URBAN PANIC is a very playable strategy board game from Polish games company G3. It is designed by the creative games designer, Kryzsztof Matusik (known for Amber Route, Craftsmen, Osada etc).
It is aimed at ten year olds and above and plays fluently in about an hour with a full compliment of players. For your money, around £25.00 - £26.00, you get a lot of components, including four large player boards, a folded double-sized main board (double to the size of the player boards), 40 wooden pieces (counters and cubes), 120 card tiles, 18 goal cards and an hourglass.
The rules, again sized to the player boards and the box, are on four sides of a folded sheet - the Front page of the Rules is taken up by the component list and the game's name, the back page is filled with clear descriptions of the Goal cards, which leaves just two pages for the actual rules and the Basic game takes up just one of those - the final (3rd) page has the scoring and Advanced Mode rules. The fact that there is just one page of rules - less than 25 lines of text (if stretched across the fullpage) - may dissuade some hardcore strategy players to the validity of the challenge URBAN PANIC can offer, but it shouldn't.
I have to admit that it took us a couple or three read-throughs to get the hang of How to Play because the rules are so succinct and to the point with none of the flowery text that often creates confusion where none should be. There is an example (in italics) of a player's turn which explains a possible turn from the start through to its conclusion. Players can perform 3 Actions in their Turn, one of which must be an Architect's Action which involves taking a Tile (and placing it in your Reserve) from those on face-up display. There are times when this may not be the first Action you take, either because you wish to do something else first or you already have 3 Tiles in your Reserve (in front of you) in which case you must free a space from your Reserve before taking the Architect's Action.
There are FIVE specialist workers to help you in your quest to build the ideal city - The Architect, who ensures you get a new tile each turn; The Planner, allows you to move a tile from your Reserve to your board - never the centre space; The Engineer, change or exchange tiles between your board and your Reserve; the Mayor - remove and replace tiles on the board; and the Spy (Advanced Mode only) who can steal from other players (ion our opinion an unnecessary inclusion).
As Developers or Investors in the building of new Cities, the players can request aid from the 4 available Specialists (5 in the Advanced Mode), counting one Action per Specialist used (Specialists can be used more than once in a Turn), one of which must be the Architect, so basically you get one Architect Action and then the choice of two from four other Actions. The game revolves around you taking these Actions and how and where you place the selected Tiles.
Tiles have open ends which are best placed so that they meet other open ends on adjacent tiles so as to form a link or road between them. At the game end all tiles have to be connect to the central (PRINTED) tile though this can be by numerous roads - ie ALL tiles do not have to be linked together but you MUST be able to trace each tile by a passage or road to the centre.
Each player has counters and cubes that they use to mark various influence stats on the Main game board. During play these wooden markers are moved up and down the tracks, specified by Bowler Hat (People), Briefcase (Work), Trees (Ecology), Money (Revenue) and an old fashioned Gramophone (Happiness). The three last in this list can go as low as Negative 5 and in games we have played they are the most frequently altered. People and Work never go lower than Zer0.
It is the grid for these five influence stats that has been our only cause for any complaint during play. The spaces are so compacted together, particularly the negative 5 to positive 9, which makes the regular moving of the counters on these fiddly. We got around this a little by swapping the use of the flat round counters and the cubes for although the cubes take up less space on the tracks the counter actually sit easier and are more stable should the board be knocked accidentally.
The game mechanic is fine, nothing to write home about if you are looking for something unique but definitely good, and player turns are thoughtful but fast, enabling a pacey game which holds interest throughout and with no drag or time consuming cross-referencing. Definitely value for money and a nice game to play.