Suburbia Review

By Chris / August 10, 2017
Suburbia - header

Suburbia brings a fun city building challenge to your mobile device.

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Platforms

Android & iOS

Game Length

 10-20 Minutes

# of Players

1 - 4

Game Publisher

Bézier Games

App Developer

@BezierGames

Our Rating

Multiplayer Options
  • Asynchronous play (iOS)
  • Local pass-and-play

Overview

Suburbia is the classic tile placement, city/engine building game from Bézier Games. The game requires players to build their city as large as possible, ultimately to be judged by population, by purchasing and placing new buildings into their city. The game plays one to four players and takes about 10-20 minutes.

Players start off with identical set of three hex tiles to start their city and on their turn the choose from one of the available tiles in the market. The chosen tile is placed adjacent to any existing tile and provides some sort of improvement to your city's stats. This continues until the One More Round tile is drawn to trigger the last round of the game. At the conclusion of the game a few bonuses are scored and the player with the highest population wins.

Suburbia has an extremely simple “how to play the game” description, but that hides the many layers of strategic depth the game holds. The primary source of strategy comes from the city tiles. They come in four different types, denoted by color, each of which has its own general strengths. These overlap throughout the tiles, but generally green is the best way to gain population and grey are best to gain reputation, for example. The tiles frequently have instant effects and secondary effects which are based on the other tiles in your city. The blue Movie Theater tile, for example, provides an immediate +1 income boost when played and also +1 for each adjacent green tile. Having a movie theater near housing makes sense as a way to boost income. The tiles throughout the game all follow this logical approach to city building.

There are four important values that are tracked for each player throughout the game. Population is the primary value, ultimately determining the winner, there is also income, reputation, and cash. Income determines how much cash you gain (or lose) at the end of your turn and your reputation level determines an automatic gain (or loss) in population at the end of your turn. Cash is used to buy new tiles. As your population grows you will cross red lines which trigger an immediate reduction by one point of both income and reputation. As your population grows later in the game, the red lines get closer together. The balance of when to grow your population, at the detriment of income and reputation, is a crucial decision point early in the game.

One great point of the app is that it does a fantastic job of letting you know what the end result will be of placing a tile. Often a tile will increase income and population, but it might move your population past a red line which would result in an income and reputation deduction. The app simply provides a snapshot of what the end result of your turn will be if you choose to place the tile. This is incredibly helpful in simplifying all of the effects a tile will have. Because of this, the app inevitably feels a bit lighter than the physical version.

There are a handful of other game features which add important strategic elements, but I will save a few hundred words and only describe one more: tile purchasing. The game introduces tiles into a row (called the Market), the two rightmost tiles can be purchased for face value alone. After that, going left, the tiles have an added cost associated with each. When a new tile is placed, it goes to the leftmost spot of the market, with the highest extra cost. This adds strategy in which tiles you decide to purchase. Fans of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, from the same designer, will notice some similarities.

Suburbia is all about building up an economic engine in order to be able to afford the population increases necessary to win. This isn't a big secret as it is the first tip provided by the app, but it remains true. The trick of reducing income when specific population levels are reached is a nice wrench to throw in the game, as is the reputation score which, if it goes negative, can reduce your population after each turn. It sounds like a bit of a mess trying to explain how they all tie together, but rest assured that they do. Much of the game is deciding when to push your population, which isn't a terribly difficult action to pull off but if done at the wrong time can be devastating to your chances later on.

Suburbia is a highly rated game for a reason and the app does a fantastic job of porting the game to the digital world, even streamlining it a bit by simplifying the bookkeeping significantly. Let's see how it stacks up in other areas.

Barrier to Entry

Suburbia comes with a tutorial, a rulebook, and reference pages for all tiles and goals. The tutorial is extremely concise covering the basics of tile purchasing and placement. This works just fine with this game because the core gameplay is quite simple. The complexity comes in with the individual tiles and their interaction with each other, so there is no need to go into great detail during the tutorial.

The rulebook follows suit, it covers the basics, much of the same ground to tutorial covers. There are references for all of the tiles and goals, so all aspects of the game are well covered.

Suburbia - start

First turn

Suburbia - menu

Clean, functional menu

Suburbia - menu

Local game options

Look and Feel

Suburbia has a very clean and functional design. The menus look good and so does the game. The visuals in the game aren't overly striking, but they are presented well here. The game itself has a lot of information to keep track of at any given time and the app does a great job of presenting the information to be visible at all times. The city boards themselves get squeezed a bit with everything else going on, but scrolling and zooming is simple enough that this doesn't create a big problem. The controls are straightforward and exactly what you'd expect and want. This is a well designed implementation of the game.

On the downside, there is a notable bug with zooming. If, during a game, you zoom out so your tiles aren't visible, there is no way to get your tiles back in view. On one hand, it takes some work to get to this point, one the other, it's a fairly known bug so you would hope it would have been fixed.  The app also keeps the soft buttons visible on Android, which isn't unheard of, but does eat up a precious few pixels that could have been used by the game.

Note that originally the Suburbia app was available only on tablets, but has since been opened to phones as well. It works fine on phones, but the ability to minimize and zoom allow it to work.

Multiplayer

The iOS version of Suburbia has asynchronous online play, the Android version does not include online play. Bézier Games has stated that the low usage of this online functionality was the reasoning behind not including online play in their next app, Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

The game does include a pass and play option for up to four players, with the ability to add in AI opponents as well. The app notifies you which players to hand the device to, ensuring no hidden goal information is revealed.

Single Player

Single player can be played versus AI or in the solo campaign mode. The AI game allows for one to four players. The available AI opponents aren't based on difficulty, but rather by a general strategy. The options are: Balanced, Greedy, Charismatic, Goal-Oriented, Traditional, and Unpredictable. For the most part, the AI plays a strong game and provides a decent challenge. You will get games where one of the AI players ends up significantly behind everybody else, but they frequently stay close.

The other single player option is the campaign mode. The campaign is presented as a set of cities, mostly in the USA, which have a specific challenge to meet. The game itself is similar to a standard game, except that there are no opponents. After you take your turn, the two rightmost market tiles are removed and replacements are drawn. Each of the cities in the campaign has three different difficulty levels, with the winning conditions getting tougher as the difficulty increases. Winning a city on any level will unlock a new city, if available.

As an example of solo mode, Salt Lake City starts you off with a few lake tiles and stadium tile, representing the Olympic Park. You must connect the lake tiles to the stadium while keeping the population below a certain level and reputation above a certain level. The population threshold decreases and the reputation increases as you turn up the difficulty level. This also provides an example of some confusion in campaign mode. You must connect the lake to the stadium, but the app doesn’t specifically state that ALL of the lake tiles must touch the stadium. Failing to do so will result in a loss. A few more words of explanation would have gone a long way here.

The campaign is a very welcome addition to Suburbia. It isn't a cakewalk on any level, the winning conditions on Hard can be a brutal challenge. The mode doesn't change the game all that much, but is enough to provide good depth.

The campaign mode does not allow you to save your games and return later. The local games do, so it is odd that campaign doesn't allow this.

The game keeps for both local and campaign modes. The stats are pretty basic, but it is still nice to see.

Suburbia - final

A finished city

Suburbia - tiles

Handy tile reference page

Suburbia - score

End of game scoring

What Else?

Suburbia does not have any expansions available as in-app purchases. Notably, the Suburbia Inc. expansion is widely considered to be a very strong addition to the game, it would have been great to see that make its way to the app version.

There are three new buildings available in the Essen Spiel Expansion. This expansion is available to unlock through the campaign mode by winning the Essen levels.

The Wrap Up

Suburbia is a strong implementation of the physical game. The campaign mode adds some depth while the AI play is strong enough to provide a decent challenge. Pass-and-play mode is well done and can be used as a replacement if you don't want to break out the physical game, or just as a good way to teach the game to new players. The lack of online play for Android hurts, but the lack of users in the iOS version makes the Android omission understandable.

There are some buggy/incomplete parts of this game, but for the most part, they don’t get in the way of enjoying the game. If you can only play a few turns at a time, then the lack of a campaign mode save feature might be a deal breaker, and the zoom bug is annoying, but not very likely to occur accidentally.

Overall, this is a fun single player or pass-and-play app. The simplification of the stat tracking makes the app very accessible and reduces the decision making time considerably. The app looks and performs great. If you like Suburbia or have been interested in learning the game, the app is a great place to start.

A good implementation of the physical game, Suburbia has a few issues, but still provides a fun single player experience.

What we like


- Strong AI and fun campaign mode give the game depth

- App streamlines much of the stat tracking from the physical game

What we don't like


- Some bugs are present, although most can be overlooked

- Low player base (iOS) or non-existent (Android) online play

- No save option in campaign mode games

Our Rating

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