We featured Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig (Stonemaier/Bézier) earlier this year. Tho' that game is ostensibly a mash-up of Between Two Cities (Stonemaier) with The Castles of Mad King Ludwig (Bézier), its tile-placement and neighbour-scoring mechanics so closely mirrored that of Between Two Cities that it was essentially a reimplementation of the Stonemaier game but adopting the theme from the Bézier game. Now Between Two Cities is back in a new edition that is a reprise, more or less, of the original game.
Two years after Between Two Cities was published, designers Matthew O'Malley and Ben Rosset added a Capitals expansion. This added more civic buildings and districts, with their own particular adjacency requirements. This new Essential Edition incorporates everything from the Capitals expansion. There are some tiny rule tweaks and, with art credits now shared by Laura Bevon, Agnieszka Dabrowiecka, Ossi Hiekkala and Beth Sobel, there's some new art.
If you've not previously played it or Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Between Two Cities: Essential Edition is a fast-playing (30 minute) semi-cooperative tile-drafting game where the 3-7 players are each working with their neighbour (ie: the player to their left and to their right) to build a cityscape. As the title suggests, players are all in fact sitting 'between two cities'. Each turn players will simultaneously be selecting two tiles from their hand and placing one in the tableau to their left and the other to the tableau to their right. Each tile type has its own scoring conditions and requirements but essentially tiles are scoring according to their position in relation to other tiles. At the end of the game, the scores for each cityscape tableau is totted up and each player scores only for the lower of the two cities which they are sitting between. It's a scoring mechanic that of course incentivises players to share their building largesse as equally as possible between their two cities - if you focus on one city and effectively tank the other, you'll certainly lose because you'll only score for the tanked city.
Tho' the game remains at its best at higher player counts and would, on the face of it, seem only to be playable with at least three players, Stonemaier Games have incorporated their now traditional automata to enable two-player and solitaire play.
If you already have Between Two Cities and the Capitals expansion, you should just view Between Two Cities: Essential Edition as a 'big box' version that's not too big and which essentially pulls together what you already have. If you don't yet have Between Two Cities, then this new Essential Edition is a great way of adding this innovative game to your collection. It's an immersive game that you'll find yourself returning to for repeat plays, and it's accessible enough to function well as a 'gateway game' for introducing modern board games to novice gamers.