Metropolis (Ravensburger)

Game by Sid Sackson.

Review by Bob Rossney.

Metropolis was released in Germany in 1984 and, as with so many -- too many -- excellent Ravensburger games, was never released in the US. I don't know what's become of it, but a copy recently fell into our lap, and we've been playing it quite a bit.

Conceptually it's quite simple. The board is an abstract representation of a city made up of nine blocks, with ten plots on each block. There is a deck of cards numbered to match the numbers of the plots. 24 of of them are dealt out (eight to each player in a three-player game, for instance), and four are left face up. Each turn, you select one of the four face-up plot cards, put a marker of your color on it to indicate that you own it, and turn up another card.

Once there are more than five owned plots on a block, you can only take a new plot on that block if it's adjacent to one you already own, or if it's not adjacent to one owned by an opponent.

If you own a group of adjacent plots that are in the right configuration, you can lay one of the game's plastic buildings on the plots, marking it as yours. The buildings vary in size (from one plot up to six) and shape. The object of the game is to build the highest-scoring collection of buildings.

And there's where things get interesting. All of the buildings' values are affected, one way or another, by the other buildings in their block. Houses, for instance, aren't worth much by themselves, but if there's a school and a store in the block, each house in the block be worth more. Also, the presence of houses and apartments in a block drives up the value of shops. A factory drives down the value of houses and apartments in their blocks, but gains value itself if there's another factory in the block, or if it's on the river. (Houses and apartments with a view of the park are worth more, too.)

The negotiation rules, which allow players to trade plots and even team up to build a building (dividing that building's point values based on the number of plots each player contributed) are the last ingredient in the soup, allowing two players to sabotage a third's nice and lucrative residential development by building a big ugly factory on the same block, or to split up the enormous take from the department store. (These rules are the only way any of the large buildings can get built in a five- player game.)

It's a very satisfying game. It's much deeper than you would expect from breezing through the rules and looking at the cheery equipment. The scoring system is really what brings the game to life and turns it from being a game of mostly luck into a game of calculated risks.

If anyone out there has played this, I can suggest an interesting variation that we came up with by mistranslating the rules. Instead of putting markers on your initial hand of cards, keep them secret; those 24 plots will never be developed. This increases the amount of luck in the game, but also the suspense; you never know whether or not the plot that you're waiting for is going to come up at all, which can get pretty nerve-wracking towards the end of the game.

Copyright 1994, Bob Rossney.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell