Cities: Skylines – Build Your Own Metropolis!
Want to be an urban planner?
In Cities: Skylines, you and your companions will build a city; for it to thrive, you’ll need to complete milestones for each period of construction.
Cities: Skylines, the video game, explores and expands on tropes from classic city-building games. Rustan Håkansson designed this board game adaptation, transforming it into a multi-player cooperative experience. The board game is published by KOSMOS, which recommends it for 1-4 players, ages 10+.
How to Play
Assemble three or four game boards, face down, according to the specific setting you’ve chosen to play. Separate your zone tiles and building tiles by type. Start your administration board and happiness display with all values at zero. Give each player some number of Stage I construction cards (depending on player count), and put 12 money in the city treasury. If you’re playing with any of the extras, like roles or special buildings, distribute those or mix them into the appropriate stage decks.
Then decide as a group which board piece you’d like to flip over to begin the game. Pay its development cost, and you’re ready to start your city!
On your turn, you can either play a construction card from your hand, exchange a construction card, or choose to end the milestone.
Play a Construction Card
Construction cards let you build service buildings, utility buildings, or municipal zones to help keep your city running. Service and utility buildings will cost money to build, but always offer some benefit. Find the corresponding tile and place it on the gameboard, aligned with the grid. Then adjust the affected value(s) on your administration board appropriately.
Municipal zone cards do not require money. They impact your city’s administration in a variety of ways, but most give benefits if certain city services are available. When building a zone, there is no particular tile requirement; pick whichever tile you like from the matching category (residential, commercial, industrial).
After playing a card, discard it to the box (it cannot be used again). Draw a new card from the pile of your choice (Stage I, II, or III, or the face-up exchange pile). Keep your construction cards face up in front of you to help your teammates make good decisions for the future of your city.
Exchange a Card
Instead of playing a card, pay two money from the city treasury to place a card from your hand into the exchange pile (where it might be used later). Draw a new card from the pile of your choice.
End the Milestone
As long as there is at least one tile in every “district” (area bounded by roads or water), you may choose to end a Milestone.
At this time, any utility bars that are negative (power, water, or trash) reduce your city’s happiness. Then transfer the remaining current happiness level to the Skyline/Happiness display.
If your employment is not at zero, you’ll pay from your treasury one million for each hash away from zero it is (without changing the employment bar).
Then, pay from the treasury to flip over a new piece of the game board, opening up more land for development!
Finally, everyone has a chance to exchange any number of construction cards (drawing only from Stage I, II, III, but not from the exchange pile), for only one money per card.
End the game by ending the final Milestone. You must have all pieces of the game board face-up and at least two tiles in every “district”. In addition to evaluating happiness in terms of power, water, and trash availability, you’ll also assess pollution, traffic, and crime: every step away from zero will reduce your happiness by one.
After transferring happiness to the display the final time, you’re done! Compare your final happiness score to the scale in the rulebook.
But you might not make it that far. You lose the game if your city fails. This can happen by running out of money to pay costs, having no available actions on a turn, or if the Happiness marker needs to dip farther than the board allows.
More to Do
Once you’ve learned how to play, add depth to Cities: Skylines. Scenarios in the rulebook add more building types, unique roles that help your planning, news events, and policies. These are a must, as we’ll highlight later.
Cities: Skylines certainly captures the essence of its digital namesake. There’s a lot going on and you’ll have to work hard to make your citizenry happy. The game looks great and the iconography matches its video game sibling.
But it’s very hard. After playing the base game half a dozen times, the best score we managed was a 5. Most times, we failed the city by running out of available actions (usually but not always caused by lack of money). The building rewards are very dependent on already having a functioning city: missing out on a few isn’t so bad, but when card after card comes out that cannot award a benefit, it’s easy to dig yourself into a hole you can’t get out of again.
“Extra” Scenarios Aren’t Extra
The scenarios help mitigate these problems. Roles make it easier to spend less money or get benefits more often. Unique buildings take up a ton of land, but if you build them, you have much to gain. Policy cards give the same benefits as utility or service buildings, but without needing any space at all.
What the rulebook doesn’t tell you is that Cities: Skylines is basically impossible to win without the scenarios. We could have avoided a lot of frustration and the feeling that we must be doing something wrong.
As soon as we tried adding in a few of the “extras”, we managed a new best score of 21. While that’s still not a “winning” score, it’s a huge difference from failing your city because of a lack of resources. And we did this while playing with our 9-year-old.
City building games should build a sense of accomplishment: “I made that”. In Cities: Skylines, the overwhelming feeling we get is failure. We’re trying to manage so many variables (trash, power, water, crime, traffic, pollution, employment, money, space), and nearly every building requires a trade-off that leaves us farther behind than before.
There are definitely people who enjoy difficult games because of the thrill of solving the puzzle. But here it doesn’t align with our family’s goals when playing a game to fail so often. Cities: Skyline is a mechanically solid and well-crafted game, but the joy of building the metropolis is crushed by the difficulty of succeeding.
Hardcore gamers may love how incredibly difficult Cities: Skylines is, and there is definitely a place for it in the board gaming world. But we’re not sure if that place is on the table of a family with a bunch of kids under ten. If your kids are older and you enjoy playing difficult co-ops with your friends and family, Cities: Skylines may be worth a look. Otherwise, it may be safe to spare yourself the frustration and wait until the kids are a little older.
You can find Cities: Skylines on Amazon or at your friendly local game store.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Cities: Skylines from KOSMOS for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Number of Players: 1-4
Age Range: 10+
Playtime: 40-70 minutes