Electropolis – Feed that buzz.

I – Introduction

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Big cities hiding in a small box.

Fact sheet
Authors: Chang Yu Di, Ku Chun Wei, Wang Liang
Publisher: Homosapiens Lab
Illustrations: Freepik, Masha Tace
Year published: 2019
Player count: 2 – 4 players
Recommended player count: 4 players
Length: 45 minutes
Set-up and teardown time: Relatively fast, 5 – 10 minutes
Mechanisms: city-building, card drafting, tile placement
Card size: 63X88mm

Electropolis is a competitive game about generating electricity while trying to maintain high public support to atone for your polluting activities. Players will have to position themselves in turn order to grab the tiles they want, knowing that the earlier they go, the less tiles they’ll be able to select. Tile placement, adjacency, and types are all key to meeting demand and maximizing points according to the game’s current trend cards, but will you get the development cards that allow you to place your tiles where you need them?

This review was written after 7 plays, ranging from 2 to 4 players.

Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of Electropolis in exchange for this review.

The demand for electricity is evergrowing, and as a new mayor you will have to supply. But wait, you can’t just go with heavy coal industry and get away with it. Pollution is a concern, and you will have to thread carefully if you want to remain in office. Build power plants, fuel them, regulate pollution and gain your citizen’s favors by constructing public facilities so that they tolerate your industries better.

II – Flow of the game

Electropolis is played over eight rounds. A round is broken down in two phases in which each player acts in turn order.

During the first phase, the players will choose how many tiles they wish to pick for the round. The player whose token is the furthest right on the “I” turn order track will place their token on the chosen number of the “II” turn order track and so on until all players have placed their token. The chosen number will determine how many tiles the player will pick, as well as their order in the round for this round and the next. There can only be one player on each slot. The further left they are on the “II” track, the further left they will be on the “I” track next round, meaning they will position themselves after players positioned on their right in the “II” track this round.

In the second phase, the player whose token is the furthest left on the “II” track will then pick as many tiles, adjacent to one another, as written on the spot their token is on, a placement card, and put their token on the first available spot on the left of the “I” turn order track.
The player will then try and place the chosen tiles on their city board, respecting the following rules:
– The tiles must be placed within the area highlighted at the bottom of the chosen card.
– The tiles must be orthogonally adjacent to another tile.
Energy tiles are not placed on the city board but kept close to it to be used at the end of the game. Nuclear waste disposal facilities can only be placed in a corner of the city board.
For each tile the player couldn’t place, they discard it and suffer -1 public support. Public facility buildings award the public support value depicted on the tile.
After placing their tiles, if the upper part of the card is grey, the player then gains the benefits of the card. If it’s yellow, the card is kept to be scored at the end of the game. Cards can grant public opinion, straight victory points, or victory points based on the tiles in the player’s city board.

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The game, set for two players.

At the end of the game, the players tally up their scores:

  • Each player fuels their coal-fired and gas-fired plants if they have the corresponding energy tile. They must fuel each plant if able. Each fueled plant generates pollution and electricity. How much electricity depends on how many plants of the same type are adjacent to one another — regardless of whether they are fueled or not: 6 points if alone, 7 if paired, 8 if there are 3 or more.
  • Each player fuels their nuclear plants. To fuel a nuclear plant, they need nuclear energy and a waste disposal facility for each plant. Each fueled nuclear plant generates 10 electricty, and no pollution.
  • Each renewable energy tile yields electricity as written on the tile without needing anything else.
  • Each yellow development card awards points if the conditions are fulfilled as written on each card.
  • The players check the three trend cards that were drawn at the beginning of the game and score points accordingly.

Then:

  • Each player loses 1 point for each space that does not have a building tile on their city board.
  • Each player then checks their total pollution. If it is higher than their public support, they lose a number of points equal to the difference between their pollution and their public support, squared.
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Filling your board always feels like a satisfying experience.

Electricty being victory points, the player with the most points wins the game. In case of a tie, the tied player who scored the most points on trend cards wins.

III – Weighing down Electropolis

Pros:
– Electropolis is beautiful! The minimalist artwork is very elegant, the matted cardboard pieces are a pleasure to manipulate, and everything is clearly defined as to what it does.
Electropolis has depth! The game is rather simple, yet the decisions aren’t, and each and every one of them, from turn order to number of tiles to where you place each tile will have lasting consequences on your ability to place future tiles, and on your final score.
Electropolis plays different at each player count! More relaxed with two players as you won’t have to worry about being shut off being able to place any tile, the game becomes much more of a brain-teaser with four players, when going last can have nasty consequences if you went for a higher number of tiles and end up being unable to place them on your board.

Cons:
Electropolis doesn’t scale! You won’t have to worry about going last unless you play with four players, as there will be at least one remaining development card left at the end of the round. This can give the impression that you aren’t playing the full game when playing with two or three players as much of the tension is absent.
Electropolis lacks variety! There aren’t that many different tiles and you’re going to see all the development cards each game. Only the trend cards will differ, yet there only six of them. Admittedly, this rewards returning players.
Electropolis is involved! There a lot of little things to factor in in each decision, including short-term and long-term planning, all the more if you want good knowledge in the number of tiles of each type that have already been drawn, or are trying to remember what upcoming development cards would reward you the best for your strategy. This can lead to long minutes of analysing.

IV – The wall of text (a.k.a. the Comboteur Fou’s opinion)

Turn order manipulation is a beautiful thing. I love it in Aeon’s End, I love it in Honshū, and I like it in Electropolis. It manages to be different in all these games, and what I like about it in Electropolis is that it doesn’t revolve around bidding, but around accepting and dealing with shrinking options. The earlier you take the turn, the less tiles you will get, but the better choice you’ll have, therefore sacrificing quantity for quality in a game that is also asking you to meet quantity requirements.

Mastering your position is key in Electropolis. Especially with four players. Because whoever goes first on track II gets the top card pick, it can become extremely interesting to be both first on track I and first on track II, even if it means picking only two tiles in the arrangement. Of course it also means being last during the next round.
Finding the balance between the number of tiles one will be able to take and place during a round, and the quality of said tiles in regard to one’s strategy, dictated by how many other players will get to choose first and what they are likely to leave you, is a fine line to tread, and one that gets thinner as the game progresses, especially when development cards and their placement limitations are factored in. For instance, picking 6 tiles is interesting to try and avoid the endgame penalty for empty squares (especially when the trend makes it a -3 points/square), and it’s a relatively safe thing to do in the first two rounds if you don’t mind potentially shutting doors from the start by starting to fill in a specific side of your board, but late game, taking 6 tiles is a risky move, as whoever does it is going to get the last card and an assortment of tiles that, if the other players play it nasty, can really lead to one losing a lot of points to pollution, due to losing public support when the player is inevitably unable to place a couple to a half-dozen tiles on their board.
I was very lucky, in my last game, that this didn’t happen to me, as I had heavily focused on the upper part of my board throughout the game, and there was, in the last round, a couple placement cards that would have prevented me from placing anything… And I was going last! Which could have meant -3 public support when I was going mildly heavy on pollution, not accounting for the points the tiles would have contributed themselves. Luckily for me, the other players were either not that mean, or had other plans. I still didn’t win, mind you.

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All the different tiles.

There are different ways to reach the goal of gaining the most points in Electropolis, from renewable energy plants to relying on gas and coal plants to aiming for nuclear plants to preparing for the endgame scoring to raking as many points as possible through grey development cards, or simply combining it all as best you can. Mid to late-game development cards can yield a very high amount of points by rewarding certain strategies such as chaining plants together or keeping them on the outside of the board or collecting a lot of one type of them, and choosing between those and pollution mitigation in the form of public support becomes an interesting decision, especially when the tile placement the other half of the card allows also has to be taken into account.
As such, there are many things to take into account when making decisions in Electropolis: power plants chains, endgame trend and personal objective scoring, grey placement cards availability and scoring, turn order for this round and the next, pollution in regards to public support and the amount of points this could ultimately make you lose, getting the right buildings and associated energy tiles while leaving room in the right place for subsequent turns, either to create groups of plants that will grant more points, to optimize placement to lower pollution, or simply to make sure that future tiles could be placed… As a result, the game can easily become overwhelming, and if a player wants to make the perfect move they are going to spend a fair amount of time thinking about said move, about what their opponents would do themselves, and how said player will position themself in regard to that information. A decision made even more complex when one has good knowledge of the number of tiles of each type there is in the bag and the development cards that are going to come later in the game. Furthermore if said player wishes to count how many tiles of each type have been drawn up to that point.
The depth that manages to come out of a simple ruleset is truly admirable. Managing your board turns into a micro-organisational puzzle of carefully managing risk and leaving options and doors open, with a layer of indirect player interaction in the form of hate-drafting to make it slightly more complex and challenging. Said puzzle manages to remain lighter than other component-laying games, which frees up brain space for the meta-gaming, allowing Electropolis to function as a light brain-burner which still remains accessible without becoming truly overwhelming. At least not for seasoned gamers.
Development cards tend to yield more interesting options when they allow for more restrictive placements, which culminates in C development cards, some of which allow the player to place their tiles anywhere on the board but will grant no victory point, offering but a meager 1 public support — which can become very appealing if a player needs to prevent an important point loss and cannot find another way to raise their public support — when all the other cards, restricting placement to two thirds of one’s board, can easily reward the player with more than a dozen points.
These cards do a nice job of conveying the game’s escalation, becoming more and more appealing in terms of rewards, while slowly unlocking more placement options, from the initial 3 by 3 squares of tier A to the 3 by 5 and then 5 by 5 squares of tiers B and C, mirroring the fact that the players’ boards start clogging up as placing tiles becomes more difficult.
The ever-looming threat of a pollution point loss represents a good motivation for the players to optimize their placement as best as they could, but rarely ends up being that threatening, as there are many ways to lower one’s pollution and to raise one’s public support. While it isn’t unheard of to lose 9 points to pollution, it is very seldom to lose 20 points or more to it. Pollution is a nice built-in pressure system to limit a player’s investment in massive points strategy and force them into diversity or alternate paths such as nuclear plants or renewable energy, akin but somehow different to how corruption works in many other games, as it constitutes an inner threat, but not one that directly substracts to one’s endgame scoring or that results in immediate defeat — as in Cleopatra and the Society of Architects for instance. It also isn’t linked to a riskier but earlier development or to a more important point swing, as the main source of pollution, coal-fired plants, grant exactly the same amount of points as the healthier gas-fired plants, the only difference between the two being their availability. More on that later.

A lot of the tension and indirect interaction is unfortunately lost when playing with less than four players, lessening the fear of going last and having to deal with leftovers with each missing player, as even though the number of tiles on display becomes smaller with each missing players, the same amount of development cards is used: 4 to pick from, regardless of how many players are in the game. This gives the game a vastly different feeling depending on the player count. With two players, Electropolis is a more relaxed experience where you don’t have to worry about being cut off needed placement availability and subsequent loss of public support. With three players, the competition is still present but it will remain unlikely that a player is shut off a needed placement card. Picking the right number of tiles and thus ensuring you take the card you want will become more important than with two players, but there is still room for manoeuvering. With four players, though, the players will have to take good care of not shutting themselves off options for future turns by completely filling a side of their board, at which point they would entirely be at the mercy of the turn order and the card they will be left to select, which could end up in a devastating point loss, as there is no limit to how many points a player can lose to lack of public support. Which is to say, there technically is a limit, which is -400 points, since one cannot have less than 0 public support and more than 20 pollution. With four players, if every player opts to take as few tiles as possible in a round, the last player will be forced to take four when they could take only three with two or three player. A small change, but one that could have heavy consequences.

As such, it feels like playing with four players is really the best way to experience the full game, with three players being a more forgiving player count and two players not being the optimal player count to take full advantage of the design. I still really enjoyed playing Electropolis with two players as a more relaxing, yet still thinky game. Being able to focus on your board more than on the turn order (unless you really want that exact tile/card) moves the focus and dynamic of the game from trying to minimize losses/cutting opponents’ options to trying to optimize placement and reaching the exact pollution/public support combination. Something you’re of course trying to do with four players too, but which will be more difficult as you will not have as much control over what you get as you do with two players.

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An assortment of development and trend cards.

What may be the weakest aspect of Electropolis lies in its somewhat limited replay-value: you will have seen everything the game has to offer in terms of content after a single play, especially if you play with four players: all the tiles will have been on display and all the development cards will have been available. The only thing you will not have seen will be three trend cards. The fact that there are only six of the latter, three of which are used each game, means that the same ones will be seen over and over, which isn’t helped by the fact that four of them are variations of one another.
The most interesting trend cards out of these six are the two that don’t revolve around being first to last in pollution or building types, but around having empty spaces or having no nuclear plant on your board. It would have been great to see more trend cards that give an incentive to try approaching the game in a different way rather than merely playing the game the way it was supposed to anyway, such as avoiding pollution or having several of a given building type. The A development cards fill that design space to some extent, by offering personal endgame objectives such as having three or more different renewable energy tiles, filling a 4 by 4 grid or having a building in each of the 4 corners of your board, but they still barely scratch the surface of the design space the game has to offer. Still, they give a sense of direction to the player and a nice personal objective for them to pursue. I especially like the one that gives one victory point per unspent resource tile, as this one will truly motivate the player to try something different and possibly reward them for opting to pick six tiles each round. Which will be a risky thing to do, as there is a good chance that doing so ends up forcing the player to build plants that will consume said energy tiles and thus deprive them of the bonus. An interesting balancing act, but one has to wonder why there is only one copy when the 4 corners and 4 by 4 squares have 2 each.
Having these personal objectives take the form of a development card rather than a random objective card drawn at the beginning of the game is a nice change of pace from other games, as it forces the players to change their priorities in the first rounds, when they may want to go earlier in turn order in the hopes of getting one of those yellow cards, rather than taking six tiles to start filling their board as fast as possible.
To some extent, the B and C development cards do explore said design space further by offering semi-hidden objectives that a player simply fulfills — or denies their opponents — by taking the cards; objectives that have variable amounts of points depending on the state of the player’s board when resolved. The fact that these cards get scored after the picked tiles are placed makes picking them up even more interesting as they will possibly modify the player’s choice of tiles for the given round by giving them an incentive to focus on a different strategy for the round.
While this would make setup longer — it is fairly fast as is — the game would have welcome different tile sets you could choose and play each game, as a sort of module, maybe, that would give a different feel to how the cities are built or the overall pacing and strategy. Alternately, a wider variety of trend cards and placement cards with a broader distribution of effects would have been a nice addition. In its current form, I always enjoy playing Electropolis, but will not be willing to play it as often as if there was more content, because it becomes a game where I play the players more than I play the game itself, giving me no real motivation to try new things out, something which truly drives me as a player.
Using all the components available each game allows the players to better prepare for B and C development cards and try and maximize the points they could get from them once they are familiar enough with the game, by chaining plants or placing them on the outer edge of their board, for instance. They can also afford to make more risky placements when they know that one of the C development cards allows the placement of buildings anywhere on the board. While for some, the lack of variation in tiles and cards will make the replay-value of the game low, those who enjoy being able to min-max their turns and to hate-draft or block off opponents will appreciate knowing everything the game has to offer in advance and the fact that they get the full experience the game can offer each play, turning to a deeper and more involved game as they play it more.
This knowledge also gives an edge to returning players, and when teaching the game, I’m often torn between trying not to overwhelm the new players with information, and not withholding information from them by telling them that there will be points awarded for certain strategies later during the game.

In terms of balance, it is surprising that, although they score double the pollution, the coal-fired power plants are worth exactly the same amount of points than the gas-fired ones. Admittedly, these are less present in the bag and so are their matching energy tiles, making a gas strategy more difficult to pursue than a coal strategy.
It of course makes sense that the nuclear plants are worth more points, given the harsh requirements for scoring them, as they require three tiles, one of which can only be placed in the corners of a board. Similarly, the fact that the green energy tiles yield a varying amount of points makes them more interesting, design-wise, as some of them will be slightly more valuable to seek after than others, making for deeper decision-making. Whereas it is almost always better to go for gas-fired than coal-fired.
The fact that there are slightly less gas-fired buildings and gas tiles than coal-fired buildings and coal tiles of course makes it more risky to aim for a gas strategy, yet the difference in tiles quantity amounts to 4 buildings and 6 energy tiles, so the risk remains minimal. Coal therefore falls back to being a punishment for going last or a hazard that gets thrown in between two desired tiles, to be picked and fueled even though it was not desired, upping the pollution and forcing the player to look out for pollution control. That doesn’t make coal uninteresting, but it feels that, because it doesn’t punish the player that much, still awarding them a decent amount of points, but doesn’t reward them either for going into the coal strategy, somehow missing the mark and ending up being a less appealing alternative that is still worth seeking out.
As such, it would have been more interesting to have more of an incentive to build into coal plants than just being slightly more assured you would have enough of them, such as them yielding less points when they’re not part of a chain (say, 4 instead of 6) but then more when they are part of a wider chain (like 9 if chained in 4s for instance), or to have them be a real punishment that bring negative points unless the player fuels a given amount of them, at which point they start giving more points than coal-fired plants. Because the player must power each plant for which they have the required energy — a very well thought design point on its own that forces the player to pay more attention to what they are picking — it means that the other players can try and trap their opponents into building more pollution that they would wish for or could manage, giving the game more indirect interaction and preventing it from feeling too solitaire.

Now it should be mentioned that the groups I played with aren’t mean, and mainly focused on their board rather than on preventing others to pursue their own strategies. The game allows for a fair amount of nastiness should a player feel like it, denying development cards and building or energy tiles to other players, should they feel so inclined. And that is probably where repeated plays with the same players will become the most interesting. It is usually apparent when a player is aiming for a certain strategy that will pay off with a given card, and interesting to draft said card to deny them their reward… Provided it doesn’t put you in a disadvantageous position, one way or another. Too many things are tied to what is picked to make hate-drafting the obvious choice. But Electropolis certainly doesn’t shy away from it.

Components and artwork

Electropolis is a pleasure to touch and manipulate. Because the tiles and boards are of a matte finish, rather than glossy, they feel soft to the touch and don’t show wear from shuffling as early as glossy ones would.
The wooden bits are chunky and easy to grab, and the fact that they are not in the regular green/red/blue/yellow colors is truly appreciated. The overall palette makes the game look appealing to the table, especially when the boards start being filled with colorful tiles.
The fact that the 50 score tokens come directly punched into the player board is a nice touch to save on wasted materials, and the slot being used to remind the player of their player color is ingenious also.

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A smart way of putting components to good use.

The game comes with a high quality cloth bag that holds all the tiles with room to spare and is a pleasure to browse through. One could regret that the Electropolis logo isn’t printed on it, but I personally didn’t mind.
The tracks being double-sided, with one side being vertical and the other horizontal, is a nice touch, as it becomes easier to set the game on different table sizes or shapes, or for different player counts, by just flipping the boards over.
The box is made of the same nice-to-the-touch matte finish, extremely sturdy, thick, and is the exact dimensions to hold every component, including sleeved card, with no room to spare. It is highly appreciated that it is much smaller than most of the boxes for games of the same category, making it easy to both store and carry to game night.

Since they are double-sided, it feels like a missed opportunity that the player boards are identical on each side. Rather than using a trend card for it, it would have been interesting to have one side give -1 point for each empty square and the other -3, or to have different locations for the Nuclear Waste Disposal Facilities, or any other kind of placement limitation, such as for instance, wastes that cannot be built upon and would break a plant chain. Asymetric player boards would have been an interesting addition as well and could have given an edge to newer players against more experienced ones.

While the iconography is most of the time very clear, the fact that development cards are resolved from bottom to top is counter-intuitive to most players. Yet it has an important impact on the amount of points they can score, as tiles placed according to the bottom of the cards can and will count towards the points the upper part of the card provides.
It has also proven difficult for some players to associate the lightning symbol to power plants, especially green ones, meaning reminding them that development cards scored points according to those as well as to nuclear plants.

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The game always looks good on the table and is bound to have people take a look.

Aesthetically, Electropolis is a very pleasant game, very modern-looking. The pastel colors are a nice change from the either-gritty-or-gaudy-colors that tend to be the norm these days. The buildings manage to look both realistic and professional enough to be used in an actual work environment, and cute at the same time.
It remains an abstract game, so the endgame boards don’t look as striking as they would in a highly thematic game in which one would really see a town come to life before their eyes, but it still manages to impress.

Rules

The rulebook is a single sheet of paper folded in eight pages. Short and easy to browse, it efficiently teaches how to play the game, but some grey areas are not really covered, such as the 2 players rules, and more precisely what to do with development cards that weren’t picked during the round, or how to handle trends that care for positionning. It never mentions when to apply the effect of public facility tiles, and only through a process of elimination will the players come to understand that they are scored when placed, whereas all the other tiles are scored at the end of the game.
Similarly, a B development card grants victory points according to the player’s position in regards to the most public facility tiles. Or at least this is how we ruled it, because the card doesn’t clearly state whether only the person who picked the card scores the points, or if everybody does according to their current position at the moment the card is resolved. Because the rules say “you can gain the bonus”, one would interpret that the player who plays the card is the only one  who gain the points, but it would have benefited from being more obvious on the card itself.

It takes longer to teach the game to new players than one would suspect, as there are a lot of little rules to take into account in regards to positionning and placement, which can make the game overwhelming to new players, but at its heart, Electropolis possesses a fairly simple ruleset that could have benefited from a restructured rulebook covering rules a little better and keeping relevant information where it belongs. Some informations, such as scoring details, are only mentioned in the scoring example when it would be better fitted in the scoring ruleset, when the fact that the players must fuel all their plants if possible is written under the glossary section when it should be mentioned under the scoring or the drafting section, as the information becomes relevant then. These remain minor and shouldn’t prevent the owner to easily learn how to play.

Conclusion : Electropolis is a very fine game on its own and a fun one to play if you enjoy a brain burner with indirect player interaction in the form of draft and hate-draft, but it feels like a base game with lot of room to grow that would welcome expansions with more daring tiles and more variability in trends and development cards. I will always enjoy playing it, but not in quick succession, as it is more of a “once in a while” type of game.

An enjoyable game which would welcome a higher replay-value.

Electropolis belongs to Homosapiens Lab. The cover artwork is from Boardgamegeek.com.

 

One comment

  1. This type of game isn’t really my favorite. That maybe why after one play, I’m really not eager to play it again. To me, there are far better games to spend my time with… That being said i didn’t like My little town either, so this kind of tight board game might just not be for me…

    Liked by 1 person

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