Hang around board gamers long enough and you’ll learn that there are names for certain types of common gaming mechanisms. “Area control” games are those where you compete to gain control of a specific region on the playing board, for example, and “push your luck” games reward bold players, with increasing rewards, against increasing risks. Catan is an example of the former, while Zombie Dice is a classic push-your-luck game. Another very common game mechanic is “worker placement”, and if you’ve played Agricola or Terra Mystica, you’ve enjoyed this mechanic.
In fact, worker placement has become a tremendously popular game design and quite a few of the games on my shelves utilize this mechanism too, including Lords of Waterdeep, Terraforming Mars, and The Manhattan Project. The concept is simple: workers produce resources, some of which are then used as resources for other workers, who produce more valuable output, and so on. Kind of how farmers product food and sell them to markets, which then exchange money for these collected resources. They are then used as resources for a chef to produce an expensive meal which a customer purchases. One reason these games are so popular is because they are so much a part of our world.
The latest addition to my own worker placement game collection is the slick and ingenious Micro City. The game started out as a solo print-and-play title but has been reimagined as a terrific little game from designer Michał Jagodziński and publisher Thistroy Games. I backed this title on Kickstarter so received the base game and at least a half-dozen expansions, all tucked into a box about 4x the size of a deck of playing cards:
The basic concept is straightforward: You’re a city engineer and are trying to amass all the resources needed – coal, iron, wood and money – to build a new skyscraper in town. Each city is represented by four randomly chosen cards that then represent a playing area of 16 districts. Each district is either Industrial, Commercial, Residential or – in one of the advanced options – Logistics. One of the additional expansions included in the Kickstarter edition is a Seaport, though I haven’t tried that yet. Further, each district has a basic or advanced action, and you roll dice to add randomness: Matching the die value of a district is how you can utilize its advanced action.
Here’s the basic setup for Micro City:
Going clockwise from the top right, there’s the Round Track card w/ white wooden token to keep track of how many rounds you have to complete your building, the target building you seek to build, the 4×4 district grid, your six Project Cards, two dice, your current resource track (notice you start out with zero coal, steel and wood, but two money), and, finally, red investment markers. Close inspection will reveal that there’s also a red meeple on one of the city districts, 3 across and 2 down. See it?
Let’s look a bit more closely at the different cards and elements, as that’s a pretty small photo…
Now you can see that cheerful worker meeple. Each district has an assigned category — red for residential, brown for industrial, blue for commercial and purple for logistics — along with some small iconography to indicate what the district produces as its basic action and, on the lower portion, a matching die value to utilize its advanced action. For example, the top left residential district lets you gain money as its basic action or construct a building as its advanced action if you can match die value 1 or 2. The top right brown industrial district produces 1 steel as a basic action or 2 steel as its advanced action if die value 6 is matched.
Note: The iconography could be significantly improved here, where the left value is always the basic action and the right action the advanced. So the order of the residential pair would switch and the industrial would explicitly show 1 steel and 2 steel as a simple reminder.
There are quite a few different buildings you can attempt to build, but here’s one of the basic starter buildings, up close:
Since there are no numbers in the circles, you can construct this in any order you want, by producing two wood, one steel, one money, then two steel, one coal, one money, etc etc. Complete all four and you’ve immediately won, even if you’re poised to run out of time or investment markers.
Which reminds me; you’re not only working against time – each round the Round Track goes down one – but you’re also trying to manage the scarce resource of investment markers. Each time you visit a district, you place an investment marker there and it cannot be removed until a specific Project Card that offers that capability. Investment markers are also used to mark each step of the building you’ve constructed, so by the end of the game it’s a resource you have to manage very carefully: Run out and you’ve lost.
There are three components to a project card, as you can see. The top shows how many districts your meeple can move this round, the middle is the “free” action you can take, and the lower portion is the alternate action you can do if you have a matching die value. Once played a project card is unavailable until you recover your spent cards. Notice that the 5 die card above offers a distance 1 move, a free move of buying 2 steel for 3 coin and removing one spent investment marker from the board back into your available pool. Spend the 5 die and you can get those 2 steel for 2 coins instead and remove that one investment marker.
PLAYING THE GAME MICRO CITY
Once set up, the game proceeds rather quickly as you get the hang of it. Roll the dice, decide what project card to play, move your meeple, play the action of choice from your project card then the action of choice from your newly arrived district. If you chose not to use either die, you get a 1 coin reward at the end of your round. That’s it. Move the round track token. Iterate.
With that in mind, here’s my starting position for this particular layout a bit more closely:
I like to lay out the project cards that match the dice so I can see whether I want to use either of their advanced actions. If I don’t, I can play any project card from my hand for its free or basic action, of course.
A bit further along on Micro City here’s how the playing area looks:
You can see that I now have 2 coal and 1 steel and that since I’ve moved to the lower right district on card #1 I’ve had to place an investment marker in that district too.
Further along in the game, I’ve explored quite a bit of the lower right area of Micro City and completed two of my four levels of building construction. More importantly, I’m down to two investment markers but have a lot of resources: 4 coal, 2 steel, 3 wood and 4 coin:
To complete my building, I need to have 4 coal, 3 wood, 2 steel and 1 coin. Which I do! So now all I have to do is get to a build zone and build. Better yet, there’s a project card that lets you build for 1 coin too, offering the chance to build twice in a turn, once for the card and once for being in a residential district that matches one of your die. I have 5 rounds to finish up too. In other words, I’ve got this!
THOUGHTS ON MICRO CITY
The Kickstarter package includes quite a few expansions, as I said, and there’s also support for both two player cooperative and two player competitive modes. Here are a few examples of the expansions beyond the base solo game:
Left to right those are Advantage Cards, one of the Seaport area cards, one of the many bigger and more complicated buildings (the top numbers represent number of rounds you can use in easy, medium and hard modes), and two player goal cards. Suffice to say, lots and lots of replayability at various levels of challenge. Fundamentally, though, it all comes back to worker placement: for any given turn where are you going to move and what are you going to do produce or do once you get there?
I’m a big fan of Micro City. I like the size, I like the streamlined worker placement design, and I like that it proceeds rather quickly once you know how to play. It also requires a small surface area which makes it easy to play on a ferry, a train or even an airplane food tray. This is one that could be a great game to have at work for your lunch break, and you’ll undoubtedly have co-workers sit down and “help” you compete various challenges.
Can you still get the Kickstarter version? Unsure. But you can certainly check out the Kickstarter campaign page and email the publisher to see if you can get lucky or check out BoardGameGeek’s marketplace. If not, a non-KS version will hopefully be available very soon (though the publisher’s Web site is offline as of this writing). I paid about $19.00 including shipping as a backer, so my guess is that the final commercial version of the game will be $19.99 or thereabouts. I’ll try to update this once it shows up in retail…