City of the Big Shoulders – First Thoughts

First Thoughts pieces represent our very raw impressions of a game after an initial play. They are not full reviews and should not be regarded as such.

You know what I like by now. I’m a theme meets mechanic kind of person, looking for games where the two are beautifully intertwined. Heavier economic games, like the 18xx series, have always put me off with their long playtimes and spreadsheet looks. That said, I have always been of the opinion that a critic should always try and experience a wide range of games and so I put on my top hat and monocle and joined a game of City of the Big Shoulders, designed by Raymond Chandler III, and published by Parallel games. I played this on Boardgame Arena in a 4-player game.

Despite feeling intimidated by the genre, I found the shape of the game easy to get a handle on. I’ve found myself using that term ‘shape’ recently to describe the flow of the mechanics, how step 1 leads to 2 etc. In this case you start companies with your own money, use worker placement to gather resources, run the companies, sell the goods they produce and pay dividends to the shareholders, including yourself. The shares are really where the core of the game lies.

As you make money, your company’s share price rises. When shares are sold, the price falls. Every round your main money making decision will be what shares to buy, what to keep, and what to sell. There is a lot of a calculation to do, but honestly for my first game I mostly went on instinct. I haven’t dived into the possibility of dumping companies on other people, or taking them over but I can see the potential for some really cutthroat plays.

The implementation is pretty good, but you might need to zoom in on some parts.

The game is absolutely packed with interesting decisions, each one capable of changing your fortunes. New buildings (worker placement spots) appear every round, one chosen by each player. These get better as time goes on and the best ones are hotly contested. Some places round the edge of the board can be used multiple times, but the buildings are first come, first served.

The only negative I can see, and keep in mind this is conjecture, is the administration of the game in real life. Boardgame Arena handles a lot of this for you: calculating share price, assigning dividends, moving all the resources and goods around. It also makes it clear who goes when which can frequently change base on the current game state. It would be interesting to see how all that works across a table.

The game models demand, stocks, and manufacturing in a way that I found deeply thematic and surprisingly cutthroat. My last turn, I was in the lead, the bottom almost dropped out of my world till I could scramble back out. It was fun, thrilling, and very satisfying. I was surprised by my desire to play again, and how much fun I had in a genre I hadn’t really considered before.


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Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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