Between Two Cities
Play time: 20 minutes
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Designers: Matthew O’Malley, Morten Monrad Pedersen, Ben Rosset
DISCLAIMER: This game was sent to me for free from Stonemaier games as a review copy. I did, however, pay for the postage!
It’s shocking to admit but I’m only a recent convert to Stonemaier games. Yet from the minute I opened the lid on the Scythe box I knew I was in for a treat. From there I looked more closely at the other games in the brand that people were posting about. Next came Viticulture, praised as the fantastic two-player game, and Euphoria seriously intrigued me. Charterstone may wait until a reliable playgroup emerges. It wasn’t until much later I realised there was another board game in the line-up, Between Two Cities. I was shocked it had escaped my attention and was curious as to why. So when I got the chance to review some Stonemaier games it was my first choice. This review hopes to not only inform you about the game but perhaps provide some insight into what feels like the forgotten child of the Stonemaier family.
Theme and Objective
Between Two Cities is a cooperative city building tile placement game. You want to build the best city and each tile has specific rules to help you do just that. The twist, however, is that you’re not only building a city for yourself but it’s one you share with the people sitting next to you. The winner is the person whose shared city scored the least points but was still higher than everyone else’s.
To give you an idea of box size and because I love the idea of Shut Up & Sit Down’s reference pear.
Table Real Estate
As with most tile-laying games, it needs some space on the table, particularly when you’re sharing cities between players. However, it’s still rather compact.
Number of Players
This is a social semi-cooperative game that plays best with large groups. The variants for solo and two players suffer because of this, failing to capture the experience required by more players.
The components are good, with chunky tiles and some lovely city markers. However, the artwork leaves much to be desired, which really shocked me because I know Beth Sobel does stunning work. All the images seem gloomy, dark and mired. It’s often difficult to tell tiles apart at a glance, which is necessary for gameplay, and there is nothing appealing or satisfying about building this horrible looking city.
Game Type/ Similar Games
For other city building type games, I’d have to suggest Suburbia from Bezier Games. However, the cooperative element of Between Two Cities really makes it unique and different to the usual fare.
How to Win
Each city tile has specific ways to score your points. Some score better when connected in a straight line, others in groups of three and some when you collect full sets. However, you are building two cities, joint with two different opponents. Both your cities score points but it’s the one with the lowest tally that counts as your winning numbers. Meaning you want to build both of your cities to the best of your ability so no matter which one has the higher score you’re going to do well when compared to everyone else.
Game Mechanics/ Turn Order
The main mechanics here are tile drafting and placement. On a turn, you draft two tiles from a group (dependent on player count) one for each city. You place them face down in front of each budding metropolis and pass the rest of the tiles on. Then everyone reveals their tiles and places them in their shared four by four city grids. The trick is placing your tiles in such a way as to score big points without neglecting a city. You continue drafting until there are no pairs of tiles remaining. Also, just to mess with your plans, in later rounds you’ll be placing double tiles too.
The idea behind this game is rather genius and it wants to encourage the best in people when cooperating. This rule of scoring your worst city eliminates any desire to screw over the person next to you and creates friendships. The fact that when you draft tiles you are aware of what you’re sending to the next player, who can use them on your joint city, makes for philanthropic decision making. The scoring is straightforward and simple while the gameplay is easy and quick.
Fun factor of the mechanics/ theme
On a whole I find city builders to be fun and satisfying to play. The incorporation of a cooperative element makes this game really stand out. However, I’m not sure how practical it really is.
Despite the issues I have with how the game looks on the table the real problem I encountered was with building joint cities on two sides. To me, it felt awkward to have to be switching from one city to another and the positioning of them between two players meant that often we had to place everything sideways. Because the tiles weren’t very distinct I often had problems with working out placement. Nothing felt very fluid.
The second issues stem from the fact there are optimal moves to be calculated and made at any one time. Meaning instead of discussing and planning moves with other players we simply put down the best tiles in the best places. It took away from the haggling and browbeating I’d anticipated in having to make decisions together, in reality those choices are just obvious. This also lends itself to much ‘quarterbacking’ or ‘alpha gamer’ moments where more seasoned gamers can just force choices because they are objectively the best ones.
Between Two Cities feels like Stonemaier games foray into the party game category. This is the only game like this in their catalogue. And while it feels clever and well thought out it’s lacking the polish and finesse that I’ve come to associate with the brand. Perhaps it’s because this is the only game Jamey Stegmaier hasn’t in part designed? To be honest I’d expected more. This game reads well on paper, its concept is exciting, but it’s missing something in the gameplay for me personally to have it stand alongside its bigger brothers and sisters.
Final Collection Rating
Between Two Cities: I’ll be keeping this one in my collection, despite it not living up to my personal hype!