Sorcerer City box cover

Reaping the Rewards: ‘Sorcerer City’

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Sorcerer City is rebuilt every year, with rival wizard architects competing for prestige. Can you outbuild your opponents and work around the monsters that infiltrate the city?

In Reaping the Rewards, I look at the finished product of a crowdfunding campaign. Sorcerer City was originally funded on Kickstarter in March 2018, and shipped to backers at the end of 2019 and is now available for purchase. This review is adapted from my Kickstarter Tabletop Alert, updated to reflect final components and rules.

What Is Sorcerer City?

Sorcerer City is a real-time tile-laying game by Scott Caputo for 1 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 45–60 minutes to play. I retails for $50 and is available from Skybound; there is also bonus tile set and optional metal coins, and you can currently get the entire bundle for $65. I think the game is fine for younger players as well—there is nothing thematically inappropriate for any age, so the primary limitation is in the ability to plan strategically while under some time pressure.

Sorcerer City was designed by Scott Caputo and published by Druid City Games (under the Skybound umbrella), with illustration by Damien Mammoliti. (The box cover was illustrated by David Kegg, and additional illustrations for the game were by Kegg, Mr. Cuddington, and Justin Chan.)

 

Sorcerer City components
Sorcerer City components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

 

Sorcerer City Components

The game includes:

  • Influence Rewards board
  • Market board
  • Sand timer
  • 24 Tracker tokens (4 per player)
  • 24 Surplus tokens (4 per player)
  • 80 Prestige tokens
  • 72 Starter tiles (12 per player)
  • 6 Score Tracker boards
  • 15 Mystery Player cards (for 2-player game)
  • 14 Monster Randomizer cards
  • 15 Influence Reward cards
  • 18 Magic Transformation cards (3 per player)
  • 115 Market tiles (4 different vendors)
  • 12 Rainbow tiles
  • 12 Artifact tiles
  • 101 Monster tiles (60 Tier 1, 42 Tier 2)

As you can see, there’s a lot of stuff packed into this box—including a LOT of cardboard. In the photo above I’ve only shown a couple of the prestige tokens as an example, because I have the metal coin set (see below) and didn’t want to punch out all of the cardboard ones. The overall quality of the components is good—sturdy cardboard and nice cards.

The primary component in the game is the tiles—lots and lots of square tiles. There are four different colors on the tiles, representing the four districts: purple produces magic, yellow produces money, red produces influence, and green produces prestige (victory points). The tiles have various patterns, and some have shields, which are needed to score the various resources. The icons used for the resources weren’t immediately intuitive to me: money is represented by a tent (for markets) rather than, say, a bag of coins. Prestige is a green person. Influence is a rook-shaped tower.

Sorcerer City backgrounds
The four districts have different background details. Image: Druid City Games

The shields are all marked with icons and have different colors to help you distinguish them. I was concerned that color blind players may have difficulty distinguishing the red, green, and yellow color areas, and the primary way this is handled is with different features in the colored backgrounds. The image above shows that purple has crystal towers and rounded trees, red has rook-like towers and rocks, yellow has market tents and market stalls, and green has a lot of trees. However, I still think those may be a little hard to differentiate at a glance—particularly because the building phase is timed. So if you’re color blind and you’re interested in the game, take a look at the image above (and below, for the actual tiles) to see how easily you can tell the four colors apart.

Sorcerer City tiles
Four different colored tiles, from left to right: green with red triangle, red with blue triangle, blue with yellow triangle, and yellow with green triangle. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

One thing about the artwork in the game is that, for the most part, the image on the box’s cover doesn’t necessarily line up with what you see inside the box. The tiles mostly look like what you see above: large sections of color, sometimes with shields or scrolls as well, but nothing that captures the vivid imagery from the cover.

Sorcerer City magic transformation card backs
Each set of magic transformation cards has a different back. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The closest you get to that is the backs of the magic transformation cards: each player gets a set of 3 cards, and they have wonderful illustrations of sorcerers on them. I love these portraits, which show a diverse group of people and are really evocative. The fronts of the cards are a little less exciting, though—you’ll see them below in the gameplay section. This is my main complaint about the components, and it’s entirely aesthetic and doesn’t affect the gameplay—that you don’t really get to see much of this world in the game itself. However, it also makes sense why the tiles need to be mostly simple colors, because a lot of details would get in the way of playing the real-time game.

The deluxe Kickstarter edition included a few more components as well: the metal coin set (including an oversized Token of Valor), the bonus tile set, and shaped tracker tokens instead of the black wooden cylinders in the regular version.

Sorcerer City tile pack components
Bonus tile components, plus shaped trackers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Here’s what’s in the bonus tile pack, which is available as a separate purchase for $12 (or included in the bundle):

  • 2 Monster cards
  • 12 Monster tiles
  • 2 Artifact tiles
Sorcerer City tracker tokens
Shaped tracker tokens match the icons on the tiles and boards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The tracker tokens that came in the Kickstarter edition are cute—each one is shaped like the corresponding icon and is also colored—but they’re extra, and the game plays just fine without them, so don’t worry too much if you missed the Kickstarter.

Sorcerer City metal prestige tokens
The metal prestige tokens, with the Token of Valor. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The metal coins are also available as a separate purchase for $25, or included in the bundle, though you won’t get the big Token of Valor unless you backed the Kickstarter, sorry! The Token of Valor doesn’t have any gameplay use, but is just for bragging rights.

Sorcerer City cardboard tokens and metal tokens
The cardboard prestige tokens compared to the metal prestige tokens. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The cardboard prestige tokens are fine, but the metal tokens have ridges and notches that let them nest, with each denomination being slightly larger than the one before. It’s a pretty cool effect—again, it’s extra and doesn’t directly affect gameplay, but they’re definitely a fun bonus. You could also use them for other games, as long as the 80 coin set is sufficient for whatever you’re playing.

Sorcerer City packed box
Everything packed up in the box. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The box has a custom tray made by GameTrayz to hold everything, and it’s mostly perfect. All of the spaces for the tiles have embossed icons so you can easily tell what goes where. There’s a large clear lid that goes over the tiles and cards, and the lid itself has wells for the prestige tokens, tracker boards, and sand timer underneath the large folding boards. For some reason, I always have trouble getting one of these folding boards to stay—the Token of Valor pokes up just enough to keep it from snapping down into place.

Sorcerer City box insert details
The box insert does not have sides on it. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The main difficulty with the tray is that it does not have outside edges, so the stacks of tiles can stick out—and then the large clear plastic lid has to fit down over these tiles on three of the four sides, so I often end up having to lift it, tuck in some tiles, and try again. Along one side (at the bottom of the photo) are six wells for the starting tiles: they’re in three pairs, with only a small ridge in the center of each pair, and I’ve found that it’s easy for a tile to get onto the wrong side of the ridge. It doesn’t look like there was a whole lot more room for that (without making the box significantly larger) but it’s one of those little things that irks me a bit.

How to Play Sorcerer City

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to earn the most prestige after five “years” of building and rebuilding your district.

Sorcerer City setup
Starting setup for Sorcerer City, showing the tile market, the influence rewards, and the monster tiles, as well as the prestige token supply. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

In the center of the table, you set up the tile market, the influence rewards, and the monsters. The market tiles are divided into 4 tiers, indicated on the backs of the tiles. Shuffle each tier separately, place the stacks in the corresponding spaces under the market board, and then reveal the top three tiles of each tier. Place the stack of rainbow tiles next to the market as well.

Under the Influence Rewards board, deal out four random influence reward cards. Some are marked not to use for Year 1. (For Year 5, use the card that says “no influence reward.”)

There are two tiers of monsters. Choose two from Tier 1 and place them below Years 1 and 2. Choose two from Tier 2 and place them below Years 3 and 4. No monsters are placed below Year 5.

Place the prestige tokens nearby in a supply.

Sorcerer City starting timer
Getting ready to start the timer! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I’ll note that, because the market and influence boards take up so much space, you may need to get creative so that everyone has room to build, especially because players will accumulate more tiles and may need more room to spread out. We’ve sometimes stacked up the market tiles until the market phase, and placed the influence cards and monsters on top of the influence rewards board to make some more space, or else shoved them to the sides of the table.

There’s an optional timer app that lets you choose between Easy (3 minutes), Normal (2 minutes), or Difficult (1 minute). The sand timer is 2 minutes.

Sorcerer City starting tiles
Each player starts with the same set of 12 tiles. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each player gets three magic conversion cards and the starting set of 12 tiles. Each player will also get a score tracker board, plus the tracker tokens and surplus tokens. The score board goes up to 30, and the surplus tokens indicate that you have wrapped past 30, but you max out at 60 in a round.

Choose a player to be starting player and hand them the timer.

Sorcerer City Mystery Player cards
Mystery Player cards are only used in a 2-player game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If it’s a 2-player game, you also set out five of the mystery player cards, one for each year—shuffle each year and choose one at random, placing them face-down. Each card shows its three possible values on the back.

Gameplay

Each round (or “year”) has a few phases:

  1. Building Districts
  2. Magic Conversion
  3. Influence Rewards
  4. Buy Tiles
  5. Collect Prestige
  6. Monsters

Let’s take a closer look at each phase.

Sorcerer City completed district
My completed district using only starting tiles. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Building Districts

The building phase is timed: players have 2 minutes and everyone plays simultaneously. Everyone shuffles their tiles and places them in a stack face-down—we also had other players cut the stacks. Then, when the timer starts, players reveal tiles one at a time, each player building their own district.

Important rules about building:

  • A tile must be placed orthogonally adjacent to at least one other tile (except the first tile, of course).
  • Once placed, a tile may not be moved.
  • Colors do not have to match when you place tiles, though there are often advantages for doing so.
  • When the time runs out, you must stop immediately.

Then, each player scores their district, marking the magic, influence, money, and prestige on their own scoring track. There are three types of goals (represented by the shields), each of which scores in a different way for one of the resources. Note: you must score at least 3 points for a goal, or it does not score anything at all.

Sorcerer City line goal tiles
These tiles have line goals. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The line goals, shown above, show three squares in a line. For these, you score 1 point of the corresponding resource for each connected tile of that color in a straight line. If you have the red shield in a line of 4 tiles that all form one continuous red line, you score 4 influence. Lines are broken if the color is not connected or turns a corner.

Sorcerer City group goals
These tiles have group goals. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Group goals show an L-shape made of 3 squares. You score 1 point for each connected tile of that color, regardless of the shape. The more tiles you can connect of that color, the more you score.

Sorcerer City shield goals
These tiles have shield goals. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Shield goals show a colored square with five shield icons around it. To score a shield goal, you count 1 point per tile with a shield that is surrounding it (orthogonal or diagonal), as well as 1 point for each shield on the tile itself. So a shield goal that has 3 other shields of any type nearby would score 4 points. For shield goals, it doesn’t matter if color areas are connected or not—just whether they are surrounded by more shields.

Players total up their scores. You may only earn up to 60 of any resource in a given round.

Sorcerer City magic transformation cards
You can turn your magic into influence, money, or prestige. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Magic Conversion

The magic conversion cards show influence, magic, and prestige. Each player chooses one secretly, and then the cards are revealed simultaneously. You spend all of your magic and gain the resource that you chose.

Sorcerer City influence rewards
Gain enough influence, and you can earn valuable rewards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Influence Rewards

Having the most influence brings you prestige and rewards! The influence rewards board shows prestige values for each year (6, 9, 12, 18, and 25), and the reward cards are randomized each game.

The first place player gets the prestige and the reward printed on the card. Second place chooses prestige or the card, and third place gets whatever the second place did not choose. Everyone else gets either +5 money or +1 buy for the market phase.

In case of ties, all tied players receive the award, but it may effect the next place. (For instance, if there’s a tie for 2nd, then there is no third place award.)

In a two-player game, you reveal the mystery player card for the corresponding year—this shows the mystery player’s influence level. If you are third place in a 2-player game, you get either 5 gold or 1 extra buy. The mystery player does not do anything else except compete for placement in influence.

Sorcerer City Spell Tiles
Some tiles have “spells” which have special effects. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Buy Tiles

After the influence rewards, players may buy tiles from the market using their money. By default, you may purchase up to 2 tiles; if you reach 20 or more gold, you get another buy, and there may be other effects that get you additional buys.

The market tiles are arranged into four tiers, with three tiles showing from each tier. You may spend 1 gold to cycle a tile to the bottom of its stack and reveal the next one, and any time you purchase a tile you immediately reveal a new tile. The price ranges increase from Tier 1 to Tier 4, and there is a mix of tiles with goals and spells. Spells, which look like scrolls, may be used once per round after they’re placed in your district. Some let you manipulate tiles in your district, and others may let you score more points or give you benefits during the buying phase.

Sorcerer City rainbow tile example
Rainbow tiles count as all colors simultaneously. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are also rainbow tiles in the market, available for 8 gold. Rainbow tiles count as all colors simultaneously, so that multiple colors can connect through them. In the photo above, the rainbow tile helps the purple line goal connect across for 4 magic, and it also allows the yellow area goal to connect vertically for 5 gold.

Collect Prestige

After everyone has had a chance to buy tiles, you get prestige coins equal to your prestige score, and then reset all of your score trackers to 0.

Sorcerer City monster tiles
Various monsters will try to enter your district, wreaking havoc. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Monsters

Finally, at the end of the round, the monsters show up! There is one monster type for each year—everyone gets a random monster tile of that type. (For skeletons, you get two tiles instead of one.) These are shuffled into your tile stack along with all of your starting tiles and any tiles you have purchased.

Monsters with an exclamation point have effects as soon as you flip them over, and other monsters will have an effect at the end of the round if they are in your city. There are 14 different monsters so I won’t list them all, but here’s a quick summary of some of the monster effects:

  • Kraken: Immediately remove 3 tiles from your district and place them back at the bottom of your deck.
  • Dark Mage: Any shields surrounding the dark mage do not score at all.
  • Dragon: Place the dragon, and then immediately destroy (remove from the game) one adjacent tile.
  • Skeleton: Nothing can touch the grey sides of the tile.
  • Giant: Immediately place on top of a tile that has a purchase cost, if any. Otherwise play normally.
  • Pixie: Immediately place on top of a tile that has a shield, if any. Otherwise play normally.
  • Chimera: At the end of the building phase, destroy one tile with a shield in the Chimera’s row or column, if any.
  • Goblin: Immediately discard two tiles with yellow on them—these cannot be used this round but will get shuffled back in for the next round.
Sorcerer City district
By the end of the game, your districts can be quite large and sprawling. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Game End

The game ends after the fifth year. In Year 5, there is no influence reward—the player with the highest influence gets 25 prestige, and no other places are awarded anything. You skip buying tiles and gaining monsters, and just score as normal.

The highest prestige wins, with ties going to the player with more gold.

Sorcerer City artifact tiles
Artifacts are extra tiles used for experienced players. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Artifacts

Once players have the basic rules down, you can add in artifact tiles. Each player gets dealt 2 tiles during setup, and chooses one to keep and shuffle into their starting tiles, and returns the other to the box. It gives everyone a slightly different ability or effect, so that there’s a little asymmetry right from the start.

Solo Rules

The solo rule plays like the 2-player game, though you only need your own set of player components like the starting tiles, tracker board, and tokens. Use 2 mystery player cards per year instead of 1, placed below the influence reward cards, and there are a few reward cards that are removed because they don’t work in solo mode.

When you’re checking influence levels each round, reveal both mystery player cards for that year, and compare your influence to both of them, so you could be 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. There’s a different way to distribute the five unused monster tiles: they go on top of tiles in the market that match at least one color, and if you can’t place every monster, then you lose immediately. (If all tiles in the market are covered with monsters, you also lose.) If you buy a market tile with a monster on it, you have to take the monster too. Cycling tiles in the market will destroy monsters on those tiles.

If you make it to the end of Year 5, you compare your score to a chart to see how well you did.

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Why You Should Play Sorcerer City

Sorcerer City is a mash-up of tile-laying and deck-building, both genres that I really enjoy. Throw in a dash of real-time play, and it’s easy to see why I’m a fan. Let’s break that down a bit.

One of my first introductions to modern board games was Carcassonne, a tile-laying game that I still play pretty regularly (though usually on my phone). I like spatial reasoning, trying to figure out the best place to put a tile to maximize my score (or leave open potential for scoring). I like maps, and I love the way many tile-laying games result in a completed map when you’re done. Sorcerer City feels a little like Carcassonne or Kingdomino in that respect, because you’re trying to score for as many of your shields as possible, and so it scratches that puzzle-solving itch for me.

Sorcerer City completed district
My completed district in Year 5. I used a “Kill a Monster” spell to keep most of the monsters out of my district. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Deck-building games are usually card games, with Dominion being the originator of the mechanic (though there are also “bag-building” games that involve putting resource cubes into a bag). Each player starts with a basic set of cards and, over the course of the game, adds new (usually more powerful) cards to their own deck. In Sorcerer City, you have a stack of tiles instead of a deck of cards, but it works in a similar way: you use your tiles to earn money (and other resources), and then use that money to buy additional tiles, to help you gain more money (or other resources) in future rounds. You’ll often find yourself deciding between buying one expensive tile or two cheaper tiles. And there’s also a press-your-luck element to paying to cycle the market, looking for the one that you want—or, if you know another player really wants a tile, you can hate-draft by paying to put it at the bottom of the stack.

Sorcerer City district
Monsters can wreak havoc on your district: the Pixie covered up a valuable shield, and the chimera destroyed a magic shield that used to be next to the Pixie. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The monsters are an interesting twist, too: they’re like the negative cards that appear in some deck-building games. You don’t want them in your deck, and you have to figure out how to work around them if you draw them. But it’s not all terrible: the monster tiles have colors, so you can still use them to connect areas and lines to complete goals, and sometimes you can even use them to your benefit, like getting rid of tiles (even other monsters!) with your dragon tile.

As with other deck-building games, you have to decide how you want to use your tiles. Do you focus on influence, to try to get the rewards and rely on the prestige bonuses for your score? Or do you go for money, so that you can buy more powerful tiles? Or maybe you max out your magic production, because it gives you the most flexibility to choose between influence, money, and prestige? By the last round, though, money is useless (except as a tie-breaker) and so there is a natural progression toward prestige and influence by the end.

Sorcerer City gameplay
Think fast! Time is running out. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

And then, finally, there’s the real-time aspect.

Not everyone likes real-time games, and I think for less experienced players you could decide as a group whether to allow more time, or adjust the time limit for different players if needed. I’m a fan of real-time games, though. I like the pressure that a time limit adds to your decision-making, and the way that you may be forced to make compromises because you don’t have the luxury of looking for the ideal placement for every tile. Plus, it cuts down on the analysis paralysis that plagues some players—though you might find yourself setting a time limit on their buying phase, too!

The time limit also introduces an upper limit to the amount that you can improve your deck simply by buying a lot of tiles. It’s not enough to have good tiles—you have to have them in your district. The more tiles you have, the more likely it is that you won’t get to all of them before the time runs out. In one game I played, I had a pretty great deck and had gotten a lot of money to buy powerful tiles … and then totally botched Year 4, with many of my best tiles still left unplayed. While it’s not exactly a catch-up mechanic, it’s an interesting natural consequence of having a time limit: the better you’ve done with money and buying tiles, the more time pressure you’ll feel in the next round.

Sorcerer City long district
This district got so long it ran into another player—but it’s worth a huge amount of magic. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I will say, though, that it’s definitely a game that requires some skill—and it also helps to know the sorts of tiles that come in each tier—so experienced players will usually have an advantage over newer players. I’ve seen some close games, but I’ve also seen games with a very wide point spread at the end. If you’re unable to optimize your building and start scoring on at least one of the tracks each round, there’s not really an easy way to catch back up.

That said, so far everyone I’ve played it with has enjoyed it, even those who didn’t win. From the frantic building phase to the little bidding/bluffing aspect of magic conversion to the strategic decisions in buying new tiles, Sorcerer City just seems to hit all the right notes for me.

You can pick up a copy of Sorcerer City from the Skybound store!


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

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