frowny-face this turn.
This is just an all-around great card. Now you can play four, five, who knows how many frowny-faces.
Flip Cost: 6
Effect: When played, if your deck is not empty, place the bottom card of your deck in the discard pile.
Great card early-game, especially if you’re trying to flip Residential Areas early. Late game it just tends to mess up my turns by forcing me to discard cards that I’d rather be playing. That being said, it’s a great way to make 2 free money.
Power Plant (Flipped Factory)
Cost: N/A (cannot be bought)
Recycle Benefit: When you recycle this card, place it on top of your deck (as a Factory).
Effect: Place an Apartment from your discard pile into another player’s discard pile. Also aggressive!
I’m going to be honest, I’ve never once used this card. The frowny-face + the aggression wasn’t really worth it to me.
Flip Cost: 5
Effect: When played, you may Buy one extra time during the Building Phase.
This is a great card. Normally, you can only Buy, Flip, or Develop during the Building Phase, but now you can do any one of those, plus a Buy! (Note that this means you can buy two cards, but you need to be able to afford the combined cost of both.)
Station (Flipped Central Park)
Cost: N/A (cannot be bought)
Recycle Benefit: Gain an extra 1 point this turn when you Recycle this card.
Effect: When played, you may Flip one extra time during the Building Phase, and your flips all cost 1 less money this turn.
This is an awesome card. Like Central Park, it means you can Buy + Flip, Flip + Flip, or Develop + Flip, and every flip is cheaper (and flipping Residential Areas is free!). Usually I just play this and flip two Residential Areas, turn over.
Those are all the cards! And I think that’s pretty much everything.
Solo Variant Rules
Well, almost everything. They say that one is the
loneliest number easiest to seat, so a Flip City solo game isn’t a bad idea. Thankfully there are solo rules, which I’ll quickly outline.
- Make the starting deck as normal, but only put 4 of each card in the buyable area.
- Whenever you reshuffle your deck for any reason (even by a card effect), discard a buyable card from the game.
You either win when you win or lose when there are no cards left in the supply. See? Easy.
Now let’s talk strategy.
There are two primary victory conditions. Eight points or eighteen cards. I’ll mark a point if it applies to one or the other in particular.
- Flip all your Residential Areas as soon as possible. This should really be the first thing you do. I can’t tell you how many players I’ve seen lose because they keep one or two of the RA’s around and it bites them, hard. Apartments give you the option to stop playing; RAs do not. So get rid of them.
- Churches are great cards. In either case they let you play more cards, either to get more points in one turn or to just … play more cards. Churches are never a bad card to go for.
- Offices are even better. Especially for an eighteen card strategy, but also because they give you money with which you can buy more Central Parks. They’re not particularly good for flipping Central Parks to Stations (because your discards are empty if you put them on top of your deck).
- You don’t necessarily need to play aggressively (18-card strategy). If you’re not being aggressive, then your opponent might not be, either. This means you don’t have to spend money getting rid of Apartments and you can spend it instead on other things. The money spent flipping an Apartment into another player’s discards can be spent Developing a Church, meaning you are one card closer to that perfect 18+-card turn.
- That being said, you sometimes need to be a bit aggressive. Nothing breaks up another player’s game like extra Residential Areas, you monster.
- Flip Central Parks to Stations as soon as possible (8-point strategy). This will let you flip extra Residential Areas sooner as well, and prevent them from mucking up your deck (as the Station has that nice flip bonus effect). Also you get an extra point out of the deal. Stations aren’t quite as useful to the 18-card strategy; you’d much rather use that 5 money to buy another Convenience Store and an Office.
- I don’t think Trade Centers are worth it. You can’t top-deck them and they cost 4 to flip. Meh. I’d just stick with Offices. You make their cost back so quickly.
- Pay attention to what cards your opponents are buying. This helps you effectively counter. See a lot of low-cost cards? Might be time to save up to start getting rid of your Apartments, or flipping to a Power Plant and just dumping your Apartments into their discard pile. See Central Parks and Stations? Might be worth saving your money to try and beat them to the punch.
- Personally, I think the Shopping Mall is too risky (8-point strategy). That’s just me. Sure, it means you could potentially win with a Station, two Central Parks, and a Shopping Mall, but I’d rather just go for two Stations and a Central Park than risk playing my third frowny-face. I suppose it’s cheaper, but that’s about the only thing it has going for it. I cannot see anyone flipping to Shopping Mall when going for 18 cards, since that costs you a Convenience Store.
- Strategy somewhat determines deck size. You want a smaller deck if you’re going for points (higher chance of drawing all your points cards) and a larger deck if you’re going for 18 cards (for obvious reasons).
- Don’t be afraid to Recycle. Losing a Church hurts, but if it’s the extra frowny-face limit boost you need to win, go for it. It’s a press-your-luck game; sooner or later you’re going to have to, y’know, press your luck.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Significantly easier to transport than most other deckbuilders. Honestly Dominion can fill up my car’s entire backseat, at this point (and Empires is not gonna help). Paperback is much easier to transport, but even it’s still significantly larger than Flip City. It’s nice to have a small deckbuilder, given how much I like the game type.
- Good way to teach some aspects of deckbuilding. At least the gaining cards mechanic. Since you don’t really have a “hand” it’s hard to teach the other elements, but one thing at a time isn’t a bad way to learn a new type of games. It’s sort of how I use Between Two Cities to teach drafting.
- Easy to learn. You just play the top card of your deck and try not to get frowny-faces. How hard could it be?
- Reasonable amount of depth. I wouldn’t call this the deepest game in my collection, but there’s more than one way to win and a few different pathways to success, so that’s nice for $20.
- Cute art. It’s a nice little town. I’m a tiny bit terrified by the lack of people, but I’m a huge fan of the art style and would love more games with art like this. Flip Galaxy? Already sold on it.
- Cool gimmick. I really like the card-flipping, and I think it’s amazing for a deckbuilder. I would love either expansions or other themed deckbuilders with this mechanic as well (just because I’m now really enamored with the idea of a Flip Galaxy or Flip Future or Flip Wizards).
- Quick setup. One of my least favorite things about deckbuilders (which I generally love) is that it takes so. long. to set up the cards. Especially for Dominion, where I have to have a randomization app just to get the cards and expansions that I’ll be using then take them out then etc. etc. etc.. Flip City is easy enough to set up that I played a solo game while my housemate was eating dinner and I talked to her while I was doing it. Super simple.
- Can be aggressive or non-aggressive, depending on preferences. Some groups eschew sort of “Take that” elements or trying to attack other players (mine typically does), so it’s nice that you can just … agree to not do that and still be mostly successful. It’s also nice that the option is there if you’d like to take it.
- Not all of the cards seem particularly useful to me. I guess every game has some less-used cards, but I’ve not yet played a game with someone who has played the Trade Center or Power Plant, and only a couple where anyone’s wanted to buy the Shopping Mall. At least the Power Plant’s use is clear, but the other two just seem like they’re not worth the cost / risk.
- No insert means the cards kind of bounce around in the box. I assume that’s so you could sleeve the cards, but it’s a bit of a meh.
- Shuffling is a bit of a pain. Once you get used to it it’s not that bad, but your first couple games you kind of have to shuffle without looking at the deck, which means cards usually end up going everywhere. Unfortunately, since it’s your first game, you’re not usually sure which cards should and should not have been flipped, so that’s a whole additional to-do after you pick up the cards. I wish there were a way around this, but there isn’t really, as it’s a fundamental part of the game’s design.
- Hard not to cheat accidentally. A lot of players tend to splay cards absentmindedly, and they might accidentally see a splash of yellow (the background for the Residential Area’s title box) below the next card they’re going to play and suddenly they’re not so keen on playing that card and revealing that Residential Area (which would force them to play it too). If anything it’s probably a good argument for one of those fancy Vegas card dealing shoes, but it’s a thing that happens to a lot of new players.
- Rules aren’t always super clear. Note the difference in the “When Played” effect for the Convenience Store and the Hospital — one affects your turn even retroactively, the other specifically does not. That’s not super consistent and that tends to confuse everyone I show this to on their first game. Also since Trade Center’s “On Recycle” effect includes “Flip this card” but the other Flipped cards don’t have “On Recycle” effects, it’s unclear if you’re supposed to flip the recycled Trade Center (now Office) back to a Trade Center (you are not) or if recycled cards aren’t supposed to be flipped back to their original side (they are). Some minor wording changes / consistency checking would have cleared all that up really nicely. Might just be worth checking over an additional time after your first read to make sure that you’re 100% sure you understand all the rules, though I hope my explanation has cleared up some areas. I think this is in part because it was translated from Japanese, which, happens.
- Solo game is pretty easy, especially if you’re playing with Offices. I haven’t really broken a sweat the last few times I’ve played it, and there doesn’t seem to be a good way to up the difficulty without just removing extra cards from the game (which seems to be a Civilization-style of “we’re not making the game more difficult by requiring more skill; we’re just skewing the game in an unfavorable way for you”). If that’s how it’s gotta be, that’s fine, but it’s a bit of a bummer when compared with Tiny Epic Galaxy’s multiple levels of Solo Galaxies to fight. At this point it would just take some ridiculously bad draws for me to lose the solo game, which is kind of a bummer.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
I like Flip City! In fact, I’d even recommend it. Is it the perfect deckbuilder? No, of course not. That being said, I don’t think it’s trying to replace any deckbuilders in your life; rather, it’s a great game for on the go, for a quick break, or for just chatting while flipping some cards over. Honestly, I play it sometimes while my housemates are eating dinner because I don’t really have to focus on it while I play. It’s the Lost Legacy of deckbuilders or something, and I think that’s a great niche to have, as a few other games I’ve mentioned also fit the bill as “Intro to X” games, where X is a type of game (like deckbuilders or drafting). Like I said, if you’re into deckbuilders you should definitely consider checking it out, and I’m really looking forward to how the game changes with the next expansion, Reuse.