Designer: Sébastien Pauchon (2008)
Publisher: Ystari Games
# of Players: 2-4
Play Time: 30 min
BGG Rank/Rating: #223/6.89
Weight: Medium Light
Metropolys is a continuous auction game, but it involves an interesting spatial element that gives it a significant twist from other similar games. Players ostensibly take the roles of developers who are trying to construct the best buildings within the city, and scoring is derived both from acquiring public tokens and from achieving secret objectives. Metropolys has more than exceeded my expectations for it, and I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss why…
Game Basics (click here for complete game rules)
As I mentioned, Metropolys is an auction game. In fact, it is an “all auction, all the time” kind of game, where every turn is composed of someone initiating a new auction and then playing it out until someone wins it. Then, the person who won the last auction starts a new one. What makes Metropolys truly special is that these auctions aren’t just about bidding higher values, but they are also placing those values on adjacent available locations on the board. It works like this:
The Red player begins this proposal phase by placing his 2-value building in a red neighborhood. Bidding continues, stepping across the board with higher-value buildings until Gray places his 10-value building and everyone else passes…
Then, that 10-value gray building is constructed (by flipping it over) and all the other buildings used to bid in this proposal are removed from the board.
Points are scored by collecting tokens that are seeded on the board at the beginning of the game, having the largest buildings in each of the five districts, as well as claiming preferred neighborhoods and completing personal objectives (both of which are dealt out at the beginning of the game and kept secret from other players). The game lasts until one player manages to construct all of their buildings.
What I think…
There are a few things that make this game really special for me. First and most obvious is the auction mechanic itself. The inclusion of this spatial aspect to the bidding creates a ton of choices not involved in other auction games. In addition to considering the values of buildings that other players still have, you have to keep a very close eye on the board both in terms of which neighborhoods are valuable to you and where the potential bidding paths are for the current proposal. Especially in the late game, bids can be won simply because there are no adjacent spaces, which is the best way to get rid of those low-value buildings.
Proposals can be started or continued through neighborhoods for lots of reasons. You can start an auction with a low value building and then try to steer it in the direction where you really want to go. Or you can make a big play for a specific neighborhood by using a larger building. If you know that another player really wants a particular neighborhood, you can start a proposal there, which will remove any chance of them winning it that round. You can also steer a proposal in the direction of a dead-end or towards a neighborhood with an archaeological site token (which is worth negative points) to force some hard decisions on the other players. All the while, you need to be evaluating each bid that you make in regards to its relative value to you and others for scoring, the direction that it will push the proposal in, and the other players’ ability to outbid you.
I also like the balance that the game has in terms of open and secret scoring. If the preferred neighborhoods and objectives were open knowledge, then the game could easily mire down in analysis paralysis as everyone calculated the exact value of neighborhoods for everyone involved. Instead, having them secret keeps you focused mainly on what you need to accomplish, while also introducing a bit of a deduction element in trying to figure out what your opponents are trying to do. But the inclusion of the open token and highest-building scoring muddies the waters a little, because players could always be making a decision in pursuit of those opportunities as well. Overall, scoring makes a lot of sense and creates a number of priorities that players have to juggle as they plan their strategy and play the game.
I also like how Metropolys tends to accelerate as the game progresses. Early on, the board is wide open and full of options, but the decisions don’t have that large an impact on the eventual outcome of the game, so players think for a while about where to start proposals as they begin to formulate a strategy. Later on, when the decisions get more critical and may require more thought, you actually have fewer options both in what buildings you have and in where you can use them. This tends to push the action and makes later turns either the same length as or sometimes even shorter than early turns. Many other games are completely the opposite, as turns grind to a halt in the late game as players get paralyzed by the weight of the actions they are choosing. But this balance of weight/impact of the decisions versus the options available in the decision keeps Metropolys from falling into this trap.
Finally, I like Metropolys a lot because to do well you really need to formulate a solid strategy. Yeah, each decision about starting or bidding in a proposal is very tactical in nature, but they all have to be working towards a unified goal. Players must balance their scoring between all of the available sources, and be continually looking for ways to set up accomplishing their secret objectives. Some neighborhoods can literally be worth nothing (or even negative points) to a player, and unless you’re trying to end the game, wasting opportunities on useless neighborhoods can be a big problem.
In addition to all of what I mentioned about the auction mechanic itself, one other important element of strategy to consider is the idea of initiative. The player that starts a proposal has a lot of power both in choosing where to place a building and which value building to use. And it’s also a huge advantage to be the one who gets the most buildings on the board and actually triggers the end of the game. So you always have to be cognizant of your plan both to take the initiative (by having large enough buildings to ensure winning a proposal) and to keep it (through either having higher values than your opponents or by setting up dead-ends on the board where you can place without being contested).
Metropolys is a game with amazing depth for its speed of play. It is a breath of fresh air in a style of games that tends to all feel very similar, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it every time I’ve played.
• Rules: There’s only one real mechanic in the game (other than scoring), which is very intuitive and easy to explain.
• Downtime: Almost none. All players are involved in every auction, but occasionally someone may take a little too long to decide how to start a proposal or whether or not to bid.
• Length: The games I’ve played have averaged right at the recommended 30 minutes. But the game accelerates as it goes, so it feels shorter.
• Player Interaction: You’re always competing in the auctions, and it’s possible to figure out opponents’ objectives and to actively block them
• Weight: Medium Light
• GamerChris’ Rating: Metropolys is nearly my favorite auction game (behind only Ra), and for its uniqueness and interesting play, I rate it an upwardly-mobile 8.5.