Progress is inevitable. Civilization continues to grow, and as the population expands so must the cities we live in. What a business opportunity!
Prove your worth and get rich by building towers both residential and commercial in the wonderful world of Expancity.
How It Plays
In Expancity, players are racing to earn points by building skyscrapers in the best locations and completing contracts for the local governments.
On your turn, you first play a tile (you have 2 tiles in your hand to play from). There are residential zones, commercial zones, and special tiles, and there are no specific rules about which tiles can be placed next to each other.
After placing a tile, you have 3 actions to spend with your building materials. For each action, you can either add 1 level from your supply to a building on the board (or start a new building on a commercial or residential tile), or add 1 building level to your supply from your reserve. It’s worth noting that Residential buildings can be from 1-3 stories, and Commercial buildings can be 4 stories or taller – however, you can only build a building 1 level higher than a previously completed building of the same type. So, you have to build a 4-story Commercial building before you can build a 5-story, and so forth.
After your actions, you then have the option to “Complete” any buildings of yours on the board by capping them with a roof, and scoring points for that building.
Each building is worth 1 point per level – but the special tiles, which come in the form of parks, police stations, malls, churches, bars, and more – can add or subtract points per level to adjacent buildings. Also, any adjacent residential or commercial zones that are entirely empty count as -1 point per level. These points only apply at the moment a building is capped, so you can’t ruin another player’s score by adding a -1 tile adjacent to their 7-story building after it’s been scored and expect it to do anything.
When you cap a building, you also earn a Contract card. These cards give you secondary goals to work toward to earn bonus points. You might need to control buildings next to parks, or build three 4-story buildings, or a wide variety of alternative possibilities. There’s no limit to how many contract cards you can hold, or complete in one turn, and you can score a contract card immediately if you meet the conditions of the card when you draw it.
After collecting any Contracts you’ve earned, you then draw 2 new tiles from the bag, keep 1 tile and return the other, and pass play to the next player.
The game ends when all tiles have been played, and whoever has the most points, wins.
Build This City On Rock And Roll?
I love it when a game manages to mesh a straightforward, recognizable theme with clean mechanics in a way that makes sense. It makes such a game all the more learnable and playable. That’s not something that works for every theme or every game, and it doesn’t need to – but when it works, it’s a beautiful thing. It removes a mental gap, especially for less experienced players of board games. Instead of trying to learn the game’s terminology while trying to understand how to win the game, the connection is instant – you know exactly what to do.
Such is the case in Expancity from Breaking Games.
I’d be willing to guess that just about anyone who could be playing this game will have a good idea of what a city is, what a skyscraper is, and what other place you might find in a city. From there, it’s natural to assume that the bigger your building, the more points – and the better the building’s location, even more points – and that assumption is absolutely correct. That means the game can get rolling relatively quickly, even with new players.
I also like that there are few restrictions on where things can be placed. No rules on which tiles can be put next to which other tiles. No restrictions on claiming empty tiles, no requirements to add any building pieces at all. That allows the players to focus more on the best strategic placement versus spending time trying to understand why tile X can’t go in open spot Y.
There are a few caveats to that – you can only have 3 buildings under construction at once, which is a rule that is easy to forget and also easy to overlook. Especially later in the game, when your city is sprawling, it’s easy to forget you started a residential building across town and not notice till 3 turns later that you began a fourth building. The limitations on building height are also early hangups – no, you don’t have to build a 3-story Residential before you can build a 4-story Commercial. Several players forgot you have to cap a building at a certain level before you can go one story higher.
But those are minor hiccups to an otherwise smooth-flowing, fast paced tile game, and those rules exist to force strategic planning.
Expancity just looks fantastic. You start with nothing, and as you play you create this sprawling city that fills the table. The towering skyscrapers pack a whole lot of oomph. The colors pop with brightness without being obnoxious. It’s just fun to look at, plain and simple. And not overdesigned, either! The tiles are clear and easy to read, visually distinguishable without feeling cluttered, and the bonuses printed large enough to see from the edge of the table. Buildings are capped with grey pieces, with 1 design for Residential buildings and 2 designs for Commercial that make them easy to spot. I have only one complaint about the physical production – I do wish a visual reminder had been printed on the zoning tiles to remind players that empty residential/commercial zones are a -1 point modifier to adjacent buildings. It’s the most commonly forgotten rule, especially as it doesn’t usually come into play until the end of the game when players are running out of building materials.
While there’s certainly luck in the tile draws and contract cards, there are enough mechanic options to feel mostly in control of your own fate. It’s never hard to toss a building tile up next to the valuable special tile with a +2 modifier and take advantage of those points. Whenever you draw a tile or card, you draw 2 of it and choose 1 to keep, decreasing your odds of never getting anything you want, but without slowing the game down too much by presenting too many options at once.
The building supply mechanism may seem weird at first, but it actually serves as a nice balancer. If you get a lot of buildings started early on, that’s great – but you’ll find your supply running low, and spending more actions at the end of the game just to get more materials. On the other hand, if you draw a bunch of special tiles and can’t seem to get as many buildings started early, you can beef up your supply so you’re ready for the late-game slowdown.
You can earn a ton of points either by building many small buildings, completing them quickly, and gaining a ton of contract cards to work toward, or by focusing on building the tallest commercial tower you can finish before the game ends. Any mix in between can work just as well. Either way, it’s a satisfying experience – to see your buildings fill the landscape, to stock up on completed Contract cards, or to finally place the cap on that 8-story towering menace worth 5 points per level. (I think my best single-building score is 7 levels at 6 points per level. Someday I’ll get that 8-story!)
Circling back around to learning the game – I like how the game leans into itself gradually. At the start of the game you don’t have a ton of options, you just want to get a building on the board. You can only start 1 building at the beginning, so it’s simple. Someone will invariably place a Residential building early on, which they can then cap, which demonstrates the completion of a building and how to earn Contract cards before things get too far under way. You can practically teach the game by simply starting to play and being the first person to go. I will throw in a caveat here, though. My biggest criticism of the game is that the last two turns tend to grind to a halt. This happens because people tend to complete multiple buildings on their last turn, allowing them to draw multiple contract cards – and drawing 2, keeping 1 each time. Then they’ve got to study the board to make sure to pick the best contract, and since the city is so sprawling by then it isn’t quick to find all the special tiles you might need behind the skyscrapers.
I think this rough landing will ease up as players gain more experience, and while momentum drops it doesn’t kill the game’s fun for me. After all, it is the last turn, and you know exactly when it’s coming.
Overall, Expancity is a delightful, colorful, expansive game of strategy with amazing components. I’ll note that some of my more casual players had some trouble thinking about the different ways of scoring points and making the best decisions, but they still had fun. I enjoy the strategy and the spectacle, and would highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a new family game to add to their collection.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Breaking Games for providing a review copy of Expancity.