Have Days Of Wonder produced something wondrous? Maybe they have!
The red player’s architects for the Basic game.
Days Of Wonder has an enviable reputation as a games publisher and a new game from this house inevitably generates interest among players. Ticket To Ride, Memoir ’44 and Small World have all been huge successes for the company, expanded and extended to become game systems in themselves, while recent additions such as Five Tribes have also received critical acclaim. Quadropolis is in exalted company, and the expectations are correspondingly high, but is this too much to expect from debut designer François Gandon, or do we have another potential hit on our hands?
If you have ever played Sim City or one of its derivatives on the PC you will have a fair idea of the ground Quadropolis covers, or if you have ever played the board game Suburbia, for here we are in the realm of idealised city building. Here you build your metropolis better and further than your fellow players in order to attract the most citizens and the greatest prosperity and, as a happy consequence of that, to reel in the victory points needed to win.
More than the sum of its parts? Have a look in the box!
Everything fits snugly into the insert.
Days Of Wonder has a reputation for producing top quality components, and opening the box reveals that Quadropolis is no exception to that, with nearly 150 thick and sturdy tiles, over 50 fetchingly translucent meeples, barrels, architects, player mats and many more bits and pieces besides. They have even tucked a small expansion into the box as well as two separate levels of play – Classic and Expert – and everything fits snugly into the custom insert. The leftover cardboard can even be placed under the insert to allow collectors to store the box in an upright position without the components moving around. The rulebook is the same type of big and colourful design we have come to expect from Days Of Wonder, with clear illustrations to help newly qualified mayors and architects on their way, and little details make it clear that this is a thoughtful piece of design. Male and female characters are provided in pretty equal measure, the types of buildings are differentiated by symbol as well as colour, and the iconography is lean and intuitive, taking very little time to pick up. Tile design is also excellent – top left is what you receive when you place your tile, bottom right is what you need to activate it.
Iconography is clear.
The initial impression is of a decent amount of play in the box and the promise of being able to fine tune the complexity and challenge of Quadropolis to your own group. With all the components you might be forgiven for thinking that this is going to be a difficult game to teach, but the actions available for a player to take are strictly limited. Where Quadropolis comes to life is that the choices to be made when taking those actions have far-reaching repercussions on the way things will play out, and on what options will remain for your opponents to take.
Classic or Expert Quadropolis? Get into the mode!
In Classic mode, which is the focus of this review, the available buildings are laid out in a five by five grid and each player receives four architects, which are arrow-shaped and numbered from one to four, and a player mat. There are some other things to be done when setting up Quadropolis, but that really is the sum of the important stuff and you can go a-playing in fairly short order. Each player will take turns to place an architect along one of the edges of the grid (unless they grab the ‘starting player’ tile) and then, if applicable, take and place a building, receiving its resources which will eventually be used to activate their city. When all four architects have been placed the round is over and a new set of buildings is revealed.
Blue’s ‘1’ architect, gets the tile next to it, Red’s ‘3’ gets the tile three spaces along.
The twist is that a player’s choice of architect limits their choice of building. Placing architect number one means you must take the first building in the row or column you choose, architect number four dictates that you take the fourth building and so on.
As if that were not enough the architect also dictates where you can place the building in your city, so architect two means that your building can only go into your second column or row or as the second floor of a stackable building (such as a Tower Block). Can’t place it? Well tough. The building in question is discarded and you do not receive any resources from it.
You block me and I block you? Let’s interact!
The Urbanist blocks placement.
In another wrinkle, when a building is taken the Urbanist is then placed on that spot and the next architect may not be placed where it would point to the Urbanist. This means that your turn does not just involve choosing a building, but also gives you the possibility of blocking a row and column for the next player. The deeper into a round you go the fewer architects you have left, so by the time you are down to your last one your options have the tendency to become severely limited. It is a great example of a mechanic that starts off appearing warm and fuzzy but then suddenly reveals itself to be cutthroat and decidedly nasty. If playing with four players things can get tetchy, but as a head-to-head it becomes something very special indeed as you try to work out what the other player can do with the architects they have left. Do not let the pastel colours and smooth graphical design fool you – this has the potential to get prickly.
Cleverly, Quadropolis reveals its complexities as the rounds progress – the beginning of play is free and easy and allows the architects to go more or less where they please, but by the end of round four, as your city begins to take shape, you will find that your options of selection and placement have been severely curtailed. Your towers grow next to the parks and the harbour begins to spread along the seafront next to the factory – all you need now is another shop for your inhabitants, and there it is on the grid, available with your one remaining architect. Suddenly you realise that you may well be able to take it, but you cannot place it in your city, and all you can do is tuck away that knowledge and keep it locked in reserve for your next play. At the end of the first game it is quite likely that you will be raring to play it again and put all the new knowledge that you have acquired to good use.
You know the score! But only at the end…
One very neat touch which simplifies Quadropolis but also maintains interest throughout for all players is that there is no scoring whatsoever during the game. Neither is there any of the tableau building and activation of incremental powers that one might have expected from a building game of this type. The gameplay is kept clean, fresh and simple throughout, making this an ideal choice for luring interested occasional players into something more involving. Players do not need to remember to use one ability which then triggers another and so on, instead they choose from limited options, place from limited options…and that is it until the very end. To score points the buildings need to be activated, but while players are free to move their inhabitants and energy units at any point during the game (and thereby might have some idea of how their city is doing), the scoring only takes place at the very end.
Scoring is easy to understand.
The scoring can appear complicated but Quadropolis comes equipped with several ‘helper’ sheets for players to use. These are handy references on how the different categories of buildings score and the various effects they offer, but the buildings will only earn you victory points if they are activated, which means that players need to keep accumulating resources throughout the game and balancing the immediate gain from buildings with their ultimate utility. Tower Blocks score based on their height, Shops need customers, Public Services need to be in different districts, Parks go next to Tower Blocks (and absorb pollution), Factories need Shops or Harbours, and Harbours are best in lines or columns. These requirements often pull in different directions, so you will need to think carefully about where your buildings will go. Expert mode will also give you Office Towers and Monuments, and the Playgrounds mini-expansion comes in the box too. Decisions, decisions!
Is Quadropolis a towering design or just more gaming pollution? It’s good news!
This is a really appealing and fresh design that has the potential to be a huge success, especially with the clout of Days Of Wonder behind it. Within a clean and simple set of rules are hidden a number of intriguing and involving decisions and these combine with an activation and scoring mechanic that means you may well have no real idea how you are doing compared with your opponents until the very end. Given that Quadropolis comes fully equipped with an Expert mode for those who would like a more gritty experience, and an expansion in the box as well, there is a serious amount of play in here, and it appears to be ripe for further expansions. It also plays well at all player counts, ticking along smoothly as a four-player experience, and being pleasantly thinky and involving (and possibly even best) with two. In yet another impressive piece of design you always use the same tiles at all player counts, but when playing with fewer than four some of them remain face down at the start of the game thus blocking certain spaces. It really is refreshing not to have to extract or add certain tiles for different player counts and it is another piece of enlightened thinking by the designer.
Translucent tokens are a nice touch.
It is early days for Quadropolis, but it may just pull off a feat similar to other games from the same publishing stable, combining clarity of thought and execution with enough interesting options to appeal across the board, pardon the pun. It may ultimately end up being just a whisker away from being considered a classic, but it is very, very good indeed and should be welcomed by a broad range of gamers.
Granted, if you prefer miniatures or zombies and tearing things down rather than building things up then you might not find what you need here, but fans of light to medium weight strategy games will find plenty to interest them and, in many ways, this is a perfect step to something a little more involved. Quadropolis could even be considered a stepping stone between Days Of Wonder’s Ticket To Ride and Five Tribes. Gandon has laid down a strong marker with his first published design, and I believe that he has succeeded in his aim of provoding something fun and deep for gamers and non-gamers alike. I and the players I game with have enjoyed Quadropolis very much and we expect it to become a regular part of my gaming rotation. It will be fascinating to see what this promising designer comes up with next.
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I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.