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Expancity Review



Quick Look:

Designer: Alex Cutler
Artists: Coen Pohl
Publisher: Breaking Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Review:

Expancity board game by Breaking Games, image by Benjamin Kocher

There’s something to be said about visually appealing games. Expancity starts off as one lonely tile, but by the game’s end, it is a sprawling city with buildings both tall and small. After one play, my wife noted that it was a lot of fun to look at once the game was over. And she is so right! It looks amazing.

But there’s more than just aesthetics that makes Expancity a fun game. It’s the point allowance system for gathering building materials and actually building. It’s the random tile drawing—followed by tile placing—that makes every city different and unique. It’s the contract cards that help direct how and where you build, the end-of-game goal cards that can be a game changer, and the scoring system that allows for both massive points and for sabotaging an opponent’s effort. All these things combine into one super-game that is Expancity.

And boy, do I love it.

When I first opened the box, the solid building pieces immediately stood out to me. The rulebook was laid out nicely, and was easy to read and understand. And gameplay itself? A joy beyond measure—simple rules, a good amount of depth and strategy, and fairly quick turns.

I liked the height limitations on the buildings. Residential buildings could only be a maximum of three stories, and commercial buildings had to be at least four stories. And, since any building could only be built at one story higher than a player's tallest building, it made me think a lot more about my options, such as where I built, when I finished a building, and so on.

There is also a rule that a player may only have three incomplete buildings on the go at one time, so spamming residential and commercial tiles, then building up a ton, isn’t possible. But it is possible to spam vacant lots, which, if left unoccupied adjacent to a building that is being finished, that building is worth less points. It’s this small amount of “take that” amongst the players that really adds an extra spark of life to the game. (Note: I have played at least one game in which no players intentionally played vacant lots next to their opposition’s buildings, and the game was still loads of fun, even without the torment from other players.)

I was impressed at how well all the mechanics worked together, and how fast the turns went. Even for players who are sometimes prone to over-analyzing strategies managed to move along at a good pace. I was also impressed with the balance between player counts. While high scores varied quite a bit between two-player and four-player games, the game still played smooth as butter no matter how many were playing.

Here’s an actual experience that I’ll use to sum things up. During our first-ever play of Expancity, my wife had been wanting chocolate chip cookies to munch on (with milk, of course). But she didn’t want just any chocolate chip cookies. She wanted the gourmet kind from a local cookie shop that delivers right to your door. (What a time to be alive!) I don’t blame her, either. They are divine. At any rate, we continued playing, and once the game ended (she won by a large margin), she mentioned that she had forgotten all about her desire for the best chocolate chip cookies money can buy. Yes, folks, Expancity is the type of game that is so fun and engaging that it makes you forget about unforgettable cravings.

And on that note, I’ll end my stream of thought.

Keep reading for a more in-depth look at Expancity, including how the game plays, rules, and other minutia that can help you make an educated decision as to if Expancity is the right game for you.

Enjoy!

Setup:
Each player selects their favorite color and takes the appropriately colored blocks (if your favorite color isn’t blue, green, yellow, or orange, then you’ll have to make due). Place the City Hall tile in the middle of the table (good luck finding it if you already chucked it in the bag with the others. Whoops…).

Expancity Board Game by Breaking Games City Hall Tile
City Hall, in all its glory.

Each player randomly draws two tiles from the bag to look at and keep secret (and keep it safe). Randomly select three end-of-game goal cards to use for the game. Each player places one of their colored blocks on the “0” space of the scoreboard. Shuffle the contract cards and set them to the side.

Let’s play.

Gameplay:

Breaking Games Expancity board game game play image by Benjamin Kocher

Each player must go through four steps on their turn, as follows.

Step 1—Zoning
The first step is zoning. Here, the player must play a tile from their hand. Tiles must be played adjacent to another tile, not including diagonally. That’s about the only rule for this step.

Step 2—Building
Each player takes precisely three (3) actions during this step, and these actions can be taken in any order and in any combination. As there are only two actions to choose from, it’s not that difficult to understand. Players may
  1. construct buildings, or
  2. get building materials.
When constructing buildings, the active player places one (and only one) building block on an empty residential or commercial tile. A block may also be placed on an already existing building (some restrictions apply, see rule book for details). Of course, when first starting out, you won’t have any building materials in your possession, so you will need to get some (by choosing option “b”). Again, players must do three actions, and may do all of one, or some of both. One kicker is that players can only have a maximum of three (3) incomplete buildings on the go at one time. This is where step three comes in handy.

Step 3—Complete Buildings
If you have a building that is finished, give it a roof (the occupants will thank you). Once you roof a building, it is considered complete, and it scores immediately. There are certain regulations in Expancity, such as residential buildings can’t go higher than three stories, and commercial buildings can’t be shorter than four stories (sorry, ma and pa shop, but you’ll need to grow up a bit before you can build here).

When scoring, each story (i.e. level) is worth 1 point. Add or subtract to each level any modifiers that are on adjacent tiles, and you’ve got yourself some points! (Hopefully…) The formula the rule book gives is this:

(1 base point + Tile Modifiers - Number of Vacant Lots) x Number of Stories

And who said playing games isn’t educational!

Something I should mention is that the scoreboard only goes to 50 points, so if (and by “if” I mean “when”) you surpass 50 points, simply loop back to “1” (and so on) and add another story to your scorekeeping piece. Personally, I would have preferred the board to go to at least 100, but this works just fine as it is.

Whenever you finish a building, you draw two contract cards, choose one to keep, and put the rejected card at the bottom of the deck. If you finished five buildings this step (congrats, btw), then you would select two cards, choose one and banish the other one, draw two more cards, choose one and banish the other, and so on and so forth until you’ve done that five times. Or x amount of times for x amount of buildings completed. 

Three contract cards in the Expancity board game by Breaking Games, photo by Benjamin Kocher
A small sampling of the contract cards.

Once you’ve capped off any buildings you so desire (there is no limit as to how many you can finish in this step), you may fulfill any contracts that have been completed (by you or anybody else), even ones you just drew earlier in this step.

Step 4—Planning
Draw two tiles from the bag, choose one to keep, and return the other to the bag. You’re so good at this planning thing!

Ending the Game

Breaking Games board game Expancity scoring tracker, image by Benjamin Kocher

Once these four steps are finished, it’s the next player’s turn. Play proceeds in this manner until all the tiles have been placed, including those in each player’s hand. Once that happens, award points according to the end-of-game goal cards, and crown yourself a winner! (And possibly check to see if any nearby colleges offer any scholarships for city planning.)

Theme and Mechanics:

A completed city in Expancity by Breaking Games, with plenty of vacant lots, photo by Benjamin Kocher

Expancity is a city builder to the core, and it does a wonderful job of it, too. The stacking blocks and roofs (or “ruffs,” as my pappy would say) create a visually appealing board by the end of the game, which helps add to the theme quite a bit.

Tile placement is a big mechanic in Expancity. Every turn, players place a tile in order to try and improve their score…or lower an opponent’s. With that in mind, there’s a bit of “take that” involved as well, but not to the extent that it becomes a game of grudges. With the action point allowance system, players must also figure out what they want to accomplish, and then plan on how to best use their limited actions to accomplish that goal. Speaking of goals, goal cards can  provide an extra point boost during any phase of the game, and can even help straggling players jump ahead.

Artwork and Components:

Expancity by Breaking Games, roof pieces for buiildings, photo by Benjamin Kocher


The building pieces are amazing. They look great, they feel great, and when there are buildings springing up all over the board, the scene takes on a real-city look. The cards are your average stock, as are the tiles. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about, either. 

As for the artwork, the box is certainly nifty. The rule book also has lots of good looking, computer generated images, which help explain the rules nicely. The art on the tiles isn’t anything special, but they work for the purpose, and honestly, I’m not sure how else to go about it without putting on a VR headset. So it definitely works.

The Good:
One thing that was a huge plus to everyone I played with was that while one player finished their turn (drawing and choosing contract cards, and drawing and selecting a tile), the next player could begin. Of course, you have to be a little wary when placing a tile, just in case the player still deciding on which tile to select could be swayed by what you play, but to be honest, that never even came up for us (but it might for you).

The buildings. Are. Awesome. I just love the look of it so much.

The rule book is laid out well, and was quite easy to understand. Very refreshing.

Speaking of rules, the rules and point system seems quite well balanced. Even those lingering behind were able to jump ahead (if they played their cards right, so to speak).

The Bad:
The bag that holds the tiles seems a bit too small, at least during the early game. The tiles are kind of crammed inside, so shaking the bag to shuffle the tiles around doesn’t really work. It’s a minor thing, and can be overlooked without incident. If you have any spare cloth bags lying around, however, you may want to trade it with the one that comes with the game (assuming it’s bigger, of course). Or, place the tiles facedown in the box top and draw like that. Easy solutions, really.

Final Thoughts:

Close up of the city in Expancity, the board game by Breaking Games; photo by Benjamin Kocher

I was wildly impressed on my very first playthrough, and couldn’t wait to play again. That feeling didn’t die after subsequent games, either. Expancity is a visually appealing city builder with a good amount of strategy attached to it. With no dice to worry about, it all comes down to what goes on in that brain of yours. Of course, you can’t always draw the precise tile you would like, but that’s a minor technicality that, for me, doesn’t hurt the game one whit.

There’s also something to be said about the building materials themselves. Seeing the city spring up on the table brings joy to my heart every time I play. Expancity will always have a place on my shelf, and will be a top contestant for table space as well.

Players Who Like:
If you like city building games (i.e. Sprawlopolis, Alhambra, Suburbia, Dice City, New York 1901, etc.), I have a good feeling you’re going to love Expancity. 

Check out Expancity on:

                 



About the Author:



Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding game designer. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Check out Benjamin's reviews here.

Expancity Review Expancity Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on September 25, 2018 Rating: 5

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