Full disclosure: A review copy of Warsaw: City of Ruins was provided by North Star Games.
Yeah, it’s November, and I’m still chipping away at the stack of Gen Con games that I’ve gotten in to review, which is kind of wild. Remind me not to go as hard in the paint next year (or, I suppose, to maybe try a more staggered review schedule). Four reviews a week for … several months is a lot; I was only doing two a week in May. Anyways, that’s not related to the current game, so let’s talk about Warsaw: City of Ruins, from North Star Games, who also published Most Wanted (and Evolution: CLIMATE, one of my house’s favorite games).
In Warsaw, you’ve heard it called the City of Ruins, as the city has risen and fallen and risen again for decades (if not centuries). During each of these epochs, you’ll play a group in charge of building up a district of town to try and make it as good as it can possibly be, with parks, residential areas, commercial districts, public buildings, public transit, and even factories. However, the shadow of war looms long over Warsaw, and even your best efforts can’t stop that. Will you be able to build (and re-build) the many districts of the City of Ruins?
Setup isn’t too bad. Set out the board:
And place a mermaid token for each player on the 0 space:
Warsaw has a whole history of mermaids; it’s very interesting to read about. Anyways, give each player 6 money:
Shuffle the 5 milestone tiles (shuffling meaning “randomize which side is up” rather than “randomize what order they come in”, which is its normal meaning) and place them on their respective spaces on the bottom of the board:
Separate the remaining tiles into their six epochs, shuffle each, and place each stack of tiles on its epoch space on the board:
Give each player a Starter Tile, as well:
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
So Warsaw: City of Ruins is a drafting game, meaning that every “turn” all players will simultaneously add a tile from their hands to their burgeoning district following some construction rules I’ll outline later. Once everyone has played (or discarded) four tiles, the round will end and each player will receive income and then score their district. The game ends after six epochs, and the player with the most points wins the game. Each epoch begins the same way: deal four tiles to each player. At lower player counts, you’ll not use all of the tiles, so you can return the rest to the box once you’ve finished the initial deal.
First, the Construction Phase. Like I said, every player chooses one of the four tiles and adds it to their city (or discards it). All players reveal their chosen tile simultaneously, and then players either discard or add the tile. If you choose to add the tile, pay its cost (in the upper-left corner of the tile). If you can’t pay the cost, then you must discard the tile and gain 3 money. There are a few rules around building:
- Everyone builds simultaneously.
- A tile must be placed on top of or orthogonally adjacent to another tile. If you place it on top of another tile, you reduce the tile’s cost by the cost of the tile it’s covering, to a minimum of 0. If your tile is less expensive than the tile it covers, you don’t get a rebate or something. Any tile being built on top of another tile is referred to as an overbuilt tile. Some game effects target overbuilt tiles explicitly (not many).
- Your district cannot be larger than 4×3 / 3×4. There’s one tile that lets you go up to 4×4, but, beyond that, no.
- As you might guess, you cannot rotate / change the position of tiles you’ve placed after you place them. I think the only game that does that is Castles of Caladale.
Once players have built their tile or discarded it, they pass the stack of tiles to the player on their left in odd-numbered epochs and to their right in even-numbered epochs. After four tiles have been played or discarded by each player, move on to the income phase of the epoch.
The income phase has many steps, which should be taken in order:
- War. After Epochs III and IV, World Wars I and II happen, respectively. This means that you must discard one tile from your city after Epoch III and two tiles from your city after Epoch IV. If you choose to discard a stack of tiles, all tiles in that stack are removed. As you might guess, you cannot discard a tile that would cause your district to be split into two or more distinct segments; it must remain connected after the discard(s).
- Milestones. Check this epoch’s milestone tile. Whichever player has fulfilled it gets to take it and add it to their city (following normal building rules; it counts as an overbuild if you place it on top of another tile). If there’s a tie, break ties in favor of the player with the least money, then least points, and if you’re still tied discard the milestone; nobody gets it.
- Income. Gain points and coins for different parts of your district:
- Parks. Choose one park and gain points for each distinct residential area adjacent to it:
- 1: 1 point
- 2: 2 points
- 3: 3 points
- 4: 5 points
- 5: 7 points
- 6: 10 points
- 7: 13 points
- 8: 16 points
- 9+: 3 additional points for each after 8.
- Commercial Areas: Gain one coin for each distinct residential area adjacent to each of your Commercial Areas.
- Cultural Areas: Gain the points printed on each area.
- Industrial Areas: Gain the money printed on each area. Also lose 1 point for each distinct residential area adjacent to each of your Industrial Areas. Nobody wants to live next to a factory; you should have learned that from Between Two Cities.
- Transport Icons: Each tile (or set of adjacent tiles) with a transport icon will give you two points, as long as you have at least two distinct sets of tiles with transport icons that aren’t connected. Basically all adjacent tiles with a transport icon count as the same tile.
- Milestone Buildings: Gain their printed effects.
- Public Buildings: Gain their printed effects, also.
- Parks. Choose one park and gain points for each distinct residential area adjacent to it:
That’s about it! Play continues until the sixth epoch ends, then do one last income phase. After that, give each player 1VP for every 5 money they still have, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not really that many; you’ll see more of the same tiles at lower player counts, but the game might take a bit longer since there are often more tiles for players to consider (since they never see any repeats). There generally will be a bit more competition for the milestones, so you should probably plan ahead, for that.
No preference on player count.
- Don’t get rid of the Prudential Building. It gives you an extra three tiles and counts as a Public Building. That’s usually pretty good. Plus, if you get rid of it and you’ve got a 4×4, you have to discard tiles until you’re back at 3×4 / 4×3. That’s probably not what you want.
- Transportation Areas seem pretty useful. If you play them correctly, you should be able to fit 6 in your District, which is 12 points each Epoch (20 if you can get the City Center tile). That’s pretty helpful, especially if you’re recovering from a points deficit early in the game. I saw someone gain ~40 points in the final Epoch, out of the 79 that they ended up scoring, so don’t worry a ton about your first Epochs; focus on planning. Just make sure you don’t play two of these adjacent to each other; that’s … bad.
- As the game progresses, I kind of shift from Commercial to Industrial Areas. The only problem with this is that since Residential Areas tend to be near Commercial Areas, I have to be very careful doing this lest I set myself up to lose a ton of points and embarrass myself. That’s obviously not ideal, so I try to avoid it if I can.
- Watch your cash flow. And your opponents’, too. You’ll need to discard reasonably frequently (usually ~1 time per Epoch). Make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure by running out of money too quickly. In the same breath, try to keep an eye on how much money your opponents have. It’s always fun (albeit kind of hateful) to pass them tiles you know they can’t afford, and it’s even better if that tile comes back around to you (or if they have to discard it and can’t build anything).
- Make sure you understand what the tiles do. Fountain Park gives you points for each tile in your largest single park area; National Mall gives you points for each distinct Park Area you have. Those are very different, but their icons make them seem a bit similar. I note this because other players have made mistakes in the past. Don’t play a tile if you don’t understand its effect fully, and better yet, just check the tile’s effect in the rulebook before you play it, just in case it surprises you. Plus, all the explanations come with a bit of history and flavor text, so, it’s also educational?
- I’m not totally convinced Parks are worth it in the end game. They get you a lot of points, sure, but they also take up a lot of space. Maybe if you have the other tiles for it? Hard to say. I haven’t seen anyone make it through a game with that strategy successfully, though.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Really thoughtful theme. It’s actually super cool; I love the attention to detail, the thought put into each building’s history, and the effect in the rulebook to explain the context of each of the constructions. I’d love to see a like, Famous Cities series that takes this kind of approach to other cities throughout the years. The core game is pretty fun anyways, but I imagine you could put different spins on it and kind of have a Ticket to Ride-style thing going for a bunch of cities around the world. Plus, it’d be a nice way to add a bit of an educational context to a board game that’s pretty solid.
- The component quality is really good. The tiles are nice, the coins are solid, the board is good; everything was very well-made.
- The art is great, as well. It’s a neat mix of design and like, stylized painting of different famous parts of Warsaw. Also the tiles modernize as you move through the Epochs. I’m quite a fan of the art, honestly.
- Doesn’t overstay its welcome. The game is almost exactly as long as I’d like it to be. It’s got a decent bit of weight, but it does what it’s here to do and then it’s over, which I appreciate. It’s a decent lunch-and-some-extra-time game if you’ve got a long (hourish) lunch.
- Definitely replayable (especially at lower player counts). At lower player counts, you don’t see every tile in a given game, and some of them can really change up how you play (by giving you a 4×4 District or extra points for Transportation Areas or Parks or what have you). Gameplay-wise, it’s solid at all player counts, but I will say it’s nice to have some tiles not present in the game. Makes things a bit more interesting.
- Not that complicated. The tile effects are a bit complex, but the overarching gameplay is not, which I appreciate. Makes it easy to get the game to the table and get it played.
- Three player aids for a four-player game is kind of odd. I guess two people just share, but it’s a bit strange.
- I think the new thing I dislike in games is when coins are all the same size. I understand it’s cheaper to make but it does make it challenging to tell when other players have different denominations of money (and how much you have, at a glance). I don’t like, hate it, but I definitely would prefer to have different sizes, if possible.
- I think the box bottom needs to be a smidge deeper. As it stands, the box doesn’t quite close all the way, which is a bummer. The coins flop out into the box and it’s a mess.
- I’m not convinced the Milestones add that much variety to the game. It’s different, but I don’t think I change up my strategies that much given the milestones. I may alter my tactics to try and swing one if I’m close to it, but my overarching strategy remains the same.
- The iconography can be a bit confusing. That’s the breaks with icon-heavy games; less reading, but more initial overhead to learn the game. I generally have a problem with them because I play so many new games all the time that I kind of just need games to be quick learns and icon games … generally aren’t? It’s not the worst thing, just mildly annoying.
- I don’t really think I “get” overbuilding. I mean, I get how it works practically, but I don’t see that much utility in the game for doing it with any regularity, and it’s pretty tough to do towards the end of the game, as the tiles drastically increase in cost. I generally just tell people … not to worry about it too much. It doesn’t seem nearly as useful as Transportation Areas, for instance, but it’s referenced by a few tiles. EDITOR’S NOTE: So, with this specific one, it’s less that I didn’t “get” overbuilding as much as it was that my definition of it was too narrow. Any tile built on top of another is an overbuild, not just a cheap one on top of a more expensive one. It would be helpful if the rulebook made that more clear, given that I (and others) made that mistake when we played. It happens, sometimes, and I apologize for the mistake.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I quite like Warsaw: City of Ruins! I think part of what I like is the attention to detail put into the design of the game and the choices of buildings; I sometimes appreciate that authenticity in games, though I’ll also lament that there are plenty of games that don’t have the same level of care put into their backgrounds (and it shows). It’s a solid tile-laying drafting game with a cool mechanic, letting you build on top of previous tiles. In a way, it’s reminiscent of a heavier, competitive Sprawlopolis, since there are a variety of different goals at the end of an Epoch. The drafting, well, I don’t think I really feel anything about drafting as a mechanic; it’s good, but not my favorite, and I think Warsaw does fine with it. I think what I like best about Warsaw is what I mentioned earlier, and that’s that it feels possible to make this into a series of games focusing on cities with rich histories and making variable types of games for each one. If it was done with the same level of care and detail as Warsaw, I’d definitely be down to try it. Either way, if you’re looking for a solid game of tile-laying and city construction, I’d recommend giving Warsaw: City of Ruins a shot!