Wednesday 30 October 2013

3 Lessons Learned from Suburbia

Suburbia is a city building, tile-placement game by Ted Alspach. We've been having great fun playing it, and I anyone looking for a tabletop Sim City, or more complex Carcassonne, should try it out.

We love the game, as a whole, but it has small flaws. What game design lessons can it teach us?

Small Changes Add Replay Value
Each time you play Suburbia you use just over half of the available city tiles. With each tile appearing just twice in the box, there fair variety between games, so you can't play with the expectation that the Power Station or Homeowner's Association will come out. On top of this, there are different shared and personal goals in every game. One game can be a race for the most lakes, while the next is an environmentalist duel to survive without industrial tiles.

These changes have subtle effects on the game, but keep us coming back to the table.

We Hate Remembering Things
Here Suburbia both succeeds and fails. We never need to pull the rulebook out of the box during play. The turn order is simple. Starting positions for counters are all displayed on the boards, tile numbers for each deck are listed in their place, and tile mechanics are a breeze.

But, as your borough grows, more tiles start to impact the game. You have a tile granting you bonus money whenever you place a civic square, and another granting you extra income for every restaurant. Worse still, you place a tile that pays out for every residential tile on the whole table. Now you're playing the memory game.

These tiles are a great way of adding player interaction, but remembering their effects can be a chore. It's very telling that we had a game where neither of us had any tiles affected by other boroughs, and we both noted how smooth that specific game felt.

We Love the Market
Jaipur is a fantastic card game of collecting goods and selling them before the market becomes saturated. It's a simple, beautifully designed game that I have real admiration for. The only element I find frustrating is the moment when a new card is dealt out into the marketplace at the end of your turn. When a Diamond card, the best in the game, appears, it's usually a no-brainer for your opponent to snatch it up. While there are ways to avoid giving your opponent the chance to grab cards like this, it always feels frustrating to be on the bad end of a random card pull.

Suburbia dodges this with its market mechanic. When new tiles are revealed, they're placed on the far left of the market slider. Here, they carry an additional cost of $10, a significant amount, but will gradually get cheaper as the turns progress. There's still the option for a player to grab a tile before their opponent gets a chance, but it comes with a heavy cost.