Monday, September 24, 2012

[Design Review] Infinite City

What is Infinite City?

Times are good, the economy is expanding, the workers are pouring in, and the largest city in the world is growing exponentially! Only one corporation can control it all. Will it be yours? Infinite City is basically a game about controlling territory. The interesting twist is that you’re actually building the territory that you’ll control, rather than just claiming it from a pre-made map.

This game for 3-6 players consists of only very few components: 6 groups of 15 colored wooden tokens and 120 city tiles. Each city tile represents one prominent building or district in the city. The artwork on the tiles features some pretty neat looking near-future cityscapes. The tokens are rather bland but functional. Each tile has a specific name and a special rule that comes into effect as soon as the tile is played. Each player begins with a hand of 5 tiles and will play at least 1 tile on each of their turns. So, over the course of the game, you can really watch the city grow from its humble beginnings. There is no limit to how big the city can get beyond the practical limitations of your play area.

Each player also starts the game with all 15 of the tokens of their color. Each time they play a tile, they also place a token on it to indicate that they control that tile. Players will score points at the end of the game based on the tiles that they control – the more tiles, the better. Various rules on some of the tiles can move or remove tokens, however, so control is not guaranteed once you’ve staked your claim.

The City Grid

Where you place your tiles is very important. For one thing, a lot of the special rules on the tiles have an affect on adjacent tiles, so you’ll want to give consideration to which tiles you’ll be influencing. Also, players only score points for groups of at least 3 contiguous tiles that they control – an isolated tile or two that are not adjacent to the rest of your controlled tiles will not be counted when totaling your score at the end of the game. Knowing this, you can sometimes place tiles to block and breakup your opponents’ areas of controlled tiles.

The special rules on the tiles add a lot more depth to the game. For example, a Factory lets you draw additional tiles at the end of your turn, the Construction Site lets you play an additional tile on the same turn, and the Embassy lets you steal control of an adjacent tile from any other player. There is a fair degree of variety among these special rules, and figuring out how to get the greatest benefit from each of your tiles is an integral part of the game’s strategy.

Furthermore, some tiles have a number in the top-left corner, next the tile’s title. If you control any of these tiles at the end of the game, you score additional points equal to these numbers. So, some tiles are just inherently more valuable than others. What’s more, some tiles have special silver borders. The player who controls the most of these silver tiles scores additional points equal to the number of silver tiles they control. Note that only one player can score these extra points for the silver tiles.

As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider when playing your tiles. You need to consider their special rules. You want to build the largest contiguous areas you can. You need to favor tiles that have a printed point value over ones that don’t. And finally, you want to control the most silver tiles. If you can’t build contiguous areas, you might still be able to win by controlling a lot of isolated tiles with high printed point values, or by controlling the most silver tiles. Or, vise verse.

Timing is Key

I didn’t really start to appreciate the nuances of the strategy in this game until I had played it a few times. In addition to everything I mentioned above about selecting which tiles to play and where to position them, there is also the matter of timing. The game ends when one player has all of their colored tokens in play. As soon as that happens, each other player gets one more turn and then scores are tallied. Alternatively, if at any time all five Power Stations are in play, the game immediately ends. No one else gets another turn.

It can be a valuable strategy to keep a tile in hand that can remove a token from another player’s tile. Removed tokens go back to the player they belonged to, so you can use this to prolong the game another round if a player just placed their last token. Or, if you hold the last Power Station in your hand, you have to be watchful to play it at the right moment. Hold off until you’re ahead, but don’t wait too long and give your opponents’ a chance to overtake you again.

What Can We Take Away from This?

Infinite City has very simple components, and rules that can be absorbed in mere minutes, and yet it offers surprisingly deep strategic choices. Having multiple factors that influence your score creates multiple paths to victory and allows for several viable strategies. The fact that you don’t determine your final score until the very end of the game creates the opportunity for you to adjust your strategy mid game, or to disrupt your opponent’s strategy.

Overall, I like that this game offers a reasonable challenge for experienced gamers, while still being easy to teach to newer players. So far, the one thing that I’ve seen new players have the most difficulty learning is the scoring system. This is kind of a shame, because the nuances of the scoring system are really what create most of the opportunities for various strategies. I’ve noticed that inexperienced players seem to just always play as many tiles as they can adjacent to tiles they all ready control. That isn’t a bad strategy, but it isn’t always the best.

I think if one thing stands out to me about Infinite City, design-wise, it is this: simple rules, if they interact well, can breed depth of strategy without the need to over-complicate things.

These are my general thoughts on Infinite City. I’d love to read any observations you may have about the game and its design, or any thoughts you might have on my own observations.

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