Skyline 3000

10 Apr

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I’ve been a member of the Columbus Area Boardgaming Society (CABS) for over 7 years now.  CABS has given me a lot in my time there.  Most of my friends I see outside of work are in that group and I get to play games with these friends almost every week of the year.  For the purpose of this article, though, I’ll focus on one of the other perks of being a CABS member:   the occasional free game giveaway!  These games are, to be honest, very rarely the “top shelf” games from the publishers that send them.  Often, there’s 1 or 2 desirable games, a couple “Oh yeah, I was kind of curious about that one”,  and the rest end up as sweeteners in math trades on Board Game Geek (BGG).

A few weeks ago, a friend, and fellow CABbie, asked me to take a look at one of the games that has been shuffled off to the side.  He mentioned his copy had been sitting, still wrapped, on his game shelf for over two years.  The game is Skyline 3000 by Z-Man Games.  The game has an impressive pedigree, being designed by the team of Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum.  However, the game’s ranking languishes in the mid-2000s on BGG.  Is Skyline 3000 just a clunker from these two, or is there something more that we’re all missing?  I went to my game shelf, pulled off the still wrapped copy I had sitting there, blew off the dust, broke open the seal, and dove inside.

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The very first thing that hit me once I started unpacking everything was just how cartoony all the art in the game was (I got a strong Power Grid feel from the board art).  The cover of the box has big bold graphics that, combined with the title, suggest a slick, futuristic game inside.  Just unfolding the board undoes quite a bit of that initial feeling.  Once you’ve finishing installing the 20 or so billboards into their plastic bases, you’re holding up the box lid wondering if you’ve got the right game. I want to be clear, I don’t think the art is bad, it just doesn’t jibe with the initial impression the box gave me.   As we all know… you can’t judge a game by its box art.

Skyline 3000 is a rather light area control / area majority game with an unusual auction mechanic.  A game turn  is broken into four phases:  Construction, Improvement, Scoring, and Draw.   A game lasts four rounds.

Construction Phase

Each player is dealt a hand of 6 cards (2 roof, 2 floor, 4 contract) cards at the beginning of the game.  Each player also has a board with four pre-built 1 and 2 floor buildings in place.  During Construction Phase, players will take turns performing one of several actions: play one of the three types of cards and perform the required action, play a billboard, or pass.  Let’s take a little deeper look into these actions.

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Three of the actions you can take in a turn are denoted on cards (ignore the numbers on the card for now).  The floors card (blue background) is the easiest to understand: you play the card, and place two floors onto your player board.  You can either start a new building (or buildings), or place the floors onto buildings you haven’t put a roof on yet.

Next up is the (red) roof card.  When you play that card, you must place a roof onto one of your unfinished buildings.  You can choose from either a pointed or curved roof (more on that in a minute).  Once a building has a roof, no more floors can be added to that building.

Finally, there are the (green) district cards.  These card have an overview of the board, with one of the districts highlighted.  You are allowed to play one of your completed buildings into that district.  Each district is broken up into three blocks.  While you to get to choose which block you can place in, you must follow a few placement rules.

One:  if it’s the first building in a given block, it must be a 1-story building.

Two: All three blocks in a given district are not permitted to have buildings with the same roof shape.

Three:  Each building in a given block has to have the same roof.

Four: Any new buildings must either be the same height, or exactly one floor taller than the tallest building currently on that block.

Besides the cards, you may also place a billboard on the board.  This can be placed on any empty spot that a building can be placed on.  Placing a billboard costs a point, but it saves that specific location for a later time.

Players take turns performing these actions until either everyone is out of cards (PROTIP: It’s important to keep a few cards) or until everyone passes, then we move into the Improvement Phase.

Improvement Phase

In the Improvement Phase, there are three auctions that will take place.  Two for “greenspace” tokens, and one large (either Spaceport or Megamall) token.  Players use any cards they didn’t use in Construction for their bids.  Now, you ignore the function of the card, and only focus on the number.

Unlike most auction games, in Skyline 3000, all auctions are blind bids.  Players secretly set up their hand of cards with their bids on top of the Stop card they are given at the beginning of the game.  Once all players are ready, bids are shown.  The highest bid wins the token, places it on the board in an appropriate place, and discards all the bid cards (keeping the stop card).  This process is repeated for the other two auction spaces.

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The Greenspace tokens are parks that can give players more points when it comes to block scoring.  The Spaceports allow players to draw more cards during Draw Phase, and the Megamalls double the points for a block.  Two Greenspaces are auctioned off every turn.  On turns 1 and 2, the Spaceports are auctioned off.  Turns 3 and 4 are the Megamalls.  Any cards you still have get rolled into your hand for next turn.  Once all three auctions are done, scoring happens.

Scoring Phase

Scoring is a very simple process.  Each block is scored separately.  The player that has the most floors (not the most building, just floors) in a block scores 2 points, plus 1 point for every Greenspace token and every billboard in that block.  Whoever has the second most floors gets points for Greenspaces and billboards only.  That’s it for scoring.  Keep in mind that on turns 3 and 4 that blocks with a Megamall score double.  An appropriate number of tiebreakers are listed in the rules.

Draw Phase

Finally, players each draw 6 cards. The three types of cards are kept in separate decks throughout the game.  So you may draw from whichever deck you want, in whatever quantity you wish.  Keep in mind, if you won a block with a Spaceport, you get to draw 2 more cards.  If you were second in a Spaceport block, you get to draw 1 extra card.  These bonuses do stack, so if you manage to steal both Spaceport blocks, you could be getting 10 cards a turn.  I cannot over-emphasize how big of an advantage that can be.

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The M. Night Shyamalan Memorial Twist

There may be a few of you out there that have read this far and said something to the effect of “Hey!  This game sounds kind of familiar!”  You would be right.  As I was researching this game, I discovered that it is, in fact, a re-implementation of Capitol.  Capitol was the runner-up in the Spiel des Jahres voting in 2001.  Losing to a game you might have heard of called Carcassonne.  Furthermore, Capitol has also been re-implemented into a card game called Clocktowers by Jolly Roger Games!  At some point in the future (meaning, when I can get my hands on Clocktowers) I will probably add in a section about that game as well.

The only real differences between Capitol and Skyline are the billboards (not in Capitol in any form) and the board size (Skyline’s board is slightly larger).

Final Thoughts

I greatly enjoy Skyline 3000.  I’m a bit ashamed that I fell into the trap of thinking that because I managed to get it free, it mustn’t be a good game.  Skyline 3000 is a rather easy game to teach, and although there seem to be a lot of fiddly rules for placing buildings… quite honestly, they all make perfect sense once you start to see them in play.  Having to use the cards in hand for actions really helps curb the opportunity for analysis paralysis to pop up.

There are some issues, of course.  One of them is that I don’t feel like the game works well for three players.  Because of the way the game is constructed, a three player game would necessitate one player being the first player twice.  That, I believe, is a significant advantage.  I think this is a great 4 player game, and could work decently well for 2.

All of this leaves me wondering: how did this game fall through the cracks?  Why isn’t it more popular? You’d think that the first English version of a highly esteemed German game would have created more buzz. Was Skyline 3000 simply swallowed up in the deluge of new games?  According to BGG, Z-Man Games released 22 new titles, and 3 expansions in 2009 alone! Did the art style turn people off?  Was it too expensive?  Skyline does have an MSRP of $60.  I know games have gotten more expensive over the past few years, but Skyline doesn’t feel like a $60 game.   Fortunately for us, this game has found its way into many discount channels, and finding a copy for $20-25 is not terribly difficult.

If you haven’t had the chance, I highly recommend you find the time to give Skyline 3000 a try.

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