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Subject: Board Games up Close - Urban Sprawl Review rss

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Dale Moore
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Introduction


2011's Urban Sprawl is a game by Chad Jensen and published by GMT Games. It is for 2-4 players and lasts 45min to an hour per player. Urban sprawl is recommended for ages 12 and up.

In Urban Sprawl the city is laid out with roads ready for some bright and inventive city planners to lay out the buildings in the city. Of course there are zoning restrictions but you chose where to place various city buildings in order to be the most prestigious of the city planners.

Gameplay


In Urban Sprawl each city planner (you) have 6 Action points to use per turn. You use those action points to buy building permits and your city buildings. Then based on where you place your building, it costs a variable amount of money to actually build.

It is important to note that the buildings and permits are in shuffled decks of cards. They come into play randomly and cost more actions points to start then move to lower action point spaces as other are taken by the players.

Midway through the game, city elections are conducted. Various objectives create a winner and the office title gets special benefits.

The game gets more in depth because each building card has it's own set of rules and benefits on the card as well.

After each turn new cards are exposed to replace the taken ones. These can trigger money or Prestige (victory) points based on where you have built your buildings.

Strategy


Urban Sprawl is very much a reactionary game because the available choices will drastically change before your turn. You tend to have to make the best of the situation that is presented before you.

However, You want to try to focus on mainly two types of buildings, and keep them in areas that will generate enough funds to be able to build when the city becomes a more expensive town to build in.

You also want to keep the objectives of the elections in mind as you build early in the game as well. If you are able to hold more offices than others it gives you a clear advantage to the other players.

The Review


This game gives you a very satisfying and enjoyable feeling as you build a successful city. While you might not be able to do exactly what you want, you are given enough Action Points to do something every round. Because everyone is building the same city you feel that you are working with the other players even though you are competing against them

This game is long.
Sometimes being long is a great thing. You get up from the game and you can't believe you played that long. In Urban Sprawl it is not a great thing. Because every player has to read all the cards to see what they do and then figure out what is the best move for that round. You are just waiting excessively for your next turn, and you can't plan ahead because the cards will all change or be in different Action point cost locations. On your turn you get to set and read all the cards while everyone else waits.

Urban Sprawl also suffers from too much randomness in the buildings that come into play. There are 3 decks of buildings and midway down the first two decks is the trigger that opens up the next deck of city building cards. Midway down the last deck is the endgame trigger.
There are cards that cause a city zone to become more expensive. These are important because it turns the tides and one player that was getting a huge lead from being in the most expensive zone finds themselves in the poorer part of town. They also cause the political offices to change hands. Equalling out the players.

These very important cards can get trapped below those trigger cards never to see the light of day. Allowing one player to take a lead that no other player can catch. This randomness does not match the theme. As a city planner why would you not know if you are even going to have a police station in your town?

On one three player game one player ended the game 200 points ahead. Two special cards came out that allowed that players district to become the most expensive early in the game, and no other special cards came out.

This game has a fan base but you better be prepare for a long, lopsided game.



www.boardgamesupclose.com
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Good review.

I gave this game a pass because I can't justify relying on turn to turn tactics and dealing with downtime in such a long game. I think it might get better with experience, but my group is too ADD to allow repeat plays to reach that level without some initial payout. Too bad. soblue
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Paul Marjoram
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If you are troubled by the length of the game and/or would like more ability to plan ahead, I would recommend trying the game two-player. My wife and I play that way and really enjoy it. (I would say it is one of her favorite Euros, in fact.)
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Dale Moore
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pmarjora wrote:
If you are troubled by the length of the game and/or would like more ability to plan ahead, I would recommend trying the game two-player. My wife and I play that way and really enjoy it. (I would say it is one of her favorite Euros, in fact.)


I admit I have not played it two player. I can see how it would be quicker if only because 2 people are reading all those cards.

It would still be a tactical game due to 6 action points of cards gone before your turn and new cards out every time. Although not as many cards would switch so you could have some read ahead of time.

I probably won't play it with two however, My Review used a copy from someone in my game group.

In my review I admitted to it's legion of fans. So clearly you can get lucky and have a very satisfying long game. but those flaws are still there.
 
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Dale Moore
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Although I always take it with a grain of salt. Looking at the individual ratings from the owners. I find it telling that the 10s don't make it down the first page.
 
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Mark Buetow
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3, even 4 experienced players, 1:40 on the clock.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Dale-not-Chip wrote:
Although I always take it with a grain of salt. Looking at the individual ratings from the owners. I find it telling that the 10s don't make it down the first page.


I'm just sorry and I don't mean it personally but this is just silly. Soooo if I get a bunch of friends to rate it a '10' it's somehow now a better game??

Twilight Struggle has a ton of 10's. I still don't like it. Through trial and a lot of error, I've learned to ignore ratings here on BGG...except those of my geekbuddies, whom I pick with care. They have led me to several great games (for me at least) in the last year that were rated under 7.0

Urban Sprawl is never going to have a bunch of 10's (true 10's) because it caters to a certain type of gamer, and most people in the hobby aren't that type. And that's fine. See if you are the type of gamer who likes what everyone else likes, then I guess overall ratings can be useful. I'm not that gamer though, and I would guess that if pressed, most people really aren't either. It takes experience to really discern what you may like and what you may not like. I happen to really like Urban Sprawl but that's because I like trying to make order from chaos and Urban Sprawl challenges me in a way that I find enjoyable.
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Dale Moore
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jschlickbernd wrote:
Dale-not-Chip wrote:
Although I always take it with a grain of salt. Looking at the individual ratings from the owners. I find it telling that the 10s don't make it down the first page.


I'm just sorry and I don't mean it personally but this is just silly. Soooo if I get a bunch of friends to rate it a '10' it's somehow now a better game??

Twilight Struggle has a ton of 10's. I still don't like it. Through trial and a lot of error, I've learned to ignore ratings here on BGG...except those of my geekbuddies, whom I pick with care. They have led me to several great games (for me at least) in the last year that were rated under 7.0

Urban Sprawl is never going to have a bunch of 10's (true 10's) because it caters to a certain type of gamer, and most people in the hobby aren't that type. And that's fine. See if you are the type of gamer who likes what everyone else likes, then I guess overall ratings can be useful. I'm not that gamer though, and I would guess that if pressed, most people really aren't either. It takes experience to really discern what you may like and what you may not like. I happen to really like Urban Sprawl but that's because I like trying to make order from chaos and Urban Sprawl challenges me in a way that I find enjoyable.


I said I take it with a grain of salt.
 
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Dale Moore
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Also my review had no relation to the ratings on the geek.
 
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Dale-not-Chip wrote:
Also my review had no relation to the ratings on the geek.


Um, we'll, your comment did.

I any case, the length of the game is not set in stone. As I noted, experienced players can play with a full complement of 4 and clock in under two hours. That's reasonable by any of the top popular games' standards.

Now, if the initial longer playing time isn't something people will play through a few times to trim down the length by experience, then the game obviously doesn't appeal to them. No harm, no foul.

But I think Urban Sprawl gets knocked for its long play time when that play time is not fixed by any means but rather reduced significantly by experience with the game. That's a valid point a review after only a few plays will miss.
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Dale Moore
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So until you have enough plays to either memorize all the cards or become speed readers you have to suffer with a game that is much longer than needed.

That's still a flaw in the game, and people looking to buy it needs to be aware of.
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Dale Moore
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So until you have enough plays to either memorize all the cards or become speed readers you have to suffer with a game that is much longer than needed.

That's still a flaw in the game, and people looking to buy it needs to be aware of.
 
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Dale-not-Chip wrote:
So until you have enough plays to either memorize all the cards or become speed readers you have to suffer with a game that is much longer than needed.

That's still a flaw in the game, and people looking to buy it needs to be aware of.


Well, that's a bit uncharitable. The reason my group "stuck it out" is because we actually enjoy the game and three hours for a game doesn't bother us in the least.

There are plenty of games which take several plays to learn card or character powers, or recurring items in a deck or whatever. Think. About the first time you played Puerto Rico. Did you understand how every building worked and how they interacted with each other?

Again, it's fair to say that if someone doesn't want to invest the time to play and learn the game because it didn't click with them. A person can tell whether they will like a game or not after a play or two.

But it's a a bit of a stretch to say that game length and learning card effects are a flaw in a game in which it takes time to learn card effects.
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Dale Moore
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I don't feel it's a stretch at all. First a Review is just an opinion piece. The reason that I and most likely others do reviews is because More Opinions and warnings about games helps us make decisions with the limited funds that we have. I don't get paid to do them.

You yourself said
Quote:
it's fair to say that if someone doesn't want to invest the time to play and learn the game because it didn't click with them


It is entirely possible that the reason it would no click is the game length between turns.

Mentioning that in a review and warning people that it is an issue, flaw, problem, call it what you want. It's something you have to stick out to possibly get faster. And realize some groups will never get faster.

It's also why I said at the beginning of the review that it gives you a satisfying feeling as you build the city. It's also why I describe the gameplay and possible strategies. Because if that sounds like your thing you know more if you can get past the length.

I understand you like the game, that's wonderful. Critics panned Taken 2 yet it was a success. The problems critics mentioned were all true yet it's still fun to see Liam Neeson kick some butt.

Realize that you liking a game that is flawed does not make you choice to like it wrong. I like flawed games as well. I don't know of any game that has no flaws.
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Mark Buetow
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Well if your opinion is that card knowledge and length are flaws, I offer my cold, hard fact that those flaws disappear with experience in playing the game. That's all.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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it's not a flaw, it's a fact. Urban Sprawl is not in the same family as Carc or Settlers or any other family style game and if you are expecting a family style game you will be very unhappy.

Game length is not a flaw in my book (noting that I was on the design team for Advanced Civ) however it can certainly be a limiting factor. If Urban Sprawl takes us three hours to play, then we need three hours to devote to it. Sometimes we won't have that much time and we'll play something else.

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This is a very good review. I personally like Urban Sprawl, but I fear the very thing you articulate: excessively long play time and wild random swings. But it hasn't happened in my two plays. I really enjoy the feel so far and look forward to additional plays.
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Dale Moore
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jschlickbernd wrote:
it's not a flaw, it's a fact. Urban Sprawl is not in the same family as Carc or Settlers or any other family style game and if you are expecting a family style game you will be very unhappy.

Game length is not a flaw in my book (noting that I was on the design team for Advanced Civ) however it can certainly be a limiting factor. If Urban Sprawl takes us three hours to play, then we need three hours to devote to it. Sometimes we won't have that much time and we'll play something else.



Sometimes a fact is a flaw.

I didn't assume it's a family game. And I'm definitely not scared of long play time. I really like Civilization, WOW the Board game, and many other long games.

It's not the length of the game it's the length of time waiting for your turn that is the problem. You can't speed up people reading all the information on up to 8 Building cards every round.

If the long wait time doesn't bother you, great. I never said it should. However it could. And people that might pluck down $50 for a game should know that the the game is long because each turn has a lot of reading then their decision, and all there is for you to do is wait.

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jschlickbernd wrote:
Through trial and a lot of error, I've learned to ignore ratings here on BGG...except those of my geekbuddies, whom I pick with care. They have led me to several great games (for me at least) in the last year that were rated under 7.0


So, he values the ratings of all of BGG and you don't. So what. Maybe he considers all the BGG users to be his "geekbuddies". I don't have time to play all the games that look interesting to me, so I look to ratings and comments for guidance. I also find value in the suggested number of players, and with some rare exceptions, I tend to agree with the community.

And the OP played the game, so why are you focusing on the one comment regarding other user's ratings?

To the OP: good review, but "The Review" section at the end would read better if you broke it up, rather than one block of text.
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Dale Moore
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Desiderata wrote:

To the OP: good review, but "The Review" section at the end would read better if you broke it up, rather than one block of text.


Your right. I copy pasted it from my website. I don't know why it lumped it all together, and I don't know why I didn't double check that. Check them out at www.boardgamesupclose.com I write them as a presentation. I think it's a unique way of doing it.

Thanks for the complement. I try to be honest in a review. Even the games I don't like I want to give enough info that a person that might could tell if they would like it despite the problems.

Desiderata wrote:
So, he values the ratings of all of BGG and you don't. So what. Maybe he considers all the BGG users to be his "geekbuddies". I don't have time to play all the games that look interesting to me, so I look to ratings and comments for guidance. I also find value in the suggested number of players, and with some rare exceptions, I tend to agree with the community.


Thanks
The ratings with the comments to me are little mini reviews. I never said I let the hive mind make my decisions for me. My wife and I really enjoy playing Split (Revised Edition) I gave it a 10 in the BGG Rating because I suspect I'll alway want to play. If I do a real review the game would not even come close to a 10.

People that are super fans of a thing; game, movie, computer company, anything, never likes it when you point out problems and feel like they need to come to the defence of the product. What they are really doing is coming to the defence of their decisions.

I tell you what. I think it's great that people are reading my reviews. It makes them worth doing. And I try not to just do a pure hater review. If you don't mention the good parts of a game it makes you lose credibility when you mention the bad.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Desiderata wrote:
jschlickbernd wrote:
Through trial and a lot of error, I've learned to ignore ratings here on BGG...except those of my geekbuddies, whom I pick with care. They have led me to several great games (for me at least) in the last year that were rated under 7.0


So, he values the ratings of all of BGG and you don't. So what. Maybe he considers all the BGG users to be his "geekbuddies". I don't have time to play all the games that look interesting to me, so I look to ratings and comments for guidance. I also find value in the suggested number of players, and with some rare exceptions, I tend to agree with the community.

And the OP played the game, so why are you focusing on the one comment regarding other user's ratings?

To the OP: good review, but "The Review" section at the end would read better if you broke it up, rather than one block of text.


His (and yours apparently) idea of a good review and follow up comments don't correspond with mine, and I'll leave it at that.
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Dale Moore
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jschlickbernd wrote:
Desiderata wrote:
jschlickbernd wrote:
Through trial and a lot of error, I've learned to ignore ratings here on BGG...except those of my geekbuddies, whom I pick with care. They have led me to several great games (for me at least) in the last year that were rated under 7.0


So, he values the ratings of all of BGG and you don't. So what. Maybe he considers all the BGG users to be his "geekbuddies". I don't have time to play all the games that look interesting to me, so I look to ratings and comments for guidance. I also find value in the suggested number of players, and with some rare exceptions, I tend to agree with the community.

And the OP played the game, so why are you focusing on the one comment regarding other user's ratings?

To the OP: good review, but "The Review" section at the end would read better if you broke it up, rather than one block of text.


His (and yours apparently) idea of a good review and follow up comments don't correspond with mine, and I'll leave it at that.


So a Review has to agree with your predetermined views on a game? You do realise a Review is just an opinion piece.
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jschlickbernd wrote:

His (and yours apparently) idea of a good review and follow up comments don't correspond with mine, and I'll leave it at that.
Jennifer! You were a topic of conversation last night.

I was suckered into playing a 3p game of this starting around 10pm Saturday evening and as we wrapped up around 1am, we began discussing your opinions on this game. The game was me, Doug, and Natalie, and Natalie likes the games significantly more than I do, it appears. She also has a confusing definition of "random," as she claims this game is "not random at all."

In any case, she did point out a few things that helped me understand the game considerably, and I have revised my rating from 5 to 6.66 and perhaps, upon playing again, it could rise further.

In my previous two outings of this game, because the strategy is so opaque, I concentrated on having majorities in rows in order to get money and VP during payouts, and lost soundly both times, in the second time by over 100 points to a player I had just taught the game too. None of us understood why he beat everyone else by so much, not even him.

Before we began last night, and after having expressed my concerns about the game, Natatlie claimed that the game has nothing to do with row majorities: all you need to focus on, she claims, is having Media, getting the most vocations, and having the most expensive Civ, Res, Com, and Ind buildings on the board. If you happen to get the money and VP payouts, fine, but don't let that distract you from your ultimate goal.

So I sort of adopted a mixed strategy of at least trying to go for majorities in rows but not letting that worry me so much, and getting the vocations and expensive buildings. I rarely took permits and buildings worth more than 2AP and I tried to snag up the 10-12 permit cards when they were cheap, then sell them at the start of my next turn, using that money to buy the most expensive buildings, if possible.

This strategy ultimately ended up winning (at least against Doug and Natalie's groupthink--not sure how well it'd do against many different players), and final scores were something along the lines of me at 170, Natalie at 161 and Doug at 159.

Losing by like 100 points to a new player after my second game completely turned me off to this game when it came out last year, but the game is significantly better when the scores are close. You actually end up caring about what people are doing on their turn. Amazing! It felt a little similar to how the end game of a Ticket to Ride session for me always feels, hoping you get one or two more turns to finish your final few goals.

So, ... well, the downtime between turns I still found to be way too long, but having someone more experienced than me explain a decent way to conceptualize my strategy helped my opinion of this game immensely. I have already preordered Suburbia and hope that that game will be the ultimate SimCity game, but I will now no longer roll my eyes whenever someone suggests this title to me.
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Dale-not-Chip wrote:
So until you have enough plays to either memorize all the cards or become speed readers you have to suffer with a game that is much longer than needed.

That's still a flaw in the game, and people looking to buy it needs to be aware of.
It has nothing to do with how fast players can read the cards, or if they have their effects memorized, it has to do with with how fast a player understands which cards would be favorable for them to build that round and which cards they need to deny from others, given the current situation on the board.

I think this is the real issue that leads to the brain-burning, AP-inducing reputation this game gets...if you'd like to play well (and who doesn't when playing a 3hr long strategy board game?), you need to look at all the options available on your turn, some of which weren't there just a second ago, then figure out:

- which buildings help you the most, and which hurt you the most (this is so easier said than done, and is highly dependent on what you're trying to do at the moment)
- a combination of 6 or 8AP that will allow you to pick up the buildings you want and and suitable permits that allow you to build those buildings if possible
- the best possible locations to build those buildings, under the constraints of your cash, adjacency rules, and size restrictions

Sometimes you'll realize, all too late, that the best building for you isn't possible to build because of zoning, or lack of cash, or permit issues, and now you have to start the process of evaluation all over again. I don't care how smart you are, there's a ton of variables you must mentally juggle in your head each turn, and it's really easy to miss something obvious (like, for instance, deciding on the order in which you build two buildings on your turn).

Now, I would love for a strategy article to be written on this game that simplifies the calculations you must do on your turn in order to play this game well, but I would be surprised if anyone could come up with a faster, easier mental algorithm for evaluation the many choices offered to to you each turn. IF someone could create a faster, but comparable algorithm to the outline above, this game's playtime would dramatically be reduced. But I don't see that happening.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Dale-not-Chip wrote:
jschlickbernd wrote:
Desiderata wrote:
jschlickbernd wrote:
Through trial and a lot of error, I've learned to ignore ratings here on BGG...except those of my geekbuddies, whom I pick with care. They have led me to several great games (for me at least) in the last year that were rated under 7.0


So, he values the ratings of all of BGG and you don't. So what. Maybe he considers all the BGG users to be his "geekbuddies". I don't have time to play all the games that look interesting to me, so I look to ratings and comments for guidance. I also find value in the suggested number of players, and with some rare exceptions, I tend to agree with the community.

And the OP played the game, so why are you focusing on the one comment regarding other user's ratings?

To the OP: good review, but "The Review" section at the end would read better if you broke it up, rather than one block of text.


His (and yours apparently) idea of a good review and follow up comments don't correspond with mine, and I'll leave it at that.


So a Review has to agree with your predetermined views on a game? You do realise a Review is just an opinion piece.


No. Jesse Dean had a nice review or blog post (don't remember which) which was negative but made a lot more sense and brought a lot less baggage to the discussion.
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