“Building a Better World” with City Building Games

I’m a bit over the Summer Slide so lets talk about what board games fit right in with this summer’s theme of “Building a Better World.” In the following three posts I will dive into three different topics: City Building, Environmental, and Farming, which meet the summer’s theme. Each topic is divided into Beginner games, Intermediate games, and Advanced games. These divisions are not meant to make a statement about player ability or experience but, instead, describe the games according to game length, amount of set-up, length of rules, and diversity of mechanisms that each game exhibits. Honestly, my sweet spot is right between the Beginners and Intermediate games.

City Building:

In a city-building game you are constructing a city or some other municipality (or even just a home) with some objective in mind. I’ve broadened this concept to building homes and even tree houses. The concept is all the same.


pic2337577_md.jpgCarcassonne (Amazon) is the iconic tile-placement, city building game which is lodged firmly in the gateway category. The rules are simple: You draw a tile and then you place the tile. In the original game you are building cities, roads, monasteries, and farms. The larger your land-form, the more points you score. The placement rules are simple (cities have to connect to cities, roads to roads, grasslands to grasslands). Once a tile is placed, you have an option of placing a meeple on it to show ownership over it. Once a land-form is completed, the owning player scores it.

Maybe you already have Carcassonne and looking for something new? Luckily, the Carcassonne family of games has a huge amount of variety: My First Carcassonne which features simplified rules for the younger crowd; Carcassonne: Amazonas has players exploring the Amazon and discovering animals and tribes; Carcassonne: South Seas you place meeples to gather and ship goods; In Hunters and Gathers, you are exploring untouched forests, rives, and meadows to hunt, gather, and fish! The Carcassonne family of games generally play 2-5 people, aged 8+, in 30-45 minutes.

pic2375542_md.pngIn Best Treehouse Ever (Amazon), players are drafting cards and building rooms to create the best treehouse ever! Cards are placed according to a few rules. New rooms must be supported by two branches, the must touch a room of the same color and they must not cause the tree to tip over. You have three weeks (rounds) to build your treehouse and each round you place five rooms  so we are talking one heck of a treehouse. At the end of the round, players can tweak with the scoring by placing game-changer cards which increase the points for certain types of rooms. The rooms are silly, and the gameplay is surprisingly strategic for such a quick game. It plays 2-4 humans, aged 8 and up, for 20 minutes.

pic3176771_md.jpgIn Dream Home (Amazon) you are scaling back a bit from Quadropolis and building your perfect house and competing with your neighbors to have the *best* house. Each player starts with a basic McMansion tableau with 12 empty rooms to fill; five on the second floor, five on the first and two in the basement. Players take turns choosing from a pair of cards from the market. Each pair will consist of one room and one resource (helpers, handy-persons, architects, tools, etc.) to use in building their home. The room gets placed according to some simple rules, and the resource can be used immediately or later to score more points. You can expand rooms for more points (a playroom is nice but a huge playroom is even better), and add decor to provide the perfect finishing touch. It plays 2-4 players, aged 7+, in 20-40 minutes. This was also one of my picks for best games of 2016.


pic1992476_md.jpgIn Machi Koro (Amazon), you’ve been elected Mayor and your new constituents want it all! In order to build these you need to develop big working from the basics (you are starting with a wheat field and bakery). On your turn you first roll your dice and depending on the result different cards are activated. Blue cards can be activated on anyone’s turn. Green cards are activated only on the active player’s turn and Red cards are only activated on other players turns. After the roll and the cards are activated, the active player can choose to buy a new card from the market to place into their town. It is random. It is mean. It also has a few exapnsions and a Target Stores Only edition. It plays 2-4 (5 with the Harbor Expansion) players, aged 10+, in 30 minutes. I placed this in the intermediate category due to the amount of direct player interaction and capacity for vindictive city building. Basically, this game can be as mean as you want it to be and it certainly is never fair.

pic2840020_md.jpgThe same people who brought you Ticket to Ride are bringing you Quadropolis (Amazon) where you are the Mayor. In order to bring your city into the modern age and meet the specific needs of your constituents, you will need to determine a strategy for what direction your city will develop. At the same time you will compete against adjacent cities. You will need residential buildings, shops, public services, parks, harbors, and factories to provide the most efficient infrastructure and to elevate you to the mayor hall of fame (that doesn’t actually exist). Players will vie for the perfect building to construct and then allocate the right amount of people and energy to each to score the most points. It plays 2-4 players, aged 8 and up, in 30-60 minutes and is a great step up from my personal favorite game of all time, Alhambra.


pic1418335_md.jpgIn Suburbia (Amazon), you are working to take a small town and develop it into a powerful metropolis. But this is no easy feat. Players buy tiles from a real estate market and then place in their borough. The building tiles add residential, commercial, civic, and industrial areas to your town as well as provide additional benefits. Unlike many of the games previously discussed, the placement of the tiles is exceedingly important as building tiles can effect each other and the tiles of other players. Experienced players can develop combinations of tiles that will be devastating to newer players. As you build your town’s reputation, the population will grow and income will increase. Your borough will grow but so will the cost to maintain it. The planning and interaction in Suburbia feels a lot like SimCity™ if it were a board game. It plays 1-4 players, aged 13+, and games last for 90 minutes. Expansions add additional building tiles and room for a fifth player.

A Few Hints on Organizing a Game Night

  1. Teach: Be prepared to teach at least one game and demo them all.
  2. Volunteers: Have at least one volunteer/staff per 4-5 players. If players are experienced, then one volunteer/staff per 8-10 players.
  3. Families: Encourage families to attend and play together. Make it an inter-generational event.
  4. Multiple Copies: Provide multiple copies of game you are teaching.
  5. Partner: Local Gaming Groups, a Friendly Local Game Store, other libraries.
  6. Scaffolding: If you plan on multiple events, teach a new game each event and have multiple copies of games previously taught available.
  7. Classics: Provide classic games. People love them. They are inexpensive. They have no zero barrier to entry.
  8. Open: Play in open areas in the library if possible. Encourage spectators. A crowd makes everything better!
Featured image is of the Yick Cheong Building, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong taken by Flickr user aotaro 

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