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Warsaw: City of Ruins

Originally released as Capital two years ago in Europe, North Star Games brings the renamed Warsaw: City of Ruins to North American shores. Shape and reshape the capital of Poland through six historical epochs in this city-building tableau game.

Gameplay

Warsaw: City of Ruins is a 2-4 player tile drafting and tableau building game that is quick to learn and easy to pick up and play. Each game last six rounds, with a stack of tiles representing an epoch in Warsaw’s storied history. Players begin with a starting tile and are also dealt four tiles, with each choosing the one they wish to play. Players place the tile face down, turning them over simultaneously to either add to their city’s 3x4 (or 4x3) tableau at the cost of the tile, or discarding the tile for 3 coins.

Each tile represents a different district: residential, parks, commercial, and industrial. Certain tiles have public buildings and landmarks that provide your city and its districts with potential bonuses, with districts offering victory points or income (when played in a specific manner, such as surrounding a park with as many residential areas as possible).

After players add a tile to their tableau, either by placing it adjacent to existing titles (tiles cannot be placed orthogonally) or building on top of an existing tile (reducing the cost of building by the amount on the tile below it) they pass the remaining tiles to the next player until all tiles are played or discarded. Before the round ends, players then look at the Milestone for that specific round, with the player meeting its requirements adding it to their tableau (the player with the least amount of money wins any tiebreakers). Then, victory points and income are calculated, and the next round begins.

At the end of round three, players must remove one tile from their city (to represent the destruction caused during WWI) and at the end of round four, players must remove two tiles from their city (to represent the destruction caused during WWII). At the end of the sixth round, the player with the most victory points wins.

Warsaw: City of Ruins components

Review

Warsaw: City of Ruins has a lot of great gaming mechanics working in perfect harmony. The tile drafting mechanic allows room to change strategies as needed, as well as a bit of hate-drafting involved. Considering you can either building on top of tiles as you desire, or discard tiles for coins, hate-drafting is even encouraged! However, being too petty will cost you, so playing out of spite will only cause you to get further behind in victory points.

The game also has a fair bit of engine building within its cityscape. Balancing the need to generate income along with victory points is key and focusing on either/or is also a losing proposition. Though you should not diversify too much, there is room to experiment with play styles and tableau arrangements with each new play.

The packaging is fantastic, with the insert allowing components to remain sorted and easily accessible from playthrough to playthrough. The game’s inherent speed, once players are familiar with optimal placement for each district type (as well as public building bonuses), makes it a quick play while also allowing for some critical thinking.

The negatives for Warsaw: City of Ruins are few, but they are notable. First and foremost: component quality. While the city and milestone tiles are thick cardboard, the corners will become rounded quickly. The mermaid player pieces are cheap plastic and do not sit in their stands very well. The art is dull, to be expected from a Euro-inspired title (even a game as medium-light as Warsaw), and the tiles are a bit repetitive looking due to the simple and uninspired art direction. Considering the game is two years old, updating some of the components would have been a great move from North Star. It would have also been a nice touch to add improved and more modern looking areas as players move through each epoch that better tie the game play to the theme.

However, the worst negative for Warsaw: City of Ruins lies in its milestones. The bonuses they provide are relatively tame, but the Palace of Culture and Science (which can be earned at the end of the fourth round) is downright mean. The player with the most industrial districts will score one victory point for each one in rounds five and six during the income/scoring phase. However, all other players lose one victory point per commercial district they have built. For players that have built a reliable and steady income engine via commercial districts, this is crippling. Though there are public buildings available in the subsequent rounds that can help mitigate some of this (turning leftover money into victory points at the end of the game), the chances of getting those tiles are rare. And without other take-that elements with this much at stake, it creates unbalance should that milestone be in play.

Warsaw: City of Ruins is a great game despite the drab art and an out-of-place milestone (which is as easy as not playing it). It has more thought and puzzle craft than a filler game but isn’t complicated enough that it fails to cater to a casual board gaming audience.  

Pros: Quick to play, easy to learn, fun mechanics

Cons: Dull components and lackluster milestones