1-4 players, Competitive, Action Selection, City Builder
Designer: Vladimir Suchy
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Overview of Gameplay
Underwater Cities has players constructing vast underwater communities and managing resources in order to gain that one thing that most games requires of us…victory points. Each player will start with a single bubble city on their own player boards and a hand of three cards. From here players will take turns playing a single card in conjunction with selecting a particular spot on the main game board. There are 13 spaces on the game board to choose from split up by color and action. Four spaces for green actions, four for red and another four for orange with one final space as a kinda auxiliary space that anyone can select even if someone already selected it.
So here’s the thing, if you play a card that matches the same color of the action space that you are taking then you get to do BOTH the card and the board actions. Otherwise you can just play any card and take any action that’s still available on the board but not get the card action if the colors don’t match. This creates a super interesting strategic game but with a bit of luck mixed in since you never really know what card you are going to draw. Players will each do this three times and the next round will commence where the player order may change up. After a few of these rounds a production phase will occur which will allow players to gain resources based on how well they have built up their cities thus far. Of course, you will have to pay Kelp to feed your burgeoning community as well. After the third Production phase the game will end and players will tally up their final Victory Points and whoever has the most, is the winner!
I have the 3rd version of this game and the only one that should be available for purchase at the time of this writing. It has been said that this version has vastly improved components than the first two versions. That said these are pretty good! The player boards are of a decent thickness and the little plastic half-bubbles that are used for the domed cities are really fun. The rest of the cardboard tokens have a nice “clink” to them when you stack them which is a first for me with cardboard tokens, but I love it. The cards are slick but still not too thin.
My only two complaints are the board and the building tokens. The board complaint is super minor but I’m not a fan of unfinished edges on boards. Having a board that has an open edge tends to fray much more quickly than one with a closed off edge, not only that but closed edges just look better. The plastic building tokens is even more minor but these things just don’t stack as nice as I would like. They are very small and stack pretty close together on the players boards so I’m often finding myself accidentally knocking them over. Perhaps if there were different sized tokens for the upgraded buildings instead of stacking, this would alleviate this issue.
Lordy lordy, this box is something. Now I really like the size, it fits into my shelf with ease and it looks nice but man there is zero organization at all. First off, the box is pretty thin and weak feeling as it is evident that they are aware of this as there is an additional cardboard piece inside the box to give it more sturdiness. However, there is zero insert of any kind so you will need to grab up some baggies to keep everything organized. Setup isn’t too terrible and most everything is color/number coded so you can easily see where components need to go. Still….would love an organizational insert for this.
Visual Appeal /Theme
I think the game looks great, the artwork on the cards isn’t bad and the player boards look cool. The main board is a tad cluttered and the player order spot looks a little odd but overall not bad at all. The iconography the game uses for the action spaces are actually very well done! It only took me a couple glances in the rulebook before I had them all down.
I’m not super fond of the theme personally, it doesn’t really excite me like some games do but it does work well here. I do love the half-bubble cities and how you build tunnels to each one connecting this thriving world. Adding the building tokens to each city really enhances the look and feel of each player board and makes you feel like you are actually accomplishing something. This is outstanding.
Was not a fan of the rulebook. The setup section was confusing and there were small details that are scattered about that I had to skip ahead and find to allow a current rule to make sense. Information just didn’t seem well placed or ordered.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Player interaction in this one is interesting as you don’t REALLY interact with other players…..and yet, you do. Like you all are trying to be the most efficient underwater city builders and to do that you really need first dibs on those luscious action spaces. Once a player grabs a particular action space, it’s gone and everyone else is locked out of it till the end of the round. That said there is a single token that is used during a 4-player game that allows ONE taken space to be used just one more time by a single person, I assume for balancing. So, the interaction basically is in the form of denying players spaces on the main board. Would be neat if the cities could interact with another somehow.
In any case I had a really fun time with this one. I like the different card abilities and the choices that they bring but also how joining them up with the same colored action spaces on the board unleashes even more options. On top of that focusing on actually trying to climb that turn order track just to nab first pick of spaces might actually be a legitimate thing to do.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I would say 3-player. At four the downtime is kinda a bummer considering you are not doing anything during other players turns and players prone to AP will be sucked deep into this trying to decide which card to play and if they even want to play it to a matching color. Three players allows the strategy to really unfold since there will still be limited selections as the other players take up those precious spots quickly. There is also a solo game that is pretty decent although it’s still just challenging you to beat a score mostly. It does have a neat little twist in that you use another color’s action tiles to block off different action spots on the board each round which is pretty nifty. In any case any game that comes with a solo variant is a plus in my book.
Replayabiity is huge here. The board itself is double sided with one side being for 1-2 players and the other for 3-4 players which changes up some of the action spaces and adds a thing or two. The player boards themselves are each unique from the next. Each one is also double sided and has bonuses in different spots when compared to the next. The opposite sides of each is even more asymmetrical with huge amounts of variability on how you can score points depending on where you build.
Positive Final Thoughts
I’m going to say that I enjoyed this game a lot more than I thought I would. I kept hearing people comparing it to Terraforming Mar and I have to say, I think they are completely different playstyles and mechanics. The action selection with card selection is super fun and interesting and the cards themselves have interesting abilities. The bubble cities are awesome! Probably my favorite part of the game to be honest, I just cannot get enough of these things. Replayability is huge with tons of variety in the form of different cards and player boards. If you enjoy action selection with a bit of resource management then you will probably love this game.
Negative Final Thoughts
The rulebook needs some touching up and the box is very basic and thin. The main board itself seems a little on the low quality scale and the downtime with a full four players can be pretty long. Player interaction isn’t a high mark for this one either.