Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Best of Origins 2014 - Subdivision

This is the third (p)review in my Best of Origins 2014 series.

This is another one coming from Bezier Games Inc. They were also behind my favourite game of Origins, Castles of Mad King Ludwig. They even had deal at Origins where you could pre-order both and get a discount. 

Subdivision is a follow up to Suburbia, it's still a city based tile laying game but it's zoomed in from Suburbia. Here you are looking at one small subdivision of the city. To me it felt like Suburbia meets 7 Wonders and that was a very good thing.

It's interesting to note that Subdivision isn't from Ted Alspach, the designer of Suburbia but rather from Lucas Hedgren. As far as I can tell this is Lucas' first game. The art though, if it isn't obvious is from the same team.

Note that this (p)review is based on a prototype copy of the game that we did a demo of at Origins 2014. It was played with prototype components though the rules had been finalized at the time.

What is subdivision all about?

As noted above, Subdivision is Suburbia zoomed in. Each player receives their own board which represents a small subdivision of a city. The goal is to score the most points by filling your board with tiles that represent industrial, residential, commercial, civic and luxury zones. This is done while trying to balance various improvements like roads, parks, sidewalks, schools and lakes.

The board itself is a big hex and is two sided, with an 'easy side' and an 'advanced side.' We played on the easy side. On that hex are a bunch of coloured shapes with numbers in them, negative numbers. The numbers are the number of points you loose if you don't cover up that spot by the end of the game.

These coloured shapes, along with a die, tell you where you have to play each turn. The die is rolled each turn and you pick a tile from your hand and play it on a matching spot. 

A player's hand of tiles is where a lot of the strategy of the game comes from. You start off with a set of tiles based on the number of players. Each turn after you place a tile you pass your hand to the next player. You then get a new hand from the player on your opposite side. This is very much like 7 Wonders and the decision of what to keep and what to pass can be a difficult one.

There are five types of basic zone tiles and each of these is tied to a special upgrade. When you play a basic tile you then activate it and all of the tiles next to it. Each type of zone tile is tied to a specific upgrade and when activated you get to place that upgrade on the board. For example if you play a residential tile you get to play a school next to it. Schools score points at the end of the game but only if you have three school tiles stacked. This means you are going to have to activate at least three residential tiles next to that school. Other tiles lead to other upgrades. Lakes that score points, roads are important at end of game scoring where you score points for each tile that has a path, by road, back to the highway. Sidewalks score points for being next to a variety of different tiles and so on. The other bit that's neat about these upgrade tiles is that they also take up space and cover up those negative points and the decision where to put them is an important one.

Similar to Suburbia there are different stacks of tiles that you work through as you play and the game ends when the last stack runs out (there was probably a random game end tile, but we didn't use it for our demo). Subdivision also steals a mechanic from the Suburbia Inc. expansion. On the top of each pile there is a bonus tile. Every player who has done what is shown on the bonus tile gets the bonus. The tiles have things on them like having to have sets of tiles in certain configurations, having at least three lakes or having at least three different kinds of upgrades. The bonuses they give usually lets you activate your tiles (letting you place upgrades) or they give you money.

Money lets you break the rules and it worth points at the end of the game. At any time you can spend $2 to ignore the roll of the dice and place your next tile anywhere. In addition there is a set of trees on the map. During the game you can spend $2 to pave over these and use that spot to build. If you don't do that though that spot is worth +2 points at the end of the game.

The rulebook also includes seven special scenarios which give you different starting set ups. For example the "A River Runs Through your Board" set up has you start with a row of lake tiles dividing your board in half. Along with these there are also rules for playing solo. Not my thing but very cool to see.

My thoughts on Subdivision:

I really enjoyed this game. It is significantly quicker than Suburbia, only taking about an hour, maybe an hour and a half with an analysis paralysis prone player. It still gives you that city building feel though and scratched a very similar itch. 

One of the things that makes the game quicker is that there is no interaction between each player's board. There's no checking to see how many airports the other players have or trying to remember to collect your money when someone buys a residential area and you have the Housing Authority. Now that should mean there's less interaction between the players but that's not the case. Due to the tile drafting system, where you pass your tiles to the next player, I would say there's actually more interact in Subdivision than in Suburbia.

I really liked the way this game made me think. There didn't seem to be a one right way to play. The decision of what spot to cover, which upgrade you wanted, where that upgrade was  going and then what you are passing on to your opponent was fun and challenging at time. Now it did cause some analysis paralysis delays a few times, but nothing too serious. 

One of the things I never look forward to with Suburbia is explaining the game. That problem doesn't exist with this one. It's really simple to explain. the rules are only four pages long and two of those are showing off the game components and explaining all the bonus tiles. It really is simple to play, roll the die, play a tile and pass on the rest of your tiles. 

To me Suburbia is another Reese's game. You take Suburbia, one of my favourite games of all time and mix it with 7 Wonders which is quick and has a brilliant drafting mechanic and you get Subdivision. I can't wait for this one to come out. 


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