Ahh, the noble genre of city building games. While not as expansive as other types with a focus on developing and creating – see Age of Empires or Civilisation, for example – they have their place in the world of gaming and certainly rank among one of my favourite areas of the hobby. From the free-form stacks and skyscrapers of Sunrise City to the abstract loveliness of Town Centre, they generally tend to look pretty impressive when they come to a close, and now a new contender appears: Quadropolis from Days of Wonder, designed by first-timer Francois Gandon. As ever, a DoW release is something to be looked forward to, as they’re a company that never skimps on production, but does the game stand up?
Rather than contributing to a single creation, players in Quadropolis are each making their individual cities that are laid out on separate boards. As the name suggests, there’s a heavy focus on the number four – it plays out over four rounds, the standard game has people building on a four-by-four grid split into four sections with four actions per round… not that it matters much, but with only a handful of possible actions to work with in each game, you’ll probably already have worked out that every decision made is important. Correct decisions are key if you’re to be victorious, and a cut-throat attitude will make things a lot easier for you – Quadropolis may present itself as a cute and friendly way to pass an hour, but at its heart there’s a pretty nasty beast waiting to reveal itself.
Each round begins with a selection of tiles being randomly drawn from a bag, all of which are placed face down on a central five-by-five board – yes, it eschews the four motif here, just a little. Depending on the amount of people playing, the tiles are then flipped to reveal just what you’re working with for the next few minutes… and it’s here where things get a little tricky. Quadropolis is one of the more brain-burning releases from the Days of Wonder catalogue, and I guarantee that cursing will happen in the majority of games the moment that people start picking their third or fourth tile.
Why? Well, it’s not just a matter of going “oh, I want that one” and grabbing it, then adding it to your tableau. You see, each player also has a team of four architects numbered one to four, printed on little arrow tokens. Choosing one of these determines a couple of factors; when placed next to a row of tiles on the central board, the number denotes the space from which you’re taking your next tile. So, placing your number two architect next to the tiles means you’re taking the tile from the second space, no matter what it is. Of course, if you want the fourth tile in the same line, you simply put the arrow token at the opposite end of the line, assuming that there’s no other architect in that spot – once it’s taken, it’s unavailable for the rest of the round.
The second thing determined by your choice of architect is where you’ll place the selected tile on your own board. Each row and column is numbered, so choosing that same number two architect means that you have to place the tile in one of the zones marked with a number two. And now you see why this is a brain-burner – not only are you dealing with your opposition potentially stealing tiles from under your nose that you may want or need, as each round progresses, your options become fewer and choices get trickier. There’s also a wandering giant meeple called the Urbanist which also limits selections from the central board by locking down a row and column, so you may not always be able to get that much-needed tile thanks to the previous player’s latest move.
There are a range of buildings in Quadropolis, each of which score in different ways. Harbours require buildings of the same type to be placed in a line, while Municipal buildings reward players that place them in different city districts. There are also shops that need residents to visit them, residential blocks that score more the higher they stack… and that’s just in the Classic version of the game. The Advanced game comes with even more tile types, making for even more options and methods of scoring. Players are encouraged to do what everyone else isn’t doing in order to maximise their final score, but when those limited options come into play, it can easily become a glorious and bitter battle for a certain tile. Remember, there are no friends in Quadropolis!
What there are, however, are those previously mentioned residents, which are one of two in-game resources (along with energy) that need to be managed. Certain tiles bring in these resources, and you can move them around your player board at any time. You see, if you’re going to be scoring these tiles at the end of play, they need to be activated by having their printed cost (in either energy or resident meeples) laid on top of them. So not only are you trying to work out the perfect position for each tile, you also need to make sure that you’ll have enough resources available when the game is over, or else they’re simply wasted. It’s another level of things to consider that make this beautiful game such a monster in disguise.
And it truly is beautiful. The traditional Days of Wonder production is on point, and the art is cute throughout. There have been a few complaints about the thickness of the player boards – they’re more like sheets, to be honest, but they’re good quality, and it’s not like you’ll be handling them every couple of seconds. The bits that you will be touching regularly are thick punchboard or translucent plastic, and will probably outlast most of the games on your shelf. There should also be a quick mention for the inlay as well, which is one of the best I have ever seen in a game – there’s literally a place for everything, and even the leftover punch sheets are used to help keep everything safe and secure by stashing them under the tray, raising it up inside the box and keeping it flush with the lid. It’s a genius little idea, and one that I think more companies should encourage. After all, it means less stuff going in the bin, and it keeps everything neat and tidy.
So, overall, I can heartily recommend Quadropolis. The Classic game is easily accessible to gamers of all levels, and the whole thing plays out in less than sixty minutes. Once you’ve got the rules down, which will take no time at all, you’ll easily graduate to the more complex version. The only minor quibble I’d have is that sufferers of Analysis Paralysis may have a bit of a hard time with it, even though your decisions are somewhat determined by the architects at your disposal and the layout of tiles on the central board. Regardless, it’s a game that enhances the reputation of the Days of Wonder catalogue yet further, and one that already has an expansion in the works. Congratulations must be sent to the designer for such an impressive first effort – it’ll be interesting to see what kind of things he comes up with in future, not just for Quadropolis, but for gaming as a whole.