METROPOLIS (Click on the picture to buy it from Funagain) METROPOLIS

It is true of many games that the theme of the game seems arbitrarily grafted onto it, in order to make an abstract game seem less abstract. This is even true of some great games, such as ACQUIRE. It is ostensibly a game about chains of hotels, but it could just as easily have supported any number of other themes. This, however, is not at all the case with METROPOLIS, a game that was released by Ravensburger in Europe in 1984. METROPOLIS is a game about urban planning, based on the fact that the value of a building depends on what's near it; a home goes down when a factory moves in next door, just as it goes up when a school is added to the neighborhood.

The board consists of eight city blocks, each divided into 10 lots numbered from 10 to 89. There are 80 cards, each bearing one of those numbers. Each player is given an ample supply of little chips in his color. And lastly, there are 25 plastic buildings, ranging from houses that take up one lot each, all the way up to the huge department store that occupies six lots.

The first 24 lots are distributed randomly, to get the game started quickly. Each player puts one of his chips on each of his lots to indicate his ownership. Then, the next four cards in the deck are turned up. The player going first gets his choice of one of the four exposed cards, and also places his chip on it. Then, he gets to put a building on any lots he owns.

Here's where it gets tricky. If there are 5 or more owned lots on a block, a player can only take a property there if (a) it's adjacent to one he already owns, or (b) it isn't adjacent to any other owned properties. If this rule makes it illegal for him to take any of the four available properties, he still must take one and give it immediately to another player who would be allowed to take it. This is terrific leverage for deals. ("I could take 44 and give it to Susan, which would mean that she'll be able to build a factory on her turn, which would decrease the value of your apartment building on that block, but if you give me 37 so that I can build a hospital, I'll take 62 and give it to you so that you can build an office building.")

The game comes with a chart of point values that looks incredibly complicated at first, but begins to make perfect sense after not too long. Stores and schools go up in value with more residential units (houses or apartment buildings) on their block, just as homes are worth more if they have a school or a store on the block. Residential units with a view of the park are more valuable than others. Similarly, factories are worth more when they're on the river since they can benefit from shipping lanes. Hospitals and the department store benefit from vacant lots (presumably for parking). A factory can't be on the same block as a school or hospital.

You can probably see how the interrelationship of these buildings can make for an interesting game. If you've got a number of homes on a block, you've got to get a school built in order to protect the block from a factory coming in and driving property values down. If you've got a hospital, you want to trade for any lots on the same block that are owned by other players, in order to keep them vacant. Similarly, if you own a lot on a block another player has a hospital on, you might want to build on it to bring down the value of his hospital. You can also see that the timing in building is critical. There's a limited number of each type of building, and once they're gone, they're gone. But if you build them too soon, you limit your options.

This is a game with lots of dealing. The rules also allow for joint ownership of the larger buildings. The dealing is unlimited, and can be done at any time.

I think METROPOLIS rates right up there with the best of Sackson's games. I can't wait to play it again. There are a few flaws to it, but they don't much bother me. First of all, it's a game in which you play your best and only when it's over and all the tabulation is done do you find out who won.  Some people prefer games in which the leader is more apparent during the game, but this is also true of ACQUIRE and especially KOHLE, KIE$ & KNETE.  This brings into play the Apparent Leader Factor, in which the players are ill-advised to bargain with a player in the lead.  Therefore, if you think you are in the lead, you must try to downplay your success in order to make deals.  This is a skill in and of itself, and in my opinion, just adds to the fun.  It's also a game in which a player could conceivably find himself without much hope of winning two thirds of the way through. (Still, I must add that I've seen that player surprise everyone and pull out a victory.)  However, the play of the game is so stimulating and enjoyable, with all the dealing, double-dealing, and backstabbing going on, that it's almost as much fun to be the kingmaker as it is to be the winner. It is theoretically possible that the random deal at the start of the game could put one player at an advantage or disadvantage, but I suggest that if the initial deal is too unbalanced, the players can agree to start over with another deal.

I was not satisfied with any of the English translations I found of the rules, and so I was able to prevail upon my friend, Fred Haines, who is both a fine writer and a fluent German speaker, to translate them for me.  Click here to see his most excellent translation!  And... in case you need it, here's a translation of the scoring chart.

This game is now totally out of print, and as such, is hard to find and expensive when you do find it.  Still, I think it's one of Sackson's best, and well worth the cost if you can afford it.  Click to see if Funagain Games has METROPOLIS.

Next is "Kohle, Kie$ & Knete"...