Sorcerer City Review

Every year a bunch of Mages come together at the sacred site of Sorcerer City in order to take part in what can only be described by us mere mortals as some sort of magical Burning Man style event. They slap together a city in haste, have it assessed by the judges on various criteria, and then take their winnings away with them. They come back next year having developed even more exciting ways to arrange districts in their cities in the hopes to impress the judges. You, a fresh young Mage, have entered this season (division 5), and hope to earn your prestige and come out a master of magical architecture!

1-6 Players | 40 Minutes | Designed by Scott Caputo

Sorcerer City was brought to life on Kickstarter in early 2018. It had an exciting and successful campaign, being delivered a bit less than a year later. The publishers Druid City Games and Skybound Games are already well known for their ‘Grimm Series’ of games (which I highly recommend) and Druid City is quickly becoming a favourite publisher of mine.

The Sorcerer City Market, where all good Mages go to buy their city parts.

How does it work?

Sorcerer City is a real-time tile placement game with deck building mechanics. The game is played over 5 real life years, in which you build a city using your deck of tiles, and then pack it up at the end of each round (adding some new tiles) to build it again fresh the next round. There are rewards that players can earn each round, as well as monster tiles that will be added into to your city to make things more difficult for you next round!

At the beginning of each round, players shuffle their deck of tiles. Once the two minute timer is flipped, players rush to build their city one tile at a time. Once placed, tiles are fixed. Players are trying to create large contiguous areas of the same district with scoring shields in them to earn Magic, Influence, Money and Prestige (victory points). Once the time is up, players stop building (you mightn’t get to place all your tiles!) and score their cities. Each shield on a tile has the potential to earn the player points, and the colour of the shield corresponds to what type of points it earns.

Once each city is scored, players then convert their magic into Influence, Money or Prestige. The player with the most Influence now earns the year’s prestige award, and the ability on this year’s influence card. Other players may receive lesser rewards. Players use their money to buy new tiles from the market to add to their deck, improving their ability to score points and bonuses in the next round when they rebuild their city. Finally, players cash out their prestige for point tokens.

All players add a monster to their deck (it has some negative effect on your city), shuffle all their tiles and get ready for the next year. At the end of the 5th year, the player who earned the most prestige points through the game is awarded the victory!

City building halts for no barrier! Just build over it!

What do I think?

I’ve played Sorcerer City 5 or so times now at various player counts from 2 to 4 players. As far as scaling with player count, I don’t think the game changes much as you add more players in, although if you wanted to play with 6 players you might want to search out a large table! My table is 1.2×2.1m (or 26×14 cheeseburgers for you Americans) and fitting in 4 players was already a challenge!

The Good Stuff

  • Sorcerer City features simple gameplay that is fun and exciting. The tile placement phase is frenetic and crazy, and then the rest of the round feels strategic as you plan and add to your tile set.
  • The rules are quite simple.The rulebook is well laid out and easy to learn from, and it’s quick to teach the game to new players. It’s easy to enough to essentially run through a whole round in a few minutes, which is often the best way of teaching a game.
  • While the art and production of the game is top notch, I am really impressed by the apparent effort to place functionality above all other artistic design elements – the tiles are very clearly marked with their abilities and each region type is distinct and highly visible.
  • The monsters add a really good twist to the tile placement mechanic. They may not seem like a big deal but when you are in the flow building your city and you have to interrupt your thoughts to action a monster tile you just drew it can really mess you up! Having different monsters each game is great – it makes every game feel unique.
  • The time pressure of tile placement makes the game challenging in a fun way. You find yourself trying to make quick decisions, rotating and placing pieces in ‘good enough’ places. There’s always a lot of regret after each round which I think is so much fun.
  • The insert for the game is really good! I was initially confused but once you’ve got it all packed it’s very effective.
  • In my first few games I felt like there wasn’t much of a trade-off between the colours – I just assumed if you maxed out magic you would be guaranteed the win. As you play you realise the importance of each resource and how you need to balance and pivot them as you play. This is really interesting and I found it one of the most exciting factors of the game.
  • The fun of rushing to build your city against all other factors is a hectic experience! Players building into other players cities and frantically trying to make everything fit whist trying not to waste time creates some fun moments!
  • Lots of tiles you can buy have pretty powerful abilities, and it seems crazy but since everyone has access to them and there are a lot of them it’s fairly balanced. I like games that have abilities that feel overpowered, it simply adds to the fun factor.

The Bad Stuff

  • The last round can be a bit of a let down. There is a lot of stuff you build up in terms of money engine and tiles that ‘get you stuff’ that is essentially all thrown out in the last round. Something to make the last round feel more meaningful would be welcome (tiles could have end-game points/abilities, money could be worth points etc).
  • There were a few things in the rulebook that we didn’t notice for a few games. For example, the free tile for the player with the least prestige each round, and the 1 coin to discard a market tile. Such things could be illustrated on the market/influence boards as reminders, but they aren’t and are easily forgotten.
  • The timer always gets stuck. This is just a failure of sand timers… it always happens. Of course there are alternatives (there’s an app and everyone has phone timers), but it’s just easier to use the provided timer.
  • Despite the amazing insert the box is really really big. You could definitely fit the contents into a smaller box, but I suppose this is a minor complaint.
  • The market phase feels a bit odd to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I think it has something to do with each player buying all their stuff at once. I suppose it’s just not ‘traditional’ but it doesn’t seem to make any major imbalance.
  • If you aren’t doing well the problem is compounded because you build up your ability to earn (not just money but everything) by buying tiles. Without money you have a lessened ability to get more tiles which you need to get more money, points, influence etc. The charity tile for the least prestige helps a little but as the tile is random it could end up hindering rather than helping. Least prestige earned in a round (the criteria for getting the charity tile) also doesn’t necessarily correlate with the player who is falling behind.
  • While this hasn’t been an issue in games I’ve played, I can imagine that you may encounter players who for various reasons struggle with the challenge of the timed tile placement round. As this is the crux of the game, these players wouldn’t have a great time with Sorcerer City.
  • I’m not sure how I feel about the attack rewards. I think they exacerbate the ‘runaway leader’ issue, though it is possible for other players to access them too (but not the last player). In this way sometimes the attacks are simply nullified. If you are first player and you have the option of dumping a monster on another player, you’ll choose your closest competitor. They then have the option of simply handing it back to you when they use the ability themselves. This encourages players to disadvantage the already disadvantaged players, as their ability to retaliate is less. With some of the reward cards, multiple people using them in a round doesn’t seem totally thought out.
Cities are sometimes strategically rotated to avoid collisions.

When someone asks me how I would describe Sorcerer City, I say ‘It’s Galaxy Trucker + Dominion + Carcasonne!’. Sorcerer City was a bit of a surprise to me as it wasn’t what I was expecting. The game has a very fresh and fun mix of gameplay mechanics that make it something you can enjoy with a wide variety of gamers and it is versatile at a wide number of player counts. I’m always on the look out for games that work with up to 6 players. After playing this game several times I just want to play it more. Often games become less interesting as the novelty/mystery wears off but that’s not the case here for me. While there is a bit of luck involved in the game I think it’s also quite strategic. I enjoy the game testing my ability to make quick and effective decisions, and if this sounds like something you would be into definitely check it out – you can find it on the Skybound Store or at your local game shop!

The copy of Sorcerer City used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Skybound Games

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