The Walled City: Londonderry & Borderlands was designed by Daryl Andres and Stephen Saur and published by Mercury Games in 2014. The game calls for 2-4 players and takes about an hour and a half to play. The game is divided in to two big rounds. In each round there are four phases. The goal of the game is to have the most victory points (called “votes”) at the end of the second round. I would consider The Walled City to be a rich, Euro style area control game, with the tiniest hint of role selection and “take that” sprinkled in. The strategy is as deep as any Euro I have played, but the mechanics are streamlined and the goals are focused, and the rule book is one of the best I have ever seen. I love that there is really no “point salad” at the end of the game as in some Euro style games. While the game has several rules, I will try to summarize game play here to give you an idea of how it works.
Each player gets a certain number of meeples. Players then get their own hand of cards, though the hands are identical to each other. Finally, depending on the number of players, each player will get anywhere from 7-12 roads and walls. The roads will be played during the first half of the game, and the walls during the second half. On his or her turn, a player places a road on an appropriate spot on the board. Then, that player plays a card from her hand. Each card has two numbers on it. This represents how many meeples the player can place on each side of the road she just built. For instance, a 1/2 card means the player can place one meeple on one side and two on the other. As the game progresses, roads will enclose areas of the board to form “neighborhoods.” At the end of the first half of the game, scoring will take place, and the players who have the majority of meeples in a neighborhood will get victory points, or “votes.”
In the second half of the game, players take turns placing walls around the perimeter of the city. (Can’t have a walled city without walls, amiright?). They still play a card each time and place meeples accordingly. But this time, instead of placing meeples on both sides of a road, one number will represent meeples to be placed on the inner side of the wall, and the other represents how many nobles can then be “promoted” to one of the wall’s towers. These towers (in addition to the neighborhoods again) will be scored at the end of the game and will provide additional votes for players who have the most meeples in them.
At the end of each half addition to scoring points for having the most meeples in a tower or neighborhood, players will also get points for having the most meeples in areas of the board that make up the factions in the city. These factions are represented by colored, six-sided dice, (5 different types) and are placed randomly on the board at the start of the game. On your turn, after you place meeples next to a wall or road, you may move the value of the die in that neighborhood up or down one pip. As the board begins to fill up with roads, walls, and meeples, the values of these dice are constantly changing, as players try to stack the victory point totals in their favor. This provides another level of strategy in a game filled with levels of strategy.
The last feature of game play that I’ll mention are the guilds. Guilds are represented in the form of cards. There are 2 guild cards for each player (plus one extra) placed face up next to the board. During the first round, players each choose one guild to belong to for that round. First, a guild card will contain a number that represents an initiative number to determine player turn order. Secondly, each card has a special ability that can be used once during the round. These abilities are varied and powerful, as they let you manipulate other players’ meeples or may let you build a road or wall over someone else’s, etc. Choosing which guild suits your style and when to use it are just a few more of the tense strategy decisions you make during the game. At the end of the first round all guilds are discarded – whether their powers were used or not (use it or lose it). Then players choose one of the remaining guilds to be used in the second half.
That’s pretty much it for game play. As I said, the rules are robust and varied, but they make a lot of sense as you play through the game. You can tell that the designers put a lot of thought and effort into the game play. For a heavy game, it is so focused and tight that we didn’t feel overwhelmed. Overall, The Walled City was as deeply satisfying as any game that I have played. And while our single play through was great, there is so much to the game that it begs many plays – there is an overwhelming sense that it will just get better and better. Plus, there are two sides to the board, Londonderry and Borderlands, with the latter providing more strategic possibilities and adding a few more guilds to use. Having missed it when it came out two years ago, I’m quite glad I found it. And it has moved right into the top of my gaming collection. Well done!