Sun Hits The Sky – Sunrise City review

Everyone who loves their games knows all about Alien Frontiers. One of the highest funded board game campaigns on Kickstarter, it quickly drew the attention of those players who love flinging dice about combined with decision making and plenty of confrontation. Add in the fact that it was beautifully produced, had solid gameplay… no wonder it’s so well loved.

And now Clever Mojo Games are back with a new project: Sunrise City. Again, financed through everyone’s favourite crowdfunding website, this moves the action straight back down to earth and the titular city. Rather than floating through space and colonising a new planet, players create a brand new city from scratch. Working literally from the ground up you’ll place buildings upon buildings, scoring as many points as you can as you scrape the sky.

Behold the prettiness! From empty lots to towering skyscrapers, Sunrise City has it all.

I’m going to come out pretty much immediately with this; every time I’ve played this game, I’ve enjoyed it more and more. Designer Isaias Vallejo has managed to craft a game that hits that spot between being incredibly simple to pick up and play while also being having enough depth to appeal to more experienced gamers. But how does it work?

Between two and four players are tasked with building the city over the course of three rounds. Each round consists of four phases – Preparation, Zoning, Bidding and Building – that will see Sunrise City grow from nothing but a City Hall to a bustling metropolis. At the start of the game players are given four randomly assigned Role Cards, each one allowing a minor bending of the rules and determining who will go first. One role is used each round then discarded – it’s up to you to choose whether you’re going to aim for bonus points or manipulation of what’s happening on the ever-increasing board.

During Preparation you’ll also recieve four Zone Tiles and four Buildings. Zones come in five different colours and types: Parks, Commercial, Industrial, Residential and – probably the most important one – Mixed Use. Going around the table, the Zones are placed with only one restriction: you must make sure that at least one pavement-to-pavement connection is made. Many tiles have waterways that will restrict building on the ground floor, so you must make sure that you’re not scuppering your future plans with dumb placements.

Of course, you may not even get to build on the tiles you’ve placed, for Bidding is next. Everyone is given six chunky discs in their colour and – again, in turn – these are placed on the Zones. Placing a disc on a tile means that it’s your area for now, but other players may put theirs on top of yours! The only way to stop this is by having two of your own discs stacked, essentially locking that area down for your use alone, but this means you’ll potentially have less opportunities for building later. Whoever’s disc is at the top of the stack after all have been placed will leave theirs there – all others are removed, then it’s on to Building.

This is where the meat of the game is (and where you’ll score the vast majority of your points). It’s the phase where you place your four buildings down all over the city, making sure that the colours match – yellow on yellow, blue on blue – with one exception; the Mixed Use tiles. Anything can be put on these tiles, meaning that you’re not going to be stuck with buildings you can’t use… most of the time. Space on the ground level may well run out pretty quickly, but this is where the game’s stacking mechanic comes into play – as long as those colours match (or you’re building upon or using a Mixed Use space) the sky is the limit. In fact, there’s bonus points available for every odd-numbered floor that you place, so aiming high is recommended.

One of Sunrise City's many building tiles - this one's Mixed Use and Residential. You score the middle number when it's built - the outer two are bonuses.

Remember all that bidding you did earlier? Well, here’s where it becomes important: you’re only allowed to put down one of your buildings on a zone if you have at least one of your chips there. The building tiles will cover two zones, meaning that you’ve really got to pay attention to where they’re going to go. Thankfully, by creating that first level, you’ll also score bonus points for the side where your chip is. If you’re in control of both zones you’re covering, excellent – you could be in for a big points boost. But if you build and happen to cover someone else’s chip… well, then they get the bonus for that side, not you. So that’s the question: do you give away points in order to potentially give you the chance to play other Buildings in future turns? It’s a tightrope that needs to be very carefully navigated…

Sunrise City is a very quick game that offers a comparitive depth that you rarely find in first designs. With the whole thing done in three rounds, even with four players you’ll complete the whole thing in an hour. From the moment you crack open the (very heavy) box you’ll see you have a quality product – there’s not a square inch of space to be found in there. It’s packed out with incredibly thick tiles, loads of wooden bits… you’re certainly getting value for money on the contents, then on top of that you’ve got something that’s really fun to play.

It’s also got a very striking Art Deco style – all the Zone and Building tiles look great, and when the game’s complete you realise you’ve worked together to create something that is really pretty damn cool. In the whole package, I’ve only got one minor issue: the Mixed Use and Commercial Zone tiles are quite close in colour, but as all the Zones have icons to show their designation anyway that’s kind of a non-starter.

In my opinion, the folks at Clever Mojo have hit another winner in Sunrise City. It’s accessible to a wide range of gamers, fun to play and beautifully produced – what more could you want? Copies will be available within a few short weeks; if you backed it on Kickstarter, I’d start counting the days off right now…

Sunrise City was designed by Isaias Vallejo with art and design by Sarah “Chip” Nixon and the mighty Chris Kirkman from dicehateme.com. It’s is due for release in March 2012 through Clever Mojo Games. Between two and four players can take part and games should max out at around an hour. Get building!

 

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