Three Ring Circus: Keep Calm and Play Suburbia


Can I let you into a secret?

Welcome to the ‘burbs.

 Town planning is rubbish, utterly and completely rubbish.  My first job was working as a clerk in a local government Development Control department.  I learned how to fold a map, what a staple remover is and other survival skills.   One day I got quite excited when I was asked to file a planning appeal, but sadly this only meant putting the appeal document in a file.  There were a few high points, the record club, games of nomination whist and randomly transferring incoming calls.  If the council is reading this, “I’m very, very sorry.”

“So…”, you ask, “So, why are you wasting my time with a town planning game?”

Here’s the thing:  Town planning is utterly, utterly compelling.  The game of Suburbia takes this concept and removes the nimby concerns and zoning regulations.  In their stead it adds lashings of puzzley, competitive fun.

A Brief Overview

Suburbia is a tile laying, town building game. Once the game is set up, (which takes a while), each player starts with an embryonic suburb and $15 in the bank.  Your aim is to end the game with the most populous suburb.

How do you do this? Well the stuck in an elevator pitch goes something like this…You buy tiles to expand your suburb.  There are four types of tiles; residential, commercial, civic and industrial. These aren’t just blanks upon which to project your own fevered town planning dreams, (or is that just me?).  Each one is a slice of everyday life that you will want to slot into the right place in your growing empire. There is a wide selection: fast food joints, caravan parks, hotels, schools and power stations to name a fraction.  It’s these tiles that provide the puzzle.  Each tile that you lay will be interacting with those around it, other tiles in your suburb and even other players’ tiles.  Where you put them is critical to your success. They can increase your income, improve your reputation, (which scores you more suburbians each turn), add to your population, or raise cash.

So, placing a middle school next to residential areas is good, it increases population.  A landfill is going to earn you cash, but no one wants to live next to it.  If you have an office supplies shop, then prepare to cash in every time someone buys an office.  As the game progresses, the tiles become more potent; B&Bs are replaced by Hotels, local airports by international.  It is worth noting that not all the tiles are in play each game, which means variety is guaranteed.

Example Tiles

Instead of buying a tile, there are a couple of other options too.  If you are short of cash you can buy a tile on the cheap and turn it into a lake.  The lake gives you money for each tile that borders it and is handy in a pinch.  The other option is to invest in your existing property,,, which doubles the effect of the tile.  Invest in a lake and you increase the attractiveness of lake side properties and gain yet more cash.  Invest in a hotel and more people rush to stay with you.

We also have the game goals.  These score extra population at the end of the game and often decide the winner.  Each player gets a secret goal and there are open goals that everyone can aim for.  Goals come in two sizes, fewest and most, fewest commercial tiles, most income etc. etc.  Some are more difficult than others to pick up and the value of the bonus reflects that.  Only one player can win a goal.  This means there can be some jockeying in the latter stages to edge out an opponent.  Denying an opponent a bonus at the last minute can be as satisfying as picking one up.

As your population grows, you lose an increasing amount of income and reputation, which in turn slows your growth. This nicely fits the logic of a larger town being more expensive to run and less appealing to live in, whilst also making sure the race stays close.

The game continues until the ‘One more go’ tile turns up in the final third of the game.  Once everyone has had one more go ,final populations are tallied and the winner decided.

The property market and scoreboard.

Thoughts on playing in a family of three

My normal gaming group is me, my wife and son aged 11.  We don’t actually have a name for our game group because it’s just us and that would be silly.  Read on for my thoughts on playing with a family.

How easy is it to teach the game?

The rules are brief and well illustrated.  They cover four pages which also include strategy tips and a single player variant.  There aren’t many tricky exceptions to handle and you can teach while playing.  The complexity of the game is in handling the mechanics of reputation, income and population.   You can expect to do a fair amount of hand holding through this stage for adults and children alike.  This shouldn’t impact your own enjoyment of the game, however I am convinced that I lost the first two games we played because I was scoring for three ,which is not as much fun as eating for two.

Can complexity be scaled?

Well, you could exclude the public and private goals to allow focus on pure city building.  Note that the Suburbia Inc. expansion brings in three new mechanisms; challenges, bonuses and borders.  You can mix and match these as you see fit to manage the learning curve.

Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?

I haven’t tried to put in a handicap, mainly because I don’t want to upset the slim odds of me winning a game once in a while.  Allowing younger players to have a larger starting pot of cash would help to tide them over the early stages when money can be tight.

How likely is your child to flip the table half way through?

The game lasts around an hour and positions at the halfway point are not an accurate predictor of who will win.  Having said that, when you are 11 it can feel like the world is against you when you are trailing.  I have talked my son down from the darkest gaming depression to continue playing.  Sometimes it can be frustrating to be $1 short of your optimum purchase, and in extreme circumstances bridging loans have been allowed.  Talking about strategy mid game is useful.  Would now be a good time to make a lake and gain some cash?  How about investing in the community park?  That could really boost your reputation.

I rarely feel like I am cheating myself when I offer advice.  In the majority of cases, maximising an opponent’s opportunities does not directly do you down.  I would never advise anyone to buy the casino or the P.R. firm though, they are mine and you may not buy them.

Beyond the game

We have had some lively discussions about the logic of the game, how the game works like the real world and imagining how putting buildings from the game into our local area would change it.  We spent a long time wondering what the chip factory was and why it is so good.  People like chips was our conclusion.  My son also came up with his own ideas for a set of emergency services tiles, complete with rules.

What do I think?

Suburbia is not an exciting game, it will not make you laugh or cry. This is the game that Kraftwerk would play on the autobahn between gigs, whilst drinking Dortmund beer from impossibly tall glasses.

It pulls at the bit of my brain that wants to build things, the part that a lifetime of Lego has developed.  I love it and recommend you give it a try.

Published by Bezier Games

Designed by Ted Alspach

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