#985 – Shake That City [Preview]

Base price: $29.
1 – 4 players.
Play time: 20 – 40 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 4

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Shake That City was provided by Alderac Entertainment Group. 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. 

It’s hitting the end of 2022 / start of 2023 Kickstarter season! An exciting time where I have a ton of family and convention commitments but I still manage to wring out a few reviews every week. You can praise me in the comments. But more seriously, it’s always interesting to see what companies are crowdfunding. Are they trying to get ahead of a new trend? Reacting to one? Are they trying to create a new component type or style? Are they pushing the envelope to see what players will engage with? There are, of course, less charitable reasons for running a Kickstarter, but I’m writing this the day after Thanksgiving so I’m trying to be grateful. Our friends at Alderac have just sent Shake That City to Kickstarter. Got a chance to try it at GAMA, and have been able to play it a few more times since then. Let’s see what’s going on!

In Shake That City, players take the city shaker and shake it until some cubes come out. Always exciting. Once that happens, you must build your own city according to the whims of these multi-square little monsters. Will you become an industrialist and give rise to an entire city of Factories? Will you try to be a market capitalist and spread your Businesses all over town? Will you attempt the balanced approach and do a little bit of everything? Only one way to find out, really. The city is yours; what will you make of it?

Contents

Setup

First thing you’re going to want to do is build the shaker. It’s hard to describe in print form without a diagram, so you can find more information here.

Dump all the remaining cubes into the shaker:

Next up, give each player a board. They’re double-sided, so choose a side. For the Beachfront side, make sure players’ boards are oriented the same way.

Each player gets a set of Bonus Tiles, as well:

One player should shuffle their set and place them around their board (three on the West and three on the North), and each other player should follow suit along the North and West sides of their boards, matching the exact configuration of Bonus Tiles. Set the other tiles nearby:

Set the Round Tracker up, with the yellow disc on 1 for the first round:

Place the reference boards nearby; you should be all ready to start!

Gameplay

Shake That City is all about city-building! A game takes place over 15 rounds as players try to place tiles on their boards to fulfill the tiles’ scoring conditions and earn points from Bonus Tiles placed around the board. Let’s see how it all works!

To start a round, the Start Player shakes the cube shaker and then pushes the insert in once to deposit nine cubes in a 3×3 square. The square should mirror the players’ board orientation. Once that’s done, the Start Player chooses one color and places tiles on their board matching the exact relative configuration of those color cubes. You cannot rotate or mirror the orientation of the tiles. Only one tile is allowed per space, so if you cannot place all the tiles on your board, you must choose another color. After the Start Player has chosen their color, all other players choose a color at the same time and place tiles matching that color. The other players cannot choose the same color as the Start Player, but they may choose the same color as any other player.

If any player gets four of the tile matching their Bonus Tile’s type in the row indicated by their Bonus Tile (or six of any tile in the other row), they may immediately flip it over for three points. If any player places at least two tiles in their city of each type, they can flip over the tile in the corner of their board for three points.

To end your turn, place all the cubes in the cube shaker again and pass it to the player on the left; they become the new Start Player.

At the start of Round 13, other players may now choose the same color as the Start Player until the end of the game. Continue playing until all 15 rounds have been completed and then tally scores; the player with the most points wins!

Variants

There are a few ways to shake up Shake That City!

Beachfront Board

On the other side of every player board is a Beachfront Board! This one changes some of the rules for tile scoring, but more critically, it only has concrete on the North and West sides! The South / East of the board is beachfront property. Good for Businesses, but Roads only thrive connected to the actual city, not the beach. See how this board changes up your game in the base game and with other variants!

Family Variant

To lower the complexity of the game, try playing without the rules for scoring each tile. Instead, only score the Bonus Tiles around the edge of the board.

Construction Variant

To increase the complexity of the game, add in the Construction Variant tiles! These start along the Northwest to Southeast diagonal of players’ boards and must be removed before the game ends. To remove one, you must have placed tiles matching the configuration of that specific Construction Variant tile. They must be placed orthogonally, not diagonally.

At the end of the game, the player with the most points who removed all four of their Construction Variant tiles wins!

Player Count Differences

There aren’t a ton, in this one. Generally speaking, you’re entire the Start Player and have free choice of all the options, or you’re not, and you have free choice of all the options, save one. The more players, the less frequently you’ll be Start Player, of course. I don’t particularly think this impacts the game, generally; it’s not unfairly taking advantage of you; every player is Start Player less frequently than they would be in a two-player game. When you’re not the Start Player, you still get a pretty good pick of the cubes, since every player gets to choose simultaneously from the remaining options (and multiple players can pick the same option). Beyond that, every player kind of operates independently on their own board until the game ends. As a result, no major player count preference.

Strategy

  • I’d strongly recommend against taking Houses when they’re adjacent to other Houses. You are essentially just scoring 0 for spaces if you do that, which is vaguely unwise? You really want to consistently be hitting 1 – 2 points per tile at minimum, otherwise you’re going to be a ways off from winning. Taking diagonally-adjacent houses and never filling in the orthogonal gaps is probably the best move. Or, at least, the best move if you can maintain that. It’s totally possible that placing the houses may be your only move on a given turn, which would be unfortunate.
  • Getting a good system of Roads in place early can help you place high-scoring Businesses layer. If you have the Roads, you can basically just place Businesses wherever you want along them and not have to worry, since they’re explicitly connected. This is particularly important on the Beachfront Map, where you need to draw a long Road towards the Southeast so that you can connect to Businesses in the gray zone. It helps a bit for Factories, as well, since they score points for being adjacent to Roads and other Factories, so you can build an urban / commercial district in your city to pretty high relative success. Plus, keeping Roads between Factories and Houses is a good move.
  • Keep in mind that you’re slowly going to run out of high-density placement options as the game progresses; leave yourself some flexibility. The board fills up pretty quickly, especially as you take more cubes in a given turn. Keep in mind that the board is 6×6, meaning that if you take two cubes per turn, you’ll only have six empty spaces at the end of the game. You won’t always be able to take three cubes, either, so you may want to plan a bit ahead and then hope you can place a few strategic cubes later, or you might want to focus on building critical infrastructure first and then filling in the adjacencies when you have a few more freer turns.
  • Placing Buildings along the outer edge(s) of the board is pretty clutch. It’s an easy way to get a point if you don’t have a strong infrastructure of Roads, but if you can score a point for something, that usually means that you could potentially be scoring more points for something else. This is more advice if you don’t have anything to do or you have a bunch of outer-edge spaces that you aren’t doing much with.
  • You can try to go after cubes that your opponent needs when you’re Start Player, but, there’s not always going to be much of a point to that. I think it’s mostly just mean, and it doesn’t work at higher player counts at all. Plus, it turns the tone of the game adversarial very quickly, which might hurt you more in the future. Focus on building up what you need, and if by doing so you deprive your opponent(s) of some cubes that they want, then consider it a happy accident.
  • Big groups of Factories aren’t terrible, but they’re even better around Roads. Just keep them away from Houses. If you have a big group of adjacent Factories that are all also adjacent to Roads, they are all worth 2 points each, which is pretty great (1 for the adjacent Factory, and 1 for the adjacent Road). If you place them near Houses, though, they nuke the value of all adjacent Houses, dropping those Houses to 0. Turns out nobody wants to live near an active Factory? So use the Roads as an active buffer (or Parks, if you’re playing on the Landlocked Map).
  • Parks are just generally useful. Parks provide another nice buffer between Houses and Factories and, on the Landlocked Map, they score for being adjacent to both! So that’s a nice way to space them out and still score some points between them. I tend to prioritize Parks the least, but they are a good thing to have on your board both for the Bonus Tile and for plopping down between Factories so you don’t start intruding on Houses.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I find this to be an exceptionally approachable title, which is very nice. I’ve found that I can teach this to someone and they can beat me on the first play, which is pretty impressive. I take that to mean one, that I should pay more attention to games I teach, and two, that it’s pretty easy to pick up a fairly workable strategy from the get-go. It’s really good in that regard! Plus, the rules aren’t too complex, which makes for a pretty quick teach and ramp up.
  • There’s also a nice upward slope of complexity as you move from the Family Variant to the more advanced play. You really can pick a place to start that works for your group and gradually add in more complexity until you get to the Construction Variant (the variant that I feel is the most challenging). There’s room to learn the game, mess around in the space, and start moving up from there. And the ramp isn’t too steep in terms of learning, either! You really only have to learn one thing at a time, so there are a lot of different ways to play.
  • Plays pretty quickly. I think about 10 minutes per player is a reasonable estimate, especially once players get used to pulling cubes and placing tiles. Some of the more complex variants will probably add a bit more thought to the game, but the basic game and the Family Variant you can bust out pretty quickly.
  • Players rarely feel left out during play; you can usually get something you want, and by the time placement becomes more challenging, you have access to the full board again. I think that’s the nice part of the game; you rarely get a “feels bad” moment as a player, since you usually have access to at least two decent options on your turn. Even if the Start Player takes something you want, you can usually take the other thing. Later in the game, the Start Player no longer blocks you from taking cubes, so you have your pick of the board, by then.
  • I enjoy the spatial relationship of the pieces when you’re trying to place them on your board. You can’t rotate or mirror the pieces, which is a pretty intense challenge. Not so hard when you’ve only got one cube to place; potentially nightmarish if you if you have four. The increase in challenge as you get more cubes is half the fun; it makes only going after a single cube a reprieve.
  • In a lot of ways, this reminds me of a less-complex Tiny Towns, and that’s pleasant, as well. I think there’s definitely room for both in a collection! I like this one because it’s more approachable for new players and punishes mistakes less than its older sibling. Tiny Towns has a similar vibe, but it’s got a lot more strategy to the cubes you pick and how you place them and a lot more complexity in buildings and special buildings and fancy building options.
  • The actual shaker is a lot of fun, even if it takes a couple tries to get dispensing the cubes down. I’m much better at it than it sounds, but it’s something you might need to try out before the game starts. That said, it’s fun to play with, so, that’s still fine. I’m pretty impressed by it? Especially since it does such a good job placing the cubes so evenly. It’s pretty impressive!
  • Having the Bonus Tiles have two different ways to activate mitigates some of the randomness of where they’re placed (especially on the Beachfront Map). On the Beachfront Map, you can get a Bonus Tile placed such that it wants Factories in the worst possible spot for them (right along the beach). Rather than doing that, you can still score the Bonus Tile by getting a complete row (or column) of six tiles to score that Bonus Tile. It’s a handy workaround for avoiding getting stuck with an inconvenient (or impossible) move.
  • The art style is pleasant. The tiles have a nice bright city feel to them, even if you’re mostly placing Factories. While that’s probably concerning environmentally, I appreciate that the entire city remains colorful and upbeat. It would be nice if the actual tiles had some variation to them within a color, but maybe that’ll be a Kickstarter goal or something. I never know with these things.
  • I’m just generally a fan of city-building games. City-building is one of my favorite broad genres of gameplay! There’s a lot to do within it, you can play cooperative or competitive, focus on a wide variety of mechanics, the whole thing. It’s also something where I feel a sense of progression every turn, and Shake That City is no exception to that broader rule.
  • This game doesn’t feel particularly aggressive or competitive to me; when I’m playing, we tend to discuss strategies and plays and what might be best for us, which is nice. Could honestly see a collaborative variant landing pretty well. I think that’s because as you start playing the game it becomes difficult to effectively block other players without hurting your own strategies. As a result, it feels a bit lower on the interaction scale, so I don’t take other players’ choices into account (or as personally). It might be my group, but honestly, I think it’s more fun this way.

Mehs

  • From just a product standpoint, I’d love to know why AEG went to Kickstarter with this one; it seems like an odd choice given the scope and scale of their previous Kickstarter projects. Shake That City is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have as broad of a scope as something like Dead Reckoning; I am surprised that it’s going to Kickstarter. I wonder if it will have stretch goals or additional alternate art or something? I know nothing about their Kickstarter plans, to be clear; I’m just speculating. If not, it seems like an odd choice for a smaller, shorter game from a larger company.
  • It struck me as odd that there are only two point reference boards for a four-player game. This may be a preview copy thing, or maybe you’re just supposed to place the two boards between two players each? I’m not entirely sure.

Cons

  • As with all random-distribution games, you’re going to occasionally have games that feel like outliers; it can just be frustrating when the Houses come out adjacent to other Houses for most of the game. This is a pretty rare problem to have, just based on probability and weird variance, but if you’re getting a lot of House groups, it can be a bit annoying. More generally speaking, though, the random variance of cubes might mean that you don’t always get anything particularly “useful” for your strategy. This is where the game emerges more tactically than strategically, I suppose. May still be annoying, though, so keep that in mind before you play.

Overall: 8.25 / 10

Overall, I think Shake That City is a great game! If I were to categorize Shake That City, I’d probably place it as a Casual Game, just because the core game is super approachable for a lot of folks. The spatial element of it might be challenging, but since you’re just translating the cubes to tiles on your board (no rotating or mirroring), it actually ends up eliminating a lot of the complexity that players face in games like this. What you see is pretty much exactly what you get; from there, it’s just about planning and making sure you’re leaving yourself open to better opportunities as they present themselves. I like that the Start Player feels like a bonus but isn’t too much of one; I had not often felt like there was a choice that I really wanted that I couldn’t get (or get something equivalent to), especially as player strategies tend to diverge as the game goes longer. By the time I want something because it’s the only thing that will still fit on my board, we’re usually in the last three rounds of the game anyways and I can just take whatever I want. The progression feels nice, and the tiles provide enough options for player strategies to emerge somewhat uninhibited by the other players. This lets players chat and joke and lament bad shakes, which I think makes the game a bit more engaging as a whole. It’s a fun one. I do like the schtick of the cube shaker; it’s a lot of fun, even if it takes a tiny bit of time to figure it out. I was not very good at dispensing cubes in my first few games. This does strike me as an odd choice for Kickstarter, but as more of a critic than a product guy, I’m just not really sure why they went that route. I’m enjoying Shake That City quite a lot, though, so if you’re looking for a quick and approachable city-builder, I’d recommend trying to get a play in!


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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