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Board Game Review: City Square Off

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All of my life I’ve been secretly wishing for a Tetris: The Board Game. While my dreams haven’t exactly come true, City Square Off is quite possibly even better.

The idea behind the game has two cities working to expand while not going over their borders. Mechanically, this works out to each player having a grid board and a pile of plastic pieces. Starting with a center tile that features a different shape as well as aesthetic (castle, Egyptian, skyscraper, and futuristic), the players add shaped tiles as determined by drawn cards. The first person who cannot set a tile within the boundary loses.

Suggested playing time is about 15 minutes, but our play-testing had it down to six. It plays in a quick round, and replay value is high since each game is randomized by the order in the deck of cards. Further, the game comes with suggestions for variants such as “City Sprint” racing to fill the board as quickly as possible or “City Sprawl” intending to fill every square rather than staying within the boundaries, an important socio-economic lesson modern generations should learn.

The problem of urban sprawl may not be the initial lesson of the game, however, since more important opportunities come with “strategic thinking, spatial relations, and logic”, as cited on the Gamewright website. The game is intended for ages eight and up, and it is a great opportunity for kids to get skills in planning, just like Tetris. Having spent countless hours piecing blocks together on a screen, this is a good opportunity to do it in plastic as well.

The game is not strictly about logic, of course. It is a good mix of luck as well as skill, otherwise City Square Off would be doomed to become another chess. Instead, the next piece in the competition is drawn from the randomized deck, meaning the same piece that might save one player could be the one that dooms another. This adds an element of suspense that will hold players’ interest far longer than stricter games.

As for limitations in the game, only having two players can be problematic in a group setting. The game is so short that people could take turns or play against each other in a tournament, which would be a lot of fun, but there would still be others sitting around doing nothing. Conceivably, players could buy two sets and play with a single deck, adding a third or fourth opponent to the mix, but the orange-or-green colored tiles could get mixed. Perhaps we might see an expansion set someday, and then even more players would be able to jump into the geometrical fray.

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.