I wanted to do something a little different with this week’s Geekly Games. There are two games, by the same designer, that I’ve played in the past year that play similarly. In fact, they’re sibling games where the second of the two games took the measured play of the first game and made it more unsystematic. I’m taking a look at Suburbia and The Castles of Mad King Ludwig with this week’s side by side tabletop games.
Let’s start with the elder sibling game Suburbia. As the name suggests players compete with each other to build the most prosperous suburb of the same larger city. You earn victory points for tile placement (this game uses hexagonal tiles of the same size, and it’ll make more sense why I mentioned the same shape and size tile when I talk about Mad King Ludwig), and you can earn bonuses for putting similar city blocks close to each other, score negative points for placing factories next to residential areas or similar unharmonious pairings, and some tiles even give you a multiplier for the total number of a certain city block type you have in your suburb. Whoever has the most point at the end of the game wins.
Scoring is further complicated in Suburbia with the addition of end-game bonuses that are selected at the beginning of the game—so each player can work toward trying to get these bonuses throughout the game—and individual, hidden player bonuses, like you get a ten point bonus for having the most commercial blocks. Each player keeps tabs of their suburb’s progress on a point track, and the way the point track is designed makes it close to impossible for a run-away winner.
I really like the point track in Suburbia. There are thresholds (depicted by lines) on the point track where if you pass them, you have to pay a fine from your income that turn and if you can’t pay the fine, you travel backward on the point track. Throw in some money bonuses for people in last and you get a system that makes it difficult for someone to win the game wire-to-wire, though I have seen a game of Suburbia go that route. I enjoy playing Suburbia and will gladly play it if it hits the table, but I’ve been on the wrong end of a run-away loser game on more than one occasion, and most of that comes from a different game mechanism: turning any city block tile into water.
Each tile is double sided with the common side being a block of water (like a lake, pond, or river). There’s a cost track for the tiles you can purchase. Newer tiles get placed at the end of the track and that’s where tiles cost more, and players can purchase one tile a turn. I like this system. You could wait and see if a tile you want gets cheaper in a future turn or pay the large price tag for a tile you really want. What I don’t care for is that a player can purchase any tile on the track as water by grabbing it for free. I don’t know how many times I’ve had the funds to purchase an awesome tile, only to have the player in front of my scrap it for water. This plays too much like a “screw you” move.
There are bonuses that reward you for the most water tiles, and other tiles that feed off of water, and I don’t like playing with either of these tiles, especially if we have new players. I see how converting a tile to water could be tactically sound—it’s an easy way to separate industrial and residential blocks—but there has to be a way to limit which tiles you can turn into water. I’ve seen one player corner the market in a particular tile type, and the player with the water bonus took a tile he needed on the first turn the tile was on the board by scrapping it for free. That’s shameful.
Still, with some rule modifications, Suburbia is a great game, and one of the best city-building games on the market.
The Castles of Mad King Ludwig
The younger sibling game, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, tasks players with building the best castle instead of suburb. The Castles of Mad King Ludwig works similarly to Suburbia, except that it changes a few things that make it a wildly different gaming experience.
The scoring track is still there, but gone are the thresholds—you won’t need them. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins, so that hasn’t change, and you gain bonuses or penalties for tile placement—another similarity—but these tiles come in different shapes and sizes. Instead of putting a hex next to another hex, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig has you connecting one room with another with doorways. It doesn’t matter how you connect the rooms, so long as you have space for a new room and it connects with another one of your rooms with a doorway—which can be tougher than it sounds. You end up with some very interesting castles.
The tile cost track is still used in The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, but instead of each new tile heading to the end of the track, there’s a player each turn (the master builder, which changes after each turn) who determines how expensive each tile should be, and this is an elegant addition to the game play. Half of The Castles of Mad King Ludwig’s strategy rests with where the master builder places each tile on the cost track. Players’ main source of income is getting paid as the master builder—players who aren’t the master builder have to pay the master builder for their tiles—and if a tile doesn’t get sold, a coin gets added on top of it, so it’s offered at a discount the next turn. There’s an art to placing a room tile with coins on it at the right spot to maximize the money you’ll earn, and getting a mountain of coins in one turn is satisfying.
As you can probably tell I like The Castles of Mad King Ludwig more than Suburbia—although I still like Suburbia a lot, despite losing most of the time. Being able to affect the tile cost track gives players a sense of control. Anyone can scrap a tile for water for free in Suburbia at any time, but if someone purchases a room you wanted as the master builder in The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you’re the one who placed the room on the tile cost track. I like that addition to The Castle of Mad King Ludwig’s rules, and the game’s theme. But you can’t go wrong with either game.
I’m off to the game table, so until next we meet, thanks for reading.