The board game Cities Skylines is part of the trio of titles that the video game developer Paradox Interactive brought from the screen to the table. In cooperation with various publishers, board games for Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis and Cities Skylines were created. The last one was published by Kosmos. The end product is a success, despite the hackneyed topic. We'll reveal why in the following review of Cities Skylines.
Cities Skylines isn't the first city building board game - and it won't be the last. At least Kosmos has a pretty good excuse that the classic among the settings was processed again: The board game is based on the urban simulation of the same name by the Swedish studio and publisher Paradox Interactive, known for its particularly complex video games.
Cities Skylines: video game as a board game
Cities Skylines is almost too shallow for paradoxical conditions. However, this is rewarded by good sales figures: around five million PC versions alone were sold on the counter. Such sales figures can hardly be achieved with a board game at the moment, but Cities Skylines is also well received in the board game version. Responsible for the adaptation is the Swede Rustan Hakansson, known among other things as the author of HexRoller, Dungeon Rush or Nations.
The board game Cities Skylines first tries to match the concept of the template as precisely as possible. Players act cooperatively to build a prosperous city. However, this turns out to be more difficult than you might think. Just putting the pieces of the puzzle is not enough, luck is also part of it. And so a feeling familiar from video games quickly arises: "I wish I'd rather..." - and boom: back to the title screen. New map. New city. New bugs. This continues until you see through the synergies that are important in city building. The board game version of Cities Skylines is no different. It takes a few game rounds to even find out what the "analogue cities" have in store for their builders. But then the tactical component picks up speed and Cities Skylines comes close to the feel of the digital original.
Sometimes, however, it ends unsatisfactorily: namely when the "game over" buzzes through your head and you find out afterwards that you couldn't have avoided the ending at all. These are the moments when the luck factor of Cities Skylines shines through. This may not always be well received under pure profit premises, but in this special case it ensures that the board game adaptation by Rustan Hakansson, published in Germany by the Kosmos publishing house, becomes a title that you have to bring to the table several times - and it does too will - because at some point you have to win at least once.
The luck factor becomes an element of tension: Failing with the game concept is part of the idea of Cities Skylines. Basically, this is a dangerous trick for a family game. Motivation could suffer, but it doesn't. This is not least due to the comparatively short playing time of a maximum of about an hour per game. It is always important to achieve a high level of satisfaction among the residents. The path leads the players together through various intermediate evaluations.
Simple rules show urban planners the way
It all sounds enormously complex, but it is not at the table. The difference to the video game template is that the board game is more beginner-friendly: the rules are understandable and easy to understand, the material shows what you have to understand mechanically. This also encourages younger players to take part in cooperative urban development. Cities Skylines is therefore not easy. The city planning board game finds its place somewhere on the way to becoming a connoisseur game. Communication is necessary, so the interactive component is always noticeable. If you want, Cities Skylines can also be played in solo mode: It works well, but it's more fun in cooperation with other city planners.
This makes the essential factor of Cities Skylines: The Board Game visible. It's much more about urban planning than urban construction. The latter is symbolized by the placement of "Tetris" tiles, which have both positive and negative properties. The essential trick, however, is the consideration of the effects on the game board, not the laying out of the game pieces themselves. Of course, there are various areas that are also known from video games: such as residential areas, commercial areas or industry, but also the supply and service sector and special parts. The material is unobjectionable: solid, visually appealing on the table and yet clearly arranged - the template of Cities Skylines is always recognizable. The playing cards should have been a bit more visually drilled, they don't always look like "fresh from the video game", but like "fresh from the start of the millennium", but are functional and understandable.
The individual areas intertwine, are mutually dependent and thus make the planning requirement perceptible on the part of the player. Building apartments consumes water resources, other buildings cost a lot of money, but ensure satisfied residents in the city. In addition, there is everything that gives gamers a headache in video games: crime, traffic, electricity supply, environmental pollution. All factors occur in different degrees of intensity, which affects the game.
And then there comes another coincidence: instead of being able to build wildly, players depend on the display. This consists of five cards drawn. The luck factor is somewhat mitigated by the fact that unsuitable cards can also be exchanged - but that costs money, which may then be missing elsewhere. What is particularly successful is that the buildings are available in increasing construction stages, each linked to specified conditions. And because this idea is also reflected in the basic shape of the parts, in the end there is a little bit of puzzling on the gaming table. With each placement you should also pay attention to the surrounding tiles in order to trigger bonuses and create connections. Due to the comparatively small game plan, this is not that easy, because there is not much room for experiments. Extensions are possible, but again cost money.
A board that provides information on the state of the city provides an overview of the mutual success of the players. Every time there is a change, new conversations arise among the planners - and that is exactly what makes this board game so appealing. Anyone who can get used to the random factor and not bothered by the occasionally evenly running games gets a highly interactive, cooperative experience that does not keep the players at the table for many hours, but provides entertainment in a manageable amount of time.
Cities Skylines does not want to be the most complex city planning board game, but one that creates space for optimization and new plans in future games. Sometimes a willingness to take risks is necessary in order to have a chance of making progress. What if the plan fails? Then you start over. Not everyone may like this, but it fits the game. If the point counter moves up on the chic 3D display, players have not only done a lot right, but can actually look forward to successes.
And those who have got used to the basic game can use their experience to expand the game board and tackle the four scenarios, with which special cards then find their way into the game. For example, unique buildings, role cards or news that create a bad atmosphere in the city and thus disadvantages. These mini-ideas are great, add some variety and increase the level of challenge.
The fact that some tips for budding city planners are already listed in the game instructions shows how susceptible the concept is to errors in the game. Cities Skylines is a lot of fun, especially when you have seen the concept through to the end. This, in turn, requires map knowledge - but once you have seen everything, your motivation disappears. A small vicious circle that the city building board game has to struggle with. Until then, however, a few games and thus a few hours will pass.
Number of players: 1 to 4 players
Age: from 10 years
Playing time: 35 to 80 minutes
Long-term motivation: medium
Author: Rustan Hakansson
Year of publication: 2019
Cost: 35 Euro
As complex as the decisions behind the individual actions at Cities Skylines may be, the fact that the instructions only cover six pages and can teach players the essential tricks from the start shows that the editorial work was successful. Kosmos has done everything right in this regard and does not make any other gross blunders. The template brings Cities Skylines: The board game better on the table than you might have expected from a licensed game.
Urban planning remains challenging - at least up to the point where you have seen all the synergies and micromanagement. From then on, a routine sets in that can only be messed up by the luck factor. The board game variant of Cities Skylines always has the same actions: You first look at the administration board, visualize the urgent problem of the city and work on the solution - provided you can access the appropriate cards.
And that's exactly where the biggest point of criticism for experienced players lies. You can only partially direct the fate of your metropolis. These are imponderables that do not come into play in video games: If the water runs out, city planners take care of the supply. This is exactly what you have to do in the board game variant, but you can only implement it if you have the right tools at hand at the right time. Sometimes the end of the game comes closer than you would like - and you can't do anything. In many cases, the option of exchanging hard currency only provides insufficient compensation.
The limited ability to plan is offset by a high level of interactivity. This is also what makes Cities Skylines: The Board Game so attractive. In solo mode, on the other hand, luck outweighs - because the attractive exchange is missing, the title loses quality here.
The board game has comparatively little in common with the "real planning" in a digital city building simulation, the optics are right for it and captures the topic well. Laying out a city on the gaming table and admiring the growth is entertaining. You can't just look at the scoreboard in Cities Skylines - even if that's what the board game is ultimately about. You have to be able to overlook the somewhat tough start - mechanically, not in terms of rules - then Cities Skylines: The Board Game can also develop its potential.