Back when Bézier Games hinted at new games in the Suburbia family, I was intrigued. When the two games were announced, I immediately preordered both. Now I got Subdivision, and have some plays under my belt. Time for a quick review!
The game: Subdivision by Lucas Hedgren, published by Bézier Games in 2014.
Elevator pitch: Suburbia meets Take It Easy. Multiplayer solitaire puzzle game with a city zoning theme and solo play potential.
What’s in the box? Now this looks like Suburbia! The branding message is clear. There are personal boards for players and lots of cardboard tiles. Almost 200 of them, actually. There’s a custom die, cardboard money, and some wooden sticks. The components are neat, simple and functional, but this game won’t stun you with good looks.
What do you do in the game? The goal of the game is score lots of points with a well-zoned city. The game consists of four rounds. On each round, five-tile sets are circulated and drafted, and everybody gets to play four tiles on their board. There are five different types of tiles to play, and the die tells you where to play them, giving you couple of options. You can pay with money to forget about the die and place wherever you want.
The trick here is that the tiles do nothing when you place them. They are activated when you place another tile next to them: each new tile activates all adjacent tiles. Four of the five types let you play more tiles on board: schools, roads, lakes and parks. The fifth type lets you build sidewalks (the wooden sticks) between tiles. These secondary tiles are what generates points and money.
There are bonus tiles for rounds 2, 3, and 4. These are resolved in the beginning of the round and give you a small bonus if you match the requirement. These tiles give you some goals to achieve, but are not as significant as the goal tiles in Suburbia. When all four rounds are played, the subdivisions are scored: parks score points for tiles around them, schools are worth lots of points if you’ve built a stack of three tiles, sidewalks score points for touching different types of tiles. Roads are a major source of points: each tile that has access to the highway (which either goes through the subdivision or goes around it, depending on which side of the board you choose) either through a road or an empty hex is worth five points. This is where most of your points will come from.
Lucky or skillful? Mostly skill, with small doses of luck. The die is a luck element, but the die roll is the same for everybody, and you can pay two coins (worth one point in the end) to place wherever you want. Bonus tiles have some luck: in the worst case it may be the first bonus is impossible to achieve, if there are wrong tiles in the draft, but that’s not going to be critical. I believe the game is mostly won by skilled play, but there’s enough luck to keep the game interesting between unevenly matched players.
Abstract or thematic? Abstract, but with a solid theme pasted on. You could strip the theme off and replace it with something else, but as it is the theme works quite well. The abstract zones are not nearly as interesting as the specific buildings of Suburbia, but when the game is over, you have planned a subdivision, and it has some character to it.
Solitaire or interactive? Solitaire, very much so. There’s hardly any interaction between the players. There’s the draft, but I don’t think there’s lots of scope for hate drafting. So, if interaction is what you crave, you need to look somewhere else. Solitaire-ish puzzle action, get yours right here.
Players: 1–4. I don’t play solitaire games alone, so I won’t comment that, except that there are some extra scenarios to spice up particularly solo games. This is rather player count neutral game – you can actually go over four by adding extra copies of the game, but frankly, at that point I’d rather split into two groups anyway.
Who can play? Age rating on the box is 13+, which sounds bizarre, but is probably mostly for legal reasons. My 8-year-old son could play. I lost my first game to him, but now I would find it a bit unlikely that I’d lose. The game requires some planning, so I’d say a good age recommendation would probably be 10+.
Length: Box says 45 minutes, though we took maybe 20–30 minutes. There’s some AP potential, but everybody is playing simultaneously, so adding players won’t make the game longer.
What’s to like: A nice puzzle; city-building theme; plenty of scope for clever plays; clean look.
What’s not to like: No interaction between players; I wonder how much replay value there is; game looks a bit bland.
My verdict: I like Subdivision. I like solitaire puzzles and don’t crave interaction: it’s fine to build things alone with other people and then compare scores in the end. I understand some people won’t like that and will not enjoy Subdivision because there’s hardly any interaction. I’m also sure some people will think the game looks dry and boring; I like the clean look myself, but it’s not the most exciting look.
My biggest beef here is the replay value. I’ve played three games so far, and while the first one was a disaster, I managed 130+ points in the next two, and think I have a good feel on how to score lots of points. Of course, it’s up to the other players what is a good enough score, but is the game rewarding enough if getting a good score is too easy? That takes some time to see, and I’m interested to see how it goes. Thus, I have no doubt that I’ll get enough value for my money to justify buying the game, it’s just a question of whether this is a permanent part of a collection or something traded away after ten or twenty plays. Subdivision certainly doesn’t have the huge variability of Suburbia to create replay value.
If you don’t mind or even enjoy the lack of interaction and like a nice puzzle challenge, Subdivision will deliver.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Subdivision gets Suggest.