When Thurn and Taxis won the Spiel des Jahres in 2006, I have to
admit that I was a bit surprised. While I thought that the game was
simple enough to have won the award, it wasn't that much "fun", and I
wondered a bit about the runner up - Blue Moon City (Fantasy Flight
Games, 2006 - Reiner Knizia). The board game is based on the Blue
Moon card game (one that I have yet to warm), so I wasn't really
interested in it until I heard about its nomination. Then I had to
play it to see why Thurn and Taxis was better, and why Knizia once
again did not win the highest award in boardgamedom.
Well, if I was one of the voters for the Spiel des Jahres, I would
certainly have chosen Blue Moon City. With a passing resemblance to
the card game, it is a light, easy to play game that still offers a
good deal of choices and some strategy. In fact, Blue Moon City hits
that certain niche - a game that's extremely easy to teach and learn,
but offers much more than meets the eye. Playing well with two and
better with three and four, Blue Moon City may easily be one of the
most accessible and fun games of the year.
Players are attempting to rebuild the Blue Moon City, and a grid of
building tiles is placed face down on the table, with a courtyard tile
placed in the middle. Each player places a token of their color on
that space, and a pile of crystal tokens, dragon scales, and three
colored dragons are placed next to the city, as well as an obelisk
tile with various numbers on it. A deck of cards is shuffled, and
eight are dealt to each player. One player is chosen to go first, and
then play passes clockwise around the table.
On a player's turn, they first move their piece up to two tiles in
orthogonally. Players may then play cards to help reconstruct the
building of the space their piece is on. Buildings have one to four
contribution squares on them, numbered from two to five. Players may
play as many cards from their hand that match the color of the
building (cards are numbered "1", "2", or "3") that equal or exceed
one or more of the contribution totals. If a dragon is on the tile
where building is occurring, the builder receives one dragon scale for
each dragon present. A cube that matches that player's color is
placed on these contributions, and the player's turn ends.
If, however, a player places the last cube on a tile, then that
building is finished. The player who has the most markers on a
building (with ties being broken by whoever has their marker on the
left-most square - which costs the most) wins a reward that is
pictured next to an asterisk on the tile. ALL players who have at
least one cube score whatever else is shown on the tile. The building
is then flipped over, and all players receive their markers back.
Once a building has been flipped over, it shows a reward on it that
is added to the reward given to all players when an adjacent building
is completed. Rewards can be dragon scales, crystal pieces, or cards
from the deck. Whenever the last dragon scale is taken from the pile,
then all players compare their dragon scales. The player with the
most dragon scales takes six crystals, and all players with at least
three dragon scales take three crystals. They discard their dragon
scales; all other players keep theirs.
On a player's turn, if they are in the courtyard, they may make an
offering to the obelisk. They do this by paying crystals equal to the
lowest valued circle still open on the obelisk, and then placing one
of their cubes on that space. Players can usually make only one
offering per turn.
The cards in the game are numbered from one to three, and match seven
different colors (a specific race). The "1" and "2" cards can also be
played for a special ability, rather than their number.
Black (Vulca): The "1" card can be discarded to move the red dragon
to any tile in the city. The "2" card can be discarded to move the
dragon up to three spaces in the city.
Red (Terrah): Same as black, but moves the green dragon.
Blue (Aqua): Same as black, but moves the blue dragon.
Green (Khind): These cards have no special ability, other than the
fact that they count as "wild" and can be used to build any color
Brown (Mimix): Any two of these cards can be played together to form
a "wild" card with a value of "3".
White (Hoax): The "1" card can be discarded to change up to four
cards of the same color into another color when building. The "2"
card can do the same but only with one card instead of four.
Gray (Flit): The "1" card can be discarded during movement to move
your figure to any space; the "2" card can be discarded to add two
spaces to your movement.
Yellow (Pillar): The "1" card allows a player to make an additional
offering on their turn for the cost of one more crystal. The "2" card
is the same, but the cost is two additional crystals.
The game continues until one player makes a certain number of
offerings (four to six, depending on the number of players), at which
point they win!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: Blue Moon City is certainly a sight to behold on the
table, as it's very gorgeous and engaging to the eyes. Each building
starts out in a two color architectural drawing that when flipped
looks stunningly beautiful. The cubes are in different and pleasing
colors (purple, sky blue, white, and gray), and the plastic dragon
pieces, while nothing more than a scoring marker, add a lot to game
play. The dragon scale tokens and the crystal tokens, which come in
"1" and "3" denominations, are easy to handle and look good on the
board, which is made of several sturdy cardboard counters. The cards
are also of good quality and have tremendous artwork on them (for
those who've played Blue Moon - the pictures are similar and much less
provocative). Player pieces are small oddly shaped pawns, and the
obelisk itself is a striking cardboard counter. There are certainly
fewer components than other Fantasy Flight games, but still enough to
make you think you are getting a box full 'o goodness. Everything
fits in a nice plastic insert inside a large square box (also with
2.) Rules: The rulebook is eight large pages of full color
illustrations and text, but that basically is a bit of a sham, as the
last two pages explain what the buildings of Blue Moon City do
(something I only skimmed over, as it's all thematic). Two more pages
explain in detail what the cards do; although I found that player
easily understand, since the icons on the card are rather
self-explanatory. In fact, although the game offers a decent amount
of choice, it can be explained fairly quickly - a factor that is very
high in its favor.
3.) Players: I've seen some that claim that the game isn't very good
with only two players; but I will disagree, as I really enjoy playing
the game that way. Of course, it is better with three or four, as
players tend to interact with each other more. Scores are often
fairly close, and one of the more enjoyable features of Blue Moon City
is that you always feel as if you have a shot in it.
4.) Cards: Any game that has multiple uses for its cards is one that
I'm immediately interested in, and Blue Moon City is no exception.
How many cards are you willing to waste to make sure that the dragons
are on your space? The fact that white cards can switch unwanted
colors to the color you need is helpful, and players always seem to
have just a few cards short of what they really need. The most
winning feature of the game to me is that card management is such an
important, varied, strategic element yet feels very intuitive and
easy. A player can come in and know nothing about the different races
of Blue Moon, never having played the card game, and pick up the board
game in an instant. Rather than feel like a duel, it's more of a
race, to build buildings as quickly as possible.
5.) Buildings: The way buildings interact is very clever. Each
building has its "neighborhood" award that it gives to adjacent
buildings when completed, which encourages players to get a building
token on every building if possible. It's very satisfying to complete
a building that is adjacent to three other complete buildings, as the
rewards are very high! There are only three different types of
awards, yet all of the buildings still manage to retain a unique feel,
especially the royal palace, which can accept contributions in ANY
color, as long as they are all the same.
6.) Dragon Scales: One can't ignore dragon scales, as they tend to
reward players a decent amount of crystals. At the same time, a
player who focuses too much on them will find themselves majoring on
the minors and possibly losing the game. The dragons are constantly
flitting around the board, and scales are handed out at a high rate;
but players must decide if it's worth wasting the extra cards that
would allow them to build on other buildings.
7.) Fun Factor: The theme is fairly strong in this game, which is
unusual for a Knizia game, and I'm still rather surprised that it
didn't win the Spiel des Jahres. It's one of the best games I've
played this year, if only because it's easy to play, and offers a lot
of simple, fun choices. Knowing when to make an offering is an
interesting mechanic, as players want to get the cheapest price they
can (prices start at seven, and go up to twelve), but they have to
waste a turn or more doing so. And making a double offering is a
really neat, surprise move to pull off, but it cost more resources to
do so. Lots of enjoyable options!
I have a strong feeling that Blue Moon City is going to be played for
many years, on the basis of how easy it is to get involved with the
game, and the intrigue of possible strategies. It's what I would
classify as a "medium" weight game and can be played with most people
in casual settings for a fulfilling, entertaining experience. The
tremendous components certainly are a plus, and the way the buildings
interact with each other is intuitive, as are the multi-purpose cards.
I really wasn't expecting to like Blue Moon City as much as I do -
and award or not, I expect to draw a lot of folk into gaming with it.
"Real men play board games"