Between Two Cities
Players: 1 – 7
Time: 20 minutes
Times Played: 10
I have been a big fan of most Stonemeier productions and when I learned there was a short game that would fit a large group of people, I had to get my hands on it. Most of our games that were inclusive of large groups were social deduction games like Coup and Spyfall. Lifeboats and Viticulture could accommodate some of our group but tended to be more on the cutthroat and heavy side than our group of that size was accustomed to. Plus, we don’t always want to play a two-hour game.
Enter Between Two Cities.
This is a simple tile-drafting, city building, and negotiation game played over three rounds. Players work cooperatively to build a city on their right and left with the player stationed to their right and left, respectively. The twist with this game is that your personal score (since you’re working on two cities) is the lower score of the two cities you have been working on. This ensures that you are not skimping on one city while maxing out the other points-wise. Cities are only built on a 4×4 grid so it’s a very tight placement.
After figuring out the player order (which I’ll touch on in a moment), players will draft seven single building tiles to form their initial hand of tiles. The types of tiles include Taverns (Red), Offices (Blue), Shops (Yellow), Parks (Green), Factories (Grey), and Homes (Brown).
After looking through their seven tiles, players will choose two that they want to use and place the remaining unselected tiles face down in front of them. During this time, they cannot speak with other players about what may or may not being in their hand. Once all players are ready, the two selected tiles are revealed and negotiations can begin.
This is the crux of the game and will occur twice more once those tiles are placed. After the initial placing of tiles, you will pass your unused stack of tiles to the left so you are looking at a brand-new deck. Eventually, one of these tiles will not be used in this game.
After going through this process three times, round two has players randomly selecting three 2×1 tiles and selecting two of those to place in their cities.
Round three is the same as round one, with the only difference being that players pass to their right this time.
After the last round is completed, the game will be scored based on the configuration of buildings in each city. The player with the highest score (which again, is the lower score of the two cities they worked on) is the winner.
I really enjoy this game as it is all-inclusive and once the final scoring is tallied, there is a great deal of conversation about what transpired during the game.
“I cannot believe you all had so many factories!”
“So that’s where all the factories went!”
“I just needed that one tavern and it never appeared.”
“Yeah, we were hoarding them.”
The interaction and conversation between the players was wonderful. Overhearing the different strategies and trying to synergize your goals while managing multiple cities and partners was downright fascinating and none of the negotiating takes long at all. In fact, the game is so short that you don’t feel hindered by the randomness of the tile drawing or the tile swapping. If something doesn’t go your way (particularly in round two), that’s fine as this is a twenty-minute game; you’ll be done shortly. Plus, you never know how well others are truly doing (even though you can see their cities).
As the game isn’t overly difficult and is cooperative in nature, it really allows anyone to engage in the social dialogue. No matter how shy or new to games a person may be, Between Two Cities lets them jump right in without the weighted pressure of say Spyfall, where all eyes rest on one person.
My absolute favorite part of the game though is the player seating selection. There is a stack of cards that randomizes the order in which players sit, which helps to ensure that players are not planning ahead of time or sitting next to their best friends that they are in tune with on a brainwave level. The cards differ from birthdays to height to shirt color according to rainbow. It’s a very light take on player order and feels better than just staying stationary.
I find it to be a great game between heavier games as players might be settled in after a Great Western Trail and this forces some movement and some dialogue with people that aren’t just orthogonally placed to their position.
I don’t think this is a game that you can make a night revolve around but once out, I wouldn’t be surprised to get two or three plays out of it. It is light, quick, and the perfect palate cleanser for something more substantial. This is not a game for heavier gamers but it is not marketed as such either.
Between Two Cities accommodates a higher number of players beautifully as it does not have a central board and all actions are taken simultaneously. No one is waiting for another player to make their move. Everyone is focused on what is happening not just to their cities but to surrounding cities as it could impact what they can do. It’s great for when you have a large group (or two groups converging) and want to play something that isn’t a social deduction game.
From what we can tell, there are several ways to draft and build a high scoring city and everything feels balanced; selecting one tile over another is never an automatic given.
The components are of the highest quality, which has been my case with every Stonemeier Game that has hit my table. The tiles are thick and each tile is easy to read from a distance and offers enough color to stand out against any backdrop. The artwork for the tiles are also slightly different. Not all parks and taverns and such are the same, which is a nice addition and makes them feel personable. The reverse of the tiles offers a colorful and vibrant design. I am unsure why though…
The building tokens are based off of actual cities and are made of wood. They always elicit some ooo’s and aww’s from new players. The scoreboard is double-sided (one with snake scoring and one without).
Do I feel like an architect while playing Between Two Cities? Not really. I’m unsure why so many cities would offer dueling yet cooperative contracts and the only aspects that felt thematic were the rules for factories next to houses and taverns next to offices.
There is an Automa for solo play (which I cannot comment on) and a variant for two-players. I find the variant to be viable and while there’s nothing wrong with it, it does remove the social and cooperative aspects of the base game that really make Between Two Cities what it is. Regarding player count, I would only consider playing this with four or more players and honestly, the more the merrier. Adding players does not add substantial time to the game. The time additions are for drawing tiles and final scoring, not for actual gameplay.
Needless to say, I recommend Between Two Cities as a nice change-of-pace game and is readily available. There is also an expansion, Capitals, that adds some more depth to the gameplay.