Another review, another small box game to make my hands feel like giant hands. Flip City is a game that I’ve been intrigued about for a while. I do have a regular gaming group but for the most part I play short, competitive games with my husband. We like deck builders, we like games with city building themes, and we like an occasional push your luck element. The game also has a nifty little feature; each card can be upgraded or ‘flipped’, changing its attributes and allowing you to improve your own deck. On paper, this is right up our metaphorical alley.
Formerly known as Design Town, Flip City is a light push-your-luck deck building game for 1-4 players, from Chih Fan Chen and Tasty Minstrel Games. The goal of the game is to create the most awesome city by buying and upgrading buildings, stacking your deck and eventually hitting a victory point target.
How it Plays
Setup is pretty easy. Start by laying out five stacks of cards to form a central pool: Convenience Stores, Offices (optional), Hospitals, Factories and Central Parks. You’ll be buying these during the game. Each player gets an identical deck of nine cards which represent the buildings they have in their city. Shuffle your deck, being careful not to look at cards or accidentally flip them! I’d recommend holding onto your deck in your non-dominant hand, because you’ll be playing cards directly from your deck instead of drawing a hand of cards. Setup complete!
The starting player plays at least one card from their hand to the area in front of them, enacting any play effects on the card. Cards usually give you money, victory points or sad faces. If you get three sad faces, (we’ll call this the ‘Sad Face Limit’) you bust and your turn is over. So you can keep on going but beware of those pesky unhappy citizens. But it’s a little more complicated that that; sometime you don’t have a choice but to bust. For example, you start the game with four residential cards. Residential cards are the WORST; not only do they push you toward your Sad Face Limit but their card power dictates that if it’s on the top of your deck then playing it is mandatory.
Once you’ve played as many cards as you dare, assuming you didn’t bust, you can take some actions. Unless a card power tells you otherwise, you may can spend the coins you’ve accrued during your turn to carry out one of the following activities: buy, flip or develop. If you buy, you spend your coins to take a card from the central pool and add it to your discard pile. To flip, you can turn over a card in your discard pile, paying the price indicated in the bottom right. To develop, you may buy a card as well as flipping it, providing you have enough cold hard cash.
As an extra little feature, some cards allow you to carry out an additional action during your card laying phase. At any point during the first part of your turn you may search your discard pile for a card with the green recycle icon on the bottom right. To recycle, flip the card over and receive the benefit shown. So you may lose the benefit of having an upgraded card on your next turn, but if you time it just right you could win the game by getting that one extra victory point, or even with a strategic removal of a Sad Face.
Once you’re finished, move your used cards to your discard pile. If your deck is empty, shuffle your discard pile (being careful not to flip any!) to create a new one. Now it’s your opponent’s turn.
To win the game, you need to have 8 victory points in front of you (or 18 cards with a Convenience Store).
Building on classics?
Creating a city isn’t an uncommon theme, and it’s certainly not unique in the world of deck building games. If I could boil the game’s theme down, I would say that it springs from a romantic union betwixt Dominion and Suburbia. And in fact, it’s got a lot of the feel of Dominion, albeit with a different spin. I only got as far as the base game of Dominion because I had a couple of problems with it. I liked the combos but it sometimes meant that turns took forever. I felt that Flip City addressed this in a major way with the push your luck element. It’s only quite late into the game that you’re able to make really long chains, because the ‘sad face limit’ forces you to play cautiously or risk busting and losing your turn. And because the game also lets you upgrade cards by flipping them, you manage to double your options but not increase setup time or the amount of space needed to play. Double bonus.
I have to say I’m a big fan of these added mechanisms. The push your luck element adds a nice tension while keeping turns moving and the momentum high. The flip mechanic makes the play more economical, and makes just enough thematic sense to work. Players drawing straight from a deck also tightens up play, as you’re not worried about what order to play your card. You’re instead concentrating on stacking and streamlining your deck by buying and upgrading cards.
I like the added ‘take-that’ element to the game, as well. If you upgrade an Apartment, it gets flipped back to a Residential area and goes to your opponent’s discard pile. If you play a Power Plant then you get to move an Apartment card from your discard area to your opponent’s. Some people are put off by conflict, but we’re just dysfunctional enough to enjoy games that let you throw metaphorical sand into the eyes of the person sat opposite you. In reality you can play it as aggressively as you so desire. Personally, I desire blood. But that’s just me.
If I’ve got any concern about this game it’s a niggling question of replay value. Yes, the game has been great for the dozen or so plays I’ve had so far, but I’m not sure about what the future will hold. I feel like I’ve found my strategy in the game; I’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t for me. I don’t REALLY have much incentive to change that up. Then it just becomes about luck. I feel like it would be really easy to burn out on this game by over-playing it. Other deck builders have gotten around this with (sometimes waves of) expansions but that sort of goes against the economic nature of Flip City (it calls itself a ‘Microdeckbuilder’ on the box). I know the game technically includes an expansion in the form of the optional Office cards, but I can’t see any reason not to use them as standard. The rules are simple enough that one extra card action doesn’t make it much harder to learn.
This is also another one of those games that bills as 2-4 players but really only shines with two. I very much enjoy this with one opponent and am as hostilely indifferent as it’s possible to be at the prospect of any more players than that. As a side note, there is a one player variant, which is a nice feature for those who enjoy solitaire gaming. I’m not really one of those people.
The card quality is good. They feel like they’ll last quite well if they’re not man-handled. The artwork is great. It’s light, it’s cheery and has a simple cartoony art-style. It come in sturdy box which is big enough to hold the cards when sleeved, yet still remains small and compact. I’m not a fan of fold-out rules inserts but it’s not a big problem, and the addition of a QR code/web address for a gameplay video is nice. Classy move, TMG. I feel like they get me.
So overall? Yes. Solid deck building game that feels fresh. Plays quickly, rules light and very easy to pick up. Artwork and theme are pleasant if not overly original. It’s a well priced game that provides good value for money. Flip City is a solid couples game from Tasty Minstrel.