Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 3 July 2017

Another Flippin' Deckbuilder

From Dominion to Star Realms, ‘deck building’ has become a tried and tested mechanic when it comes to card games—and a mechanic which has been integrated into a number of board game designs. In these designs the players typically begin with the same basic deck of cards which they then use to generate money that can be spent to buy better and more effective cards, typically to defeat their opponents or outscore them with Victory Points. As a mechanic gets used and developed, it not only gets improved, but designers come up with new twists upon the mechanic. So Trains is a deck building game which directs the effects of the cards to building a train network between various Japanese cities. The twist to deckbuilding in Flip City: A Deceptively Simple Microdeckbuilder—and this is the first of a number of twists that the game introduces—is that the players not only generate money from their cards to buy more cards, but they generate money from their cards to flip them—and flip them to their better sides.

Originally a Taiwanese design from Homosapiens Lab, Flip City is published in English by TMG and is a city-building card game in which the players attempt to build the largest city or the happiest city. What holds each back is the unhappiness generated by certain buildings. It can be played by between one and four players—so it includes a solo option—aged eight and up, and has a playing time of no more than fifty minutes. It consists of just eighty-six cards, each double-sided and each being city location or building type that can be upgraded by flipping it over. The second twist to Flip City is that players do not play using hands of cards, but draw from the top of the deck. Since the cards are double-sided, this has a couple of consequences. The first is that a player can always see the type of card which sits on top of his deck and can choose to draw that card or not—though certain card types force a player to draw them. The second is that when a player empties his deck and has to reshuffle it, he has to take care to prevent any of his cards from being flipped because this will change the cards he will have access to.

The game has six base card types. These are the Residential Area which flips to the Apartment; the Convenience Store which flips Shopping Mall; the Factory which flips to the Power Plant; the Central Park which flips to the Station; the Hospital which flips to the Church; and the Office which flips to the Trade Center. (Of these, the Office was originally an optional expansion, but which has incorporated into the game.) Once a card has been flipped to its upgraded side, it can also be flipped back to its basic side. Each card is delightfully illustrated and comes with a cost to purchase, a cost to flip, and an indication of how much money, Unhappiness, and/or Victory Points it generates when played. Each card also has a special ability or effect.

For example, the Residential Area generates one coin and one Unhappiness. It costs one coin to flip over to the Apartment, but when the Residential Area is revealed as being on the top of a player’s deck, its effect is that it must be played. As the Apartment, the card also generates one coin and one Unhappiness, but can be flipped back to the Residential Area at a cost of eight coins. When it is flipped back to the Residential Area, it does not go back into a player’s discard pile, but into a rival’s discard pile.

The Convenience Store costs two coins to purchase, generates a single coin when played, and costs three coins to flip to the Shopping Mall. It provides the victory conditions which when played on a turn, if the player plays a total of eighteen cards, then he wins. As the Shopping Mall, it generates two coins and a Victory Point when played, It costs one coin to flip back to the Convenience Store. Its effect is that if a player’s deck is not empty, he must play an extra card, no matter what it is.

At game start, each player receives the same deck of cards and a general market is placed is formed of Convenience Store, Office, Hospital, Factory, and Central Park cards. Each player’s turn consists of two phases. In the ‘Play cards phase’, a player draws cards from the top of his deck, generating coins, Unhappiness, and/or Victory Points as well as their effects and abilities in the process. This needs to be done card by card, because if a player generates three or more points of Unhappiness, his turn is over, no matter how many Coins and Victory Points he might have generated, and he cannot proceed to the ‘Building phase’. Some cards, like the Church, will increase this limit on the number of Unhappiness points that a player can draw, but with the two-point limit on Unhappiness without the effect of the Church cards, a player will constantly face the challenge of whether or not to draw more cards to get more more Coins or Victory Points or lose his turn because he has too many Unhappiness points. This is made all the more challenging because some cards, like the Residential Area, have to be played or force another card to be played. What this means is that throughout the ‘Play cards phase’, a player will always need to decide whether he wants to push his luck or not.

If a player has cards in his discard pile, he can also Recycle some of them, flipping them over to their other side. This again will generate a player Coins and Victory Points as well as increase the limit on his Unhappiness points.

If a player survives the ‘Play cards phase’, he can spend any Coins gained in the ‘Building phase’. In this phase he can carry out one action, either buying a new card from the general supply and adding it to his discard pile; selecting a card from his discard pile and pay the indicated cost to flip it; or developing a card, buying a card from the general supply and then paying the cost to flip it before adding it to his discard pile. 

At the end of the ‘Building phase’, a player checks to see if he has met either of the winning conditions. This is either having generated eight Victory Points and played a total of eighteen cards including the Conditions.

The rules also include a solo variant. This is played starting with the standard deck of Flip City cards and a limited number of cards in the general supply. At the end of each turn, one card is removed from the general supply. Flipped Apartments are also removed from the game. This acts as a timing mechanism for the game, the player losing if the general supply is emptied of cards.

Physically, Flip City is a well presented game and the rules are nice and clear, the English translation benefiting from a short FAQ too. The graphic design of the cards is excellent, though the players will probably need to refer to the rules to understand what the symbols mean a few times to get the hang of the game’s play. The illustrations on the cards are excellent and when the cards are placed down next to each other they do form a cityscape.

There are perhaps four issues with Flip City. The first is that handling the cards back and forth—shuffling them over and over, going through the discard pile to Recycle cards, and so on—is a bit fiddly. The second is that there is not a great deal of interaction between the players, and what there is, consists of the Apartment being flipped back into a Residential Area and into a rival’s deck. This is the game’s only ‘take that’ element and serves to clog up a player’s deck and increase the likelihood of his having to miss a turn because he is forced to draw cards and generate too much Unhappiness. If a player can generate enough Coins to do this, it can really disadvantage an opponent. The third is that this chance of generating too much Unhappiness and thus end a player’s turn without his acting can also be frustrating, but on the other hand this is at the heart of the game’s push your element and a player should really be keeping track of the number of Residential Area cards he has in his deck and his discard pile. This will give some idea whether or not it is a good idea to push his luck and draw more cards. Fourth, with three or four players, a game of Flip City does become a noticeably longer game, primarily because the players have nothing to do whilst one player goes through his turn. This makes Flip City a bit too long to be a filler. None of these are issues that will stop anyone from playing the game, but they are ones to bear in mind when playing.

Flip City looks small, but it is clever enough to deliver thoughtful and quite deep play with just a few card types. It does this by making the cards double sided, which doubles the number of cards available and by being able to flip back and forth between the two sides, which increases the number of options a player has. Although game play may be a bit fiddly in places, the game never stops giving a player choices, the design is clever, and it really is an interesting twist upon the deckbuilding game. Flip City really does live up to its subtitle of being ‘A Deceptively Simple Microdeckbuilder’.