Review – Welcome to Centerville

If I were ever voted to city council or the urban planning commission for Vancouver, you know what I would hope to see?

All of the people in the meeting rolling dice and making decisions based on that.

I think that would be hilarious fun, and it might even get better results!

Casino
Behind the scenes footage of last month’s Vancouver City Council meeting

What made me think of this today (Editor – Other than those strong drugs you took this morning)?

pic3620501

I was thinking about that crazy urban planning dice game from GMT Games called Welcome to Centerville. This 2-4 player game, designed by Chad Jensen with artwork by Chechu Nieto and published in 2017, is a beautiful game where each player is an urban planner trying to establish their mark on the city.

As with most city designs by committee, the results are a mish-mash of colour, but the game itself is great! (Editor – Spoiler alert!).

Ok, the above slightly misstates what you are, as you are more than just urban planners. You also represent business people, tycoons, politicians, and pretty much everything that goes into making a city as successful as it can be.

You are essentially trying to amass as much wealth and prestige as possible, keeping in mind that your final score will be the lowest of the two. So don’t try to be really low key and get a lot of money, as you will be rich but nobody will care and you will lose. You also can’t concentrate solely on prestige and ignore wealth, or everybody will love you but you live in a shack.

And you’ll still lose.

How does the game play?

Let’s take a look (much of this will be cribbed from my New to Me February 2018 post where I first described this game)

You will be planning this city by establishing buildings in appropriate areas of the city, maybe establishing greenery on the outskirts of the city, building villas along the river, getting educated, and getting seats on the city council.

What’s cool about this game is that it’s ultimately a dice game, but with so many moving and interacting pieces that there’s always something you can do. You can’t really have an overall strategy because you are technically at the mercy of the dice, but you can generally get something accomplished.

WtC - Full Board
As a pleasant surprise, the map doesn’t take up that much room.

The map shows you the city of Centerville along with all of its outlying areas, the Education/Vocation track, and the political offices.

You are attempting to gain both wealth and prestige, but you have to do so fairly evenly due to the final scoring rule as mentioned above.

WtC - Scoring
You start at 10 points, because you can definitely lose them!

Yes, you need a balanced approach (so maybe something politicians won’t excel at).

WtC - Dice
Beautiful, chunky dice!

On your turn, you will roll all of the dice. The black and green die have hourglasses on them (one on the green die, two on the black). Those are…well, they’re not bad, but they’re the timer of the game.

Unlike the other dice, they can’t be re-rolled. You will get a very small benefit but the timer will also move toward the end of the round.

You can reroll any dice you want (except hourglasses) twice more, for a total of three rolls. You have to keep what you have at that point.

The rest of the dice have various faces.

WtC - Full City
Competition is fierce for city spaces!

The purple/red/yellow/blue dice have two faces that are contracts. They will let you put cubes in the city based on the colour of the dice. You only need one contract of a colour in order to place a cube, but then you’re looking at the total number of contracts you rolled and can combine them in multiple ways.

So if you rolled a blue and a purple contract, you have some choices.

You can put a cube in the Level 2 district of either the purple or the blue area, or you could put a cube each in the Level 1 district of both purple and blue.

You can flip your status marker from 1-star to 2-stars if you roll 4 contracts, which will add to your status scoring at the end of each round.

The dice also have trees on them. This can increase your rank on the Greenbelt track, which will score you more points on the river. Or, if you roll three trees, you can develop on an empty river space. Four trees will let you put a cube in an empty Level 4 space in the city.

WtC - Vocations
Evidently the local college is very good.

If you roll education (the graduation hat), you can spend those dice to get vocations, which are a kind of set collection at the end of the game. There are nine different vocations, with a certain number of tiles available of each type (there are two Transport tiles while there are four Tourism tiles, and so on).

Vocation collection works in an interesting manner for endgame scoring. For having at least one of each different vocation, you will get a certain amount of prestige depending on how many you have. However, within each vocation, you will get wealth based on how many of that vocation you have.

It’s a really elaborate system that, once again, rewards a broad focus rather than concentration.

WtC - Political Offices
It doesn’t seem like you can buy votes in Centerville, but you can try!

You can also roll votes, which you can spend to get political offices. You need at least two vote dice in order to take over one of the offices. Like the contracts, you only need one vote of a certain colour in order to get that office. So rolling a vote on the blue and yellow dice lets you take either the blue office or the yellow one.

However, if you want to take the office from somebody else, you have to roll more votes than they have cubes already there. For the green office above, you would have to roll three votes, not two.

Each office gets an immediate effect and you are scored at the end of each round for how many offices you hold.

Park Benches allow you to place a cube in the park at the center of the town. This is important because these cubes are considered to be in all four sectors of the town for scoring rounds. Once you have cubes in the park, the benches can also be spent to adjust your status.

Finally, there are the question mark “Fate” rolls. These are wild and can be used to copy any die that you rolled except hourglasses. It copies these dice directly, including the colour. So if you want to copy a purple contract die, then it becomes a purple contract die.

WtC - City & River

Once the hourglass marker reaches the appointed space (depending on number of players), the round ends and scoring is done.

Scoring in Welcome to Centerville can be quite complex. You first score each sector of the town for either wealth or prestige (which one is indicated on the board). Whoever has the most “value” in the sector, including one value for each cube in the park gets six points of whatever type you’re scoring. Whoever has the lowest value in the sector loses three of whatever type you’re scoring.

A cube on Level 2 counts as 2 value, on Level 3 is 3 value, etc, when computing who has the most.

All tied players get the benefit or the penalty.

Then you score cubes on the river, either wealth or prestige. Then the number of political offices you hold gets you some points (or negative points if you don’t hold any).

Finally, you score status.

The hourglass marker resets to the top and you start another round, until you’ve completed three.

At the end of the game, you also do your vocation scoring as described above, as well as villas on the river.

Also, each player is given a secret legacy tile at the beginning of the game. This is also scored, with the player having the highest of whatever it asks scoring 6 points of both wealth and prestige and the player having the fewest losing 3 points of each.

The trick on that is you only know the one legacy that you have. You don’t know what others have. There are six possibilities, and only a maximum of four players, so some of them aren’t going to be scored. You may have to pay attention to what others are doing to get an inkling of what might be coming.

As mentioned before, you get the lowest of your wealth or prestige as your final score. Whoever has the highest final score wins!

Is Welcome to Centerville a representation of a beautiful city with lush greenery and pleasant living spaces? Or is it an urban wasteland with trash strewn all over the downtown streets?

Welcome to Centerville is a gorgeous game, bright and colourful that will catch the eye of anybody walking by.

WtC - Final Board
I’d live there!

While it’s not a perfect game by any means, it’s extremely fun and will tax your brain a bit as you realize that you can’t do everything. You are going to lose points. The trick is to gain more points.

One really nice thing about this game is that it has a fairly small footprint. The board is not very big, and each player is going to need room for their player aid (though you could get by without it on the table).

And room to roll the dice without scattering cubes everywhere.

WtC - Player Aid
Everything you could possible need!

The player aid is simply phenomenal. Everything that you need is laid out there in full. You don’t even really need to reference the rulebook (which isn’t bad as a teaching aid but not great as a reference).

Each action is clearly highlighted with how many dice it takes, what turning in a Favor will do (let you take an political office with the same number of cubes instead of at least one more, for example), and how all of the scoring works.

The only things left off of the aid (and really, how could they fit any more on there?) is what the four possible disasters are and what the possible legacy tiles are.

The components are really nice with big, chunky dice that feel good to roll. They are quite colourful too. The counters are also bright and I like how GMT ignored the usual standard colours. Your player colours are yellow, black, grey and white.

No trouble telling those apart!

Welcome to Centerville is a dice game, so there is no getting around the luck factor. Some will see that as a negative, but it only takes about 90 minutes to play so I don’t mind it as much.

There is some dice mitigation (if you roll four votes, you get to take a Master tile which will let you set the corresponding die to whatever side you want each turn), but definitely not enough for those “no luck!” players.

This means that you can’t really have an overall strategy, but instead need to have a bit of tactical skill to play with the dice you roll. You may get shut out of some areas (if you can’t seem to roll red contracts and you are short of cubes in the red part of the city, for example), but you’ve probably rolled other things that will get you a bunch of points instead.

You can’t ignore everything that pertains to one of the two score types, though. For example, you can’t ignore both colours of the city that contribute to wealth. But you could ignore one of them if need be. Maybe you get your green track high and then take spots on the river (end of round scoring gives you wealth or prestige equal to where you are on the greenery track).

There are many different ways to score, and thus your wealth and prestige will be going up and down like pre-schoolers on a sugar high riding a teeter-totter.

WtC - Politics track
Yellow’s dominating the City Council!

Unfortunately, that variety can be difficult for some players as they’re not quite sure what to do and they can’t really figure out how best to use the dice that they end up rolling (not to mention constantly forgetting to set their blue die to a side because they have the blue Master’s tile, to name one thing that kept happening in our games).

There’s a bit of set collection, a bit of area control, a bit of this, a bit of that. It’s almost like a Frankenstein’s monster of mechanics sewn together with dice rolls as the thread.

Some people neglect the set collection aspect of the vocations, for example.

The vocations are not something that is lucrative to dabble in. You either go in full force or you don’t.

Just getting one or two vocation tiles won’t give you much of anything. However, having one tile of all nine types gets you 36 prestige! Having 6 or more of any one vocation type will give you 35 wealth!

WtC - Vocation 2

Unfortunately, going that hard at vocations means that you’ll probably be losing points elsewhere, so it may not be as helpful.

While we’re being slightly negative, I will say that the disasters can be game-changing depending on which ones comes out. Thankfully, they don’t come out that often. I think in the three games I have played, only one has actually been drawn from the vocation bag.

It’s not so bad to lose two vocations (unless you’re going hard for them) or one political office (just take it back!). But losing three cubes out of the city or four spaces on the greenery track can really hurt.

Yes, one of the political offices gives you the “Safe” token, meaning you aren’t hit by any disasters, but it can potentially be devastating.

As Edward from Heavy Cardboard would say, “plan better.” But it’s still something to keep in mind.

That is all something to think about when you’re deciding on this game, but why do I really love it?

I love that variety that gives you a headache. I love that there are different areas that give you different options, and all of them will score you something.

WtC - Board 3

The different political offices give you different benefits, maybe letting you bump one of your city cubes to a different level, or scoring wealth or prestige equal to your best building in the city. The Urban Planning office will let you take another turn without rolling the green die (which means not much in the way of park benches but also one fewer die with an hourglass).

Yes, in almost Feldian fashion, everything you do can score you points, though in Welcome to Centerville it’s more setting you up for points. Also non-Feldian is that you will be losing points elsewhere too.

I find that push and pull really alluring. You can’t do everything, so what do you decide to lose points on instead?

Sometimes I make those choices well and win (or almost win), and sometimes I make those choices very poorly and get 11 points (the winner had 84).

I also adore the player interaction in this game. Many dice games, it doesn’t really matter what other players do. Welcome to Centerville has it in spades. While there isn’t any “attacking” other players, you can definitely do more than just get in their way.

You are competing for spots in the city, of course, but that’s not all. You are directly competing for political office for example. To move up on the Status track, you have to move somebody else down. Not everybody can be first.

There is also the Favor mechanic (you get a favor when your are bumped from first place on the Status track).

If you get a Favor, you can steal another player’s vocation if you roll enough graduation hats. Rolling three trees and using a favor lets you bump somebody from the Bridge space on the river (or just take it yourself if it’s unoccupied). You can replace their cube in the city rather than taking an empty one.

The map is incredibly well-laid out (almost as good as the player aid). Each area shows you exactly what you need to do to place cubes there. In the picture above, the Level 4 square for each part of city clearly shows that you need 4 trees to take one of them rather than rolling contracts, for example.

I haven’t played the 2-player variant with a bot, but it plays equally well with three and four players. The only real difference is that you go further along the time track before ending a round in a 4-player game.

Welcome to Centerville definitely has its faults, and it has aspects that will turn some gamers off. It’s fairly light compared to most of GMT’s other offerings, for example.

And it has dice (Editor – I’m not sure if you mentioned that or not)

But it has enough heft to it, even as essentially a dice game, that I will willingly play this any time I am able to.

(This review was written after 3 plays)

 

 

 

 

 

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