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Review: Flip City
Since Dominion hit the markets back in 2008 and had a widespread success all over the world, many deck-building games appeared trying to take a slice of the pie and share its success. More or less these games, differ in theme, some of them are cooperative but, in general, they share the common mechanic of starting out with a small deck and gradually building a better one. Today I am going to review a “deceptively simple microdeckbuilder” game, as it is described in the box, called Flip City. The game is designed be Taiwanese designer, Chen, Chih Fan and was originally titled “Design City” and published by Homosapiens Lab in 2014. In 2015, Tasty Minstrel Games, published the second English edition of the game, titled “Flip City” and containing one more optional card type than the original (the Office Expansion).
Flip City can be played by 1 to 4 players, 8+ years old and lasts about 30-50 minutes. As its title suggests, it centers around building a city but you also have to keep its residents happy at all costs. The game consists of merely 86 cards of 6 different types that represent parts of a city and which are double sided, with the “flipped” side being an upgraded version of the original or sometimes a completely different building. Namely, the cards are:
- Residential Area / Apartment
- Convenience Store / Shopping Mall
- Factory / Power Plant
- Central Park / Station
- Hospital / Church
- Office / Trade Center
Each player starts out with an identical deck of cards, like in all deck-building games. These cards are 4 Residential Areas, 1 Apartment, 1 Convenience Store, 1 Factory, 1 Hospital and 1 Central Park. This small deck is shuffled, taking special care not to flip the cards while doing so and not to see them. Next, the general supply of cards is formed, consisting of the following cards:
- 12 x Convenience Store
- 10 x Office (an optional expansion)
- 12 x Hospital
- 8 x Factory
- 8 x Central Park
The game is played in 2 phases:
- Play cards phase: The revolutionary concept of Flip City is that players don’t draw hands of cards but must play cards one by one from the top of their deck instead, until they feel it’s time to stop. That means that, theoretically, one can play his entire deck of cards, shuffle and continue to play. The cards once played, provide coins, points, unhappiness and may also have other abilities. After each card played, the active player must decide if he/she will play an additional card, looking at the top card of their deck. The crucial point to stop playing more cards, is when you get 2 unhappiness symbols because that’s the limit that your city can handle. If, at any time during the play phase, there are 3 unhappiness symbols among the cards already played, your turn ends immediately without proceeding to the end phase. In other words, a wasted turn. During this phase, you can also recycle cards from your discard pile that have the recycle symbol on them and gain whatever is indicated on the card.
Building phase: With the cash gained during the previous phase, you may choose one of the following actions:
- Buy a card from the general supply by paying the amount of coins indicated on the card. The newly acquired card goes to your discard pile
- Flip: Choose a card from the discard pile and “flip” it to its other side by paying the cost indicated on the card.
- Develop: Buy a card from the supply and flip it by paying both costs
After the building phase, you can check if a victory condition is met. There are 2 victory conditions in the game:
- Gain 8 points during your Play cards phase or
- Satisfy another victory condition specified in a card played (such as the Convenience Store that states that “If you play 18 or more cards this turn, you win!”)
If no victory condition is satisfied, played cards go to the player’s discard pile and the next player can begin his turn. Cash, points and unhappiness gained in a turn do not carry over to subsequent turns.
There is also a solo variant of the game which features the following differences from standard play:
- the general supply consists only of 4 cards from each type
- each time the player’s deck is shuffled, he must choose a card from the general supply and remove it from the game
- if the general supply is depleted before any winning condition is met, the player loses the game.
- when an apartment is flipped, it is removed from the game
These are the simple rules of Flip City, so let’s see now how the game scores in our usual scoring categories:
Flip City’s only components, cards, are beautifully designed. Each card type depicts an area of the city in a cartoonish style, yet in great detail with bright colors and clear graphics. The symbols used on cards are pretty big and easy to understand on their own and the card text is printed in a special background, using a font size that make it easily readable. The cards are made of very good quality cardboard, however it’s always good to sleeve them. The flipped side of the cards is distinguished by not having a buying cost. Most flipped-side cards also have a recycle symbol on the bottom right instead of a flip symbol (except Apartment).
The folded rulebook explains the simple rules of the game in a most efficient way, leaving no room for questions, or at least not obvious ones.
The small box that hosts the game, seems pretty ideal for the job. It fits all cards, even when sleeved, while, at the same time, leaving no extra space for them to scatter around.
All in all, the components of the game are more than satisfying and I couldn’t ask for more. 10/10
When first reading the rules of Flip City, I had the feeling that this was going to be a very simple game, maybe too simple for what I’d expect from a deck-building game. However, after a few plays, I understood that its motto, “a deceptively simple microdeckbuilder” was very accurate. Although the game features only 6 types of cards (actually it’s 12 if you add the flipped cards), these seem enough to generate a very challenging gameplay. Both phases of play are very interesting. During the play cards phase you have to be very careful, not to exceed the unhappiness limit of your people, so whenever being at unhappiness level 2, there is this “press your luck” element that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Sometimes, drawing an extra card, without losing your turn, may prove crucial to the amount of coins you gather in order to buy an expensive card or make a flip. Other times luck won’t help you and you will stumble upon a residential area on the top of your deck, which must be played no matter what and will ruin your plans, making your turn a complete waste of time. I totally like this kind of challenge and struggling with statistics. You can get a bit of help in your estimation by checking cards at your discard pile while having in mind that you start out with 4 residential areas. The building phase is equally challenging, by forcing you to make important decisions about how to develop your deck. Should you buy a card or flip one from the discard pile or buy and develop? Usually you will have all of these options available, except during the first few turns and your decisions will have crucial impact on your progress. By playing Central Park / Station, you have the opportunity to buy / flip an additional time, broadening your choices even more.
Flip City includes some interaction between players, through the Apartment and Power Plant that enable you to place bad cards (Residential Areas / Apartments) in an opponent’s discard pile.
During setup, there is some downtime in order to sort out the cards that form the general supply but since there are not so many cards in the game, that doesn’t take too long.
The game can be played by 1 to 4 players and is equally enjoyable with any number. The inclusion of a solo variant is more than welcomed as it enables you to exercise on your own when having no company and experiment with different strategies to win. However, this variant, has limited replayability because there is no further goal to achieve once you win the game and try different strategies, I.e you can’t have a better score of victory points or achieve victory faster as you only goal is just to win.
Luck plays its role in the game, but players have equal chances to be favored or not by it. The important thing is that players can choose to push or not their luck. One can play conservatively and never risk, or be intrigued by the challenge and try to get an edge while risking to lose it all.
The recycle ability is an interesting feature that enables you to take advantage of cards in the discard pile. It appears on flipped versions of the cards, in addition to their standard abilities and it helps a lot towards achieving your goal. 7/10
The rules of the game are very simple and explained thoroughly in the rulebook. One can start playing within minutes of having begun to read the rules and that is a very welcomed feature by many, mostly casual gamers, that are easily bored by hearing long descriptions and explanations. Even if you haven’t played a deck-building game before, you will have no trouble, learning to play Flip City. In fact, it may be the ideal game for introducing someone to the genre. 9/10
Flip City is about building a city, or rather trying to build the best city you can while keeping its citizens happy. Thematically, I can picture the sequence of the game like this: You start out with a small town with a few residential areas, an apartment, a convenience store, a factory, a hospital and a central park. During the play cards phase, you watch your city function, with the different buildings provide some benefits (money, points and some unhappiness). Then, during the building phase, you get to expand your city by building more or developing the existing buildings to improved ones (through flip / develop). This process succeeds in making you feel like really building a city, although maybe you won’t think much about it during play, being absorbed by the gameplay.
An issue that crossed my mind about the application of theme in the game has to do with unhappiness. What is it that makes your citizens unhappy? It’s too much construction! That is translated into some of the constructions in the city bringing unhappiness. I definitely agree about a power plant bringing unhappiness to people, however I am not so sure about a residential area having that effect and certainly not a hospital. Who wouldn’t like a hospital being handy, near their home? I guess it served the mechanics of the game to tie unhappiness with the specific buildings.
As for the cards’ special abilities, these aren’t really tied to the theme and I don’t think there was an easy way to do that. However, that leaves our imagination free to think about what each ability could stand for. For example, when you place a Residential Area / Apartment into another player’s discard pile, that could, thematically speaking, mean that you are building his city instead of yours.
All in all, I find the incorporation of the theme into the game quite successful in relation to similar deckbuilding games. 7/10
Flip City is a very enjoyable game as it is and I am always happy to play a game or two during a gaming session, despite the fact that it always uses the same stack of cards for the general supply. Nevertheless, there is a lot of room for expanding the game with new cards and abilities, thus multiplying its durability. An expansion has already been announced for the Japanese / Chinese version of the game, called “Design City: Reuse” and featuring 2 new double-sided cards, with 10 copies each:
- Hardware store/urban redevelopment office: This interferes with the development of your opponent’s cities.
- Flea market/recycling box: This card can be used when needed to give you extra money.
The small packaging of Flip City makes it ideal to carry on a journey. Have in mind, however, that it requires a rather big surface to play, as you will have to lay down all the cards you play plus have some space available for the general supply. I think that Flip City has great replayability and even greater potential if enriched with more expansions in the future. 7/10
I have a very good time each time I play Flip City. However, it’s not the kind of game that will cause bursts of laughter and sometimes it will require concentration and some serious thinking on important decisions such as whether to play another card or which card to buy / flip. That kind of mind-boggling decisions can be fun as well. 7/10
Flip City comes in a little box but has a lot more to offer than one would expect from such a small package. It has depth and an original mechanic of playing cards from the top of your deck, instead from your hand plus a press-your-luck element that makes it challenging and fun. Its replayability is somewhat restricted from the fact that it uses the same 12 types of cards in every game, but there is a lot of room for future expansions that could elevate its value and durability. It’s equally fun to play with any number of players and it even includes a solo mode, enabling you to practice different strategies on your own. A highly recommendable little game, targeted to kids as well as adults, people more or less experienced in board games, practically everyone!.
- easy rules
- clear and nice artwork and symbol use
- challenging and original gameplay
- you can choose how much to push your luck
- suitable for all ages and levels of expertise in board games
- rather limited variety of cards
Recommended for: just about everyone, deck-building game fans
According to our scoring system, scoring categories have different weights. Components have 15% weight, Gameplay 35%, Learning curve 5%, Theme 5%, Replayability 25%, Fun 15%. According to this system and the above scoring in each category, overall weighted scoring of the game is:
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