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CAPITAL CITY
A Strategy Card Game for 3-6 Players Aged 8+ Published by CALLIOPE GAMES  @ $20.00

 
Designer James Earnest (or James Ernest depending if you read the box cover or the credits. I'm pretty sure it is Ernest) 
I first met James when he was CEO of the very successful Cheapass Games - he has an amazing imagination when it comes to games.

 

The first thing to note is the quality of the components and the solidity of the eye-catching-visuals on the box and actually in the box under the inner which displays the town and Train Station. CALLIOPE Games have thought this game through thoroughly from the plastic box inner, which is designed to hold the cards and pieces safely in place, to the one sheet of rules that folds to make 8 individual pages. Apart from 2 pages which are the front cover and a full page of text, the majority of the rules pages are interspersed with visual and textual examples.  Apart from being great quality and durable for regular playing, the components are bright and colourful; Yellow & Green triangular VP tokens, $1 (copper)  $2 (silvery-blue)  and  $5 (gold)  Dollar counters, a 54 card Character Deck, a 36 card Building Deck, 6 Priority cards (1-6), 6 Reference cards and 4 Season cards.

If you are playing with 3 or 4 players (in our opinion 4 players is the optimum number)  you use one character more than there are players, otherwise you use the same number of characters as there are players. Depending on the number of players, games take 30 - 50 minutes because although there are options and choices the game play is quite quick and a lot of fun, no dead spots. Games with 5 and 6 players are a little slower and in our thinking the game is that bit more enjoyable with an intimate number of four players; it's hard to explain except to say that with 6 players it didn't quite gel for us whereas with 4 players it seemed just perfect. There is a light Western theme running through the game but knowledge of the Wild, Wooly, or Amazing West of the USA is not an advantage of any kind.

The artwork by Brian Bowes is super and exemplifies the spirit of the game. The characters in particular are wonderful creations and set in colours by family, the only down part being that there are only three illustrations for each family despite their being 9 cards in each, which means that, for example, in the Dover (Beige) family, Cotter, Marshall and Reese are triplets, as are Ephram, Oliver and Wayne, Amalie, Bertha and Hettie - yes, every family is made up of 3 sets of triplets. Only the surnames are used in the gameplay so the illustrations and forenames are only there for  aesthetic purpose.

Each game is played over one year split into 4 seasons beginning in the Spring (Round 1) then Summer (Round 2) Fall (Round 3 - that's Autumn in the real world) and finally ending at the end of Round 4 aka Winter. Players begin with a "Founding Father (or Mother)" by having a face-up card dealt to them from the Character deck, the remainder of these cards are shuffled to form the face-down Passenger deck from which players grow the population of their Town. The Town, of course, can only be a Town if it has Town Buildings, and this is where the Building cards come into play. Town Buildings, or the Main Street as they are also known, have a cost in $dollars that has to be paid if a player wishes to purchase them. Players may only buy one building a Round so it is best if you can to buy one, even if it is a little more expensive, for which you have the correct character or characters as you only get the benefit from them when they are fulfilled, or when another player places a same family member in their Town.

The first Round begins with Spring and the Town has as many Buildings, drawn from the top of the shuffled deck, as there are players, plus 2 (4 player game 6 buildings). In the Spring only one Train comes into Town, Trains have one Character card (always face down to show the Carriage on the flip-side) per player plus one (thus 5 cards on a 4-player Train). When there are 2 Trains in Town (Summer & Winter) there are the same number of character cards as usual, but twice, and the player who is going first this Round decides in which order the Trains are activated.

The players bid, one $1 coin at a time, for the player turn order. The Priority cards (one per player) are set in order, highest card to the top (4 player game = 4, 3, 2, 1) and in Player Order - for the first Season the First Player is ther player with the character whose name begins with the letter closest to A with second letters etc counting if two or more players have characters with names starting with ther same letter - they decide if they want to take the top card of the Priority deck or pay $1.00 to pass. Play continues clockwise around the table until someone takes the top card and all the bids placed on it. Then the same happens with the next card etc until the last player gets the "1" making them first in order for the Round and first bidder in the next Round. Being first allows you to take all the Train Passengers, look at them, select one and place it face-down then pass the other Train Passengers on to the player on the left, who then takes one and passes the remainder on ... Note that going first can be very important, but it can also be very expensive. It's no use spending all your cash to go first and then not be able to buy the Building you require.

Once all players have taken a Passenger they then have the chance to either buy a Building - you really should if you can afford it - or collect $5.00 from the Bank - you really should ensure you save enough money to buy a Building if you can. At the bottom centre of each character card is an icon, well to be truthful, half an icon. The other half or halves (sometimes there are two) of the icon(s) are on the top edge of Building cards. Each Building card requires one or two characters to activate it, but by adding a character, even just one to a building needing two, can cause other same family characters to activate their building - all of the player who placed the character and one of each family member in opponent's Towns - it's a very clever and fun mechanic because it means each time you help yourself you could also be helping the opposition.

The buildings have either 1 or 2 bonus icons, these being a VP triangle and/or a Cash bonus, these are what you get when you activate a character at the building, though if there are 2 Bonus icons you have to choose one or the other. At the end of the game $10.00 is worth just 1VP so saving your money for VPs is not a particularly good idea.

After the Round is completed, meaning that all players have taken a character and either bought a Building or collecting $5.00, and characters have joined buildings, then the game is reset for the next Round. Spring becomes Summer, two Trains arrive instead of one - it spells out any changes from the previous Season on the Season card - in Summer and Winter this is the number of players plus 1 and in Fall it is just the number of players, the building cards remaining are removed and a new set put on display.

Going back to halfway through the previous Round I should have mentioned that when it comes to placing characters onto buildings the player with the highest value Priority card goes first (instead of last). This gives them the chance of activating more characters as all the other players go after them and each time they place a character in a family other players have at least one member in they get to select one to activate. 

On our first game while reading the rules it all seemed a little staid and with very little substance, but as the game went on and other plays followed, it very quickly became clear that there was more to CAPITAL CITY than first thought. At 30-40 minutes it is definitely the right time-frame for this game, neither too short to get going nor too long to get boring. Each game is similar as is each Round, but to date, having played around a dozen times, it remains fresh, interesting and satisfying. It is a game easily learnt or taught but you need a fair amount of space in front of each player to allow their Town's to grow.

There isn't a whole lot of player interaction as you are mainly playing to build the best Town you can while using the opposition's characters to give you assistance. If players have laid out buildings requiring two characters and currently only have one character, you can see what they need to complete it and perhaps choose one of the required family or icon type from the train that will prevent the other player from gainiing their bonus, that's about the closest it gets to interaction. However, the game play being so simple allows players to chat while playing making it a fun social game.

This is a good solid game that will be a challenge for new players and players whose idea of a board-game is based around the Waddingtons/Parker Bros.type of family games. For core and regular board-game players it is a lightly complex game more than capable of holding its own as an opener or closer in a day's games-playing session. I know that I have said my opinion is that 4 players is the optimum number it is worth remembering that there are enough cards for up to 6 players.

CAPITAL CITY is one of the CALLIOPE GAMES "TITANS of GAMING" series created by Ray Wehrs. This is a series of Gateway Games by the World's Greatest Game designers, specifically created to introduce your friends and family to your favourite hobby - Board-gaming. You can check out other Calliope Games on their website.

     

My advice, for what it's worth, is to save your money to buy buildings, start by taking money when you have the choice of Cash or 1 VP but after Round 2 go for the VP options. Keep a good eye on the icons on your cards and on the Buildings and when taking characters try to go for one family that no one else has and at least one or two family members of families other players are placing.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015