Base price: $50 for the Standard Edition.
1 – 6 players.
Play time: 45 – 60 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 4
I’d actually been meaning to get to this for a few years, and then life happened, but this was one of the last games I Kickstarted during my “Eric buys a lot of games on Kickstarter” phase of my life. I miss that phase. But now I need to save up for other things, I guess. Or LEGO sets. Who’s to say? Regardless, I was very intrigued by this one and despite it being extremely physically heavy, it’s moved houses with me and such. Delightful. I’m not really sure where this paragraph is going, so rather than going fully off the rails, I’m just going to get into the Sorcerer City review.
In Sorcerer City, the city may not be alive, but it’s always moving! Thanks to magic, you really can just reorganize town however you need. As up-and-coming wizard architects (and, I assume, urban planners), you’re vying to prove yourself by reorganizing your district and trying to acquire resources. There might also be monsters? You’re pretty sure you can deal with the monsters, but the city needs to be made and re-made fast if you want to score any points! Over five rounds, you’ll have two minutes to flip tiles from your deck and place them in your city. Thankfully, there are no restrictions, but you’ll be rewarded if you can complete goals (having similar tiles in a straight line, making groups of similar tiles, or placing tiles near other goal tiles). At the conclusion of the round, you score your resources and turn the Raw Magic resource into any other resource you want! Do that to gain Influence, money to buy more tiles, and Prestige as you try to make a name for yourself in wizard architecture. After five years, the player with the most Prestige wins! Do you have what it takes?
Player Count Differences
The main challenge with more players is that you’re going to run out of table space at some point. The cities get weird, as they’re built, since they can just kind of shoot off in whatever direction you want or need at basically any time. This is exacerbated, to some degree, by the “tiles in a straight line” goals, which end to incentivize players building oddly-shaped long cities. With two, that’s fine; you can make that work on a fair number of tables. With six, you better have a lot of available space. Nobody has time to move their entire city. There’s also some challenge around things like Influence and Raw Magic, but those are a bit less specific than just finding a place where six people can reasonably play Sorcerer City at the same time. At two or three players, you can also opt to just use the same L1 and L2 Monsters twice, rather than using a new monster every round, which is nice. I also really like the accommodation that Sorcerer City makes at two; each round, players try to get the most Influence for a bonus. At two players, it would not be very interesting, since you’d always get first or second. To address that, the game adds a third player who plays one of three possible Influence Value cards each round (the three possible values are printed on the back of each of the five year cards). This means that if you’re not careful, you might get stuck with third place, which I like a lot. As a result, I tend to prefer Sorcerer City at lower player counts. I enjoy the flexibility it offers, and the game can actually fit on my dining room table.
- I generally recommend going for money first; if you do, you can afford better tiles early, which can be a blessing. Getting higher-quality tiles as quickly as possible is a really strong way to drive some early specialization, especially if you can get some Raw Magic goal tiles in there. The more Raw Magic you have, the more effectively you can impose on other players (since you can effectively boost any resource at your discretion, including Influence, letting you edge players out of the yearly Influence goals). I find that players who aren’t buying additional goal tiles are going to have trouble scaling over the long-term of the game. Your starter tiles do not make you rich, resource-wise.
- Don’t be afraid to get tiles destroyed; it might actually be helpful. Losing a few starter tiles can be a blessing. They’re not bad, but they might not be the most useful, since many of them lack goals of their own. Plus, sometimes the tile you get destroyed can be another monster tile, which can really bail you out of a bind in later rounds. I usually try to keep the Dragon around until the end of the game, if I can, just because destroying other tiles can be pretty handy. Just hope you don’t get unlucky and draw your best tile first and then the Dragon. That would be a bummer.
- Raw Magic can be extremely useful, too; make sure you get enough to get a difference. Granted, if you end up getting 60 Raw Magic (as I’ve done a few times), that’s usually too much, but having some allows you to transmute it into other resources, as I mentioned. It’s pretty handy to be able to do that, since even the threat of doing so might cause another player to back off, letting you instead transmute it to even more points via Prestige.
- Also keep an eye on the Influence rewards; they’re not always worth it. They’re context-dependent. It’s not worth spending all your Raw Magic if the reward is “Kill 2 Monsters” and you don’t have any Monsters left in your district, for instance. Similarly, I avoided getting an Influence reward that made me give a tile from the Market to my opponent. Sure, I got either money or Prestige equal to its cost, but they got a free tile! That early in the game? I don’t want that.
- There are plenty of tiles that let you gain certain special effects; keep them in mind and figure out how they slot into your strategy. These Spells can be used to move tiles around, use some of your Raw Magic (without spending all of it), or even discount or gain tiles in the Market. Keep an eye out for them when you’re buying; they can really pay off if you can get them and use them at the right time.
- Don’t undervalue the rainbow tiles! Not only are they very fun to look at, but they also match any tile, which can be a great way to bail yourself out mid-play if you need something to really effectively connect a bunch of different goals. There are even some Rainbow Goals in the market, somewhere…
- If you’re going big on money, you’ll probably need at least 4 Buys to use it all effectively. Generally, the highest-cost tile is about 15 money, and you cap out at 60, so, bit of math. You can probably make 3 Buys work (you start with 2 and gain an extra if you pass 20 money) if you have around 30 or 45, but if you’re going for 60, you should find a tile that gives you an extra Buy.
- You should plan ahead, to some degree, on how you’ll deal with Monsters when they come up. The Monsters all have their own effects, so I won’t be able to explain them all, here, but they target different features of your District and can recycle tiles back into your deck, destroy tiles and remove them from the game, or change the configuration of your city in ways that you weren’t anticipating. It might be worth thinking holistically about the tiles in your deck. If that fails, use a tile ability or Influence Reward that lets you play tiles directly from your deck before the round starts.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I think the two-player variant is a nice and subtle way to simulate a third player for gameplay effects without things getting too annoying. Generally speaking, it’s hard to have a dummy player in a real-time game. Not saying it hasn’t happened (it almost certainly has; there are so many board games), but it is difficult to implement. Dummy players are also … divisive. Here, Sorcerer City just has a single card flip at the pivotal time that a dummy player would matter, which helps give players some incentive to actually try for Influence in a two-player game. I like that a lot! It’s a very smart and easy implementation.
- I really like the monster effects! They make every game feel very different. I just like how much they shake up play by moving things around, discarding tiles, trashing tiles, or forcing you to play tiles in ways you don’t particularly want to. It’s a nice wrinkle to throw into a real-time game, even if it is a bit hard to always remember what the monsters do. That can be challenging for new players, especially with four distinct monsters. But they definitely make the game frenetic in a good way, too!
- Real-time tile-laying deckbuilding is just a very fun combination of elements; I feel like the game really pops every time I play. It’s just so many things happening at the same time. Don’t get me wrong; I generally trust Scott Caputo with a tile-laying game, and adding real-time and deckbuilding elements to the game really make it sing when it’s at its best. Real-time games tend to be one of my favorite genres, though; I just find them to be energetic and hectic in ways that I love.
- I also appreciate giving the player who scored the least Prestige a free tile; it can really make a difference! It’s a nice catch-up mechanism that’s not necessarily guaranteed to be a huge success. But it’s also nice, since they get a new tile from the next Vendor deck every round, so a player might be able to turn that into something pretty useful.
- The Prestige tokens in the Deluxe Edition are delightful. They’re essentially interlocking circles with some cool triangle effects to them. They’re lovely. They also have tokens to track resources that are the resources themselves, rather than just little black columns. It’s not, like, a reason to get the Deluxe Edition on its face (unless you’re really into that stuff), but I do like the nice trappings of a Deluxe Edition.
- I love the box art (and the box color); it’s a great-looking game. The pink / magenta really pops, and the cover looks really good. I love the art work that was done on this game.
- The insert does a nice job of organizing the game; everything fits quite well. GameTrayz does it again. It can be a bit of a challenge to get the plastic over the tiles (and I have no idea if this is in the Standard Edition as well), but I appreciate that there are wells for all the various tile types. It really speeds up setup when everything is in a distinct zone.
- For as physically heavy as the game is, it’s not too tough to teach. You’re mostly just going to need to show how scoring works and explain the four different resource types. I figured it was easiest to just explain the monsters as they become relevant, and that’s largely proven to be the case.
- The game also plays at a good pace! The real-time elements keep it moving. It’s five rounds, so, it will take about an hour, but there’s not a lot of downtime where nobody’s doing anything. It’s a fast-paced game; it’s just also a strategic one.
- This is a humorous but common problem for the teacher, but players always have questions during the real-time building phase. I always feel bad being like do not talk to me right now, but it’s hard to focus on questions from folks when you’re also trying to build your city on a two-minute timer. And new players, bless them, always have questions. It’s perfectly reasonable! There’s just not a lot that can be done about it, specifically, in the moment.
- It can be a bit annoying if you can successfully hit the 60-resource limit; it feels like an artificial ceiling, at times, and sometimes you just want to know how high you can go. I think the challenge here is that it feels like you’re getting a bit stomped at the apex of your ability, which doesn’t feel great. It also presents a problem when chasing the leader. If every player is hitting the 60 cap, then, essentially, the round is stagnating. Nobody’s relative score is changing, which can make catching up to the player in the lead essentially impossible, which doesn’t feel great. I imagine that this is partially instituted to prevent a leader from running away with the game, but it has its own consequences.
- It’s not the worst thing in the world, but having the set-specific icon on the back of the tiles does allow players to shuffle their tiles until something that isn’t a starter tile is on top, which may be beneficial. I usually just ask players not to do that, but it’s also hard to avoid since the icons are unique based on what type of tile it is. The reason this is a Meh is because there are often enough tiles in a set that you can’t use this to filter a specific tile (for instance, sometimes it’s better to have a certain monster after some tiles have been placed, rather than right at the start), but it still can be used to infer some information about the tile, which I wish weren’t possible.
- I think I would have preferred if the tiles themselves were less saturated, so that it was easier to see the city below the colors? The art is lovely, but the tiles end up looking kind of like color blobs, which takes away from the aesthetic of the game, since you can barely see the city underneath. I wish it were a bit more of that and a bit less of the intense bold colors. It makes it much easier to see which resource type the tile helps with, but it ends up making the game look a touch generic while it’s being played.
- The fifth round ends rather unceremoniously, which can be kind of frustrating, since money is essentially pointless in the last round. There’s no real “end” to the game in terms of having a grand finale of some kind. You just kind of trail off, and then whoever has the most points wins the game, I suppose. It’s a little frustrating in that when you finish the game, you can’t do anything with the money that you have. I’d have liked to be able to turn that into some kind of Prestige since I usually end up with some leftover money.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Sorcerer City is a fantastic game with a couple things that I don’t quite love. I’d be interested to see if a second edition or something addresses some of them, but, who knows. I think, to some degree, I was a bit unimpressed by the tiles themselves (as opposed to the impeccable box art); they’re almost too saturated, to the point that I don’t really see myself building a city as much as I see myself just connecting color shapes. I’d love to see something a bit closer to the classic Carcassonne in terms of being able to see the city itself on the tiles and get a bit more involved with the theme. I’m also a bit confused by the end of the game; it just … ends, which makes getting money in the final round feel a bit pointless? I also find myself frequently bumping against the resource limit ceiling, which makes it hard to feel invested in building the best city (and makes it hard to catch an early leader if we’re all hitting the resource ceiling). These are frustrating, granted, but I also just really enjoy the game. It’s a super fun mix of deckbuilding, tile-laying, and real-time, making players just deal with an absolutely hectic and frenetic mix of all of them in a way that I haven’t seen since Millennium Blades. I love real-time deckbuilding! It’s so stressful! Having to deal with goals, challenges, and monsters on top of that is almost comical, to some degree. It’s just an absolute blast. The monsters in particular can shake the game up quite a bit, and I really love how many monsters there are in the game! Always something new to try and work around. In terms of weight, I think it lands nicely in the “strategy” game space, as while it is physically heavy, once you learn the game it’s mostly just matching up colors and hoping for the best as you build a strategy. But I enjoy the ambition of Sorcerer City, and would love to see more games playing around in this space. If you’re looking for a colorful and engaging strategy game, you enjoy some real-time tile-laying, or you just want to see a Dragon annihilate a Kraken that’s invaded your city, you should try out Sorcerer City! I’ve had a lot of fun with it.
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