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[Review] Sunken City

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Joined: 03/23/2011

At first glance, Sunken City (Uberplay, 2004 - Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling) looks absolutely gorgeous, with a pretty cool theme added. The three dimensional layout of the board really increased the “toy” factor; and when I first saw pictures of the game, I was extremely eager to play. That eagerness died a little when I read the initial reports on the game, which denounced it as too “light” of a game, and not a very good one at that. And this was a game by Kramer, king of the heavy, strategy-filled game.

And I think that, in part, was why there was an initial backlash against the game; because Kramer (and Kiesling) have always produced games of high strategy. And on the surface, Sunken City looks to be an extremely light game, with very little strategy. But after several playings, I’ve found that while light, Kramer’s strategic influence can certainly be felt. I’ve found that the game offers quite a few choices and some decent tactical decisions. There’s a bit of a “take-that” feel, but the player who gets slammed gets a benefit out of it - sometimes a benefit that wins them the game - making a decision to hurt someone interesting.

A player board with a grid of eighty-one squares is placed in the middle of the board, with sixteen squares in each corner designated as being one player’s territory. Each player places the pawn of their color onto their “village” space at one corner of the grid. Each player is given an adventurer board with numbered squares on it. On each of these numbered squares goes a matching numbered treasure token, with the roofed side of each token face up, and the treasure side face down. Buildings, numbered one through nine, are placed in matching discard spaces on the side of the board, with building number ten placed in the center space of the board, with the Neptune token placed on top. Each player is given an identical set of six different action cards to use on their turn. A set of Neptune chips is placed next to the board as well as pile of street tiles on the first of six discard spaces. The youngest player starts, with play proceeding clockwise around the table.

On a turn, a player plays one of their cards, discarding it (they don’t get it back until they’ve used all their cards once). Each card allows three actions, which can be taken in any order. A player may “raise up” (build) a number of streets and buildings equal to the top number on each card. Players can take the top street tile from the pile and place it anywhere on the board (takes up two squares). Buildings (any number) can also be placed on the board, but only a dark blue space (near the middle) cannot be next to another building, even diagonally. A player may also move their pawn one space up to the total number on the bottom of the card - each street and building counting as one space. Whenever a pawn enters a building, the player flips the treasure tile on their adventurer board over to show its treasure side. If the building is in the middle of board, they also can flip the “12” treasure on their board over. If the player moves their pawn back to the village, all treasures that are face up are placed into the village, making them “safe.”

A player can also move Neptune on their turn, at any time. If Neptune is in their territory, they can move him up to three spaces, otherwise they roll a die and move him that many spaces. Every time that Neptune moves OFF a space, the building or street he was on is destroyed. The streets are placed on the next numbered discard space, and the buildings are placed back on their discard space. Any adventurers are placed back in their villages, with all their face-up treasures turned back over. The adventurers are given a Neptune Chip. This chip can be used on a future turn, adding one space to a pawn’s move for every face down treasure chip still on their adventurer board.

When a player gets all their treasures delivered safely, they win the game. OR, when the street tiles on the discard space 5 are exhausted, the game ends, and the player who has the most treasures wins the game at that point.

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The components for the game are quite incredible. The buildings are plastic blocks, with a number on four sides clearly denoting which building they are. There are even two extra buildings included, which is above and beyond the call of duty; although I heard they were included to keep the buildings fitting in nice and snug in a superb plastic insert that holds everything in the box. The artwork is great and really brings the theme to life - all over the box, the buildings, the cards, and the board. Everything is very clear, and nothing is vague or hazy. The Neptune pawn is certainly nicer than the Odin pawn I have in Odin’s Ravens! Three different dice are included, one for a two-player game, one for a three-player game, and one for a four-player game. The cards and all tiles are of decent quality, and I enjoyed the treasure pictures on the treasure tiles. This game has the best components of any Uberplay game I’ve played yet.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is a gorgeous six page manual with loads of color illustrations and examples. The artwork and diagrams are essential; and even though four player guides are included with the game, I thought that the game was simple enough that they weren’t needed. I found that the game was extremely simple to teach and learn. The only slightly confusing aspect of the game are the street discard piles; which felt a little clunky, since they were not too clearly marked with what to do.

3.) Players and Time: The game seems to play okay with two players, is barely playable with three, but really shines with four. It doesn’t last too long, usually less than an hour - just short of wearing out its welcome.

4.) Strategy: At first, one might think that Neptune must be moved at every opportunity to destroy the pawns of the opponents. But in the beginning of the game, this gives them an overwhelming advantage in return. If I have all eleven treasure tiles face down on my board and receive a Neptune chip; I can do some serious movement on my turn, catching up to the leader oftimes. So Neptune is many times better used to hinder a player’s returning back to their village. Of course, it’s often quite satisfying to have Neptune destroy a player’s pawn, when that player has been greedy with piles of un-stored treasures on their being. Players have to weigh the risk of carrying a lot of treasure with the delay in taking it back to their villages where it will be safe. When building, players must know what number to put on the table and where to place it, keeping a close eye on what numbered treasures opponents still need. Playing cards at the right time is also an important tactical decision. Sure, the game doesn’t have the strategic depth of El Grande, but it’s not just a cakewalk, either. Players have to make some decisions.

5.) Fun Factor: Moving Neptune is a lot of fun, mainly because most of mankind gets a kick out of destroying things. When the die is included, things get tense, because sometimes you need to move Neptune just ONE more space, or are praying that the other player rolls a “0”, and can’t attack you with this annoying god this turn. And the game has a very nice visual appeal when the buildings and streets are set up, causing passersby to stop by and take notice. I found that both adults and teenagers enjoyed the game equally.

So, regardless of what others might say, I recommend Sunken City. It’s fun, fairly quick, and looks fantastic on the board. It’s a “light” game, perhaps, but has enough strategy to make one think, and isn’t merely a brainless activity. It carries the theme well, helped out by its magnificent bits and art and is an enjoyable activity for both young and old. If you’re looking for Kramer’s next masterpiece, this game isn’t it. But if you’re looking for an easy game, one with some decent strategic choices; then this game may be your cup of seaweed tea.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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