01 August 2018
Building a small town, six dice at a time
I had a hard time getting Welcome to Centerville to the table. Perhaps it was the fact I described it to my players as SimCity meets King of Tokyo, and then when my players were excited I had to explain it was the dice mechanic from King of Tokyo, not the monsters, and they lost interest.
Perhaps it was the box. “Welcome to Centerville,” it declares, “is a relatively light dice-based game for 2-4 players. It abstractly models the growth and management of a small city – perhaps not unlike the one you’re in right now,” and if that doesn’t get your blood pumping then this may not be the game for you. Plus the main figure on the cover looks like Felicia Day, which may be a sales point but not necessarily for the people who’ll enjoy this game.
Perhaps it was the board and the rulebook, neither of which are designed to aid clarity. After a friend and I each took two runs at trying to understand the mechanics, we finally realised that the player aids do a better job of explaining the flow of gameplay than the full rules. In most games the player reference is a single card, right? In Welcome to Centerville it’s a full sheet of letter-sized card. Double-sided. “Relatively light”, my arse.
It was tempting to write a relatively snide review, but we persevered and I’m glad we did. There’s a lot of meat on Centerville’s bones, and it’s tasty stuff, with plenty of clever systems, complex decisions and battles for areas and resources to get your teeth into.
It is, as my gaming companion pointed out after we’d been whipped by the bot-player, basically a game of trying to maximise five or six different scoring tracks, some of which are interconnected. It is not light and it is not elegant – Chad Jensen is best known as a wargame designer – but its systems reward exploration.
Each turn you’re spending the rolls of the six custom dice to get best advantage in building out four quarters of the city and a central park, recruit top graduates, control six political offices, build a green belt and gentrify. You’re also jockeying for status, and trying to score on wealth and prestige – and your lowest of those two will be your final score.
Time passes unpredictably, so you’re never quite sure when the game’s three scoring rounds will hit – or the disasters which lurk within the draw bag. Balancing all these factors every turn is a brain-filling exercise.
However, this is a £50 game, containing a board, one sheet of counters, some wooden cubes, six dice and a bag. This is absolutely not fifty quid’s worth of components. But fifty quid’s worth of gameplay, that’s another matter. If your players are the sort who’d be up for abstractly modelling the growth and management of a small city, perhaps not unlike the one you’re in right now, then Centerville could keep them cheerful for months.
It's not for everyone, and not easy to understand at first, but for the right group this is town-planning catnip.
Buy your copy here
Designer: Chad Jensen
Artist: Chechu Nieto
Time: 20 minutes (per player)
This review originally appeared in the April 2018 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.
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