This review has been updated as of 9/11/2019 to reflect my opinions about the Alexis Solo Mode.
What is this game about?
Welcome To... is a roll and write, or technically a flip and fill, in which you are planning out a 50s-style suburban neighborhood. The goal is to get as many points as possible, but there are a lot of ways to get there—will you try to build a lot of pools? Develop parks on every street? Build estates of a certain size to fulfill a high-scoring city plan? You've got all kinds of choices, and you'll be agonizing over which ones to make as the game goes on.
During each round of Welcome To..., players look at three pairs of cards. In each pair, one card will show its side that displays a number, while the other will show the side that displays a bonus action. These can include pools, fences (for creating estates), and my very favorite, the "Bis" action. Bis allows you to copy any house number on the board to an adjacent empty space (i.e., you can add a 3b to an already-existing 3). But it comes with a price—you lose more points each time you do it!
Each player must choose one pair of cards per turn, allowing them to place one number and to optionally take one bonus action. What makes this choice particularly agonizing, however, is that numbers need to be placed along streets just the way actual addresses are—in ascending order. Numbers go in order from 1 to 15, and each street has fewer than 15 houses on it... but are you sure you want to guess where you should put that 8 just to get another pool? Especially when there is a convenient 1 or 15 to put at the end of one of your streets, instead? You definitely don't want to restrict your number placement too much, especially early in the game—if you can't place a number on any of your houses, then you have to cross off a "permit denied" space. Get a second denial and you lose points. Get a third, and you'll lose even more points plus trigger the end of the game. (This is one of the reasons that Bis action can become so seductive...)
How does it play solo?
Welcome To... works very well solo, and actually has a slight variation for the solo mode. Instead of working with three pairs of cards at a time, you just draw three cards. You then take one card for its number, one card for its bonus action, and discard the third. This makes it easier for one player because there's a lot less upkeep. There's also a solo card that is shuffled in to let you know when the bonuses for completed city projects decrease in value (in the multiplayer game, the first person to complete a project gets more points than the next players who do so).
Welcome to... also has a small solo expansion deck called the Alexis Solo Mode. This is where the game gets seriously interesting—with Alexis, instead of just playing against yourself to beat your high score, you can battle an increasingly brutal lineup of AI opponents. What is particularly brilliant about the Alexis Solo Mode is that upkeep is minimal and you still play in mostly the same way. However, the cards you discard become your solo opponent's "neighborhood," and each AI challenger gets different point amounts for different types of construction cards. Alexis can also score for city projects, so you'll really have to race for them. The Alexis Solo Mode actually adds a new layer to the game by forcing you to consider not only the cards you take for yourself, but the ones you don't.
I enjoy the heck out of Welcome to... I am still not entirely convinced by the title of the game, but aside from that, I'm sold. I will happily play this game anytime, and frequently several times in a row. I've already made sure to laminate several player sheets so that I can use dry erase markers when my game pad starts to run low (which will be soon).
What makes Welcome to... so darned good? It's the diabolical tension between going for the bonus action you want and the best street number for you. Sometimes the stars will align and you'll get the perfect pair. But most of the time, you'll have to make some nasty choices, and that is where all the fun is. What strategies will you commit to? How aggressive will you be about that city plan when you can build a bajillion parks instead? Will you sell your soul... to the seductive and convenient Bis? There are always a lot of decisions to make in Welcome to..., and they are all interesting. I also ended up really liking the 1950s aesthetic of the game, which gives it a cool vibe and makes it fun to play in groups. (Also fun in groups is the option to name your town whatever you want. At this point, I've seen it all...)
I also appreciated the simple adjustments made to the solo mode in Welcome to... While it's a beat-your-own-score game and nothing is going to change that, I love that the solo mode makes upkeep easier for a lone player and that it builds in a timer to put pressure on you as you work to finish city projects.
And beyond the in-box solo mode, the Alexis Solo Mode takes Welcome to... from really good to great. It's a rare thing to play a multiplayer game where the solo mode is not only excellent, but a straight-up improvement on the overall experience. The Alexis Solo Mode gives you just that extra bit more to think about, as well as scoring challenges that will push you further as a player than any other game mode. The fact that it manages to be both low-upkeep and diabolical makes Alexis Solo Mode the best $5 you could spend on a solo expansion, and I now consider it an essential part of my gameplay.
My one nitpick about Welcome to... is that the rules are just abstract enough to make the game difficult to teach to new players, especially those who are new to gaming. There is a lot going on, and it takes some getting used to. Some bonus actions, such as the pool, have to be tied to the number paired with it on your turn. Others, like the fence, can be put anywhere in your neighborhood, regardless of where you put the number that came with it. It's not very intuitive, and while that does not bother me at all as a solo player, get ready for the occasional rough teach on game night.
Do I recommend it?
Absolutely. If you have any interest in roll and write games at all, then you should try Welcome to... In my opinion, it's among the best roll and writes board gaming has to offer. With Alexis Solo Mode, I think it's the best roll and write I have had the pleasure to play.
Overall Rating: 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.