Puzzling Through Sprawlopolis and the Art of City Planning

June 25, 2021 | Sessions | 8 comments

Create a city of bustling districts with just a handful of cards depicting blocks and roads with Sprawlopolis.

After my husband and I put up a pair of enormous Kallax shelves, I figured we wouldn’t have a space issue for a long time. How wrong I was! So the very compact size of Sprawlopolis was certainly appealing, and I was excited to give it a whirl after waiting ages to pick up a copy for myself. City building expert? Not at all, yet I was excited to build away!

Game Overview

Game Name: Sprawlopolis
Publication Year:
2018
Designers:
Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, and Paul Kluka
Artists:
Loïc Billiau and Danny Devine
Publisher: Button Shy
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game

Just 18 cards provide the basis for city-building fun! 3 are drawn during setup to provide a set of goals and scoring threshold for victory. The rest are used to build the city. Very simple rules, yet there’s a challenging puzzle here. In fact, I was about to find out how bad I was at it… Ha ha!

In the Tiny Districts and Streets of Sprawlopolis
R

First Play

June 22, 2021

Complexity

2

Latest Play

June 22, 2021

Expansions

5

Setup Time

Almost None

Lifetime Plays

8

Play Time

10 Minutes

:

High Score

23

1

Game Area

24" x 16"

;

Low Score

-6

A Properly Sized City

My Calico Critters were exceptionally pleased with this choice! A tiny otter and goat had a car that was almost the right size for the roads. Both lanes? Close enough. Ha!

Not to go off on a wild tangent for long, but my Calico Critters village has been in storage elsewhere for years now. I’m hoping to bring it back sometime soon!

With these cheerful animals nearby, I flew through the short rulebook in no time. Nothing too complex here.

So I set to work thinking through the puzzle and how I would construct a city everyone could be proud of.

Fun in the Park with the Calico Critters and Sprawlopolis

Analyzing Goals

This trio of goals provided some additional ways to earn points, although I had to be careful about negative points.

In a clever way, the combined value also provides the minimum point threshold to count as a victory. Here, I needed at least 25 points to call myself a master builder.

It was clear that parks needed to take center stage, yet the interaction between some of the elements gave me pause. How to avoid industrial blocks when I might need them?

The actual play was where I would learn the intricacies of these decisions. No time to waste: I laid out the first card!

Looking Ahead to Focus on Parks in Sprawlopolis

My First City

In a very unsurprising turn of events, my first city was a bit of a mess. This was a lot harder than I imagined!

Maybe I should have picked up on it right here, but my mind just couldn’t quite grasp the different blocks and how things should fit together. It wasn’t clicking for me.

Still, I could see where I should have overlapped more cards, limited the number of roads, and otherwise made progress toward completing more goals.

At least it only took about 10 minutes and seemed fun! I kept the same set of goals and went for another try…

A Rather Poor Attempt at City Building with Sprawlopolis

Moving Elsewhere

Try as I might, extra strategies just didn’t seem to work for me. I had a very large park district and still couldn’t come anywhere close to the point threshold. Why?!

As much as I appreciated the design, I was quickly getting frustrated. Something felt off despite multiple checks through the rulebook. No mistakes there. So what was it?

I moved onto an approach used with Orchard: A 9 Card Solitaire Game. Lots and lots of overlapping cards!

Yet try as I might, I couldn’t wrap my head around the best path forward. Not even a single winning strategy.

Moving Closer to Victory in Sprawlopolis

Fun in the Park

I enjoyed the fun little details, particularly in the park. Such a lovely area of ponds, fields, trees, and greenery!

It was almost comical how poorly I scored. Sometimes when I fail at a new game, there’s still some sort of clear progress to show how I might improve with practice.

Truth be told, I was disappointed. Not necessarily with the game itself, but with how I felt about it. I wanted this to be an instant classic I could turn to regularly for some fun!

Alas, the pieces weren’t clicking for me. Each play felt like an endless struggle for no apparent reason.

Moving Closer to Victory in Sprawlopolis

Around and Around

With such a quick play time, though, I kept going not to frustrate myself into disliking the game, but to see what I might be missing from any misunderstandings.

I built fewer roads. I made my city districts larger. I tried to avoid as many negative points as possible. I came close, yet there was never a clear-cut victory in all my plays.

Maybe I started with a difficult set of goals. After all, I wasn’t looking at a low score threshold for victory.

As unhappy as I was, there was still a desire to continue. I had to triumph in this business of building a little city!

Trying to Get a Cohesive Plan Going in Sprawlopolis

The Right Way to Play

Sensing my struggle, the Calico Critters decided to add a comedic interlude to my woes. Voila! I was given a lesson in the correct way to play the game: Sprawling out. Ha!

Maybe therein was my issue: I was trying very hard to make my city sprawl, though that wasn’t very wise.

What mattered was the cuteness and the fact that the little red car just kept flying around the city! I was rather surprised that a tiny house didn’t also take shape.

That might just be a little fun saved for next time! After a short break for laughs, I reset and began to build again.

Fun with the Calico Critters in Sprawling Poses for Sprawlopolis

Utterly Failed Plans

Try as I might, I couldn’t come close to getting anything going. It actually might have been the roads: I just couldn’t quite “see” them in many cases.

Hence the poorly constructed areas here! I was on the right track, yet ran out of cards before I could finish.

So I was right back at the beginning with abysmal scores. I felt no closer to grasping the important pieces of this puzzle. It was so odd to have this fall so flat, so quickly.

I decided to try my luck with a new set of goals, and the lowest-numbered ones at that. Surely I could win?!

The Continued Struggles of a City Builder in Sprawlopolis

Session Overview

Play Number: 1-8
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game
Play Details: Goals 3, 7, 15 and 1, 2, 3
Outcome: -1, 23, 14, 9, 9, 6, -6, 3 (8 Losses)

Nope! I did feel a little closer to winning with this setup, yet I didn’t want to keep playing for fear of never wanting to try again. Perhaps this is simply not the game for me and my mind was trying to tell me that by not fitting the pieces together. I can certainly see the fun in the puzzle, though! It may just be something that others enjoy more than me, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Exceptionally Difficult Times with Sprawlopolis

%

1 Play

Affordability

Price & Value

7

Functionality

Challenges & Mechanics

7

Originality

Design & Theme

4

Quality

Components & Rules

10

Reusability

Achievement & Enjoyment

6

Variability

Distinctness & Randomness

3

+ Pros (Positives)

  • Dual-purpose cards provide a wide variety of different scoring goals without adding extra components.
  • The wallet is compact and the play area rarely spreads out of control, making this easy to play nearly anywhere.
  • Each play lasts around 10 minutes or less with an interesting puzzle that’s often quite challenging to figure out.
  • Roads provide an additional element to think about in addition to the unique blocks on every card.
  • It takes very little time to read through and understand the rules, yet mastering gameplay is an ongoing effort.
  • Even with the same set of scoring goals, plays can progress very differently with the order of the cards.

– Cons (Negatives)

  • Scoring well takes a lot of practice and the abstract sort of puzzle may not be intuitive to everyone who plays.
  • There are interesting and difficult combinations of scoring goals, yet no obvious way to adjust the difficulty level.
  • Gameplay can be frustrating when the best way to earn points isn’t clear and feels more tedious than it should.
  • Working towards completing a trio of scoring goals over and over can seem very repetitive rather quickly.

More Sprawlopolis

Explore related posts about Sprawlopolis!

Victory Conditions

Meet the Scoring Goal Requirements

  • Overall Goal Progress 50% 50%

Goals and Milestones

R

Score at least 10 points.

R

Score at least 20 points.

Q

Win with scoring goals 1, 2, and 3.

Q

Win with scoring goals 3, 7, and 15.

Continue the Conversation

How has Sprawlopolis worked for you? I surprised myself when it didn’t work for me after I was certain it was the kind of puzzle I would enjoy. Did you find that it improved over time? Maybe it’s a case of getting used to the way the cards can be placed. I certainly didn’t figure out the best placements! For now, I’ll let this quietly sprawl on the shelf. Ha ha!

8 Comments

  1. Hi Jessica,

    The Go Green scoring condition is probably the most unpopular one. I would recommend avoiding that scoring card as part of your goals for early plays of the game.

    – Derek

    Reply
    • Good to know! Thank you for mentioning that. Seems like I set myself up for disaster, although I still plan to play again soon. I haven’t given up on this one yet!

      Reply
  2. I too struggle with this game’s difficulty. It’s definitely not fun to play the rules as written at my level, so I came up with a simpler variant that makes it more fun for me (for now):

    Forget placement rules. Use all cards all at once and try to create the city that would satisfy the constraints. Score as usual.

    Once I get the hang of the puzzle solutions I will slowly re-introduce placement rules (can’t place under a placed card, place a card one at a time without hunting for the one you want, etc.)

    I do think some expansions make it easier, but still not easy enough for me to enjoy with rules as written.

    Reply
    • That’s a great idea! Sometimes, it’s all about adjusting a game so that it works for you. I may have to try this variant if things don’t pan out in the future. I’m looking forward to getting back to it… Just as soon as I take a bit of a break to get my breath back. Ha! I appreciate you sharing this idea: Definitely sounds like it makes the game more enjoyable for anyone struggling. As in… Myself at this moment!

      Reply
  3. I’m not sure if I should comment here or on BGG, but anways.
    First: I glad you gave this game a try. For me it’s super calming (basically, what Herbaceous is for you).
    Second: While I try to win, I just play this to create a nice looking city. Maybe that’s why I like this game.
    And third:
    There are some unwinable combinations, for example 16 and 12. 16 Favours a lot of streets, 12 a single long street. Same with 16 and 14.
    Also, as others mentioned before (here and an BGG) Go Green is not a ‘beginner’ friendly card. Antoher ‘bad’ card is 10, for simple math reasons: 1 comercial region per card, means you need at least 10 card in a collumn or row to come out without loss and you have only 15 cards to use in the whole game.

    Reply
    • Thank you for the recommendations and suggestions! I think this is the post that has generated the most of these comments, which is just what I was hoping for. Hearing how some scoring combinations are difficult makes me think I got unlucky with my draws. Sounds like there’s a lot to like here once I grasp the placement of cards a little bit more. I’ll definitely keep all of this in mind when I get back to trying it out again. I appreciate you taking the time to share your helpful thoughts!

      Reply
      • If you got Skid Row and Go Green (as implied by the picture) then yeah, you had already lost.
        The max point you can get with two industrial zones are 4 Points (industrial and residetal are btoh diagonal on a 2×2) but at the same time, GG punisches you with -6 for the two industrial zones. So you had a lose-lose situation.

        What I tried as beginner, draw three goals, choose only two to fulfill. Use the other 15 card to fulfill these two.
        What I feel are beginner friendly-cards are 16 and 4.
        With 16 most cards already fulfill the condition, so you can mostly ignore the streets, and 4 kind of ties in with the scoring system for your largest group with each zone.

        (You can see, I’m a bit enthusiastic with this game)

        Reply
        • Awesome! Now I have a much better starting point for the next time I play. Always great to find someone who’s so enthusiastic about a game! We can’t all love them all, yet it’s nice to know that a lot of my struggles may simply have come down to a really bad combination coupled with some beginner issues. Looking forward to reporting back on what happens the next time I play!

          Reply

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