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Between Two Cities Review – From Paris To Berlin

Over the last few years, Stonemaier Games have become one of the “go to” names in board game publishing. They are responsible for a few great games that have hit the shelves, each innovative and well received in its own way. Viticulture, Scythe, Charterstone, and Wingspan are but a few – each one rated within the top 100 games on Board Game Geek. Today we are going to look another game in their reportoire – Between Two Cities.

Where a fair number of the games produced by Stonemaier are also designed by Jamey Stegmaier, Between Two Cities was actually designed by Matthew O’Malley and Ben Rosset. It is a shorter and smaller scale game, unlike games like Scythe and Viticulture; however, it is also beautifully unique, and uses a few interesting mechanics to help bring the game to life.

Today we’re going to look at a review for Between Two Cities in all of its glory.

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Between Two Cities

What is Between Two Cities?

Between Two Cities is a semi-cooperative tile placement game, designed by Matthew O’Malley and Ben Rosset, and published by Stonemaier Games. In it, players play the roles of town planners in two adjacent towns. Their goals are to make sure each town flourishes by choosing what to build in both. In doing this, they will work with their neighbours (one to the left and one to the right) in order to score the most for each town at the end of the game.

Between Two Cities is designed for 3-7 players, although it has both solo modes and a mode for two players. This is a review of the 3-7 player set of rules.

How do you play Between Two Cities?

Between Two Cities is a game played over several rounds. Each round the players will have a number of tiles in their hand, starting with 7. Each player then chooses two, one for the city on their left and one for the city on their right.

Once everyone has chosen two tiles they flip them over (simultaneously) and decide which tile will go to which city. Once the tiles have been placed in each city, everyone passes their pile of tiles on to the next player.

What this means is that each city grows by two tiles each turn, and after 3 turns the initial hand of tiles is over, signalling an end to Round 1.

Round 2 is slightly different. In Round 2, each player gets dealt three double tiles. Double tiles are exactly what they sound like and each player must choose to keep two, losing one. The one they lose gets discarded, and the two get placed – one in each city they have a stake in.

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A semi-finished city.

Finally, there is one more round just like the first, leading to each city being a 4×4 grid of buildings.

Once the third round is over the game is scored using a unique scoring mechanic. At the end of the game, your points are equal to the score your lowest scoring city gets.

So, what are the tiles? There are six types of tile in the game. They are:

  • Parks – Scored by how many connecting parks there are in orthogonal directions.
  • Shops – Scored by how many you have in a single line.
  • Taverns – There are four different types and how many different types you have in your cities scores you points.
  • Offices – Scored by how many you have, with extra points for offices by Taverns.
  • Factories – At the end of the game, you score 2 points per Factory. If you get the second most Factory you get 3 points per Factory, and for the most you get 4 points.
  • Houses – Houses are each worth 1 point for how many other different types of building you have – so, if you have at least one of everything else they are worth 5 points a piece – unless they are next to factories. If they are next to factories they only get one.

And those are a brief overview of the rules.

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Icons and Scoring

What’s it like playing Between Two Cities?

Between Two Cities is an interesting game for a few reasons, and I have to admit that we really enjoy it. Why we enjoy it though is not just because it is fun and engaging, but it also comes down to how well balanced the game is.

What really makes Between Two Cities shine is how it uses the mechanics it has in play. There are a few aspects that Between Two Cities utilises that it is hard to find being used elsewhere, yet alone doing it well. These are simple things, but they are ingenious and make a huge difference to the game.

Take choosing first player for instance. There are so many games where the oldest player goes first, or the youngest player, or the last player to visit a city, or whatever – yet Between Two Cities does away with that. Instead, and this wasn’t mentioned above, but the game comes with a deck. That deck is a mine of fantastic ideas on how to start the name – everything from hair length to the name of the last book read. It is such a fantastic way of deciding on who should go first that we, as a gaming group, actually keep the deck outside of the Between Two Cities box and now use it for everything.

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A completed city.

Another couple of mechanics that work really well are the hand-drafting – so you start the game with a hand of 7 tiles, but rotate them after each placement – and the scoring.

The scoring mechanic in Between Two Cities is a stroke of pure genius. When we first read the rules, way back when we first played, my immediate question was “well, why wouldn’t I put all the great tiles in one city and all the rubbish tiles in another?”

Well, dear reader, this was wrong on two accounts. Firstly, there are no rubbish tiles in Between Two Cities, but instead rubbish placements. Secondly, you are only judged in Between Two Cities on your lowest scoring city. If you do sabotage your neighbour by making sure they don’t get any of the tiles they are looking for then you are ultimately only sabotaging yourself.

What this does is make Between Two Cities interesting, semi-cooperative, and kind of holistic.

In fact, Between Two Cities is, at its heart, a very sociable game. Whilst choosing tiles, you can’t discuss with your neighbours (and city planning colleagues) what you are planning on choosing; however, once you have chosen two tiles you don’t have to allocate them straight away. When everyone has flipped their tiles over to show that they chose, they can then decide to discuss the results.

This time allows players to talk about what they want to do, or what the overall plan should be for future rounds. It is time to talk about the game and how best to move forward.

All in all though, Between Two Cities is a superb game and incredibly well balanced. It is, without a doubt, one of the most innovative games I know and is incredibly well made.

That being said, it isn’t completely perfect. The scoring can be a bit confusing at times, and cannot happen simultaneously (like the rest of the game). Even though the scoring is on each tile, it can still be a bit difficult to work out.

That is the only negative we can think of though – Between Two Cities is a very, very good game. It can be held up as both one of the best hand drafting games and one of the best semi-cooperative games. Kudos to the designers, artist, and all those involved.

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Getting there…

TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Business District

Like with all games we can now look at the good, bad, and neutral points behind Between Two Cities.

The Good

  • Between Two Cities uses mechanics in a really interesting way. The scoring mechanic, as well as the mechanic for choosing the first player, are particularly  innovative.
  • The game looks and feels good. The artwork and quality of the components are well done and well made.
  • The different scoring mechanics are well balanced. It is possible to do something completely different every time you play, and still stand a chance of winning.
  • The game oozes theme, with small city icons for the scoring.
  • Between Two Cities can be played with up to seven players, making it versatile and good for larger gaming evenings.

The Neutral

  • There is a solo mode. It may be amazing, but we haven’t played it. The same with the two player mode. It too may be great, but we can’t comment.

The Bad

  • The scoring can sometimes be tricky to work out.
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A tile stack…

Conclusion: Between Two Cities Review

So, how can we conclude a Between Two Cities review? Well, to be honest, Between Two Cities is actually a game I had a bit of a revelation about recently. Despite it never having taken the stage before, it is actually incredibly difficult to draw criticism about. Between Two Cities is an incredibly well made, innovative, and thoughtful game. It is light, but not too light – challenging, but not too challenging. It is both social and competitive. It really does have something for everyone.

Personally, I really like it and would recommend it to anyone.

So, there we have it. Do you agree? What are your thoughts on Between Two Cities? What do you like or not like about it? Let me know in the comments below.

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