Board Game Review

Monopolising an Empire! (Expancity Review)

This review can also be architecturally found on Zatu here! And our TL;DR version can be found here!

Ever heard the term “the sky’s the limit”? What a terrifying concept! Which madman thought that having the sky as a unit of measure at which to cease an activity?! It’s a good thing that no one’s ever taken it as a challenge. Skyscrapers wobbling tirelessly in the stratosphere, whilst desk jockeys struggle to catch their breath in the low oxygen environment of high altitude… Not to mention the sudden temperature drop and fear of heights. Of course, no one told Breaking Games this notion was ridiculous, and they created Expancity. Expancity is a city building, area management game for 2-4 players where even the sky isn’t the limit… only your resources to build!

Gameplay

Expancity is a game where players will take turns to help build a city whilst being in direct competition with one another. The aim of the game is to earn the most points overall. These are claimed by completing buildings, contracts, and taking advantage of modifying tiles. There are also end of game goals to claim. Buildings come in two varieties: residential and commercial. Residential can be up to three in height, whereas commercial have no limit but must be at least four in height.

Getting Started

To begin, mix all the city tiles in the bag and choose three random end of game goals. The city hall tile should be placed in the centre of the table to start the city. Place the contract cards within reach of all players. All players choose a colour of building and take all the blocks. They then take out six as their starting supply and keep the rest as a reserve. They also place one on the score board to track their current score. Then players take two random tiles from the tile bag. Finally, decide who starts the game.

Phases 1&2

To start a turn, the active player must place one of their two tiles orthogonally to any existing tiles. In the initial instance, this will be the city hall. After this is done, a player can take their actions. Players can take up to three actions on their turn, and these are comprised of either taking supply cubes from the reserve or adding building blocks to a tile. If a tile doesn’t have a block on it, it remains unclaimed. Players can only build on their own buildings and can only add one building block per building per turn.

There are some restrictions to building in Expancity. It’s worth remembering that a player can never have more than three unfinished buildings on the go at any time. Also, buildings can only be one higher than their previously built buildings. In example, if your tallest commercial building is five in height, your next cannot be more than six.

Phases 3&4

Once they have finished building, players choose whether to finish any of their buildings. Choosing when to finish a building determines the points earned: each block in a building is with one, plus any modifiers. Without using an equation, you get the modifier total plus one per block. (If the modifying total is three, you’d get four per block.)

Players get a new contract card for every finished building. To do this, they draw two cards and choose one to keep. These are conditional goals that earn you points when finished. Contracts don’t always require you to own the buildings in question, often state the requirement and have a visual representation. At this point after building, you can claim any contracts you have completed, too.

Finally, you refresh you hand with a new tile from the bag. Like with contracts, you choose two and keep one. It is then the next player’s turn. The game ends when all tiles, including those in hands, are played. Scores are then added up and goals are considered. Whoever has the most points is then crowned the winner!

How It Feels to Play

Expancity is currently our favourite city building game. And we can’t see it being taken off of that pedestal anytime soon! Its got a simple concept and the mechanics it uses are far from revolutionary, but it runs to such a continuous tempo. It never runs away with itself, and you’re never lost on the current situation.

Laying Foundations

The building here is as simple as it gets: if you have the resources to build, you can build. And by resources, we mean blocks you pick up as an action. No added complications, no management of several hundred materials.. just pick up and build. This sounds simple, and for some of you it may be too simple. It doesn’t require lots of thought to identify whether you can build or not, and planning ahead is easy-peasy. There’s no challenge in the building itself. There’s something important to remember here, though! Despite it being a building game, it’s not the building of buildings that you should be focussed on. It’s the building of the actual city!

Expancity wears its ease of access on its sleeve. From the outset, you’re always in the know and can see what has happened easily. If you’re requiring a building game utilising 14 resource types and infinite building variants, I implore you to give Expancity a go! It may not have the complexity, but the tactics and planning needed to succeed are excellent. There’s a simple beauty in having an “easy” contract to complete. But ease is subjective and contextual. It’s the planning required to manipulate the city to achieve these contracts that make us believe the game is suitable for gamers of any level! You’ll always choose two new contracts and keep one. One contact worth 15 points may take a lot of manipulation, and would be worth the effort.. but newbies may prefer the snappy three pointer!

Aiming for Structural Success

Expancity is one of those games where you’ll earn a tonne of points, then none for a while, then more. You can snatch points by building small buildings in prime locations, or build for the long haul and add more to an existing location. It’s the argument of convenience over tactics. Both viable, neither perfect!

Snatching up those ideal areas surrounded by churches, parks and other modifying tiles will bolster a residential tile’s score. But, it will ruin a commercial tile! Placement is important here, especially when deciding who to assist or ruin. Playing for convenience will be all about stealing others’ efforts and getting a name for yourself as a real sleazeball. It also ties in a whole host of take-that to the game when on the delivering end. You get a nasty looking bar and put it next to someone’s half built two story residential complex. Boom! Instantly the value is reduced by one. Cold, harsh, and exactly what any evil property developer would do.

On the flip side, tactically developing an area is more rewarding and often more fruitful, but it takes a long time. You can only build one more block to each building each turn, and coupling in a limit of three actions… Well, you may have to choose whether to finish a building early or not build on it one turn to gather resources. It also coincides with how convenient the modifying tiles you acquire are. If you get tiles best suited to residential, you won’t want to put them near your new corporate empire! That’s when a tactical “take-that” play is completely viable. Cruelty out of convenience!

Atop The Highest Mountain!

You can not deny the table presence of Expancity. As the game progresses the city expands both outwards and upwards (wonder where the name came from). It’s quite a lovely thing to watch happening, and being able to visually see who owns what from the colour of the building is also aesthetically lovely. But it also tells you a story of how that player plays. Whether they create their own district, land grab across the city, or focus on sky scrapers, it somehow doesn’t reflect on the scores. As we said earlier, any style of play is viable, but none perfect. Visually, we’d say this has superior table presence to games like Big City, simply because it expands in all three dimensions. What’s more is the quality of the building blocks themselves. They’re stunning!

In A Nutshell

Expancity is both one of the simplest city building games we’ve played, and also our favourite. Mainly because it allows you to actually build a physical city, but also because of its ridiculously high level of access in all the right ways! It looks like a game you want to play, and it plays like one too. There’s some downtime between turns when people aren’t 100% with the game, but generally it’s quite well paced and time spent planning. There is some upset in the game… It can be disheartening when a building you’ve worked on becomes valueless, but the contracts available to players balance this out and give the buildings more than one purpose.

The game runs for longer than some newer gamers may be used to, but you know when you’re running out of time and can therefore plan accordingly. It’s not a complex game, but allows for tactical play gives players directions and objectives to achieve. We can acknowledge it’s going to be best suited to families or newer gamers, but we think it would be enjoyed by everyone due to the level of tactics available! It’s a genuinely wonderful game.