Sprawlopolis is a game small enough to fit in your pocket. The 18 cards and the rules leaflet come in a wallet-like package. Despite its size, Sprawlopolis delivers a surprising amount of challenge and variety.
Sprawlopolis was released in 2018 by Button Shy Games, a small, independent publishing company from South Jersey that releases 12 wallet-sized games per year. The game was designed by Steven Aramini, Paul Kluka, and Danny Devine who’s also responsible for the artwork. It’s a game for one to four players that plays in about 10 to 20 minutes. This review only deals with solitaire play.
The game consists of 18 cards. On one side each card is illustrated with four city blocks – commercial, park, industrial and residential. No two cards are the same, as the the blocks are arranged differently and roads run through them in different directions. On the back of each card is a unique scoring condition.
Sprawlopolis is about urban planning. To set the game up you shuffle the cards and randomly set aside three cards with the scoring condition face up. The scoring conditions are the goals you strive towards as an urban planner. Deal yourself a hand of three cards and put one card with the city side up on the table. That’s the start of your city. The 11 remaining cards form a draw stack with the city side up.
On each turn you place one card on the table in such a way that at least one block on it is aligned with a block on a previously placed card. A new card can overlap an old one as long as blocks are correctly aligned. Then you draw a card, place a card, draw a card and so on. And that’s it. When the last card is placed you add up your score (which can be a small challenge in itself since there’s a lot to observe). Then you reshuffle and play again. And then once more, probably.
Scoring conditions award different city layouts. One might give you points for placing parks next to residential blocks, another for placing industry blocks together, another for having roads that loop and so on.
Games can be very different depending on what scoring conditions you’ve drawn. Since some scoring goals are harder to achieve than others each scoring card has a number in the upper left corner. Those numbers added up are the minimum score needed to win.
Sprawlopolis contains a surprising amount of game for its few components and simple rules. Choosing which card to place next and where to place it is almost always hard, sometimes agonizingly hard. Just as an example: when there’s only one card on the table, the first card can be placed in 40 different ways depending on how it’s oriented and if it overlaps or not.
The inclusion of 18 different scoring conditions makes for a lot of variation from game to game. Sometimes you can get a lucky combination, like the one that awards you for having roads that don’t reach the edge of the city and the one that awards you for having roads that begin and end at different parks. When you get goals that harmonize like that the game gets a little easier. The downside of varying the goals by randomization in this way is that the difficulty also varies despite the fact that you need different amounts of points for different goals. In such a short game that is no problem, though.
Sprawlopolis is a pretty abstract puzzle-like, brain-teaser game, but the scoring conditions add a little thematic flavor. The one called “The Strip”, for example, awards you for building a long row of commercial blocks and “Mini Marts” gives you points for every commercial block directly between two residential ones.
I’m impressed with this game. Despite its unassuming appearance, it’s a proper game. It’s challenging enough to make winning feel like an accomplishment and fun enough to have you proudly think “Look! I built that!” even if you lost. The game is visually appealing, easy to grasp and deep enough to have me return to it regularly. All in all a great game that would also be a great gift. I will definitely keep an eye on Button Shy Games from now on.
Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in the muliplayer experience, check out Chris Wray’s review of the game.