Suburbia puts you in the shoes of a town planner. You get to make the fun decisions of what gets built and where it goes. But also the back office activities of juggling your income, and population growth. Word of warning though, if you put the airport next to my house, you will find me outside your door picketing at 3 a.m.
Every game of Suburbia starts with players getting a secret goal, that only they can complete, and a small family loan of 15 million dollars. These personal objectives combine with several public objectives, which anyone can complete, to give the game shape and you something to aim for.
With this in mind, you take turns buying tiles from the market and adding them to your city. So although your city begins with only 3 tiles, by the end you can expect more than 20. Additionally, each tile you place gives you some benefits depending on the tile.
For example, Residential tiles increase your population. Whereas the Landfill tile gives you income – but you lose some reputation for each tile it’s next to. Because no one wants to live or work in a permanent fug of garbage.
However, instead of buying from the market on every turn – which can be costly. You have a couple of other options. You can instead buy:
- Basic tiles – The cheapest tiles in the game. They aren’t as pretty or effective as other market tiles, but they get the job done in a pinch.
- River tiles – For those who are truly desperate, market tiles can be flipped over to create a river tile. These give you money for each other tile surrounding it, useful for keeping the banker off your back.
- Investment markers – Invest in a tile already within your city. Pay its purchase cost and use an investment marker to double the tile’s bonuses.
After placing your tile or marker, you then go through the bookkeeping phase. Here you gain income and population. Money is produced from all income-generating buildings within your city. Whereas your population is increased based on how reputable your city is.
Now, even though having the highest population is how you win the game. You might want to hold off on your open-borders policy for now. As the more population you have, the more upkeep – and income – is required to maintain them.
If you can’t generate enough income to meet the needs of your rising population. They could soon be costing you money during the income phase, instead of providing you money.
Once the last round token is drawn, players get one final turn. Then the player with the most population wins. Regardless of how unsustainable, poor, or unreputable their city may be.
Suburbia is a city of a thousand stories
The best thing about Suburbia is its distillation of city building into simple mechanics. Having played way too many of these games on the PC, you can easily get lost in the intricate details of how traffic is flowing, or the economic impacts of hiring another garbage collector.
Suburbia streamlines this all down into four currencies; reputation, income, money and population. You still get the feel of a larger-than-life city-builder. Except now it’s in a board game that’s as easy to teach as it is to play.
Although, this doesn’t mean there’s a lack of impactful decisions. Each tile you add to your city has a rippling effect that changes how your city earns income and gains population.
As an example, building a museum gives you 1 reputation, plus an additional reputation per Civic building it’s adjacent to. Because this additional bonus is always in effect, you’re actively looking for more Civic buildings to add to your city. See how placing one tile down, now affects future turns as well.
Beyond your end-game score, these ripples also affect the story of your city. As the tiles themselves have a narrative to share that makes sense as to the bonuses or penalties they give.
Take, for instance, the Fancy Restaurant. By itself, it gives +3 income. It’s a fancy restaurant, everyone wants to go there. And when they do, it drives up the local economy. But for each additional restaurant built, your fancy restaurant loses 1 income. Suddenly there’s competition. So instead of spending on a premium night out, some people are happy to get some feed from Dave’s Fried Chicken down the road.
Makes sense right?
That’s just one example, but all of the tiles within Suburbia have a story attached. Although, most aren’t nearly as intricate as the one above.
Altogether, this is a large part of the charm of Suburbia, which is why I love it. Especially when you reach the end of the game and look down upon your creation. Do you look at it with adoration, and wonder what it’s like to live in this city you’ve created? Or with disgust, at the capitalistic dystopia sitting before you on the table? Either way, it’s fascinating food for thought.
With the release of the Suburbia Collector’s Edition (shown throughout this post) and Second Edition, this becomes even more enjoyable. The art on all of the tiles has been redone to give them a more realistic feel. Making it easier than ever to imagine this being a living thriving city you’re creating.
Dude, where’s my mid-game?
Players coming from more euro-centric board games may be disappointed with Suburbia. As with Wingspan, there’s a fair amount of randomness in the tiles that enter the market. Specifically, because you remove a considerable amount of tiles during setup.
This makes it hard to put together long-term strategies and combinations with any real certainty. It also adds risks to buildings like the Fancy Restaurant, where you don’t know if there are any more restaurants in the game.
So instead of thinking the long term, or trying to derisk your city. You must focus on what’s currently available in the market row.
In itself, this isn’t too bad. It keeps Suburbia interesting on replay because each game comes with fresh new decisions to make. However, it leaves you lost during the mid-game.
You begin the game with objectives to fulfil, giving you that initial direction as to what to build. These are easily completed. Then without their guidance, it can be confusing to know where to go next. You’re often left with a number of good choices but frustratingly no way of determining which one is better.
That’s not the only issue that rears its head during the mid-game. There’s also a lack of choice, which sounds weird given you have a multitude of actions you can take. The reality is you’re limited to buying either of the first two tiles in the market. Buying tiles higher in the market comes with an additional tax that quickly prices you out of purchasing.
So instead of having a choice of five different options, you’re actually limited to just two. Left or right.
Bring your city to life
These criticisms, while fair, aren’t enough to put a damper on an otherwise stellar mid-weight board game. Especially when both of my major criticisms were addressed by the Suburbia Inc expansion. Which I now consider essential, if you enjoy Suburbia.
Otherwise, before getting heavily into board games, management-style computer games were what I did for fun. I know that makes me a massive nerd. Suburbia compacts these types of experiences magnificently. Letting me scratch that itch in a fraction of the time, and letting me be social while I’m doing it.
Beyond that though, it’s the stories and growth of your city that keep me coming back to Suburbia. Seeing how each decision builds on top of one another, and whether or not your plans come to fruition or not is extremely exciting. So much so it sets Suburbia apart from every other board game.
Designer: Ted Alspach
Publisher: Bezier Games
See how Suburbia compares to all of the other board games I’ve reviewed.