Between Two Cities: Capitals
Time: ~30 minutes
Times Played: 8
I’ve previously reviewed Between Two Cities, which I noted as being a nice change-of-pace game and an excellent board game for larger groups (since most games that feature seven players tend to fall in the social deduction category and Between Two Cities does not follow that trend). Capitals is the first (and so far only) expansion to the base game and I was super excited to see what it added. Capitals does require owning the base game of Between Two Cities in order to be played.
For full disclosure, I was provided this copy of Between Two Cities: Capitals from Stonemaier Games for this review. The provided copy has not impacted my views below.
I feel like expansions are a blessing and a curse for the board game community. Some expansions are clearly just money grabs (Carcassonne: The Catapult) or they tend to change the game in such a way that it’s completely unrecognizable (Suburbia 5 Star) whereas others are almost necessary inclusions for the base game (Ticket to Ride: 1910) or push a good/great game to a top tier game (Tuscany Essential Edition).
The problem with expansions is that it typically feels like you’re still shelling out more money for a game that maybe you don’t like or were left wanting more from and are hoping an expansion fixes that (Scoundrels of Skullport) or purchasing something that should have been included in the base game originally (TTR: 1910 standard sized cards).
That doesn’t even broach the subject of whether or not you’ve exhausted all you can from the base game. Have you tried every strategy you can think of? Have you experienced every card? I own every expansion for Terraforming Mars but every time we play I swear I see a new card from the base game.
Needless to say, I had thought of Between Two Cities as a great filler game for anywhere from three to seven players and worried that an expansion would overly bloat the experience. I was excited to see what was added while also being leery of any major changes.
Capitals adds three new features: Civic Building tiles, Districts, and Landscapes.
Civic Building Tiles:
Capitals adds twenty-one (21) new building tiles that are called Civic Buildings.
With the inclusion of these tiles, players will select nine (9) building tiles in rounds one and three as opposed to seven (7), like the base game had you do. Round two still has you selecting three (3) of the 1×2 tiles so no change there.
As this is a new building type and it impacts end of game scoring, there is a new reference card included in the expansion that replaces the base game card. One side is the same from the base game where the reverse side shows off the new scoring mechanisms for Civic Buildings and Districts.
The civic building tiles have two positive tile types and one negative tile type listed in the upper left-hand corner. At the end of the game, players will receive three points for one positive tile being adjacent to the Civic Building and six points for both positive tiles being adjacent to the Civic Building. If the negative tile is adjacent, the Civic Building is just worth one point, regardless of what else is adjacent to it.
I would say that the Civic Buildings up the complexity of the game a degree, but only because it’s more information to be aware of as opposed to a fundamental change in the rules. The scoring mechanism shares similarities with the other buildings but it’s not just another building as players need to be aware of not just the placement of the Civic Building, but also what will be adjacent to the four other sides of this building. This can add some overthinking to the game for some players as they try to decide where the optimal placement will be. I liked the negative point aspect associated with their implementation and wish they went further with it, or included some aspect of it in the other modules.
During set-up, the three District bonuses are laid out in the center of the table for all to see and each District bonus will have two randomly drawn District cards associated with its bonus tile. Districts are areas that have connected tiles of the two types (the cards drawn) and are scored at the end of the game. The largest connected region scores the most points whereas the second largest scores the other listed value.
I really like the idea of the Districts as it adds some strategy to the game and has the potential to definitely increase the replayability of the game as the districts are randomized but it almost felt like too much. It was taking what was a simple game and adding a layer of depth to it, which prolonged the entire experience. It didn’t make the game that much longer (maybe ten more minutes) but still a noticeable difference. This went from being a game that you could bang out before dinner or as you wait for guests to arrive to now being a part of the gaming rotation. It also, in what is becoming a reoccurring theme, felt like it added too much for players to keep track of as they eye their city, their neighbor’s cities, the tiles in their hand, the tiles they passed, and the potential end game bonuses.
Districts felt like the most tacked-on module of the expansion.
The random tile drawing, which is a core mechanic of the game, also felt like a handicap in several games as a bad, or worse, uninteresting, tile draw can lead to boring turns where the decision you have to make is already made for you. I did not feel this way in the base game as the game was designed to be a quick process but with the added strategy and goals set upon players by the inclusion of Civic Buildings and District scoring, I can’t help but notice it when it happens.
Landscapes introduce two of the biggest changes of the game and are the reason why nine tiles are being drawn in rounds one and three. The landscape makes the board 5×5 as opposed to the base games 4×4 layout and it introduces a fixed land mass that dictates where you can, and cannot, build.
Each landscape is a 3×3 grid that features five spaces that cannot be built on. The first play of each players game is to place a tile on this landscape and at the end of the game, the entire landscape must be within the 5×5 grid.
Landscapes introduce bridges, which create adjacency for tiles that are connected by a bridge.
While the Landscapes made the biggest changes to the rules of Between Two Cities, I actually felt like it offered the most subtle difference of the three new modules. Whereas you are actively gauging where to place Civic tiles and how to surround them, the Landscape layout forces a lot of placements due to the geography. I did like that it made everything feel more like “cities” and created more table discussion than in the base game as the layout wasn’t so cut and dry and there was no real optimized placement, especially since everyone is completing different landscapes. These different landscapes also help add to the replayability of the game as you’ll want to experience what difficulties other landscapes provide. This addition feels like The River for Carcassonne where it’s such an easy implementation that just helps begin the game better than the alternative.
I think I liked the Landscapes addition the most as it made this much more of a puzzle-like game than base Between Two Cities was. Landscapes was also great from a design (and pricing) standpoint as it helped increase the size of the cities without having to add more base tiles to the game.
In the base game, it was simpler (although not necessarily simple) to peek at your neighbors cities and have a rough estimate on how they’re doing. Now with all the added pieces, it’s more of a wild guess regarding who is in the lead and how far back you might be.
There’s a sense of character here with the inclusion of the landscapes that was missing from the base game and it really creates a short narrative when the game is over and you look down at your city and realize there’s not a single house. That small tidbit sticks with you for future gaming excursions and it’s a great experience.
The end-game scoring can still be a tiny bit of a brain burner for newer players and the expansion has the potential to penalize players that aren’t terribly familiar with the original rules as they can make placements by mistake (a negative building next to a Civic Building or a house and factory adjacent via bridge). The scores have run to be about twenty points higher than our base game scores, which makes sense with the included scoring varieties.
Of course, the expansion retains the same beautiful art and easy-to-read iconography from the base game and the new wooden buildings are as high a quality as ever. The rulebook even includes a helpful key to let you know what each building is if there’s any confusion. It also includes images of all the promo buildings that are available and as a completionist, it’s just the ultimate tease because they’re all so stunning.
The rulebook also includes a link to a video to help teach you the game as well as link to other languages. This game has really gone all out to make itself accessible to anyone who wants to pick it up.
Just like the base game, Capitals offers a two-player and a solo variant. The two-player variant has some of the pitfalls of the base game’s variant, which was eliminating the table banter and negotiating that I think really makes this game shine. However, I think the Capitals variant is night and day better than the original rules.
Like the base game (and other Stonemaier productions), an Automa is included for solo-play. While I typically am not a fan of playing lighter games solo (even though I do appreciate their inclusion, see Gravwell and Clank!), I wanted to give it a shot since there was more depth and “meat” to this game compared to the base version. The solo experience has a lot “going on” for the complexity of Capitals but it is a nice way to experience the new ins and outs of the game before subjecting it to other players. There’s nothing wrong with the Automa but it doesn’t draw me in to play a solo game like say, the Viticulture version does.
I was not completely enamored with Capitals. The ideas were sound and the new mechanics work well within the game, there’s no debating that, but for myself and the group I play with, it felt like we were taking a filler game and making it more. The modules are distinct and I feel like they should be able to be used individually of one another but as is, it’s all or nothing.
I play Between Two Cities as it is quick, simple, can play a lot of people, and the set-up is the gameplay. It felt like Capitals changed quick and simple just enough to make this game fall out of our filler category, which might explain why I’m so lukewarm on it. Which is weird in of itself as I like everything that the expansion offers, just not for this base game.
If you like the base game, you’ll probably like the expansion. It stays true to everything you already know by adding a wrinkle here and there. If you’re looking for the expansion to fundamentally change the game or add more tension to the choices, then you’ll be disappointed. If you thought the base game was much too light, then I think Capitals is exactly what you’re looking for. For the price point, it’s worth the gamble due to the production quality alone.
I personally will probably stick with playing the base game while occasionally reintroducing the expansion just to shake things up. We unfortunately are not playing the base game enough to necessitate the new information brought on by Capitals.