Sprawlopolis (solo) review: SimCity in my pocket

Sprawlopolis is a solo card game from popular publisher Button Shy, who specialize in “fits in your pocket” wallet games.

From the publisher:

In Sprawlopolis, 1-4 players work together to build a new city from the ground up. Using only 18 cards and a variable scoring system, the game is never the same twice. Each turn, players will play 1 card from their hand to the growing city, trying to score as many points as possible. Players will have to communicate and plan without revealing their own cards in order to most efficiently develop large areas in each of the 4 zone types. Watch out though, the city hates paying for road maintenance so each road will cost you points in the end. When all cards have been placed, the game ends and players see if they have met dynamically generated minimum score for their game. Can you meet the demands of the officials, work with your fellow planners and build the ultimate urban wonder? It’s time to find out!

TL, DR: I’ve enjoyed Sprawlopolis very much. Setup and gameplay are super quick, it’s a game that you can either play with your gut feeling, or try and minmax your decisions on each turn to ensure victory. Some scoring conditions are much harder than others so there’s a bit of “luck of the draw” during setup, but each game session has been enjoyable. Don’t expect unlimited hours of gameplay, but for a price of $3 for the Print-and-play version, it offers a lot of value.

disclaimer: as often on this site, I will be focusing on the solo game for this review. While Sprawlopolis technically allows multiplayer, I think it truly shines as a solo puzzle, and I’m not sure multiplayer enhances it in any way. I do not intend to try it with multiple players.

Sprawlopolis – Gameplay

In Sprawlopolis, the goal is to create a city by playing cards on the board, and trying to place them in a way that will maximize points, according to scoring conditions that were randomly chosen during setup.

Setup is extremely simple. You shuffle the 18 cards, randomly pick 3 of them that will be put on their “scoring” face: these 3 cards much give you the “goals” for this game, such as “having more parks than industrial zones” or “having the longest road you possibly can”.

Once in a while, these scoring goals will be slightly contradicting each other, meaning you’ll have a tough choice to make between e.g. having all your commercial zones on the same line, or on the contrary, spread-out on the edges of the city (or ideally, trying to play in a way that meets both goals if possible)

Once the scoring cards have been chose, we’re left with 15 cards, one of which is put on the board, on its “city” face. We then draw three cards, and can begin to play.

Initial setup, with 3 scoring cards at the top, and three cards in my hand

Each turn, we have to place one card on the board, either touching or overlapping an existing card. The game is fairly flexible on how you can place cards, even overlapping completely a previous card, as long as at least one zone of the new card touches an existing zone on the board. Placing cards vertically isn’t allowed, which solves one of the main issues I had with another solo puzzle card game, Crystallo.

After placing one card, we draw the next one from the top of the draw pile, ensuring we always have 3 cards in hand to choose from.

The game ends once all cards have been played. At that point, we count our score according to the 3 scoring cards + the base rules (add points for the biggest zone of each of the 4 colors, subtract points for each different road on the board), and see if we did better than the sum of the 3 scoring cards.

End of the game. In this case, I tried to maximize positioning the blue zones at the edge of the city, to get points for the “Tourist traps” scoring condition

Sprawlopolis – Review

As I’ve mentioned above, the rules of Sprawlopolis are easy to understand, and the game plays super fast as long as you’re not overthinking each play.

Some scoring conditions can be really tough, others will be super easy once you’re used to the game. This randomness of the scoring conditions help keeping the game fresh for a while, although after about 20+ game sessions I started to loathe some of the most brutal scoring conditions. Park Hoping, Bloom Boom, Morning commute, and The Strip are really tough for me. Others like Go Green, Looping lanes, or Block party, I feel are easier to achieve.

At the end of the day it mostly depends if you end up with scoring conditions that contradict each other, or that go against the base scoring, which emphasizes having big blocks of the same colors, and having fewer, longer roads, rather than a lot of smaller roads.

Getting fewer, longer road segments is usually a good strategy, in particular when some scoring conditions give you extra points for that

I like how thematically the game does feel like a mini Sim city game, despite being so simple and so small. I must however mention that my kids were much more attracted to the design, art, and theme of Crystallo, than to Sprawlopolis, which is a bit “dryer”.

It’s also worth mentioning that, as a print an play, the game is extremely cheap. It’s $3 to buy from the publisher, plus the cost of printing 7 pages in color at home. Assembly of the print-and-play version is on the simple side of the spectrum, as it consists in cutting the cards with a pair of scissors or a cutting knife, then either gluing the front and back together, or sleeving them (which is what I did, with garbage MTG cards in between for rigidity).

I haven’t tried any of the expansions yet, but I’ve heard good things about them. What I can say is that for the initial $3 investment, the base game on its own is already a lot of fun, and enough for you to decide if you want to get more of it.

Sprawlopolis Review – Conclusion

Sprawlopolis is a good little solo puzzle at a very attractive price. Its theme works well, and it’s a great game to take with you to pass time on a trip.

What I liked about Sprawlopolis

  • The PnP version is cheap and provides good value considering the replayability
  • Pretty good theme immersion, it does feel like a “SimCity in your pocket”
  • The puzzle is generally balanced once you get used to the gameplay, except for the occasional really hard combination of scoring conditions

What I didn’t like about Sprawlopolis

  • I wish I could have bought the “commercial” version but couldn’t justify the shipping costs abroad.
  • Do not expect unlimited hours of gameplay, at some point you get the general strategy and it might be time to move on or try one of the expansions

Games mentioned in this article

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