(2015 – Stonemaier Games)
Publisher Stonemaier Games’ initial two releases, Viticulture and Euphoria, focused around reshaping new ways to use the worker placement mechanic within a board game. Both titles have since reached the Top 300 in BoardGameGeek’s online ranking, a testament to Stonemaier’s quality, both in design and components. Stonemaier’s third release takes a alternate approach in design. Their first release not designed by co-owners Jamey Stegmaier & Alan Stone, but instead by Matthew O’Malley (Diner) and Ben Rosset (Brew Crafters, Mars Needs Mechanics), Between Two Cities embraces the filler, tile-laying territory, bringing a new type of game to the Stonemaier library.
In Between Two Cities, players will work with the player on their left to construct the layout of a city, while simultaneously working with the player to their right to construct another city. Each turn, players will choose which of their tiles to place in their two cities. The type of tile and its placement in a city will determine how many points it will score for the city. At the end of the game, a player will count his lowest scoring city as his amount of Victory Points.
– Standard Building tiles
– Duplex Building tiles
– City markers
– Scoring Summary cards
– Randomizer cards
– Name cards (for solo variant)
– Automa cards (for solo variant)
In Between Two Cities, players are actually seated between two cities. Each player will simultaneously work on building the city to their left with the player to their left, while working on building the city on their right with the player to their right. Randomizer cards are included in the game to help shuffle the seating order for each game, if players choose to use them. These can include seating players in alphabetical order according to the last movie they watched, by shoe size, combined number of letters in their first and last name combined, etc. I’ve actually set these set of cards to the side in my game library, because they are a great way to determine the start player in almost any game.
After seating order has been determined, each player will take a unique City marker and place it between himself and the player to his left. In this way, each player will have a City marker between himself and the player to his left, as well as between himself and the player to his right. For each player, these two City markers represent the two cities that he will be working to build upon during the game. The matching City marker is placed near the Scoreboard for end-game scoring.
Next, the set of Duplex Building tiles are shuffled together and placed face-down in the center of the table. These tiles are rectangular shaped and contain a yellow background. The remaining Standard Building tiles (which are square shaped) are placed face-down in the box container, also placed in the center of the table.
Finally, each player receives a Scoring Summary card which references how the various building types score in the game. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
A game of Between Two Cities is quite simple. By the end of the game, each player will have completed the construction of two cities, each containing 16 buildings in a 4×4 grid. Scoring will be determined by the types of buildings in a particular city and how they are arranged. There are 6 different building types. Before we take a look at each of these building types separately and how they work, let’s first look at what happens in each Round in the game.
There are 3 total Rounds in a session of Between Two Cities. At the beginning of the 1st Round, players will each randomly draw seven Standard Building tiles into their hand. They will then select two of these tiles to keep, then place the remaining five tiles underneath the City marker of the city to their left.
After all player have performed this action, everyone will reveal the two Building tiles in their hand. They will then decide to place one of these Standard Building tiles in the city to their left, and one in the city to their right. Since players will be working with one another in the constructing of a city, they are allowed to discuss strategy and which of the two tiles they think they should place in the which city.
When placing a tile, there are three main rules that must followed. First, all buildings in a city must be placed facing the same direction. Next, after the first tile is placed, all future tiles must be placed directly adjacent to at least one other tile. Finally, since the final city will contain 16 tiles in a 4×4 grid, the tile can never be placed so that it will break or go beyond the 4×4 format. For instance, a tile could not be placed as the 5th tile in a column, because the final format of the city would not adhere to a 4×4 grid.
City #1 is represented by a Coliseum and is set between Player A & B. City #2 is represented by a Bridge and is set between Player B & C. Also seen above are the two Building tiles that each player selected to keep in their hand.
Player A and B collectively decide to play both of their Park tiles into the Coliseum city that they share. As we’ll learn later in this review, having multiple Park tiles grouped together will score players a large number of points.
At the same time, Player C places one of his Residential tiles into the Bridge city that he shares with Player B. Player B will need to place his other tile (a Shop) next to this tile in the Bridge city. Player A & C’s remaining tiles would be placed in the other city they shared with another player (not seen here).
After each player has played both of their tiles, they will take the set of five Standard Building tiles that were placed under the city they share with the player to their right. They will again select two of these tiles, placing the remaining three tiles under the City marker to their left. After player have revealed and set these tiles into their cities and repeat this process one more time.
There should now be six Standard Building tiles face-up in each city and one face-down tile underneath each City marker. These remaining tiles are removed from the game and the 1st Round has come to an end.
At the beginning of the 2nd Round, each player draws three of the face-down Duplex Building tiles and adds them to their hand. Each Duplex tile contains two buildings, however some of the Duplex tiles will have buildings placed together in the same column, while other will have them placed side-by-side in the same row (as seen above). If you’ll remember, buildings must always be placed facing the same direction in a city and the city must adhere to a 4×4 grid. So there may be times when you’ll be forced to place a Duplex tile in an area of your city that isn’t necessarily ideal.
Each player will choose two of the three Duplex Building tiles to keep, discard the remaining one from the game. Unlike the 1st Round, there are no unused tiles passed to the next player in this Round. Once the Duplex tiles have been revealed and placed in their chosen cities, the Round ends. Each city should now have 10 buildings; six Standard Building tiles from the 1st Round, and two Duplex Building tiles (containing two buildings each) in the 2nd Round.
The 3rd and final Round is played exactly as the 1st Round, except that when a player passes their unselected tiles, they will place them underneath the City marker to their right as opposed to the one to their left. After Round 3 is complete, six more Standard Building tiles will have been placed, bringing the total up to 16 buildings, completing the 4×4 grid.
Each city is scored separately, and the matching City marker is placed on the Scoreboard to represent its final score. Even though players are collectively working on building two different cities at the same time, their final score is only reflected by the final score of their lowest scoring city. Therefore they must not put all of their effort and focus into one city only. Let’s take a look at each of the six different building types and how they’ll score at the end of the game:
Shops – Shop buildings are scored as a group depending on how many are directly adjacent in a row or column. If a Shop could be scored in a row and column, the player chooses which one it will be scored in (it can not be used to score in both).
– Two Shops adjacent in a row or column scores 5 points.
– Three Shops adjacent in a row or column scores 10 points.
– Four Shops adjacent in a row or column scores 16 points.
Factories – Factories are scored individually based on which city has majority of the factory industry. If there is a tie amongst majority, then all cities will be awarded that level’s bonus.
– The city with the 2nd most Factories scores 3 points for each Factory present.
– All other cities score 2 points for each Factory present.
Taverns – There are four different types of Taverns in the game, noted by the icon on the Tavern tile (either a mug, fork & knife, music note, or bed). Players will score points for these buildings based on how many they have of a complete set. Each set is score separately. Therefore if a player has two mugs, a music note, and a bed, he would score the set that included a mug, music note, and bed, then score the 2nd mug by itself as belonging to a separate set.
– A Tavern set including two different icons scores 4 points.
– A Tavern set including three different icons scores 9 points.
– A Tavern set including four different icons scores 17 points.
Offices – Players will score their Office buildings as a group based on how many they have total in their city. Unlike Shops, these buildings do not have to be adjacent. However, each Office will score an additional point for the player if it is at least adjacent to a Tavern. Employees are much happier if they have a Tavern nearby to unwind after work.
– Two Office buildings in a city scores 3 points.
– Three Office buildings in a city scores 6 points.
– Four Office buildings in a city scores 10 points.
– Five Office buildings in a city scores 15 points.
– Six Office buildings or more in a city scores 21 points.
Parks – Players will score their Parks as a group of directly adjacent Park tiles. Players can have multiple groups of Parks in their city, but they must be unconnected to each other. For instance, a group of 3 Park tiles and a group of 2 Park tiles that were separated from one another (as seen below on the left) would be scored as two separate Parks. While a group of 5 Parks tiles that were all adjacent (as seen below on the right) would be scored as one large group.
– A Park that contains two adjacent Park tiles will score 8 points.
– A Park that contains three adjacent Park tiles will score 12 points.
– A Park that contains four adjacent Park tiles will score 13 points.
– A Park that contains five adjacent Park tiles will score 14 points.
– Any Parks that are larger that this will continue to score an additional point per adjacent Park tile.
Residential Areas – Players will score their Residential tiles according to how many other types of tiles they have in their city. Each Residential tile is worth 1 point per different type of tile in the city. However, if a Residential tile is placed adjacent to a factory, it is only worth 1 point, no matter what.
Let’s take a look at Player B’s final layout of his two cities and see how much he will score:
City #1 is shared between Player’s A & B
– This city scores a total of 55 points.
– 10 points for the Shops.
– 16 points for the Factories (4 points each since this city has the most).
– 4 points for having two different Taverns
– 8 points for his Office Buildings (6 points plus 2 for having two beside Taverns).
– 12 points for a group of three Parks
– 5 points for the Residential tile
City #2 is shared between Player’s B & C
– This city scores a total of 57 points.
– 16 points for the Shops.
– 2 points for the Factory (2 points for each since this city has the least).
– 4 points for having two different Taverns
– 5 points for his Office Buildings (3 points plus 2 for having two beside Taverns).
– 20 points for Parks (an 8 point park and a 12 point park).
– 10 points for the Residential tiles (5 points per tile).
This means that Player B’s total score is 55. He only scores for his lowest scored City.
Between Two Cities simultaneously fits the role of a light-strategy filler as well as a being a solid game that supports a large-player count. As with Stonemaier’s other releases (Viticulture & Euphoria), the ruleset is kept simple, while the surrounding strategy has some weight to it. The partnership aspect introduced here is quite interesting, where players are forced to work together with two of their opponents while still attempting to outscore all players by the end. Since a player’s score directly corresponds to his lowest scoring city, there is no room for players to purposely weaken one of their cities to strengthen their other.
During the 1st and 3rd Rounds, players are always drafting tiles and passing them to the player on their left or right (depending on the Round). Therefore, players are always passing tiles to their partners, which can add a bit of strategy in of itself. Do you pass a tile to your partner hoping that he’ll use it on your shared city during the next turn, or are you afraid to give him this tile because he’ll use it in his shared city with his other partner?
None of the building tiles feel too overpowered, though there is some thought put into how each set should be played. For instance, there’s really no benefit in building a park larger than 3 connected tiles (which is worth 12 points), since each additional connected park tile only scores 1 point. If you find you have a wealth of park tiles, it’s better instead to build a separate park altogether. Even a separate park tile by itself scores 2 points. Alternatively, Residential tiles are really only worth it if you’re planning on adding a wide range of building types into your city, and Office buildings tiles aren’t going to be useful unless you build quite a bit, and include some nearby Taverns.
My favorite part of the game however is the discussion and planning between partners. While discussion can not take place before selected tiles have been revealed, it’s an interesting dynamic to have city planning discussions with both of your partners at the same time after tiles are revealed and need to be placed. You want to make both of your cities great, but so does everyone else. You’ll try and convince your partner why he needs to place that specific tile in your shared city instead of sending it to his other one. There’s a lot of good back and forth between players and it’s the one element to the game that really brings out the city planning theme to the forefront.
Easy to set up, easy to teach, but with ongoing replayability, Between Two Cities is a great filler game from a company most known for titles with lengthier play times. If your looking for a good strategy game that fits 3-7 players, and one that includes lots of interaction between players, take a look at Between Two Cities from Stonemaier Games.