From the title, you would be forgiven for thinking that the serene, idyllic town pictured on Shake That City’s box art is one slippery fault line away from a really bad day. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Shake That City is the new city-building game from AEG that puts much more emphasis on careful city construction rather than urban annihilation.
Designed by Mads Fløe and Kåre Torndahl Kjær, it’s a tile-laying game designed for 1 – 4 players where each player attempts to construct the highest scoring city out of building tiles. Which…sounds like a lot of city-builders. But hold on, because Shake That City manages to distinguish itself in an already crowded field thanks to a couple of innovations.
First of all, it’s light. The rules can be explained in about 10 minutes at most, and play time usually hovers around 30 minutes. Considering the play times associated with other popular games of the genre, Shake That City’s ease of use is a welcome change.
Secondly, it’s got The Shaker. Yep, it’s shakin’ time, everybody. Central to the game is a boxy, cardboard contraption which holds 32 wooden cubes in five different colors, each representing a different city zone which players can build. Give the cubes a good shake, press a lever, and oula! Out come 9 different cubes in a 3×3 arrangement, ready for use. Now, this may sound a bit gimmicky, but I assure you it’s not. That’s partly because the action is so essential to how the game is played (more on that in a minute), but also because it’s just so well designed. I’m by no means an engineer and therefore am always mystified when people can make working devices out of something as ubiquitous as cardboard. Despite essentially being a few sheets of reinforced paper, some tabs, and 2 rubber bands, the shaker is solidly built. Plus watching those cubes come out perfectly aligned over and over is just magic.
As I said, though, the shaker isn’t just for show. Remember, each color of cube represents a different piece of urban development tile: green for Parks, red for Homes, blue for Shops, gray for Roads, and black for Factories. Each player has a 6×6 board in which to place these tiles, but they can’t be placed just anywhere. Once the shaker has deposited the building cubes, the active player chooses a color of building they want to place this turn. This removes that color from the other players’ reach, and they must all pick from whatever is left.
But that’s not even the real trick. What will really start to wrinkle your brain is this: you may only pick a building type if you can play those tiles on your board in the exact same configuration as the cubes. Of course it’s simple at first, but as your city starts to fill up over the course of 15 rounds, finding a Home for your building tiles becomes increasingly difficult.
Then there’s the scoring aspect. Each building tile scores differently, and they don’t always interact nicely with each other. For example, Homes are an easy way to score some quick points since each individual Home is worth 2 points. But if even 1 Factory is placed near a Home, it no longer scores at all. Parks score 1 point for being next to Homes, but they also score a point for being next to a Factory, putting your Home in danger. Homes don’t even play nice with each other. Homes that are adjacent to each other, no matter how many there are, only count as one Home and score just 2 points, meaning extra homes can quickly get in the way with no benefit.
While you’re puzzling out which tiles will make the best neighbors, you also need to keep in mind the bonus points. Along the edges of your board are bonus tiles which provide extra scoring opportunities based on a row or column’s composition. Half of the bonus tiles require you to simply complete a row while others require 4 of a specific building tile.
Even though the game’s built-in randomization mechanics provide nearly endless variability, the designers included a few specific variations to try once you’ve gotten the hang of things.
The first is the Beachfront variation. Player boards are double-sided, with one featuring a beach along half of its edges. This version changes the scoring requirements, especially for roads and Homes. Now Homes score an extra point for being connected to the beach edges. Roads normally score points for each road connected to the edge of the board, but in the Beachfront variation, they cannot score if they connect only to the Beachfront edges.
Next is Construction mode which places special dual-type Construction tiles in a diagonal line across each player board. In order to even score at the end, player must remove all of their Construction tiles. Each Construction tile features two tile types side-by-side, and removing them requires a player to create a matching pair of tiles anywhere on their board. If you have a Construction tile with a Home and a Shop, then you would have to place a Home next to a Shop if you wanted to remove that tile. If the game reaches the end of round 15 and no all players still have Construction tiles, then the game ends in a draw. Solo mode also uses these rules with just a slight difference. Since there’s only one player, a solo player can’t choose whichever color has the highest number of cubes. They must also remove all of their construction tiles and score a minimum of 55 points to win. Considering my high score to date just barely cleared that, it’s no easy feat.
Then there’s the family mode for the littles. The box says the game is for ages 10+, but most kids a year or two below that can probably pick it up. For anyone younger, the Shake That City provides the option to make the bonus scoring the game’s only scoring method.
Shake That City recently finished its Kickstarter campaign, but you can still pre-order your copy through the Kickstarter campaign site.
– Despite the light rules, the game still requires enough thought to satisfy players who prefer heavier rule sets.
– The Shaker has no right to be as fun as it is.
– Even though the rules are fairly simple, the multiple scoring methods can initially be overwhelming to some adults.
By Zane Messina