GMT are best known for their excellent War Games but every so often they surprise us and break the mould with a game of a completely different genre. In 2010 the Chad Jensen design, DOMINANT SPECIES, saw the light of day, and over the years it has been revised and reprinted at least 5 times. Chad [Jensen] recently turned his game brain to the City Building genus that is quite prevalent in today's board-game market and came up with WELCOME to CENTREVILLE, a 2-4 player dice-driven 90 minutes of fun. (roughly 20 minutes per player plus rules checking and decision making). I agree with the designer that WtC plays best with 4 players and though it is okay with 3 it falls rather flat with just 2.
Players rolling dice and using the results to determine their Turn Actions is nothing new. Being allowed to keep some of the die results and roll the remaining dice again is nothing new. Having colourful dice with some same some different icons instead of numbers or spots is also nothing new. And yet when these "nothing new's" get together under one roof they become "something new". Each player's game depends on how they use the results of the dice.
Chad has also taken a leaf out of Reiner Knizia's [early days] book by making this a game where there is a need to balance your actions. There is a running track around the board on which each player has 2 markers, one for Wealth and one for Prestige, and the only one of the markers, per player, that counts towards the endgame is the lowest valued one, whichever that is. Thus one player may have, for example, 40 Prestige and 35 Wealth while another player 37 Prestige and 36 Wealth and a third player has 28 Prestige and 50 Wealth. In this case the winner would be the second player because the scores are: Player 1: 35 VPs Player 2: 36 VPs and Player 3: 28 VPs giving Player 2 the largest, smallest score; a typical Knizia scoring mechanic. Even more Reiner-like, if there is a tie then it is the player whose second marker has the higher score (of the tied players), quite similar but not exactly the same as RK's classic "Euphrates & Tigris". I will now point out that WELCOME to CENTREVILLE is NOT a clone of the aforementioned "Euphrates & Tigris" I am merely mentioning that Chad Jensen appears to have cleverly looked at the work of one of the best game designers of the modern era and devised his own version of the popular mechanic to propel his latest creation towards board game stardom. If Chad hasn't been influenced by Reiner Knizia's earlier game styles then he has taken up the reins of a well run horse without prior knowledge, and galloped on towards a well deserved victory.
The board is set out in City Blocks, four main blocks of 16 lots, surrounding the Central Park area. The Lots are zoned, 1 (3 sections), 2 (5 sections) and 3 (7 sections), each Lot is distinguished by a dark black outline, the closer to the park the lesser the value of the buildings (player's cubes) have, closest being of worth One, then Two and Three - there is a single square for the 4th Lot . The four Zones are coloured Yellow, Purple, Red and Blue and they score either Prestige (Red & Purple) or Wealth (Yellow & Blue). Every scoring Round the four Blocks are scored separately, adding up the value of the player's buildings according to the Lot they are in. Around the Zones and park is a walker's path which acts as a visual scorekeeper (there are 50 spaces and a 50/100 coin per player for when 50 has been breeched).
To be able to build in a Lot you need to play out the correct Contract dice sides, the colour of these match the colours of the Zones, thus if you roll a contract icon on the Red die you can place a building in the 1 value Lot of the Red Zone. With only one of each Die you obviously cannot roll 2, 3 or 4 same colour Contracts. The "?" side of each Die is a Joker and is used to clone any one of the other dice sides, but even with these it would be difficult to get enough correct results to ensure the game flowed. Therefore you only need ONE contract of the required colour, you make the remainder of the necessary faces up with other colour Contracts and Question Marks. Your completed die roll for the turn may leave you with unused dice. There is no penalty for these but neither can they be saved for future rolls.
Each side of the dice has a specific purpose. There are the Contracts and Question Marks, then there are Votes, Benches, Trees, College Mortar Boards and on two dice only an Hourglass. Suffice it to say that you can generally utilise all the faces that you roll in your Turn, especially as you can reroll the dice up to two times. The only face that cannot be rerolled is the Hourglass. This has an immediate effect of moving the game Time marker one space down the Time Track. Having a Time Track is consequential to the length of time the game takes to play, thus stating 20 minutes per player on the box is a little presumptious. With 4 players there are 12 spaces on the Time Track, with 3 players there are 9 spaces and with 2 players 6 spaces. As there are two Hourglasses possible each roll and players roll the dice at least once on their Turn it is feasibly possible (although admittedly highly unlikely) that after just one Round the Time Marker could have moved 8 spaces, thus, again very unlikely, it could reach the end of the Track within the next Turn. On the other hand it is also feasible but highly unlikely, that an Hourglass is never (or hardly ever) rolled, thereby lengthening the game time inexorably.
The College Mortar Boards allow players to purchase vocation tiles from the board, spending one, two or three depending on how many rolled and the tiles available. Players collect these tiles and position them along the edge of their player boards in the appropriate places. Part of the game's balance is collecting these tiles as they score well at the end of the game depending on the number of different vocations. You are not limited to one Vocation tile per type, in fact collecting stacks of them has a great effect on your scoring.
Trees surprisingly are not for building in the park, they are for the outskirts of Town - the 4th Lot in each Zone (only 4 Trees or Trees + Question Marks can be used) and also the River; it is the Park Bench Dice faces allow you to build in the park, each building there influences all Zones - it is often very important to ensure you get at least one building in the park - and across the board is the Bridge across the River which encourages scoring for Centreville's beautiful Cottages. As I said, every die has usable faces, it's just the way you decide to use them.
WELCOME to CENTREVILLE is one of those games that has a dull coloured and not particularly interesting looking game board. If it is being played in a room where you are, say at a games convention it isn't a game that will immediately catch your eye. Unless you see the game box first. The box is bright and breezy, colourful, eye candy and designed to draw you towards it. The dice are similarly brightly coloured, totally in contract with the rest of the components, take a look at the Red Zone for example, it could just as easily be Brown or Pink, all the colours have been dummed down.
The rules are well written and brilliantly set out in good order, the way rules should be, with illustrations, examples and clarifications. The game is not interactive in such a way that you trade or deal with each other but you can influence other player's actions by your own. It has an amount of luck, there are dice so it follows that there is luck. There are also numerous single tiles that have specific effects for the player currently holding them. We have yet to find, if there is one, a specific path to take for probable success. There are plenty of options for each player on their Turn but because of the built-in random feature (the Dice) it is unlikely there is such a path to constant success. Another way to score points and aid you in your decisions and options is to have people in Government Offices. Each of these Offices, Mayor (Black), Urban Planning (Green), Police & Fire (Grey), Public Works (Blue), Finance (Yellow) and City Council (Red) each requires 2 Votes on the dice, one of the colour that matches the Position plus any other colour. 4 Votes of any colour can buy you a Master tile. The colour of the tile you buy doesn't have to be the same as any of the dice used to buy it. However the Master tile's colour does determine which die you can turn to whatever face you want by invoking the power of the Master. Favour tiles are gained mostly when your token is replaced at the top of the score chart, they can be used to obtain Favour Bonuses (tie breakers etc).
I don't think that companies such as GMT who irregularly depart from their chosen war games path to put their production values into games that border on the family/gamer genre get enough credit, consideration and accolade for their courage in continually testing the waters with these different types of games. Should they lose the staid wargames look for more of a homely family look ? Maybe, because to some of my friends who do not play/like the heavier style board games its appearance was a little off-putting until I explained to them how it played. Once I got them into playing they discovered just how enjoyable and how much fun it is and they soon accepted its somewhat stoic appearance and gradually realised that to be fun a game doesn't have to be completely bursting with carnival balloons and luminous colours.
I do not grade games by stars or points for a couple of reasons. One is if I ever gave a game a 10/10 then if along came a game I liked better then it would have nowhere to go, you cannot give 11/10 and then 12/10 etc., and the other is that my reviews are only my opinions. I don't mind companies using any phrases or whatever from my review during their advertising and marketing, in fact I am pleased that some actually do, but my 9/10 may not be someone else's 9/10 and then I lose a reader or the game loses a potential customer because I scored it. On the other hand if I give a brief description of what type of game it is, how it is played and say something along the lines of I would put it in my once or twice every 3-4 weeks stack then you know that I like it but it isn't a game I want to play every day. I have made it clear that in our times of playing we haven't found the perfect winning tactic, but if we play it 2-3 times a week it is likely that we eventually will and that would kill the game for us. However by playing it roughly once a month, enjoying lots of other games in the meanwhile, then it is unlikely that we ever will find that perfect way to play and win, thus keeping each game fresh and fun.
To recount. The components are suitable for purpose and suitably strong for regular play, but along with the board they are mainly uninspiring in both colour and illustrations. The Rules are clear, well laid out and easy to follow, making it quick to go from opening the box to playing the game. The dice provide many options for Actions, as do the tokens. They [the dice] along with the Disaster tiles provide the random features. The game is enjoyable, thoughtful and satisfying. It is not thrilling or edge of seat exciting but it is a very good example of how a game of balancing finance, prestige and building should and does work. It is our opinion that it is not advisable for 2 players even though there are rules changes specifically for them. Three player games are okay but the best experience is with a full complement of four players who enjoy the lighter side of gaming. The box cover gives a reasonably imaginative visual on what is to be expected inside, but the components do not give the same visual impression. I felt I had to mention the dullness of colour use because there is so much of it, but I would also like to say how much I/we enjoy being made WELCOME to CENTREVILLE.