20th Jun2018

‘London (Second Edition)’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

London-Box

In London (Second Edition) between two and four players each take on the role of an aspiring architect during the rebuilding of London after The Great Fire that ravaged more than 13,000 buildings in 1666. Even in the first edition of London, the role of a board (in the form of a map of the city) was used sparingly, so it’s fair to say that London is effectively a fairly complex, self-contained card game.

Players take turns to develop their interests in the city whilst simultaneously working to maintain a reasonably low level of poverty. Money must be earned by running the city, which in turn is spent on buildings (to generate points, more money and other benefits) and acquire boroughs, which are the main way to reduce poverty. Loans can be taken and paid back at a 50% uplift, but there is a points penalty for unpaid debts at the end of the game – likewise, excess poverty will also be factored in during endgame scoring.

Whilst I mentioned that the original map board is gone in this edition, a smaller board is included to track score and also to calculate the final reduction as a result of poverty. The board also contains space for two rows of discarded cards to be placed from bottom to top. There are a few pawns and a number of tokens (primarily black cubes and disks) to represent elements the game, but the main event in London from a component perspective is undoubtedly the cards.

There are several different coloured cards, each of which represents a different kind of building. Blue, for example, includes public works like The Water Works as well as famous individuals like Christopher Wren. Red includes structures like the Great Fire Monument, whilst yellow and brown have businesses such as The Bank of England and The Leatherworks, or The Vintner. The cards are well made with a smooth, matte finish that feels great in the hand and works well with the watercolour artwork.

The game is actually rather simple to play, although the more you play, the more you’ll realise that the strategy here is deeper than you might initially imagine. Martin Wallace has a tendency to create designs that are relatively straightforward to come to terms with, whilst at the same time offering the players a chance to flex their brainpower in a number of different ways. London is no exceptional and whilst I haven’t played the first version, I can say that this Second Edition feels like a very streamlined, smart game to play.

Each turn, players essentially have access to four different actions, as follows:

  • Develop the city, which involves placing one or more cards onto the table and paying their cost (which usually requires a card of the same colour to be discarded and/or for several pounds to be paid)
  • Buy a Borough card, such as Westminster, Southwark or similar, which is a purely cash transaction. Players only have one active Borough at a time, so if you have a special power on an existing Borough, it will be replaced by the new one. There are always three face up Boroughs available for purchase, so you’ll need to replace the one you buy from the face down deck
  • Run the city, which involves flipping cards one by one (in most cases) as well as paying a cost and taking a benefit. Sometimes, a card will add points at the cost of a few pounds, whilst on other occasions it will add poverty. Players can stop running the city at any time and there is no set order, so you could run a few of your cards, but not all of them. Once the benefits have been taken, the player adds poverty for face down cards and any cards left in their hand, so it’s only sensible to run the city when the benefits outweigh the negative impact
  • Draw three cards, which can be in any combination from either the face down draw deck or the cards discarded on the shared board. You may, for example, want to pick up a card that you discarded earlier and has now become relevant, or you might want to grab a card that someone else has discarded but which is much more useful to you

By using these actions, players draw new cards, place them in the city (to build out their own personal interest) and acquire borough cards to influence the running of the city in ways that are beneficial to them. At all times, the placement of cards will be focussed on obtaining cash and points, whilst minimising poverty.

Once the last card is drawn from the shared deck of city cards, everyone completes a final turn before the final score is taken, with poverty relative to the other players being taken into consideration – the less poverty of course, the less impact on your final score. Personally, I really like that the poverty impact is taken relative to others rather than as a fixed measure, because it forces another dimension of both strategic and tactical thinking – you could set the tone for poverty overall, or you might choose to simply react to the leading opponent (or not.)

London plays out over the course of about an hour or so, maybe ninety minutes, but it rarely feels like it. A few practice turns are needed to teach it (especially the run city action) but it is remarkably simple to play. The one component I haven’t mentioned yet is the beautiful presentation box that it comes in, which is easily small enough to be taken on a train or in a holiday bag, which makes London an excellent travelling companion given its emergent depth.

Personally, I like London a lot and I am willing to recommend it to almost anyone. It looks awesome on the table and it’s a lot of fun to play. It has a very unique feel and a great theme, whilst the game play is both remarkably simple to play and yet offers a considerable number of strategic opportunities for interesting play.

**** 4/5

A copy of London (Second Edition) was provided for review by Osprey Games.

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