Emma: When I was asked to do a review of Asmodée’s new release of Hotel Tycoon, I’ll admit I was slightly shocked. Not because it’s a bad game (it isn’t) and not because I don’t have opinions on it (I do, and besides, I’ll develop strong opinions on anything given half the chance), but because it’s not exactly a new game. It’s a new version of Hotel (or possibly Hotels, depending on the version), which I remember playing as a teenager. And so does my mother. Further digging revealed that Hotel Tycoon is probably more deserving of some kind of celebrity-interview-studded career retrospective than a new review, since the original game came out in 1974.
In any case, it swiftly became clear that the only way to review Hotel Tycoon would be to ignore the last 40 years, and treat it like a game that just came out. Which, fortunately for our suspension of disbelief, it did. Anyway, my inane meta ramblings aside, let’s get on to the actual game. But first, a warning. If you think board games today should be entirely about cubes and strategy and deadly serious, YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME. I have nothing against you, and I’ll come and lose to you at Caverna any time, but this is not a game for the super-hardcore Eurogaming crowd. Spicy variety and all that. So, for everyone else, here’s Hotel Tycoon, a game of erecting dazzlingly phallic monuments to your own financial skill and watching them get razed to the ground for a day’s wages by the people you thought you were your friends.
Now, as you might have gathered from the introduction, or indeed by playing any previous version of the game, Hotel Tycoon is very much a family game. You roll a die to move in one direction around the board, and the space you land on does things. That’s it, pretty much. And as you fly around the track in your deceptively enormous plastic planes, you will, unsurprisingly, build hotels, which you then charge your opponents to stay in. So far, so Monopoly (although Michael will probably lock me in the basement for saying that word on the site) [It’s OK, we have a three strikes policy. And a basement. – Michael] . But it’s not. For one thing, it’s a lot faster and tighter than the dreaded M-word, with games taking about 30-45 minutes, rather than entire days. This largely comes down to a few interesting twists in the rules, which I understand are new to this version (yay for being topical!) – rather than being sold back to the bank for their original value, the only way to make extra money when you really need it is to auction off your hotels to opponents, with no minimum price, and if nobody wants it, your hotel is demolished, leaving you with nothing. So, instead of property being the virtually no-risk investment it is in…other games, every purchase has to be weighed against the chance of running out of money before your new hotel makes you your money back – sure, you can buy a load of property, but if you have to pay someone else before people start paying you, you’re screwed. So points for realism. This is compounded by the delightfully vicious Planning Permission die, which you have to roll every time you want to build more hotels. One face denies you the chance to build that turn, one means you get your building for free, and one makes you pay double. Of course, you don’t roll it until after you’ve decided what you want to build, leading to some fantastically tense moments when one player goes for an upgrade that should take most of their money, only to roll the dreaded “2” and immediately go bankrupt. And yes, this does feature that other bugbear of ‘serious’ gamers, player elimination, but honestly? With games this quick, there’s rarely a long period where players are out of the game, and I think the unequivocal brutality of it meshes really well with the cutthroat property theme.
Anyway, there are any number of nice game features I could go into (entrances giving players control over the distribution of their hotels, the rules changing when only two players are left to remove all external income, the sheer brutality of a two-player game…) but I’ll get to the main reason most people are interested in Hotel Tycoon. The shinies. See, whereas games that rhyme with ‘Shmoshmopoly’ might just have you put a little red counter down when you build a hotel, in this game, you…well, you build a hotel. The game comes with something like forty different paper-and-card hotel buildings in a dozen different vaguely-stereotypical styles, and when you expand your hotels, you put more buildings on the board. This even expands to strangely-shaped card overlays that allow you to directly develop the land around your hotels and make the board look amazing. All in all, this gives Hotel Tycoon a sense of scale and development you’d be hard-pressed to find in other similar games, and definitely ranks it among the prettiest games I own, even if packing the buildings away is a bit of a nightmare (seriously, the game comes with a step-by-step instruction sheet to put them away). Sure, the components aren’t perfect – my Dragon Gate buildings have something of a tendency to fall apart, and I inexplicably have a second green plane instead of a red – but they’re probably the best you’re going to find in a game they’re selling in high-street shops.
So yeah. Hotel Tycoon. It’s got its flaws, and it’s not going to win Kennerspiel des Jahres any time soon, but if you’re looking for something the whole family can play, that doesn’t require too much thinking but brings a sense of victory and achievement, you’d traditionally only have one choice. And if you think that game would lead to your family slowly going insane and murdering each other over lunch money, maybe try out Hotel Tycoon instead. At least that way it’ll be quick.
Hotel Tycoon, originally Hotel, was designed by Denys Fisher and released back in 1974. Between two and four people can play, and you should be able to get hold of a copy of this brand new (and rather swish) version of the game for between £20-25. A bargain for such luxury!