Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review of Blue Moon City


I've had Blue Moon (the card game) for a couple months now and have enjoyed the simple but fun dueling game and the pretty artwork. I finally got a chance to play a friend's copy of Blue Moon City last Tuesday. I had skimmed the rules a few months ago and decided it looked to complicated to play with our group. Boy, was I wrong. By Friday, we were playing my own copy. And it's good. Very good. In fact, despite being three years old, I think it still deserves a review and a much bigger audience.

Components

The game itself is quite beautiful and the aesthetics add greatly to the playing experience. Upon setup, we see a board made up of various hand-drawn tiles of buildings that need to be rebuilt. When each building tile is built, it is flipped from the architectural drawing to the actual building in all its restored glory. Quite pretty and very, very thematic. As well, the wooden pieces are very functional and there are nice muted choices for the different player colours. Also, the plastic dragons (same as the ones in the card game) are cute and fit very well with the theme. Finally, the cards are filled with gorgeous images from the different peoples of the Blue Moon world and are of quite good card stock. Verdict: Excellent. Very beautiful and evocative but also very functional.

Rules

Not sure what bothered me about the rules when I read them online. The second time I read them on page and it took about two minutes and everything clicked. The only thing that newbies will struggle with the first couple rounds are the special powers of the different peoples. But in my games by the halfway mark it seemed like everyone was sailing along without a second thought. Verdict: Great. Easy rules, well-explained in the rules book.

Gameplay

So what do you do? In a nutshell, the idea is to rebuild different coloured buildings in Blue Moon City by moving to the cities and playing the corresponding cards of the same colour. Finishing a building yields rewards for all the players who contribute to its reconstruction, the most important reward being crystals. With a certain number of crystals, you can make donations to the obelisk in the centre. 4 donations in a 4 player game and you win. Sounds simple but it's a Knizia game so there a bunch of twists. Most of the cards have a power on them so they can either be used for rebuilding or tossed out for their special power. Some can be any colour, some change the colour of other cards, some let you make two donations to the obelisk (for a cost), and various other things. What happens is that these cards really open up the choices and add that little bit of agony that makes this game so good. The powers do take a little getting used to but the play of them becomes intuitive after a few rounds.

In addition to this, once a building is rebuilt it offers extra rewards to the players who rebuild adjacent buildings. This leads to some interesting choices for as the game progresses the rewards get bigger and bigger. This is a good thing, though, as it adds tension to the game and helps when the different spots on the obelisk become more expensive.

On top of this, you have the dragons which provide their very own little subgame. One can use special cards to move them to a building you are about to help rebuild. When you contribute and a dragon is there to witness it, they give you a scale. As soon as the scales run out, they are counted and the person with most receives a whole whack of crystals. Thanks, dragons!

All in all, the game plays briskly, with buildings being rebuilt, rewards being given out, dragons being moved, and donations made. Verdict: Quick and lots of fun. Somehow relaxing and suspenseful at the same time.

Strategy

I've played three games now with 2, 3, and 4 players and the subtleties have begun to emerge. The dragon scale competition cannot be underestimated and was a definite decider in the 2-player game. With more players, one has to decide who they will help out as everyone receives rewards on buildings they contributed to, independent of who finishes them. Finishing a building could give you lots of crystals and the first place bonus but may give another player the crystals they need to make their final donation. Tricky.


The main strategies come from the cards dealt and the endless choices that they give you. Although I've read that this can cause AP, I haven't found it in any of my games (and I play with SLOW thinkers!) There is a fine balance that Knizia has struck here between giving the players lots of options and keeping the gameplay brisk. As well, every game is close, very much due to the design of when all the crystals come out, so one has to really work carefully to get that one up on the opponent. This usually means getting lotsa cubes on lotsa buildings and then having the other players finish them up for you. Verdict: Deep but not brain-burning. Brilliant.

Conclusion

Very glad I own this and I am looking forward to many more games. It is a design that offers tons of depth but still allows a new player to, if not win, get really close to it on their first game. The theme feels natural which is rare for Knizia, and the game itself is gorgeous. My partner, a graphic designer, was drooling over the bits and said it's one of the prettiest he's seen. All of this wouldn't matter, of course, if there wasn't a solid, fun, easy-to-teach middleweight game underneath it all. But there is. Verdict: Great strategy game that everyone should own.

P.S. It's even more fun if you yell "TROGDOR!!!" every time you move a dragon...

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