There have been rumours circulating for some while about a new game company, funded and headed by Ian Livingstone. I had also heard that Ian is not the Warhammer freak you might imagine, but prefers general games in the McMulti mould. The rumours have proved true, and the ex-Games Workshop supremo chose Essen to launch Boomtown, his first design for Livingstone Games.
Boomtown's theme is developing the new towns of the 1950's. The basic idea is for each player to build their houses into 'nice' areas rather than those next to the local piggery. The player with the best holding is one who has the most houses in these decent areas, but typically, all the other players are trying to prevent this happening.
The board is divided into six distinct areas which each have spaces for 20 houses, 5 small developments and 5 large ones. Each development is rated for wholesomeness in the range +6 to -6, the smaller ones having a narrower range. For instance, a park is a beneficial +6 to the value of the site, a foundry rates a grim -6 while a humble off licence is just a +1. At the end of the game the modifiers are added up and, multiplied by the number of houses built there by a player, gives his score from that site. The six site scores combined (some of which could be negative) determine the winner.
Mechanically, Boomtown is distinctly straightforward. Players alternate in placing a house, another house, a small development, two more houses and finally a large one until the board is filled up. The only interaction comes when developments are about to spoil your favoured site and you have the chance to block planning permission. Each player can do this once per turn and there is a degree of bargaining with other houseowners to use their card to prevent a factory appearing in your back garden. If your build is blocked (it's automatic if someone is willing to do it), further pieces are laid from your hand until one goes in unopposed. Knowing all this, the possible tactics will be readily apparent - if you have lots of houses in the Fenway Park district, you try to play theatres, tennis clubs and stables to raise the tone while stuffing your opponents with strip joints and rubbish dumps. In theory this is fine, but the game tends to balance and even the poshest neighbourhoods have their abattoirs.
Boomtown was selling in Essen for DM 60, reduced from DM 75 for the show. This indicates a price of around £20-25 when it arrives over here unless of course there is a marketing ploy at work. For this price, you have to say Boomtown is a bit light component-wise. What is there is generally very well made and the artwork is excellent (the GW Design Studio is credited), but you only get a Ravensburger size box, a board, a couple of hundred wooden houses and thin card markers for the developments. The latter could have done with being a bit thicker to maintain the quality.
There is nothing wrong with Boomtown as it stands. It just doesn't go very far. A doddle to learn, the theme is novel and appealing, the system is smooth, the game plays quickly (just over the hour) and there is some untaxing decision making. But that's about it. It isn't therefore going to offer much to games groups so it must be looking for room in the family and general games market, tapping the few likely sales in the UK but more likely to find favour in Germany. There, I think, it will do well in the same way Abacus, Moskito and Hans im Gluck do. Despite this seemingly easy categorization, I still have doubts about where Boomtown, and indeed Livingstone Games, are aimed. The game is rather simple but the fact that it comes as a 1,000 copy limited edition indicates 'mass' marketing is not intended. I suppose Just Games and other specialist retailers will sell a few, and the German sales should shift the thousand copies.
Overall, I am at a loss to say much more about Boomtown. It is good to see a new company doing games of this physical quality, though the price is correspondingly high. It is however a surprisingly basic game that has the trappings, and perhaps the aspirations, to be more than that. It kept five of us amused (it can be quite funny at times) for one session but the second game revealed no further strategies worth pursuing. This is a strange one that I honestly can't recommend for the more demanding gamer, but for family play or a late night fill-in, it may have some merit.
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