City Square Off Will Exercise Your Tetris Muscles

City Square Off Box

Overview: Something in between a board game and a toy, City Square Off is part Tetris, part Blokus, part logic puzzle, and all fun.

Players: 2

Ages: 8 and up (though my five-year-old loves it, too — and has won before).

Playing Time: 15 minutes

Retail: $19.99

Rating: Plantastic. Great for a quick pick-up game, though you’ll rarely play just once.

Who Will Like It? Anyone who likes Tetris (or just likes fitting odd shapes into the smallest space possible) will really love it.

City Square Off components

City Square Off components

Theme:

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Ostensibly the game is about “city planning,” and the grey starting pieces are modeled to look like miniature cities. But, let’s face it — it’s a packing game. It’s all about getting your pieces to fit better than your opponent’s.

Components:

The game comes with:

  • 2 city grids
  • 4 cityscape starter tiles
  • 42 city tiles (21 green, 21 orange)
  • 21 shape cards

The grids and tiles are all sturdy plastic, and well-designed to fit together. The grids have small raised gridlines as well as tiny bumps at each intersection, which perfectly match the grooves and holes in the city tiles. Everything slides into place with a satisfying click and doesn’t shift around. The four grey cityscape starter tiles are all different: one looks like a castle, and one looks like a futuristic sci-fi city.

The cards are smaller (and more square) than standard poker cards, and are good quality, easy to shuffle. The tiles on the cards are actual size, which makes it easy to be sure you have the right piece.

Gameplay:

Each player takes a starter tile and puts it in the center of their board. The starter tiles are all six squares, but have different layouts, which means that the two players won’t be able to play things exactly the same way. Each player takes the tiles of their chosen color and lays them out in front of them.

The deck of shape cards is shuffled and placed face down. Cards are revealed one at a time, and both players find the tile that is shown on the card. Tiles can be played in any direction, including flipping them over. Each new tile must be placed so that at least one square is touching another tile already in play (including the starting tile). The tile must fit entirely within the boundary of the grid. Once a new card has been drawn, you can’t move any tiles already played.

If a player can’t fit the current tile onto their grid, the other player wins. Otherwise, if both players are unable to fit the tile in, then the player with the largest contiguous group of empty spaces wins. (In case of a tie, go to the second-largest group, and so on.)

There are also some variants:

  1. Place the starting tile anywhere on the board.
  2. City Sprint: set up as normal, but instead of using the cards, each player races to fill every square of their grid with their pieces. First player to cover wins.
  3. City Sprawl: Ignore rules about tiles needing to fit within the grid — only one square of the tile must fit. Game ends when a player can’t fit a tile or has completely filled their city. Whoever has fewer squares outside the city boundary wins.
Game Over

Game Over: Close, but not quite.

Conclusion:

I’ve always been very proud of what I call my “Tetris-ing” skills, and my wife calls on me whenever we need to make things fit — in the fridge, in a suitcase, into the trunk. So City Square Off really delights whatever part of my brain it is that loves packing things efficiently. I don’t always win, mind you, but it’s a fun challenge to fit these odd tiles onto the board, trying to leave as much space as possible for future pieces.

There is some luck to it: sometimes you’ll have to make a tough decision about what shape space to leave open: should you leave room for that W-shaped piece, or leave a long skinny space instead? You won’t know until the card is drawn, and then it’s too late. I also like the fact that each starting tile is different, preventing you from just copying your opponent’s strategy. Right from the start your boards will look different and you’ll have to plan your own strategy.

My kids have really loved it, too: they’re particularly fond of playing City Sprint, though not necessarily as a race. They just love figuring out how to perfectly fill in the grid, with no empty spaces and nothing sticking out. It’s possible, but it’s quite tough to do.

If you like Tetris, you’ll feel completely at home with City Square Off, even though not all of the pieces are four squares in size. It’s quick to learn, fun for both kids and adults, and the components are nicely made. Gamewright has a history of terrific family games, and this one is another winner.

Wired: Great components, quick to play, easy to learn, feels like Tetris.

Tired: Not much, really.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.