Full disclosure: A preview copy of Sprawlopolis was provided by Button Shy Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Well, I mean, once you’ve checked out one Button Shy Game (or … four), you’ve gotta keep checking them out periodically, right? And naturally, when someone starts talking about Circle the Wagons, it piques my interest, so, here we are.
Sprawlopolis is the spiritual successor to Circle the Wagons! Instead of staking your claim and building your boomtown, you’re helping plan the ultimate city. And, since it takes a team to build a great city, you’re making it together, in a cooperative game, rather than a pure competitive one! That’s always exciting. Do you have what it takes to build a sprawling metropolis?
Just like its predecessor (and I think all Button Shy Games?), you’ll find 18 cards:
These also have scoring conditions on the back:
Shuffle them up and pull three out — those will be your Scoring Conditions for this game, and your challenge score. More on that last bit later. Place those near the center of the table, in view of all players.
Shuffle the deck and deal one player three cards and the other players one card each. If you’re playing solo, just deal yourself three cards. Once you’ve done that, put the deck city-side up, and place the top card of the deck into the center of the table. That’ll be your Build Area for the game. You’re all ready to start!
Alright, so, Sprawlopolis is a pseudo-drafting city-building game, which means that you’ll play the cards in your hand to build a city and then pass the remaining cards to your next player, who will do the same. Once everyone is out of cards, the game will end and you’ll be judged against some criteria to see how you did.
That makes your turn pretty easy! Simply add a card from your hand to the Build Area such that it’s at least adjacent to another card already in the Build Area. You may place it on top of another card completely (I guess) or partially, provided that you’re not tucking the new card below another card. New cards must always be placed on top. Uh, you can rotate the cards, but it needs to be either 0 or 180 degrees; the rectangles on the cards need to line up. You may also want to connect the roads together, as much as you can, for unrelated future-scoring reasons. Furthermore, note the four different kinds of areas on each card:
- Industrial Areas (Grey)
- Commercial Areas (Blue)
- Parks (Green)
- Residential Areas (Red / Orange)
These may be relevant to you, they may not. The important thing is that you are allowed to talk about whatever you want with your co-players, but you may not show them any of the cards in your hand. If you do, well, that’s the card you’re playing, on your turn. They can still help with placement, too; it’s a very friendly game.
Once all 15 cards have been placed, the game is over! You’re going to begin scoring, now. So, first thing’s first: lose some points!
- -1 point for each unique road in your city
- +1 point for each block in your largest contiguous Industrial block, your largest contiguous Commercial block, your largest contiguous Park block, and your largest contiguous Residential. You’ll score Industrial, Residential, Commercial, and Parks separately.
- Score your Scoring Conditions! Hopefully they got you lotsa points.
Once you’ve done that, you see the numbers on your Scoring Condition cards? Add those three numbers together. If your score is higher than that value, you win! Otherwise, well, you don’t.
Having too much / not enough difficulty?
- Easy: Don’t subtract points for roads.
- Hard: Only score your largest block of one type. Don’t score the largest block of each type.
- Very Hard: Start the game with -5 points. You can adjust this as necessary to really have the toughest possible experience.
Player Count Differences
Not really! The major difference is between solo and non-solo mode, in this game. Like most cooperative games, I find that when I’m playing solo, I tend to make … more mistakes. It’s not really anything against the game, it’s more just the inability to check my work by running it by someone else. That makes the game a bit more challenging, at solo, I’ve found. Between two and four players, well, there’s no real difference — it just ends up being an extra person whose turn it is that isn’t yours.
- Be careful with roads. Sloppy placement can lead to your roads rapidly getting out of control. Ideally, that won’t happen. You’re not going to be able to get away with only one road (though if you do, please tell me; I’d love to see it), but you should still try to minimize them, if you can.
- Try to make more points than your Scoring Condition’s value from that Scoring Condition. That should be your target. If you make at least that many points from that card, you’re all but guaranteed to win, right? And generally, that’s the case. This means you should expect to earn more points from higher-valued cards, generally speaking.
- It’s hard to group sections of cards, especially without covering other sections. You’ll be unlikely to get more than, say, 14 or so points from the groupings of the same section, just as a heads-up. I’d rely on that more to offset the roads than anything else.
- Always do what the Scoring Conditions demand. Try not to undervalue any of them unless you’ve got one that you’re going to score a ton of points on. That might let you ignore another one, especially if they’re all related or kind of contradictory. Either way.
- There are never roads on Parks. Just keep that in mind. Generally, there’s either a vertical straight road (and a curve on the other non-Park tile), a horizontal straight road (and a curve on the other non-Park tile), or a curve that goes through all three non-Park tiles. Plan ahead!
- Make sure you’re communicating. Don’t show anyone your cards, but try to let your co-players know if you’ve got some grand scheme for them to execute in your head so that they can properly prepare. If you don’t tell them, you might lose the opportunity to make a big play and then spend the game scrambling, and it’s a pretty tight game.
- Covering parts of cards isn’t usually a bad idea. It helps you get rid of pesky roads and often it covers things that might give you negative points as part of your Scoring Conditions. Obviously, taking negative points from those cards is literally the opposite of what you want, so it’s not good. Don’t do that. Ever. At all. If you can avoid it.
- Don’t get ahead of yourself in solo mode. If you’re playing solo, there’s a real temptation to play quickly, which can cause you to out-think yourself. Be careful and intentional and mindful when you’re placing, otherwise you’ll likely unintentionally block plans that you made turns earlier. I find that this is an interesting problem in Habitats, too, as you’re often trying to plan ahead but not necessarily keeping track of plans you’ve already made. Just try and avoid a self-inflicted disaster.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The cooperative aspect / expanded player count is a plus. Hey, now you can play with 1 – 4 people! That’s a boon, for sure. I also appreciate the cooperative play and that the rules for sharing information are pretty clear. You can do everything and say anything except show your card, which is pretty easy for all players to understand and work with. Overall, there are some nice design choices made here, and I appreciate them.
- The art is fun. I like city-building games a lot, and this is no exception, art-wise. It’s got a fun whimsicality to it, which I appreciate.
- The roads are an interesting twist on the Circle the Wagons style. It’s not exactly the same game as Circle the Wagons
- More portable than Circle the Wagons. Since you’re not setting the cards in a circle, it makes it a bit easier to play on the go. I still cannot and certainly would not overwhelmingly recommend playing it on an airplane, because, well, turbulence, but I think there are more places you can play this than its predecessor.
- Very easy to learn. All you really need to know are the placement rules and you’re good to go.
- Plays super quickly. It’s over and done with in 15 minutes, usually, tops, which is pretty nice. Button Shy doesn’t make long games, but they certainly make good ones, which is great.
- Still gotta be careful where you play. If you jostle this in the wrong way, well, you’re going to have a bit of an issue, but thankfully it doesn’t seem terribly difficult to reassemble your city, given that you’re playing cooperatively, so, that’s a plus. Just be careful.
- It can be a bit difficult to keep track of roads when scoring. You really need a scheme or tiny counters or something to keep track of them so you don’t over- or under-count. This is a bit easier in multiplayer games since you can have someone else check your math.
- It’s a bit odd when you get Scoring Categories that either all emphasize the same thing or sort of conflict with each other. In my first game we had two or three cards all dealing with Commercial Blocks, and in my second there was a lot of emphasis on building Residential Blocks while trying to avoid Industrial Blocks, which would have been fine if we hadn’t also drawn a Scoring Category that wanted us to build Industrial Blocks.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, Sprawlopolis is a lot of fun! I’d say I enjoy it just about as much as Circle the Wagons, but for slightly different reasons. Circle the Wagons has a nice sort of competitive aspect to it, even if it can feel fairly solitaire-y, at times. Sprawlopolis fixes that a bit with the cooperative aspects, but I feel like there’s more volatility in the Scoring Conditions than in Circle the Wagons, or at least that the volatility is more of a problem because you want to score all of them so you can win, rather than being okay ceding some of them to your opponent. It’s rare to get to draw a comparison between two games so directly (I think the few game / spiritual successor pairs that I’ve played I’ve almost unilaterally preferred the successor, as in Above and Below / Near and Far and Love Letter / Lost Legacy.), but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with Sprawlopolis; far from it, in fact. They occupy slightly different spaces, sort of like a patch for my one complaint about Charterstone being that I wish it were cooperative. If you find that Circle the Wagons is a lot of fun but you prefer the cooperative games, check out Sprawlopolis! If you’re enjoying Sprawlopolis but really want to grind your opponent into the dirt, Circle the Wagons exists, as well. Plus, they both fit in one wallet, so, I mean, it’s a perfect pairing, yeah? Either way, I think it’s a solid entry and a super-fun, super-fast cooperative game, so I’d definitely recommend checking it out!