Designed by Ted Alspach
Published by Bezier Games
45-90 minutes - 1-4 players
Review by Jack Eddy
Welcome to “PowerPoint Presentation: The Game”, where you will visualize, realize, and actualize the city of your dreams! You sir, are you ready to take your life to the next level? M’am, are you finally ready to become your own boss? With our tried and true techniques, you will be able to shape your destiny and find a better tomorrow. How much will this cost? Ten dollars? Ten thousand dollars? Two hundred billion dollars!? NO! Here at PPPTG, we will empower you to build a brighter borough for just a small percentage of your profits. All you have to do is remember to Visualize, Realize, and Actualize!
From its color pallet to its number crunching, playing Suburbia feels like you are doing research for a slideshow presentation at your next regional business conference, but in a good way! Don’t work for a big business with slideshows and investor meetings? No problem! In less than an hour, Suburbia’s very simple and intuitive gameplay will have you ready to wow your family/housecat/reflection with charts, diagrams, investment options, financial figures, maps, and projected impact on local population; and you’ll have fun to boot.
The Initial Investment (Setup)
Setup starts by randomly picking city tiles of the three different levels (A, B, and C) and forming face down stacks, with the end of game “one more round” tile being mixed into the middle of stack C. Basic city tiles are set aside face up, and are always available to be purchased. The first seven tiles of stack A are displayed in the market showing a scale of additional costs, then public goals are drawn. Players each have a player board that forms a border of their city and tracks their income and reputation, then they are given three starting basic tiles, three investment tokens, starting money, and two personal goals; keeping one and discarding the other. Both the public and personal goals award points at the end of the game for having the most or least of some element (money, type of city tile, reputation, etc…); public goals can be earned by any player, the personal goals are kept secret and can only be earned by their player.
Visualize, Realize, and Actualize! (Gameplay)
Each turn you add a new tile to your city or invest in a tile you already own. Basic tiles are available for purchase so long as some are left in the supply, tiles in the market can be purchased face up, or flipped over and used as lakes. No matter what type: lakes, market, or basic, you pay the listed cost plus the additional cost based on its position in the market, then place it next to another tile in your city so the magic can begin. You see, when a tile enters play, you resolve the effects on it, then you resolve the effects of every other tile if applicable. For instance, when you put down a tile that gives you “+1 income for each adjacent office”, that means all current and future adjacent offices will trigger it’s effect. This makes for real meaty, strategic decisions, yet they are never so complex that you will be overwhelmed.
The alternative to playing a tile is placing an investment marker on a city in your burrough and discarding one tile from the market. The cost of the investment is the cost of the invested tile plus the additional cost from the discarded one, then BAM! The immediate and ongoing effects of the tile are doubled for the rest of the game. If played correctly, this can make for some dramatic end-game turns.
The rest of your turn plays out by gaining or losing money and points based on your current income and reputation, sliding down remaining market tiles, and drawing a new one from the first available stack. There’s a bit of a balancing act in gaining points; the population (point) track has several red markers that once passed, you lose an income and a reputation. If your burrough’s population increases too fast, your income will dry up making it difficult to buy future tiles.
Projected Impact on Population (thoughts)
Suburbia hits on so many things that I love about board games that it’s hard (though not impossible) to find flaws in the design. It’s strategic yet approachable, it has really nice tactile pieces that form a cohesive theme, it feels rewarding when you make smart decisions, the whole thing usually plays in about an hour, and overall, the game just flows beautifully.
I admire the economy of decisions in the game. Every turn from beginning to end, you almost always resolve the same basic action: pick a tile and play a tile. Yet by combining effects based a wide variety of factors (colors, subtypes, adjacency, tiles in your own burrough, tiles in everyone’s burrough,etc...) each one has it’s own strategic value worth consideration. As your burrough grows, you feel like you are building an intricate machine, eventually chaining multiple effects per placement. Yet it never feels so overwhelming that it is hard to understand the immediate and future impact of your decisions, which helps the game move along at a quick pace.
One of the best and most important aspects of Suburbia is the distribution of bonus points at the end of the game, awarded for achieving public and personal goals. Not only does it give you direction as you expand your burrough, they increase tension through interactivity and hidden information. All of a sudden, you care about what your opponents are purchasing, hoping to compete with them for the public rewards and potentially deny them their personal reward. These goals give a tension and versatility to Suburbia that so many games lack, since the importance of each tile may differ based on the public and personal goals distributed at the beginning of the game. It helps that the game comes with a huge stack of these, so you’re unlikely to see the same setup twice.
Did I mention how much this game just looks like a powerpoint presentation? This may be a turnoff for some players, but the commitment to a theme unlike anything else in the hobby is commendable. The muted colors of the central and player boards provide strong contrast for the bold and vibrant city tiles as they enter play, helping to quickly assess the impact of tile effects. By sticking with low-detail on the tiles, it reinforces the intentional abstraction, you feel like you are in an office studying the zoning of a city as you plan each addition. Even the shape of the boards reinforces the business presentation theme, recalling graphs and charts as you set up for play. All of this could have turned out ugly and jarring, but somehow by leaning into this style, it brings a real charm and uplifting spirit to the game.
For all I love about Suburbia, there are two problems worth noting. First, the game can feel a bit fiddly, especially when tracking the effects of tiles toward the end of the game. You may find yourself sliding your income, reputation, and population tracks several times a turn, and if you lose track of what you’ve already done it’s hard to find your place. Second, because the goals can be such a driving force in your decision making, some tiles may be rendered worthless as it clogs up the market, only existing as an obstacle to getting tiles that are actually worthwhile. Though the useless tile will eventually be used for a lake or get discarded, it feels funny to occasionally have a tile that everyone agrees is just a bad move. I can’t think of any obvious solutions to these problems without fundamentally changing the design, and they’ve never impacted my enjoyment of the game, but they are somewhat clunky and cumbersome elements in an otherwise supremely elegant game.
The Payout (tl;dr)
I love Suburbia. From its idealized, late 90s tech company vibes to the sense of empowerment you have as you grow your burrough. Even the act placing the bold, bright, hexagonal city tiles into place feels satisfying. I especially love the variation between games it brings. Between your randomized stacks of city tiles and public and personal goals, each game will flow in a different direction, though there is enough consistency that the central thrust remains the same. It is not a heavy game by any means, sitting on the lighter side of medium weight gaming (whatever that really means now). There is enough strategic merit to keep veteran gamers entertained, while being approachable enough that newer players in the hobby should be able to grasp it quickly. Bottom line, Suburbia is an excellent game.