‘Expancity’: Build Out, Build Up

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Expancity cover

Build the city out and up, taking advantage of contracts and clever zoning to become the best city planner in Expancity.

What Is Expancity?

Expancity is a city-building game by Alex Cutler for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 45–60 minutes to play. It retails for $60 and is currently available in stores, directly from Breaking Games, or from Amazon. Most of the rules are fairly easy to learn, so I would say you could probably teach it to kids as young as 8, possibly with some help on the arithmetic for scoring.

Expancity components
Expancity components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Expancity Components

  • 20 Commercial Rooftops (10 rounded, 10 pointed)
  • 20 Residential Rooftops
  • 224 Building Blocks (56 each in 4 player colors)
  • 4 Reference cards
  • 50 Contract cards
  • 6 Goal cards
  • 1 City Hall tile
  • 60 City tiles (20 Commercial, 20 Residential, 20 Modifiers)
  • Tile bag
  • Score board
Expancity rooftops
Rooftops finish off your buildings with a bit of flair. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The component quality is quite nice, particularly the building blocks and rooftops. They fit together well—tight enough that the buildings aren’t wobbly and won’t fall apart easily, but not so tight that they’re difficult to take apart, either. I don’t know how the fit will last over repeated plays, but fitting them together is a bit like playing with LEGO bricks, and it’s satisfying to finish it off with a rooftop. The fit isn’t totally consistent—some pieces are a little looser than others—but overall they’re fun to play with. The game definitely has a fun table presence as you watch the city grow over time.

The scoreboard looks like a building itself, with the score track represented as windows. One clever bit: every time you wrap past “50,” you just add another block to your scoring marker.

Expancity city tiles
Commercial, residential, and modifier tiles. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The tiles are sturdy cardboard—the empty lots just show an empty square base for the building, and modifier tiles have fun little graphics of the various features: malls, police stations, hospitals, and so on, along with an accompanying icon that is used on the contract cards.

There may be a concern for color-blind players because the commercial and residential tiles are distinguished by color (blue and green); there is a very slight difference in the pattern surrounding the building base, but I think that’d be hard to rely on, particularly once there are a lot of buildings in place obscuring some of the tiles. It also would have been nice to put a “-1” modifier in the empty lot areas, because that’s a simple fix for a rule that’s easily forgotten.

I also think it was a mistake to use blue/green for the tiles and blue/green for two of the player colors. Blue tiles are for commercial buildings, and green tiles are for residential buildings, but it can be easy to get mixed up when you glance at a blue building on a green tile. Frankly, I think player colors should always be differentiated from colors that have special meaning in the game.

Expancity tile bag
The tile bag barely holds all the tiles. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The cloth bag provided for the tiles is a nice quality fabric, but is too small in my opinion. If you put all 60 tiles into the bag, there’s not enough extra room to be able to mix the tiles well. My hand can pretty much fill the bag when it’s empty. When I’ve played Expancity, I’ve been using a larger cloth bag from a different game instead.

How to Play Expancity

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to score the most points by finishing buildings, completing contracts, and fulfilling goal cards.

Expancity setup
Contracts, rooftops, score track, and goal cards set up and ready to play. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Give each player the building blocks of their chosen color, forming their “reserves.” Each player takes 6 building blocks as a supply pool, with the reserves set to the side. Each player also takes one block from the reserve and puts it on the scoring chart.

Place the rooftops and contract cards nearby as a supply, and the city hall tile in the center of the table. Shuffle the rest of the tiles in the bag, and every player draws 2 tiles as a starting hand. Shuffle the goal cards and randomly choose 3 to use for the game, placing them face-up where everyone can see them.

Expancity start of game
The city begins to take shape. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Gameplay

On your turn, you take the following steps in order:

  1. Zoning
  2. Building
  3. Completing buildings and contracts
  4. Planning

Zoning: Place one of your tiles so that it’s touching another tile orthogonally.

Expancity mid game
A mid-sized city about halfway through a game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Building: You must take 3 building actions. Each action may be used to place a building block from your supply pool or take a block from your reserves and put it into your supply pool.

You may build on empty lots or on your own buildings, and you may have up to 3 incomplete buildings at a time. You may not build more than one block per building on a single turn. There are also some limits to building heights. For residential buildings, you may only build one floor higher than your tallest finished residential building, up to a maximum of 3 floors. For commercial buildings, the minimum height to complete is 4 floors, but then after that you may only build up to one floor higher than your tallest finished commercial building.

Expancity modifiers
This completed commercial building was modified on all four sides—three +1 modifiers and one -1 modifier. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Completing: After your three building actions, you may complete any of your buildings that meet the building requirements. Put a rooftop on the building (residential or commercial—the two commercial types of rooftops are just for decoration and don’t have any gameplay differences), and score the building.

Buildings are worth 1 point per floor, but tiles next to them may modify the value of residential or commercial buildings—the modifier value is per floor. Note that empty lots count as a -1 modifier for both types of buildings, though there’s no indication on the tiles themselves.

For each completed building, you draw two contract cards, and put one at the bottom of the deck.

Expancity contracts
Contracts have a range of point values and fun names. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If you have fulfilled the requirements of any contracts in your hand, reveal the card and score the indicated number of points. Some contracts require certain building types next to specific modifier tiles. Others may require buildings of a particular height, or specific layouts of tiles in the city.

Planning: At the end of your turn, draw two tiles from the bag. Choose one to keep and one to put back.

Expancity End game goals
Each game will use three randomly selected goal cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Game End

The game ends when all the tiles have been placed into the city and the last player finishes their turn. Check over the three end game goal cards. The player who meets the requirement scores the points; in case of ties, players split the points evenly. The player with the most points wins. (There are no tie-breaker rules.)

Expancity completed game
A completed 4-player game, with the scoring track. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Why You Should Play Expancity

I’ve always been a sucker for tile-laying games. I like the way that a world takes shape as you play the game, and seeing the completed result at the end is a treat. Expancity scratches a bit of that itch for me, but with the city expanding not only outward but upward. In this case, each tile may be attached anywhere (unlike some tile-laying games where you have restrictions on where things may be placed), which makes it easier but also means that the final layout doesn’t form the same sort of image that, say, Carcassonne does.

The rules for Expancity are fairly easy, and it’s a game that you can teach and start playing very quickly. Finishing off your buildings, placing modifiers next to them to increase their point value (or decrease your opponents’ score), building and getting more blocks from your reserve—these are all fairly simple actions. But there is a lot of potential for scoring points from the contracts, and that’s the part of the game that rewards players who are familiar with what’s in the deck.

The first time you play, you’ll probably just consider the contracts that you see, without worrying too much about what anyone else might have in their hand. But after you know what’s in the deck, you might start watching for somebody who seems to be putting a lot of residential lots together in one spot. Or if you see somebody using modifiers in a way that seems counterintuitive, you’ll start to guess what they might be doing. In many instances, it’s impossible to prevent somebody from getting a contract once the tiles have been placed, but there are some that could be blocked if you know what to watch for.

There is a certain amount of luck, both in the tiles you draw and the contracts you draw. I do like the fact that this is mitigated a little bit by the “draw two, pick one” mechanic used for both, but it doesn’t always help. You might draw two identical tiles, or two contracts that are both impossible because the required modifiers have both been surrounded by tiles already. Still, if one of the end goals is “most commercial buildings completed” and you simply don’t draw as many commercial buildings as another player, you may feel cheated a bit out of that goal.

One of the key decisions you’ll make throughout the game is how high to build a building before you finish it off and score for it. The higher the building, the more points—particularly if you’ve gotten some good modifiers on it. However, the sooner you cap a building, the sooner you can draw contracts, which may direct you a little more on your next building. One tactic I’ve seen is to complete a lot of single-story residential buildings just so you can draw a lot of contracts near the beginning of the game. If you have a lot of options for contracts early on, you’ll have a greater opportunity to complete them.

Expancity finished city
The city of Greenville at its peak, before the Calamity (also known as putting away the game). Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Another decision is how to use your three building actions each turn. On your first turn, you’ll have at most one building site so you’ll only spend one block and then get two more from your reserve, and you feel like there’s plenty. But if you start going after skyscrapers and have multiple buildings in progress, you’ll soon reach a point where you’re spending all of your bricks as soon as you get them. Although you’d like to see your skyscrapers shoot up into the air, building a tall tower is a slow process that takes some patience.

Expancity has gotten a mixed reception from my gamers. There are some who really love it because they enjoy the city-building and looking for nice combinations for scoring. There are some who felt that it didn’t have enough player interactivity, because once somebody starts a building, you have a very limited ability to affect it. At most, you could attach a few more modifiers that might cancel out its score, but you need to have the right tiles and you’ll have to decide whether that’s a better approach than using a modifier to improve one of your own buildings instead. It’s a bit more like you’re all building in the same area, but each person gets to focus mostly on their own projects. I like the limited amount of “take that” in Expancity but I can understand the desire for more, too.

The price point may also be a barrier. At $60, it’s probably not an impulse buy for most people. A lot of the price is likely due to the components, especially the plastic bricks—I’m sure those were an expensive component to include, and there are a lot of them, so it’s easy to see where you’re money is going. On the other hand, the depth of the game may be a little lighter than some might expect for a game at this price point. Ultimately, I think it may depend on how much you tie the price to components vs. game length and complexity.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed playing Expancity myself. It’s one that I can play with both my kids and adult friends, and is a solid medium-weight game. For more about the game, visit the Breaking Games website!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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