City Hall Review

City Hall board game in play

As a board game enthusiast, occasionally I get to play prototypes of games.  These can be hit or miss, with most of them still needing to be refined.  But, every now and then the prototype is amazing and you want to play it a lot more.  This is how I initially played City Hall.  And, after two years of waiting for it to be published in its final form, I finally have a copy!!

In City Hall, the players are competing to become mayor of New York City.  In order to become mayor, they have to win the most votes - by bringing people into the city, and also making sure they have a high approval rating among the people they bring in.  The game consists of a series of turns, with each turn having all of the players select different roles to be performed.  However, whenever a role is performed, there is an auction of Influence (one of the currencies in the game), and whoever spends the most Influence gets to do the action associated with the role.  And, if the person who selected the role chooses not to perform it himself (chooses not to win the auction), then he gets to keep all of the Influence from the high bid.  These roles allow you to purchase land, build upon your land, run campaigns to increase your approval, bring people into the city, acquire extra Influence or money, and move the turn order.  Whichever roles aren't selected at the end of each turn have an Influence placed on them to incentivize players to select them later.  Play continues turn after turn until a player has maxed out their approval, or until all the players have collectively improved enough land.  Then there is a final turn with all of the roles being activated, one final population check, and then the final vote to see who becomes mayor!  (Note: there is no chance that some guy from Boston that wasn't even playing comes in at the last second and wins the vote - one of the players always wins.  I know, I ruined some of the excitement of the election.  Second Note: that was supposed to be a joke.  I'm pretty sure it failed miserably, though.)

Board Setup for City Hall
The board design is also slick - each role is with what it affects
My first pro for City Hall is that I like how the role selection works with the auctions.  This mechanic really encourages you to sometimes select roles that you don't even want, just to give you a better chance of getting to perform the roles that you need.  For example, if you can't earn very much money from taxes, but all of your opponents can, and you don't have much Influence, it might be better to select the Tax Assessor than a role that you want to perform.  Hopefully your opponents will all want to perform the Tax Assessor, thus letting you collect quite a few Influence in preparation for whatever role you need.  Conversely, if you have a lot of Influence, getting to select the role that you need can be very powerful - as the person selecting the role, you make the final say over who gets to perform it (such as yourself), and if you have enough Influence to match any bid, then you can guarantee to perform it without accidentally bidding more than you need to (or risking getting outbid).

The next pro that I have for City Hall is that I don't feel like there are any bad roles (which is impressive, since there are seven roles).  Now, there are some roles that will be performed more frequently than others.  But the less frequent roles can really make a large impact on the game when they finally are selected.  The roles that I see selected least frequently are the Deputy Mayor (which allows you to move to the top of the turn order), and the Lobbyist (which allows you to collect Influence based on your Approval Rating - and then you can buy or sell Influence).  The benefits of these roles may appear minor, but once you also factor in the number of Influence that might be sitting on them from having not been selected in a few turns, they can really shift the balance of the game.  Selecting Deputy Mayor and suddenly getting first choice of roles each round lets you select more roles that have Influence on them, and lets you avoid overbidding for the role you most want.  And, being the Lobbyist when you have a lot of Influence, and selling that Influence for money can sometimes give you all the money you will need for the rest of the game!

Housing layout example
Queens was popular in this game
The last pro that I will mention is that I appreciate how City Hall encourages you to buy land that is unpopular.  Each time you gain new land, you have three locations to select from.  Whichever two locations aren't selected will have $5 placed on them.  (When buying land, you must pay $20, but at the beginning of the game you get some land for free.)  So, if a certain location is regularly passed on, it may have $20 or more on it!  Then you can choose between getting a free piece of land that might be in a less ideal location, or paying for land in a better location.  And, which decision you make (and how you're able to capitalize on that decision) can really swing the outcome of the game!

Now that I have praised City Hall, there is one con that I need to mention.  Initial placement on the board seems to have a very strong influence on the game.  Whereas I want initial placement to matter, it sometimes feels like it matters too much.  Each type of building you play has a maximum number of stars that can be placed on it.  (Stars are used when determining how many people come into the city - you want a lot of stars.)  Also, each type of building gains or loses stars based on what other buildings are next to it.  So, Housing specifically can be powerful if it is near other Housing.  It has the most stars possible (5), and it gets more stars for being near Housing (2) than any other type of building.  Your buildings also play off of each other player's buildings - which is pretty cool.  But, if two players start with adjacent Housing, and the other players start elsewhere without the ability to get as many stars, then the players with Housing might be able to dominate the population all game without the other players having much ability to catch up.  This is especially the case if either of those players is able to place another Housing next to the existing ones.  I have not played the game enough to say that Housing is overpowered, or that there is a single "right" initial move (and, in fact, I don't think there is, since all of the placement can be affected by what your opponents do), but I do have concerns that an early lead in stars feels almost insurmountable.  (If you're wondering, the initial placement options other than Housing allow you to earn extra money but have less stars.)

Overall, I give City Hall a 9.5/10.  I have loved my playthroughs of this game, and I want to play it more.  Rarely do I find games that I think work incredibly well with each player count, but I've enjoyed City Hall at 2, 3, and 4 players, and I would gladly play again at any of these counts!

If you enjoy City Hall, you might also check out Goa, Notre Dame, and Puerto Rico (one of my very early reviews).

I would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing me with a review copy of City Hall.

1 comment:

  1. Cool review, and I'm actually considering this game from it.