25th Feb2021

‘Sorcerer City’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

Originally released under a successful Kickstarter by Druid City Games, Sorcerer City is a fairly large, big budget experience that mixes up several styles of play. Designed by Scott Caputo (famous for WhistleStop), the game claims to mix deckbuilding, tile placement and real-time elements together in an off-the-wall fantasy setting that should appeal to just about anyone. With so much going and such a huge box to wade into, I was expecting Sorcerer City to be quite a handful, but it’s actually quick to learn and quite light-hearted, albeit with a few twists that will appear to hobby gamers as much as casual players.

The basic premise of Sorcerer City is both mechanically and thematically simple. The players are mages – or sorcerers, maybe – competing for the most Prestige. Prestige equates to victory points, and in Sorcerer City this Prestige is earned by building the city in specific and interesting ways – the city being your hand of tiles, and the specific and interesting ways being ways that score based on shields printed on certain tiles (or as the result of some other printed effect.) Shields include scoring opportunities for adjacent shields, large horizontal or vertical areas of the same colour, or other large areas placed in any order (to name but a few basic examples.)

The way in which each player builds their city is interesting and unusual. Each player begins the game with a set of twelve basic tiles in their hand (and sometimes an artifact tile, if you use the included mini-expansion.) At the beginning of each building phase, a sand timer will be flipped and the players will each simultaneously flip tiles one at a time from their hand, placing them into their city as they go. The first tile can be placed freely, but each following tile must be placed alongside at least one other tile. I should note here that the colours on each side don’t have to match, but because of the scoring criteria on the tiles you are drawing, you will often want as many matches as possible.

Once the building phase is done – when either the timer runs out, or when everyone has placed their last tile – scoring occurs. Players each maintain a scoring track of their own with red, blue, yellow and red tracks showing. Each of the scoring shields is assessed at this point, and as you’ll see in my pictures, the different scoring shields show the colour of resource that they score – red for influence, green for prestige, yellow for gold and blue for raw magic. At the end of scoring, everyone converts their raw magic points into any of the other resources using a secretly chosen card.

This last action is important, because whoever scores the most influence (and then going down in descending order) will gain influence rewards including prestige points and whatever benefit is shown on an associated card for that round. Sometimes, using raw magic to snag the influence victory can be huge, whilst on other occasions (perhaps if you are well ahead or well behind) you’ll want to convert your raw magic directly into prestige, or perhaps even gold. After scoring, the player with the most influence does indeed take both prestige points and the yearly reward (the latter of which is randomised) whilst the second highest player may choose one or the other of these benefits. Finally, the third and fourth player (if present) will gain a minor benefit.

Next, the players will buy cards from the market based on their turn order (lowest prestige acting first) and add them to their deck – which will now include all the cards that were placed in the last round, that will be picked up and shuffled again. This is where the deck-building element comes into play, because obviously as you choose new tiles for your city, you can really double down on different strategies – for example, focussing heavily on the raw magic resource can be powerful. You may also want to keep your deck fairly small – after all, the city-building phase is done and dusted in just two minutes.

Of course, as with all deck-building games, it’s not all positive. Monsters are also introduced each year, with every player drawing one or more monsters from the stacks that are organised at the start of the game. There are a number of different monsters to choose, but only four (two level one and two level two) will be used each game. When you begin the next round, these new tiles and monsters will inevitably begin to appear, and monsters have features that might destroy several of your existing tiles, or prevent you from placing new tiles next to certain edges, for example.

Each game of Sorcerer City lasts just five rounds, and after the fifth round, the player with the most prestige wins. The great thing about this game is that it really does take something like 45-60 minutes at the very most, because the actual placement takes just two minutes. Buying and dealing monsters out takes almost no time at all, and I would suggest that the most time-consuming element in the game is actually setting it up and tearing it down (which is really just because of sorting the number of pieces into their respective stacks.) Thankfully, an excellent insert helps keep things organised from one game to the next, so setup is actually easier than tear down.

There is a solo mode that I must admit to not having tried, and there are also some rules for an AI player in any two player game, and all this character really does is compete for influence rewards at the end of each round, just to give the players a bit of a focus outside of what each other is doing – I think this is a good feature actually, and it mixes things up without actually causing a lot of management overhead. The mini-expansion that I mentioned earlier is a simple additional tile added to each deck during setup, so I’d suggest you add it in more or less every game after your first.

In terms of how Sorcerer City feels to play, I’d say it has a fair bit going for it as long as you can handle the real-time element. The deck-building element is clever for this kind of game, and I really do like that monsters are introduced into everyone’s deck at the same rate – this prevents the possibility that one player can fall a long way behind because of something especially unlucky being added to their deck. These monsters are powerful, and when I read the Kickstarter page I noted a reference to Galaxy Trucker – a game in which the players make spaceships from old plumbing and frequently see them destroyed as a result. The consequences of a monster splitting your city up in Sorcerer City are not too severe, but they can be damaging enough to make someone shout out in pain as the result of very poor timing.

I did find that there are some obviously strong strategies – for example going for raw magic (to control what you can then spend it on during scoring) is very powerful, whilst going for gold has a bit of an “upper limit” simply because the amount of tiles you can buy between turns is limited (unless an influence reward permits you to act unusually.) I’m not saying that money isn’t worth as much as it appears, I am just saying that “being the richest player” isn’t as valuable a strategy as focusing on raw magic or influence, simply because in Sorcerer City you can’t really buy your way out of trouble.

Overall, I liked Sorcerer City and having played it with a child much younger than the recommended age several times, it has potential in our house as a step up from our current favourite, KingDomino. There’s definitely a casual aspect (the relatively throwaway real time city building) here, but the deck-building element and the way in which influence rewards can change the game is very much focused on hobby gamers. This is a game with both rapid-fire tactical decisions to make and strategic considerations to have in mind at the same time. The theme and setting are broadly appealing and the components, whilst not amazing across the board, are decent enough and quite attractive.

***½  3.5/5

Sorcerer City is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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