Friday, October 20, 2006

A game that should be reprinted: La Citta

I played La Citta for the first time a few weeks ago, and I got my butt kicked. Badly. I ended up in last place. That’s not too surprising considering that some of the players I was competing against were veterans. What is surprising is how much I liked the game considering my disappointing performance.

La Citta is an out-of-print game that was designed by Gerd Fenchel in 2000 and was distributed by Rio Grande Games in the USA. It’s a tile-laying game about building cities in Renaissance Italy (although there isn’t a lot of Renaissance flavor in the game).

Players get points based on how many population figures they have in their cities. Each turn, players may take one of several actions, but most actions are either directly or indirectly related to placing building tiles on the board to improve the various cities. Farm tiles provide food for the population figures. Market tiles allow the city grow beyond a fixed size. Most of the tiles feature one, two, or three colored-coded attributes which can be used to attract population points from other cities.

And that is the essence of inter-player conflict: the cities with the highest numbers of colored attributes attract people from nearby cities with fewer markers. A city that is surrounded by more developed cities can see its population quickly dwindle as citizens seek the comforts of more advanced urban areas (that’s what happened to me).

One of the Catch-22s of the game is that people-luring players must have a food supply for all the immigrants, and a player with more citizens than food can face severe penalties. The need to keep placing tiles to make your cities more attractive is often in conflict with the need to place more farm tiles so you can feed all the hungry mouths that your dazzling urban landscapes attract.

Why did I enjoy this game so much? Partly, it is theme. The building-placement aspect of the game reminds me of the computer game Civilization (although the resemblance between the two games ends there). I like games about building empires, and La Citta qualifies even though the clash of city-states in the game is more beauty contest than war.

And La Citta is a beautiful game. With the exception of the population figures which were a drab gray, the game was a joy to look at. The board and the tiles are pretty, and just looking at the game was as pleasurable for me as a game of Railroad Tycoon. It’s fun to watch the creation of an attractive world.

Is La Citta a perfect game? No. I don’t believe I am the first reviewer to note that once a city has begun sliding into decline it can be almost impossible to reverse the slide. This is what made the final rounds of the game frustrating for me; there aren’t enough random elements in the game to make a comeback from behind anything but nearly impossible.

But this judgment may not be as valid for games with fewer than five players. Players do have tiles which can allow them to create an extra city, and this may be a viable option in a board that is less crowded than it was in our five-player game. I’d like to play with fewer players and experiment.

I suspect that La Citta would be more appealing if there were a few variants for the game. Some players might appreciate a little more randomness on occasion, or just another way to play a game that has become overly-familiar. Fans of basic La Citta shouldn’t object as long as the basic game was still an option in any hypothetical reprint of the game.

My criteria for whether I want a game to be reprinted or not is simple: if the game was reprinted, would I pay good money for it? And the answer for La Citta is yes. I would buy it. I hope that someday this game is available again.

1 comment:

huzonfirst said...

For me, La Citta is a game with great potential with one problem and one major flaw.

The problem is it's a bit too long. The first game I ever heard the description "figure 30 minutes per player" was La Citta and it's pretty accurate. This makes the five-player game hard to get on the table and even with four, it can be a bit much. This isn't a fatal flaw, just something to consider.

The flaw is the stagnation of the card display. The display frequently gets clogged with unwanted cards, making the luck of the draw more of an issue than it should. My frustration with this, combined with the game's length, has kept me away from a game that I thought I would love.

If a developer could fix this problem, possibly with a variant, I'd pick up a reprint in a heartbeat. Cutting some time off the duration would be nice as well, but not a necessity.