I was playing WarCraft III with @Futurewolfie and one of our friends a few years ago. We were on a local network, each on our laptops or desktops, our positions and strategies unknown to the others. I was furiously clicking, commanding my workers, building my army, preparing for battle. I had all sorts of buildings, my upgrades were maxed out, and my little city was beautiful.
I was out of the game almost as soon as my location was discovered.
The reason? I was playing WarCraft like it was Sim City.
I’ve abandoned computer games for the most part, but I’ve taken my desire to build into the tabletop realm. Even after several years in the hobby, though, I hadn’t found a game that mimicked the experience of building a city from the ground up.
Until I saw Sunrise City from Clever Mojo Games. But is it worth breaking ground for? Find out below!
How It Works
Sunrise City is a role-selection and tile-laying game for two to four players with a city-building theme. It plays in around an hour.
At the beginning of the game, players receive a set of playing pieces in their color (six bidding chips and a score track marker) and draft a hand of three role cards to play during the game. The City Hall tile is placed in the center of the table.
The game is played over a series of three rounds, and each round follows four phases: preparation, zoning, bidding, and construction. In the preparation phase, each player draws four zoning tiles and four building tiles and chooses one of their drafted role cards to play. The role cards are numbered, and the player who plays the lowest-numbered card will be the start player for the round.
In the zoning phase, players take turns playing their zoning tiles orthogonally adjacent to tiles that are already part of the city. If a player plays a zoning tile adjacent to another tile of the same color, that player scores a point for creating a district. Similarly, there are five community zoning tiles, and if a player later plays a building tile of the same color adjacent (also diagonally) to these tiles, the player scores a point. (In the second and third rounds, the first player directs the zoning by choosing a direction–players must play zone tiles to that direction of the City Hall tile.)
Next, using their bidding chips, players bid for which zones they would like to build on. The first floor of a building must occupy at least one zone that a player owns, and it must be played on matching zoning tiles (so, for example, a blue building segment must be built on a blue zoning tile). Players play one bidding chip per turn, even covering other players’ chips, and the chip at the top of any stack in a zone claims that zone at the end of the phase. (If a player gets two zoning chips in a row, bidding is closed on that zone.)
Finally, players lay their building tiles in turn order. Buildings are two squares wide and may be played as the ground floor (first floor) of a building or on top of already laid buildings to move the city skyward. Buildings may be played as the ground floor as long as the building’s player controls at least one of the zones it’s on. Players score points for building buildings, for having their zones developed with buildings, and for bonuses when a building gets high enough.
The goal of Sunrise City, however, is not to earn points; it’s to earn benchmark tokens. The scoreboard for Sunrise City shows four tracks (one for each player) tracking only points 1-10. Players earn one benchmark token whenever they pass 10 points. But if players land on 10 by exact count, they score two benchmark tokens.
Play ends after three rounds. Whoever has the most benchmark tokens is the winner.
Sunrise City is a stunning game, first off. Stunning. And I don’t just mean if it gets dropped on you from above (all five pounds of which might do more than stun you). Rather, the production for this game is so good. From the clean, optimism-inducing, and evocative cover art to the consistent look and design throughout the game, to the incredible thick building tiles to the oversized zoning tiles, Sunrise City is, as I said, stunning, a production benchmark for future Kickstarter projects (and non-Kickstarter games, really) to aspire to.
Of course, none of this matters if the game isn’t any good. Thankfully, Sunrise City is an excellent game as well. The game is simple enough with a broad enough thematic appeal that it can be played with a wide variety of players, yet the game offers enough interesting decisions to keep new and experienced players returning. And the pieces really do get players interested in the gameplay. Each player I’ve introduced the game to has loved the thick tiles and the idea of building a city upward.
Sunrise City is a bit of a mechanics mishmash, in a good way: it has a little of card drafting, role selection, and auctions and a lot–a lot, a lot, a lot–of tile laying. Yet despite these disparate parts, the game fits together and flows very well. It’s fun to lay tiles, and it’s especially fun to construct buildings and build the city upward. The mechanics of the tile laying aren’t necessarily novel, but the implementation of them is a pleasing twist that should be a standout for players.
Where I think Sunrise City stands out mechanically is its scoring system. The game is not about scoring the most points; it’s about scoring the smartest points. The best play is often not the one that’s worth the most points; rather, it’s the one that will get you to land on the star symbol by exact count. It’s fun trying to manipulate your plays to land on the star. It’s also fun to thwart your opponents by messing up their finesse plays, either pushing them past the star or ruining the setup they’ve just attempted. The role cards are particularly useful here. Whereas building tiles in a player’s hand are concealed, role cards let every player know when bonus points are scored. Sometimes it is in a player’s best interest to hand an opponent bonus points in order to prevent him or her from achieving a double benchmark. Even though Sunrise City is a mechanics mishmash, this is one area where Sunrise City stands on its own, and the scoring is interesting enough to make this game worth checking out.
The optimism evoked by the cover is present in the game. In some games, points are scarce and hard to come by, and every single point matters. I know that, in some respects, every point matters in any game, but Sunrise City does not feel like it runs on scarcity. Rather, you are building up a burgeoning city. Resources, points, benchmarks abound. Players can score points through their role cards, through community tiles, through districts, through their own buildings, and through others building on their zones. There are so many options that the game is really open to clever playing. Players aren’t confined, and that makes the game fun for beginners. The game has a wealth of options, and that makes the game fun for more experienced players.
I mentioned thwarting your opponents, and there’s definitely an aspect of that in Sunrise City. Despite this, the punk factor in the game is fairly low. The bidding war for zones can be cutthroat, but usually the zones will be fairly evenly distributed. And even if someone builds on your zone (this is allowed as long as at least one zone bears that player’s token), you score bonus points for the building they played, and these are always consistent per color (unless the other player plays a purple building on your plot–worth 0 points–then they’re just mean). I think, in this respect, the game is similar to Ticket to Ride: you can play with people cutting each other off or taking a pleasant train journey through the countryside. The game is only as cutthroat as the players.
After all that I said in praise of the components at the beginning of this review, there are a few downsides to them. First, the cardstock for the role cards is not very good. I’ve run into this problem with other Kickstarter games, but it’s disappointing that a game that excels in so many other component areas falls short in this one. The cards were also so tightly shrinkwrapped that I scratched one of the cards right out of the pack. Not a huge deal, as I would have sleeved the cards anyway (see: cheap cardstock above), but disappointing.
Also, while it’s easy to tell the purple and blue zoning tiles apart when you see them together, if you are holding only one of them in your hand, the blue looks kind of purple and the purple looks kind of blue. I wish there had been more contrast between the two colors, but this is easily fixed. I make sure to show players at the beginning of the game which is which so they have a point of reference during play.
The last component “issue” is more like a backhanded compliment. I love the super thick tiles for the buildings in this game, especially when it comes time to lay them on top of each other and build the city, but they are a bear to shuffle. (I love the “such-and-such in five seconds” videos on Board Game Geek, but the one for Sunrise City is my favorite, and also very true.) This isn’t a huge deal–so it takes a little longer to set up? worth it–but more often than not it means that I don’t shuffle the tiles as well as they should be shuffled.
Sunrise City scales decently well from two to four players, though the two-player game is different and not quite as good. Also, the two-player game benefits from the inclusion of two variants: the double bidding option in the rulebook and drawing/playing six tiles instead of four (a variant mentioned by Clever Mojo on the Board Game Geek forums but not included in the rulebook). My wife and I have enjoyed the two-player game as a leisurely break. We play nicely, we focus on building a cool-looking city, and it works well for us. But where the game shines, I think, is with more players. The “auction” for zone tiles fosters fierce competition, and there are more opportunities for clever play. It also makes it harder to finesse your point track to score in exactly ten-point increments, making the game a more enjoyable challenge. It’s fun with two; it’s best with more.
Sunrise City is a little bit meatier than the typical “gateway” game, but I think it still fits this category well, though the rulebook may be long for novice gamers: it may be best to be taught rather than learn the game yourself if you’re not comfortable with reading rules. Also, it can take a few turns to get the hang of the game, which may bother some players. Still, the game is competitive if players want it to be or leisurely if such is the will of the people. I enjoy the game both ways: the components are so well done, and the thought of building a city is fun and different enough that I don’t mind Sunrise City as a wind-down game (though I prefer a competitive atmosphere). Basically, I think Sunrise City is pretty great, a poster child for how Kickstarter games should be done. If the theme for this one interests you at all, I urge you to give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Game Salute for providing us with a review copy of Sunrise City.