Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Big City

Design by:  Franz-Benno Delonge
Published by:  Rio Grande Games & Goldsieber
2 – 6 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser


Many have now had chance to try this city building game from designer Franz-Benno Delonge and reaction has generally been favorable.  Some have complained about the ‘luck of the draw’ problem as well as a few other points, but I personally feel these points are very minor and are easily overcome by the game system and mechanics itself.  The game, although enjoyable by ‘real’ gamers, is really excellent for those who aren’t as immersed in the hobby as we are (or should I say obsessed?) as well as families.

The first thing that grabs you about this game is the bits.  Awesome. Right up there with the best bits of all time.  There are houses (in 1, 2 or 3 plots size), businesses (again, in various sizes),  post offices, cinemas, banks, factories, parks, churches, shopping malls, a city hall and even shiny silver streetcars.  These are stunningly done in 3D plastic and are quite beautiful.  Good thing, though, that the designer of Die Mauer didn’t have this idea and make these in pewter. The game would probably cost about the same as my annual income!

The mechanics of the game are fairly simple. It has a very similar feel to both Metropolis and Ransom, but is actually a bit ‘cleaner’, albeit simpler, and doesn’t have the heavy negotiation and trading aspect that these two have.  Each player receives plot cards corresponding to lots on the board wherein they can construct buildings.  The ‘board’ is actually a compilation of eight different neighborhoods, a portion of which is laid out at the very beginning by the players after they have received their initial draw of cards (one from each of the first four, five or six neighborhoods, depending upon the number of players in the game).  The other neighborhoods may be added by players as their action on a turn, but only after the pivotal City Hall has been built.

A player may take one and only one action on his turn.  There are five alternatives:

1)  Construct a building.  This is done by laying the appropriate plot card or cards and placing a building on those locations.  There are restrictions on where building may be placed, and various bonus points if other conditions are met.  For example, houses earn points based on their size, plus gain additional points if they are built on the city outskirts, next to a park, and/or next to a streetcar line.  Until the city hall is built, only residences and businesses may be constructed.

2)  Exchange cards.  Not happy with your card mix?  Then you can exchange as many cards as you’d like.  However, you may not draw more than two from any one neighborhood pile.

3)  Add a streetcar.  We used the basic rule wherein a streetcar line may only be extended from either end of an existing line.  No branches allowed.  Again, this can’t be done until city hall is built.

4)  Add a new neighborhood.  Again, one must wait until city hall is built.  (Funny, in this game a building boom ensues when city hall is built.  In New Orleans, city hall is generally blamed for the city’s demise.  Oh, well.)

5)  Pass.  Do nothing.  Admire and fondle the pretty, pretty bits.

The game, although really simplistic in its mechanics, really does have quite a bit to manage.  One must attempt to obtain the proper cards in order to place more valuable buildings, but must also try to insure that he optimizes his points by (a) getting a streetcar line to run by the plots wherein he is planning to build, (b) trying to build .. or get opponents to build … certain types of buildings on neighboring plots so you can build more valuable pieces, (c) placing neighborhoods in the proper fashion so as to align lots to the plot cards you possess.  Since a player may only take one action per turn, the choice of what to do on a turn can be tricky.  Further, the supply of each type of business is limited, so one must keep a careful eye on what is available and not wait too long to build lest the type of piece you were planning on be depleted.

Once city hall is placed, the building boom ensues.  Plus, players frantically try to maneuver the streetcar line so it will pass the plots they own (but haven’t yet built on).  This is dangerous, however, as it is quite possible an opponent may build a line which bisects plots you own, thereby preventing the construction of that nice, large complex you had planned.  I speak from experience as in one game an opponent turned the line between two of my plots, thereby eliminating the very real possibility of me constructing the incredibly valuable shopping mall (worth a whopping 30 points).  Aarrgghhh!

The other insidious pieces in the games are the factories and parks. These are represented on cards, but require no plot cards to build. These are the ‘take that!‘ cards.  If a player holds one of the four cards depicting either a factory or park, he may play that card and plop down the appropriate piece wherever it fits.  This usually covers lots where players had plot cards, rendering them worthless.  They are powerful weapons and help prevent someone from constructing large, point-rich developments.  I was the ‘hoser’ and ‘hosee’ of these tactics during one of my games, erecting an ugly factory on the edge of a streetcar line, causing groans and moans from two of my opponents who had been feverishly collecting cards from the neighborhood which bordered the line.  Later, however, another opponent developed Central Park directly over two of my adjacent plots, preventing me (again) from building a large business.  Pretty park … but rotten for business!

The game ends when no further buildings can be constructed or when everyone passes in succession.

To add a bit of spice, there is a trading variant as published on the Rio Grande website and it works very nicely.  Basically, a player may, as his action on his turn, offer one or two cards for trade.  He must only state the neighborhood(s) of the card(s) he is willing to trade and which neighborhood(s) he is seeking cards from.  If the trade can be executed, fine.  If not, he can instead use the exchange option as outlined in the regular rules.  This new variant does add a small trading element to the game and allows players to secure some needed cards.  I like it and will now use it in matches with gamers, but probably leave it out when playing with my family and ‘non-gamer’ friends.

In spite of the game’s simple and straight-forward mechanics, there is some depth here.  Deciding which cards to choose, which buildings to construct, when to hold off in hopes of gathering more adjacent land plot cards … which carries with it the risks of opponents using the buildings you were planning on constructing, diverting streetcars away or through your properties and the tragedy of having a park or unsightly factory erected over your property …. can all be tricky and sometimes agonizing.  For gamers who enjoy trading and negotiation, it is not as rich a game as Metropolis or even Ransom, but it still very rewarding in its own right.

Several have aimed criticisms concerning a few aspects.  As mentioned, most buildings cannot be built or steetcars and neighborhoods cannot be added until City Hall has been constructed.  Problem is that constructing City Hall counts as a player’s only action on a turn and it yields no points.  Some feel this is a huge disadvantage to the player who actually builds City Hall as it allows his opponents to swoop in and erect buildings next to this government building (which doubles the points earned for most buildings) before he gets a chance to.  I disagree.  Timing is the key here.  One should wait to build City Hall until he possesses one or more plots adjacent to the location he will construct it in.  This insures that he will be able to get the benefits of spending a turn in its construction.

We also try to compensate for the player who was last in placing one of the initial neighborhoods by allowing him to draw one extra card BEFORE he places his neighborhood and allowing that player to play first.  This seems to work just fine.

No doubt, Big City will seem a bit ‘light’ for some hard core gamers.  I feel, though, that there is more ‘meat’ here than originally meets the eye.  Plus, it is simply fun to play and can easily appeal to both gamers and non-gamers alike.  A winning combination.

Big City plays with 2 – 6 players, but seems best with 3 – 5.  It plays to completion in little over an hour and would rate a ‘3’ on the complexity scale of 1 – 10 (1 Low, 10 PhD required).  I would rate it a ‘7’ for overall enjoyment.


  1. Big City raised a ruckus in 1999 with its gigantic plastic buildings, and the gameplay is quite simple–almost relaxing–once the rules are understood. The underlying puzzle is satisfying with a big increase in chaos as the number of players rises. A reprint has been discussed for 5 years now but the design is growing stale; it doesn’t warrant the current trader’s rate. At this point, it needs a rework before a re-release makes sense. Does it even need to be BIG anymore? (7/10)

  2. I like the subway bonuses. Very good game. (7/10)

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