Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Board Game Review - Infinite City
I think we need a national push toward a little corporate honesty. For starters, I think all MacDonald's commercials should, from this point forward, include only fat people. Wal-Mart ads should quit featuring perky suburban housewives with lovely children, and start showing us mullet-wearing throwbacks in camouflage hot pants. And publishers who use the word 'infinite' in their games titles should be forced to make games that last longer than half an hour.
Sure, Infinite City is a tricky tile-laying game with a massive eff-you factor and a bewildering array of complex decisions cropping up every turn, but it most definitely ends, and so I maintain that the name of the game should be Finite City. In fact, you can finish a three-player game inside 30 minutes, and we finished a five-player game in less than an hour. This is clearly a case where the name of the game is directly at odds with how long it takes to play.
The premise of Infinite City is simple enough. In fact, the rules can be explained in the time it takes you to crack open a beer and find a glass. Every turn, you play a tile from your hand representing one of the architectural edifices of the titular city (if there is a word more fun than titular, I want to know about it). Then you put one of your tokens on it and follow the directions. Scoring is tricky enough that you'll have to explain it twice to anyone who wasn't paying attention the first time, but it's still not hard to grasp. In fact, you'll understand the game so quickly, you'll know for sure that the name of the game didn't come from the rules explanation.
And the game doesn't take long, either. You can usually plan your turn while you wait for it to arrive, so in most cases, the turns go pretty fast. Sometimes you'll set off a combination play that chains together for a couple minutes, but most of the time, you're in and out in 30 seconds or less.
So what, exactly, makes Infinite City so infinite? Well, I've carefully pondered the notes I took while I played (incidentally, if you believe that I take notes while I play games, you're high), and I think I figured it out. Basically, Infinite City provides a nearly infinite number of ways for other players to completely hose you. Every turn is another opportunity to be humiliated, degraded and abused. You can go from the top of the heap to the Fire Down Below in just one play. Hopefully, that play will not be your own, but it certainly could happen.
See, every building in Infinite City does something different. Some of the more innocent buildings, like the housing or the library, let you put together a few moves in a row. Some of the buildings are a little more aggressive, like the transit center or the post office, which rearrange the city and make your opponents plot your untimely demise. And some of the tiles are so rotten, so mean-spirited, and so just plain dirty that you'll be sizing your opponents for pine boxes and shallow graves.
Take, for instance, my son. He is a ridiculously smart kid, and he frequently provides me with opportunities to regret his intelligence. One of the rottenest cards in the game, the shopping center, requires you to swap hands with another player. So if you have four cards, and an opponent has ten, then you smile as you hand the opponent a pile of garbage that he can play instead of the wealth of brilliance he was holding. It's worth noting that when my son played this tile on me, my hand sucked - but it was nowhere near as bad as the hand I got to replace it. I spent the next three turns building crappy decorative water fountains miles away from the rest of the city, while he went on to dominate the world banking markets.
Another time, my son decided that I was doing much too well at the game, and played a stadium right in the middle of my occupied buildings. All of my tokens instantly rushed over to the stadium, leaving my entire scoring block completely empty. My score went from eight to zero in one turn. Meanwhile, his grandmother was buying up land like a turn-of-the-century oil mogul and protecting them with power stations.
I could go on and on... and on... but the point here is that, in only four plays of the game, I have seen an incredible number of ways to use Infinite City to completely ruin another person's chances of scoring anything better than one of those flimsy paper ribbons they give you in grade school because you showed up to the science fair wearing pants. I am quickly coming to believe that Infinite City, while a reasonably short game, may have its name because you just never run out of ways to stab each other in the duodenum.
Here's the problem, though - it's a blast. It's so much fun to try to build a good scoring pattern, maximize your bonus points, and break up your friends' plans, you'll find yourself playing it over and over. The tiles are really nice, and the art is beautiful. The writing tends to be a little tiny, which could bother someone with bad eyes, but after you play it a couple times, you won't even need to read the tiles any more. There are a finite number of building types (yet another failure on the part of the marketing team), and so you're not constantly inundated with new things to remember. By your second run through this smart, fast, brutal game, you'll know how most everything works, and be quite prepared to be completely ruined at the drop of a hat.
But fair warning, because AEG didn't provide it - this game is not Infinite. It most definitely ends, usually before you can figure out why you can't find your pants, or why your butt hurts so bad.
Requires a great combination of planning and flexibility
Really easy to learn - the rules are on the tiles
Great art and high-quality pieces
Fast enough that it should be called something like 'Quick City' or 'Zippy City', if those names didn't sound like a small-town gas station
One of the most back-stabbity games I've played in a long time (that could be a pro, depending on who you are)
If you want a quick, easy-to-learn game that provides a whole hell of a lot of good strategic game play, you should definitely check out Infinite City. And you should definitely get it from Dogstar Games, because without them, you wouldn't have been able to read about it here.
Posted by Matt Drake at 7:16 PM