Alright, I’ve been meaning to do this for forever and keep getting swamped, so, dammit, I’m doing it now. I’ve been on a huge roll-and-write kick for the better part of a few years, so, naturally, a graffiti-themed roll-and-write definitely piqued my interest, especially coming from the designer of Movable Type, another game I quite enjoyed (review’s in my buffer; it’ll get published eventually). Let’s talk more about it and see what I think.
In Tag City, well, you’re taggers, going around and graffitiing everything that isn’t nailed down (and many things that are). You want to paint the town red, black, green, blue, and otherwise, but there are only so many places you can place your various tags without needing help from your trusty drone. Will you be able to make your mark on the city and become the most famous tagger in town?
Not really much in the way of setup. Give every player a player board and some markers:
I always take the one with Graffiti Cat. Set the main board in the center:
It’s double-sided: A or B. Flip the Player Boards to the matching side. If you’re playing on A, place the matching tokens on the spaces; if you’re playing B, you can randomly assign them:
You won’t use all the tokens either way. Give the start player the starting player token:
And X dice, where X is the number of players, plus one:
You’re all ready to start!
Tag City is a Tetris-esque dice drafting game, where each round you’ll add shapes to your player board corresponding on whatever die you take from the main board. As you fill out rows, columns, and regions, you’ll score bonuses, but you also may have to rely on drones or pass to get through the game. Either way, the player with the most points at the end of the game wins!
To start a round, have the Start Player for that round roll the dice. They can then assign them to any of the shapes on the board, provided that shape is adjacent to that die’s value on the board. Basically, this means that any die can be assigned to one of two shapes, maximum. Once this assignment has been made, the player to the left of the start player chooses a die and adds the corresponding shape to their board. Though I said the game was Tetris-esque, you do not have to follow gravity or anything weird; you can add it wherever you like (it doesn’t even have to be adjacent to other pieces!). Once you’ve done that, the next player goes, and so on. For the last die, all players add that piece simultaneously.
If, on any of your turns, you complete a row, column, or region, announce to all players which you completed. If you were the first to do so, circle the large number; you get that many points. Otherwise, you get the smaller number, no matter how many other player beat you to it.
If you don’t like the die you’ve been assigned, you have two options:
- Use a Drone: You can call a drone in to do the tagging for you, but it’s cooler if you do it yourself. The Drone lets you use any of the shapes on the board, including the three in the center. Those can only be used via a Drone action. When you take a Drone action, circle the leftmost Drone Penalty Space. You’ll lose that many points at the end of the game. Note that it’s cumulative; your first Drone costs you 2, then 3 more, and so on.
- Browse Social Networks: The kids these days are always texting, and you can be just like them. You can just pass and, for a one point penalty, circle one of the Social Network icons off on your player board. All other players should cross off the corresponding icon; nobody else can check that network for the rest of the game.
Play continues until one of three circumstances occurs:
- Someone has used all of their Drone spaces.
- All Social Networks have been used.
- All column, row, and region bonuses have been claimed. This means that one player has gotten the “first” bonus for each of those, not that every player has finished their board.
Tally up scores; the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not really any, to be honest; the drafting doesn’t change much, the scoring doesn’t change much. Scoring will, by courtesy, likely be a bit lower, because players will diverge and take different areas of the board, thereby spreading around the bonuses a bit more, but beyond that no change.
I’d happily play this at any player count.
- I mean, I generally go for blue first. It’s the biggest region, it’s a whole corner, and it’s my favorite color out of the available options. This is generally fine unless someone else is doing it. I generally then fill out the bottom rows; if I’ve done my job right, other players know that they can’t outpace me in them so they go for columns or the top rows instead.
- Try to take 5-tile pieces when you can. Don’t mess yourself up over it, but generally speaking, they’re 25% more piece than 4-tile pieces. You can get more coverage and outpace your opponents if they’re going for the same region as you are. This also means if you have the option of choosing a 4-tile piece or a 5-tile piece as the last player, take the 5-tile first; it’ll leave the other players with a 4-tile piece, so you get a one-square advantage over them.
- Don’t mess yourself up. If you leave certain spots such that only one piece can go there, then you risk other players never making those pieces available to you or having to take a drone to get those pieces. Worse yet, if you completely lock yourself out of a spot (there are no 1×1 pieces), you cannot get that row, column, or region bonus.
- Keep an eye on other players’ boards. Especially if you’re about to take the simultaneous action, maybe go for something that completes a bonus rather than something that doesn’t immediately score points? You can go for the other thing on a later turn; you might miss the opportunity to get the larger bonus now if you don’t go for it.
- Drones aren’t the worst thing to use. Just make sure you’re not overusing them and either ending the game preemptively or losing a ton of points relative to other players. If you are taking a die to drone, though, you might as well hate-draft since you don’t get to use it anyways.
- Don’t give your opponents what they need. If they’ve left a spot on their board that can be filled up by only one piece, never let them have it. Make them put it out themselves, on their turn. And then take it. Hate-drafting is a reasonably-important part of this game, if you can make it work.
- I almost never use social networks. It’s a strict -1 point; you can usually make more than that back with a clever drone usage, in my opinion.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I love the theme. It has a similar feel to Splatoon in that “urban youth culture” sort of vibe. It really does not come up in games as much as it should, and I really appreciate it whenever it does. We could use a lot more of these underutilized themes.
- Quick to learn. The hardest thing to learn is how the dice placement works; it might have helped to have some sort of venn diagram-looking thing on the board so that players see the die can be assigned to either of the adjacent pieces. New players struggle with that a lot.
- Plays pretty quickly, too. As long as you can avoid the pit of analysis paralysis, you’re fine.
- The advanced version is a lot of fun. I appreciate the addition of a lot of garbage pieces that don’t tessellate well; it makes the game VERY exciting and deeply infuriating (in a good way) when they show up. Plus the irregular boundaries for the regions make the game really fresh.
- I like the dice drafting a lot. It feels pretty novel, which is nice (dice drafting isn’t particularly new, but the tactile sense of the game and the presentation make it feel pretty fresh); we need more people doing novel stuff in the roll-and-write space, too.
- Feels expandable. I could see a lot of fun with new maps, new events, player / board powers, or new pieces; I’d love to see if it’s possible to build on this concept since I already like it so much.
- The scoring can feel a bit clunky. This is mostly due to the sort of death-by-a-thousand-cuts scoring you’ve got here, where you’ve got a bunch of rows and a bunch of columns that score individually. It’s not quite as tedious as it could be, which is a relief, but it certainly makes you wish there were a faster way to score the board.
- I wish there were a way to make it clearer the drone penalties are cumulative. It might have been better to go -2 | -5 | -9 | -14 | etc, rather than -2 | -3 and so on, but that’s just been my experience explaining this to new players. They get it once you explain, but it would be nice if the board made the experience more intuitive for them.
- Justice for Graffiti Cat. That precious friend deserves its own player board. Who wouldn’t want to play as solo Graffiti Cat? I’m just throwing that out there; Graffiti cat deserved better.
- Another game that might have analysis paralysis problems. It’s not quite as bad as, say, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, but players may struggle with deciding where to put the dice and further struggle on which dice to select for themselves. Just something to keep an eye on when play happens.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I’m a big fan of Tag City! I love roll-and-writes, generally speaking, yes, but Tag City is definitely a superb one. Personally, I think it’s the theme that I enjoy the most; it takes me back to Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 and doing really bad tricks off of various thing around town to tag them for points. Getting to have a graffiti-themed roll-and-write where I do the same all over town is nostalgia-inducing in the best way. Plus, it’s a spatial roll-and-write, which I really enjoy (murmurs something about Cartographers, another one that I think about a lot). I appreciate the basic and advanced games both being available for players to try out (the Advanced Game is wild; would definitely recommend, but once you’ve played a few times), and I’m really just sold on the whole concept. I hope this isn’t the last we see of games in the Tag City line. If you like roll-and-writes and want a game with a really fun spatial component, Tag City is definitely worth checking out!