Suburbia – Review

Welcome to the planning department! Here we look out upon the vast swathes of land that surround our fair city and decide what should be built there. Can’t you see it? Over there we will build houses and play parks, maybe the occasional civic building. To the West we will build an amazing industrial park complete with airports and nothing else and to the East, well there we will build shopping malls as far as the eye can see. Don’t forget the lakes, water is very important. Trust me.

Working 9 to 5

Starting out with your own little corner of the city every turn in Suburbia is a series of important choices and an increasingly intricate smorgasbord of interactions with your ultimate aim being to attract the most citizens to your particular part of the city. Things start out simple enough: pay for a tile, pick it up, put it down in your suburb. It’s the placement that starts to make things tricky.


Small beginnings

Each tile represents it’s own little bit of the city: an airport, restaurants, retirement homes etc. and there is some wonderful flavour right from the off. You start off with some houses, a park and a factory nearby, small beginnings that you can do amazing things with, but even these few tiles hint at the flavour they’ve managed to pack into the mechanics. The community park costs you some income, how much money you get in each turn, but increases your reputation, how many citizens you are attracting to your suburb every turn, because who doesn’t like a park. The heavy factory gives you income but every residential and civil building next door loses you reputation because no one wants to live next door to old smokey: simple mechanics, with deep flavour.

It begins small but soon you will find yourself with a burgeoning neighbourhood before you know it. Each turn you are going to grow your area of the town. Spending your vast sums of money, they won’t be that vast, on a new hex you’ll then be faced with the agonising choice of where to place it. This is simple at first: the airport is placed away from residential tiles, fast food restaurant’s go next to residential areas and parking lots go next to civil and commercial buildings. Of course they do.


Just a selection of some of the tiles you might see in a game

The game eases you into its more complicated ideas by splitting the tiles into 3 piles A, B and C with increasingly complex interactions. Scratch that, they become more powerful, but the interactions aren’t complex due to the mechanics of each individual tile they are complex because by the time you get to pile C you have created some kind of teetering pile of mechancis. Maybe the residential area you made earlier is now in the way of your industrial growth or you banked on airports being a thing, but now no other planner is buying them and to top it all you have totally run out of cash so you need to stick in a big lake for lots of cash (no I don’t know why lakes make money, it’s an odd wrinkle of flavour in an otherwise excellent design).

Yes you are just laying down tiles, but that’s not what you are creating. You are creating a story, one enhanced by the excellent plain art of each hex. It looks like a planners town, one of those fantastic architectural models with minute details that you’re amazed anyone has bothered to create and also reminded me of the early SimCity games as all the little roads match up nicely. The neutral nature of the graphic design allows you to fill the town with your mind, imagining the lives of your citizens as you smack down another factory to get the money you need to maybe buy them another park, but probably you’ll just build a high rise because that’s just a better move. You monster.


You will grow to hate those horrible red bumps

The scoring system is a thing of genius with an inbuilt catch up mechanic. Your two resources of money and people are all important as we have covered, but as your little town grows those damn people are just going to suck resources out of you, and you are going to grow to hate the little red lines on the scoreboard. Every time you bump over one it’s going to suck one of your income and one of your reputation from you, meaning you have to balance growing too fast, with getting to the end. Slow and steady wins the race. Or does it?

I haven’t even really mentioned goals, another wrinkle that can warp how people build their concrete jungle, I mean energy efficient urban paradise. Maybe there will be a public goal for having the largest income at the end of the game and you’ll have a private goal for having the most money giving you the perfect synergistic strategy. Nah that will never happen. What will happen is that Dave will be putting down a lot of lakes so maybe he has the lake goal hidden, so should you compete with him to deny him the points, but there is that goal in the public for the fewest lakes, but maybe he is just trying to get money, or maybe he is just going for the most contiguous lake or maybe…… You get the idea!

Eyeing up the Green Belt

Suburbia has been around long enough to have a couple of expansions though I have only picked up Suburbia Inc. myself. It’s a pretty decent expansion introducing borders that can be used to grow your suburb even larger, new goals and new tiles. However I’m very much of the opinion that Suburbia is one of those games that doesn’t really need more tiles or complication. It’s very self contained and the only reason to pick these up might be for the variety in the buildings you can get if you find yourself playing a lot and some of the borders have pretty fun themes, like the Nuclear Power plant.

The 5 Star expansion introduces a fifth player and a new victory point currency to the game but i can’t pass judgement on it having never played it. I do know that the critical reception for the second expansion was not as positive as Inc., so if you really want more I think Inc is the one to go for.

It’s also available as an app so if you really want to you can give it a go for very cheap before deciding to buy it.

We Built this City on Rock and Roll

This game folks, this game is something else. It may look dry from the outside but inside this box of hexes and points are stories of soaring skyscrapers, restaurant chains, glorious parks and the citizens that live in your suburbs. Giving you ample opportunity to lord it over an industrial wasteland just to be top dog, create a green an pleasant land, a vast commercial zone or some combination of all of those, Suburbia is a game that allows you to shape your city however you see fit and never loses sight of the most important things a boardgame can do: tell an excellent story.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

2 Responses

  1. Great review. I think this is one of my forgotten gems, I’ve only had the pleasure of playing this once (with starstudded opponents such as Toucan Play Mikael, and Actual LOL Jon. It turns out we are all rubbish at board games, but I had so much fun playing this game. I’d love to play it again and really get under the hood of this game, as I think there is a lot to explore and understand. I really should own it…

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