Full disclosure: A preview copy of Supertall was provided by Button Shy. 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.
I mean, after Sprawlopolis, I’m back on the wallet game train 100%. So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to check out another Button Shy game, this time Supertall, coming to Kickstarter at the end of June. That said, this is another heavy Kickstarter week, so I’ll probably take a break and return to non-Kickstarters for hot minute, presumably. That said, I look forward to that being wrong.
In Supertall, you’ve been tasked with building skyscrapers for a demanding city, but you’re not alone. You’ll have to compete (and play a bit dirty) if you want to build the tallest building in the land. Will your dreams rise high? Or will that only increase the distance you’ll fall?
So, like most Button Shy games, you’ve got 18 cards:
Shuffle them up. Deal each player one, and then set one in the center, face-down. Put the remaining cards into three equal piles.
Players must now decide where they want to place this card (once they look at it), as it will be part of one of their skyscrapers.
In a three-player game, you have two “slots”; each is considered adjacent to one of the slots of your other player. Imagine an equilateral triangle around the card in the middle, if that helps.
In a two-player game, you have three “slots”; essentially, two adjacent to the center card (like in the three-player game), and one further back behind it. The adjacency rules change a bit, as each skyscraper is adjacent to the one across from it, but the back skyscrapers are adjacent to both of your front two.
Regardless, once you decide, flip the center card face-up and you’re ready to roll!
So, the game is played pretty quickly. You play cards until the piles are run out. Then you score. Let’s talk about how to get there. First, let’s look a bit closer at the cards:
Each card has a name, a Tax Assessment number (the $), and a type (blue Entertainment, grey Business, green Natural, red Residential). On your turn, you must draw a card from one of the piles and do one of the following:
- Play the card. You may play the card to any of your skyscrapers provided the Tax Assessment number is the same as or higher than the current top card of that skyscraper.
- Dump the card. You may place the card face-up on top of the center pile (the City Hall stack). There are no restrictions or limits on how you play cards there.
- Use the card’s ability. If the card has an ability (value 1+), then you may place it on the bottom of any Plan card pile and then use its ability. Note that you cannot place it under a pile that has been depleted, as that’s no longer a pile. This means you cannot use the last card in the game for its ability. Also, you must place the card first, then use its ability. The abilities are as follows, for each value:
- 0: No ability. Sad.
- 1: Move the top card of a skyscraper to an adjacent skyscraper (or plot; you can use this to start a new skyscraper).
- 2: Move the bottom card of a skyscraper to the bottom of an adjacent skyscraper. Note that the skyscraper you take from must have one card (you can’t just … waste this ability).
- 3: Swap the top card of any two skyscrapers. The skyscrapers must still be in an appropriate order.
- 4: Remove the top card of any skyscraper and return it to the bottom of a pile. Similar to the card you used for this ability, you may only return it to the bottom of a pile that has cards in it, currently.
- 5: You may reorder cards in any skyscraper, provided they still follow the rules (in that they’re in increasing order). City Hall can be reordered this way, but there are no restrictions, as usual.
These abilities can apply to City Hall, provided you follow the rules (adjacency and whatnot).
Once the final card is played, the game ends immediately. The player with the tallest skyscraper earns 2 points, and any player that didn’t get another turn immediately gains 1 point.
For scoring, compare your building types based on the card on top of the skyscraper:
- Blue (Entertainment): Score according to the number of other plan types in your skyscraper:
- 0: 5 points
- 1: 0 points
- 2: 3 points
- 3: 8 points
- Grey (Business): Score 1 point for each Business card in your skyscraper (including this one) and 3 points for each Entertainment card. Lose 1 point for each adjacent skyscraper with Green (Natural) on top.
- Green (Natural): 3 points for each pair of matching numbers in the skyscraper; 7 points for each triple of matching numbers. They don’t need to match the top number, but, each number can only be part of one set. Also, gain one bonus point for each adjacent skyscraper with Red (Residential) on top.
- Red (Residential): 2 points per card in the skyscraper. Super easy. You also lose 2 points for each adjacent skyscraper with Grey (Business) on top. I guess they don’t like a short commute?
Oh, one more thing! The City Hall, remember that card on top? All skyscrapers with that type of card on top are worth 0 points. It’s a zoning issue, I’m told. They still count for adjacency penalties for other buildings, though.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is that the gameplay is fairly aggressive, so it requires careful balancing at three. If you gang up on one player, well, that’s not going to go well for them, obviously, but if you’re not careful it might not go well for you, either. In the two-player game, well, you can get caught in loops where you’re fighting your opponent with two cards that kind of do the same thing. Personally, I find balancing games to be a bit hard to play, so I’d probably be hitting this more at two players.
- Uh, maybe don’t top your skyscraper with a Residential? They seem to be the most common building type, which means they have a solid chance to be the top card of that City Hall pile just by pure probability. Plus, since that 0 card is a Residential type, it will more often than not get discarded to the center, as it’s, well, worthless otherwise.
- That said, you may want to make Entertainment the worthless category. A lot of players (especially in three player games) try to make a one-card skyscraper that’s just Entertainment; that’s a free five points. It’s difficult to block that beyond just crushing it with City Hall.
- The game is aggressive; you’ll have to be as well if you want to win. Look at what your opponent is building and figure out exactly how to break it. Maybe swap their top with an Entertainment, so that it’s worth zero? Maybe you need to add a Business / Residential 5 on their lowest level so that it’s nigh impossible for them to build any higher. The sky’s the limit, I suppose. It’s also very nice of you to rearrange their buildings to force the zeroed-out type to be their skyscraper topper. So kind.
- It’s rare to get Natural to work out. You have to manage to get a bunch of numbers sequenced without your opponent(s) noticing and sabotaging it. You’re best off doing this in the last turn. Like I said, you’re going to need to be sneaky if you want to pull this off.
- Making a full tower of Entertainment isn’t a bad idea either. Since you don’t have other colors, it does technically work out, and if you end up having to put something else on top (especially if that “something else” is Business or Residential), then you’re set.
- If you see your opponent setting up, even if you can’t hurt them directly, you might be able to get them on adjacency. Set up your Natural skyscrapers by their Business and your Business by their Residential! Just make sure you don’t end up sabotaging yourself. That would be … embarrassing. Especially if they end up zeroing out one of your buildings.
- Count cards. You do not want to be in a position where you’re forced to play the final card of the game such that it ruins one of your skyscrapers. Try to remember what you’ve seen and what’s getting cycled. The worst play is a player forced to discard a card to City Hall that ends up zeroing out one (or both!) of their buildings.
- Don’t run out individual stacks too quickly. If you do, the game can become vaguely deterministic. Remember that you cannot replace cards in a stack that’s been depleted, so if you deplete all stacks but one then you have no drawing options between turns. Eventually, you’ll be down to one stack, but try to keep your options open unless you’re trying to force someone to draw something you know they won’t want.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. Skyscrapers are a super cool concept, and stacking the cards to make them grow ever higher is a really nice implementation of the theme, which I appreciate.
- It’s very strategic. You have to be tactical, yes, but it’s a very thinky brand of cutthroat, which will definitely appeal to some, myself included. There are also a variety of strategies that can lead to success (especially given the two player counts), so that’s also a nice avenue for players.
- The art is quite nice. It’s whimsical, pleasant, and overall, just nice to look at. Button Shy has always been good in this regard, though.
- Very portable. Naturally, as one would expect from a Button Shy game, but I always appreciate it so I’ll basically always note it in a review. I keep Sprawlopolis on me at all times, essentially.
- The multiple draw piles as a resource is clever. I appreciate that you need to think strategically about which piles to exhaust in order to try and force your opponent to draw cards. If you’ve got the chops for a solid memory game, you can really execute some good plays.
- One of the more rules-dense Button Shy games I’ve played. There’s just a fair bit going on with abilities and when and how cards get played places. It takes a bit longer to explain than other ones I’ve played.
- Like I said, games that require careful balancing of all players haven’t traditionally worked out well, for me. Trieste (and even VAST, to some degree) has this issue: all players need to be fairly experienced in order to keep each other in check. Thankfully, this lacks the asymmetry of my other two examples (which is why it’s a Meh rather than a Con), but it’s still something that I find difficult about the game.
- Bit too cutthroat for me, personally. It’s just a very aggressive game, at times. That’s not terrible, especially given how short it is, but I usually don’t jump at the chance to like, take-that against another player, if I can avoid it. Then again, it’s usually fine at two players, since I feel like the aggression is better balanced and there’s less of a threat of dog-piling. Ultimately, it’ll come down to your tolerance for take-that.
- The looping at two players can be kind of annoying. If you’ve got the wrong pile setup, you can essentially hit a point where two players just play the same effects on each other over and over (with no consequences, as there’s always a card in the pile so they can use the ability of the card they drew). This happens mostly with swapping cards, which can be frustrating. Eventually someone just has to commit to breaking the loop.
Overall: 6.5 / 10
Overall, Supertall is pretty fun! Like I said, I’m not normally a big fan of take-that in games with more than two players, as the uneven application of take-that can be frustrating at best and maddening at worst. If you like that sort of thing, just be mindful to balance your aggression, lest you dogpile on one player. The saving grace for that is that the game is relatively short, so even that isn’t that big of a deal, per se. The looping thing (two players getting caught up in a near-endless cycle of just swapping the same cards) is a weird quirk that happened in one game, but it was a bit frustrating so it ended up in Cons. That said, if you’re a fan of this type of game, it’s a solid wallet implementation of it. It’s a quick builder with good takedowns and a lot of varied strategy. Even now, the more I play it, the more I see new avenues that I hadn’t considered, and I think that’s very compelling. Don’t take my general distaste for take-that as a critique of this game specifically; rather, use that to contextualize my rating for it while still seeing a number of positive things about it. For fans of the genre who are looking for something a bit more portable or for players who can handle take-that in small doses, Supertall might be a game worth checking out!