21 August 2019
Drafting just enough for the city
City-building, tile-laying drafting games have become something of a mainstay in the tabletop hobby. There’s the historically-themed Warsaw: City of Ruin, which tasks players with building prosperous districts of Poland’s capital. There’s the head-scratching Between Two Cities, which sees competitors simultaneously building a pair of cities in co-operation with their rivals. There’s the rules-light but deeply absorbing Quadropolis, which emphasises cutting off other players’ choices as well as making your own. Even games like the sci-fi space station-builder Among the Stars employ similar ideas.
With so many urban planning games to choose from, you’d be forgiven for not being too excited by the emergence of yet another. But Neom, from ex-Magic: The Gathering design team member Paul Sottosanti, plays with the concept in some interesting ways.
It hands each player a mostly blank board representing the patch of land they’ll attempt to transform into a thriving, bustling metropolis. Over the course of three rounds you and your friends will draft tiles representing different buildings, taking your growing cities through various stages of industrial and economic development. In the first, you’ll focus on harvesting raw materials like stone, coal and iron. In the second, you’ll work to convert them into processed materials like steel, glass and copper. And in the third you’ll aim to use them to produce luxury goods and high-tech gadgets that reward you with showers of victory points.
While Neom puts developing your city economy at the heart of its gameplay, it keeps the process admirably simple.
You won’t need to keep track of how many units of gas, timber or plastic you produce, or pay certain amounts to develop different types of buildings. Instead, if you have any tiles that generate a resource, you have it in an infinite and inexhaustible supply. If you don’t have access to a particular material, you’ll be able to pay your rivals to use some of theirs, adding just a hint of interactivity on top of the tile-drafting process. This also reduces the likelihood that you’ll find yourself unable to build anything on your turn.
But industrial might isn’t the only thing you’ll need to keep in mind as you play. You’ll also need to tend to the needs of your citizens, providing them with quality housing and keeping polluting businesses away from your residential areas. Tiles interact with one another in interesting ways to generate points, and spotting the synergies between them takes some careful observation.
On top of all of this, there’s a road-building system that dictates where you’re allowed to place the tiles you acquire. It adds up to some thoughtful fun, and it also works pretty well as a quick single-player puzzle. But, as much as it does some interesting things, it’s revisiting a concept that’s been thoroughly explored by other games in recent years – and if you already have some of those releases on your shelf, there isn’t a compelling case for Neom to join them.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
Neom makes some interesting tweaks to the tile-laying urban planning formula, but they’re just that: tweaks, rather than massive innovations. It’s worth a look though, provided you don’t already have other games that scratch your SimCity itch.
Designer: Paul Sottosanti
Artist: Christian Opperer
Time: 45 minutes
Purchase the game here
This review originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products.