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Point City

'Small box' card games seem to come in two sizes these days: there’s the 6 Nimmt (Amigo) or Coloretto (ABACUSSPIELE) tiny box that literally holds a deck of cards and a Rizla-thin rulesheet and then there’s the Kosmos EXIT-sized box that can hold a surprising amount of components but, primarily, a large deck of cards and a rules booklet. There are some amazing small box games out there, proven by time and testing: I have taken the afore-mentioned 6 Nimmt and Coloretto, For Sale (Eagle-Gryphon) and No Thanks! (Amigo) to my game group around 500 times now, and I’ll take them another 500 times, whether they get played or not (well, if I don’t move first, that is a decade of gaming after all!).

These particular evergreen fillers have, between them, been around for 94 years; a game that has been around for just four but would be a highly appropriate addition to their esteemed ranks is Point Salad (AEG). It’s a quick-playing open-draft filler that takes a minute to set up, two to explain, and is done and dusted in fifteen - well, assuming you’ve got someone who’s good at maths to tally the scores. Point Salad has been a huge hit with Family and Welcoming game groups and, given that, it was inevitable a sequel would follow. The salad has, somewhat bizarrely, grown into a city.




Point City comes in the same EXIT-sized box as its older sibling, but rather than being half full of air, actually uses the whole space for three decks of cards, 20 tokens and a robust four-page rulebook that has clear instructions for play. With art by Dylan Mangini, the graphic design is, again, simple but impeccable, with distinct icons for colour-blind players. Again, we have to remove a set number of cards, tho' this time from each of three decks, then shuffle and stack them 1 on 2 on 3, resource side up. The top sixteen cards are then arrayed in a 4x4 grid, and number of tokens laid out.

On their turn, if there is a row or column consisting wholly of resources, a player can choose to flip a card to its building side, which happens often early in the game. Then they must take two cards, either two adjacent from the grid or two blind from the deck. If they take from the grid, resources are drawn into hand, while buildings must be paid for with a combination of resource cards from hand or permanent resource icons on buildings previously constructed. The grid refreshes itself constantly by replacing resources with buildings and vice versa, a balancing act that was first introduced me to by Targi (Kosmos).

Over the 17 turns of the game, players continue to draft resources and buildings, buildings and resources, utilising the permanent resources to discount purchases, a la Splendor (Space Cowboys) - don’t worry, I’m not going to be calling this a Splendor killer. When a player constructs a Civic building they can select one of the end-game scoring tokens which - and this is where the Point Salad DNA shows strongest - score for sets of icons and other specific conditions. In-game power creep is generated by the second and third decks of cards assembled earlier, which have more resources, wilds, and high VP buildings that are costlier to build.

If this were Point Salad, I could say that shallot. Point City is an optimisation puzzle of maximising the immediate and ongoing efficacy of your drafts and builds and, occasionally, checking out the competition to see if you can take something they might want, especially the tokens, which are a direct swing. The solo rules differ little from the multiplayer rules, which shows that the game is more heads-down than its predecessor, tho' when a player can spare the time from their own machinations, deliberately putting a spanner in someone else’s works is definitely more satisfying than doing so by chance.




Point City is a mechanically sound game: it works and it is a good workout for the noggin, but it does what it does without the ‘zing!’ that Point Salad has. It also adds a fair bit of time to proceedings, as players peruse 17 cards rather than 9, while simultaneously reducing the maximum player count from a friendly, albeit chaotic, six to a select four. Normally, I’d baulk at so directly comparing two games but it’s fairly evident that the recent addition is trading off the name, styling and reputation of its predecessor. As such, it is the lesser game, tho' there are many, many games less worthy than Point Salad; I would say that’s fair enough for a sophomore effort, but I think that position goes to TEN (AEG), which is a push-your-luck set collection game with a malleable economy, and also by the same design team of Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin and Shawn Stankewich.

I suppose the defining moment for me will come at some point in the future, when I decide that either Point City just isn’t getting played and I need the shelf space, small box notwithstanding, or that it hits the table often enough to justify those few inches of real estate. I’m currently guessing the former, but I’d be pleasantly surprised if it turned out to be the latter. In its own right, it’s fine, but will it be picked ahead of those esteemed fillers of yore mentioned earlier, or even put in the bag in the first place?

Oh, and where is the much overdue expansion to Point Salad, anyway? Second Helping, Side Salad, Salad Dressing, whatever it’s called... come on, there’s half a box left to fill!


(Review by David Fox)


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