Skyships, robots, hogmen and froglings, and octopus tentacles as resources. This isn’t your typical civilization game.
Set in a fantasy-flavored steampunk world called Arzium, City of Iron tasks players with developing their home city into a grand empire. To do this, players will compete for valuable resources which are available by developing the city or conquering nearby towns.
The main game board presents a row for building cards to be placed as well as a series of resource tracks. Each resource track represents a material of value in this world, from something as simple as turnips or goat-like “Srika” to highly valuable resources such as crystals and bottled demons. Acquiring resources to move up on these tracks is a key motivation in the game.
Each player begins with three decks of cards and a player board. The civilian deck includes personalities who can develop their starting city. The military deck has units and vehicles to conquer towns. Finally, a player receives a separate deck of cards called the “Buy Pool” which are cards that are purchasable for the military and civilian decks as the game progresses.
Play proceeds through a series of phases equating to seasons. The Spring phase contains mechanisms for determining player order by a single round bid. The Summer phase is the main source of player actions (more below). The Autumn phase includes some mechanisms for calculating points, income of money or science, and resetting the game for the next round. The final phase, Winter, allows players to buy new cards into their hands from their Buy Pool.
The Summer phase provides a player with a variety of actions. One main action is constructing buildings from a card row of structures available for the round. Buildings are a primary source of resources and cost a certain amount of money and science. Another action of note is to play a character card from your hard for the special action it provides. This may also mean playing additional supporting cards. The third action that deserves noting is attacking a town. Towns provide additional resources and can only be acquired through playing military cards. Other actions available during the Summer phase are to draw a civilian or military card, reserve a building card, collect taxes as money, and purchase science for money.
During these actions, players will need to expand their starting city or explore new lands to found new cities. New lands are required to purchase certain cards with highly valuable resources. Other limitations to card acquisition are the ratio of science to money income. Almost all advanced features of the game require science, and it takes actions to purchase or science production buildings to gain it during the Autumn phase.
Players will continue through the seasonal phases for seven rounds, scoring for their positions on the resource tracks (first and second place only) during the 3rd, 5th, and 7th rounds. Players will collect additional points at the end of the game for achieving specific goals attached to the different lands. The player with the most points after the 7th round scoring wins.
- The game board art is superb. The theme really shines through all visual components.
- Board and card quality is solid and holds up to repeated plays.
- The track tokens could have been better or smaller, cubes don’t fit well on the circular tracks with multiple players. This is very minor.
- Rules and graphic design could have been tidier. The provided iconography reference is lexical (just providing names for things) but not explanatory. Rules for certain icons are buried in text heavy paragraphs with examples not providing enough information.
- The card purchase and deck building mechanism adds immensely to replayability across nations, however, this is limited to how players play the game. There is little variation in the game outside a player’s deck. Variations in play only come from other players trying different strategies as well, not the game environment.
- Few catchup opportunities are provided. The awarding of victory points and income to leading players creates a rich get richer effect. Players should use the provided “Point Salad” optional rules for more dynamic and engaging play.
- The straightforward strategy encourages players to diversify from their opponents, not compete on the same track. This downplays tension apart from point calculations.
- The game assumes a large part of the tension can come from competition for towns, which, depending on the group’s play style, can also be avoided. With most players taking a civilian strategy, the game is largely multi-player solitaire.
- Competition for high-end resources is practically non-existent. Unless players plan in advance for the game end resources and conquering additional lands, the game feels rife with limitations, not opportunities. For many players, a first play is merely an observation of which building cards can possible come up.
- The game changes immensely depending on player count. At two players, there is low competition for resources, making for a near silent routine play experience.
- The game presents lots of options early and quickly immerses you.
- Play feels like a genuine civilization game, but beyond a competition for resources, the feeling of grand expanding city empires similar to bigger 4x games is absent.
- The art and presentation are at the core of engagement. Ryan Laukat knows how to tap into gamer emotions with evocative art.
- After just a few plays, the theme fades and the game can feel flat and mechanical, even with experienced opponents.
Players who have never experienced a Ryan Laukat game might not want to make this their first one. Other titles located in the same universe, such as Above and Below, aim lower and worry less about strategy, with a similar theme and feeling afterwards. If a collector already has Abyss, there is no need to purchase this unless the theme is more appreciated. Players looking for a heavily themed Euro experience and like only a smattering of conflict will get something out of it. At least for a while.
Scores for City of Iron: Second Edition
Presentation - 85
Gameplay - 55
Fun - 65
Flavor-heavy Euro mechanisms with early-engagement, passable gameplay that doesn't live up to the quality of the theme.