What is this game about?
Sprawlopolis is a microgame from Button Shy that is about building a city according to various challenging scoring conditions. It fits in a wallet-sized case and consists of only eighteen cards, but don't be fooled. There is a lot of game in there. Each card has a scoring condition on one side and part of a city map on the other. At the beginning of each game of Sprawlopolis, you draw three random cards and place them text-side-up. These three cards dictate your scoring conditions for the game, and the remaining fifteen cards are placed with those conditions in mind. Scoring conditions have different levels of challenge and, as a result, different point values. That means that you'll have a different target score for each game, depending on your goals.
Placing each city card is a seriously brain burning experience. You'll have three cards in your hand at a time, and you'll have to choose one of those to place in your city. All cards must be placed horizontally, but you can turn cards 180 degrees, overlap one or more quadrants, or place them next to each other in any way you like as long as the cards are partially adjacent. (I.e. you can place a card with only one quadrant adjacent to another, but not with just the corners touching.) In addition to the scoring goals for the game, you'll need to keep two scoring mechanisms in mind that are consistent for every single game. Each game, you score for your largest groupings of the same type of city block (for example, four parks connected to each other will score four points). You will also be penalized one point for each road that is present in your city—a serious incentive to connect your roads and not just have little road fragments all over the place.
How does it play solo?
Sprawlopolis is a cooperative game and can easily be played as a solo puzzle. I don't usually get analysis paralysis, but I actually prefer to play this game by myself in part so I can agonize over all of my choices.
Sprawlopolis is excellent. While its "gimmick" is its small size, its main selling point in my opinion is simply that it is such a great game. It's easy to learn Sprawlopolis, and you could really teach it to anyone. But it's so hard to be good at it. You have to decide what your priorities are with each card you place. Should you prolong a road? Or do you need to focus on putting multiple industrial areas together? Should you overlap part of a card that is worth points in order to set yourself up for a better play later? Do you make a move that you know will cost you points because you think you can make up for them in the long run? Your choices are difficult, and you'll always be wondering how you could have done better. Also, the different scoring conditions ensure that even with only eighteen cards, every game will feel different. The incredible variation among the cities you create will surprise you. And its small size basically guarantees that Sprawlopolis will never leave my bag again. This game is an instant classic.
That said, no game is perfect. Because this is a pocket game, the rulebook is short—so short that there are occasional rules ambiguities. (Can an internal edge count as the "edge" of a city? Does the Outskirts card, which allows you to score a point for every road that ends inside of the city, cancel out the -1 penalty per road that you normally score at the end of the game?) There is also one more serious problem: Sometimes, the scoring conditions in a game of Sprawlopolis can seem completely antithetical to each other. And it's more than just a matter of managing conflicting goals—I mean that to pursue one goal is to actively lose points because of another one. For example, "Concrete Jungle" rewards you a point for every industrial block that shares a corner with another industrial block, while "Go Green" causes you to lose 3 points for every industrial block in your city at the end of the game. Once you've played enough games of Sprawlopolis to spot a bad combination of scoring conditions, it's simple to just put a card back and draw a different one. But it's a frustrating blemish on what is otherwise a fabulous game.
Do I recommend it?
Yes. I think this game is fantastic. Also, frankly, Sprawlopolis is so inexpensive that even if it ultimately isn't for you, buying it is still worth the risk. If you get it straight from the Button Shy website, it will cost about $15, including shipping. If you get it as a PnP, it's a whopping $3.
Overall Rating: 4.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
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