Between Two Cities is a tile-laying drafting game from Stonemaier games. It supports 3-7 players and each game takes less than 30 minutes to complete – this filler is a bit of a departure from Stonemaier’s usual long games.
In Between Two Cities, you are drafting tiles to place in two cities on either side of you. Your neighbours will also be placing tiles within these cities, meaning that you have to work cooperatively with the people on either side of you. Out of your two cities, your lowest scoring city is the most important – the higher one is just a tiebreaker, so you can’t focus on making just one of your cities score points. The game takes place across three round. The first and third round are similar: you draw 7 tiles and pick two (one for each city) and pass the rest along. After everyone has picked, you reveal and discuss which city to put them in with your neighbours. Pick up the next set of tiles and carry on. Round two involves picking two “duplex” tiles, which are two tiles wide or high – the orientation of these tiles matters, so you have to be careful when placing your tiles in the first round.
I’ve found that the game goes by extremely quickly and because everyone is playing at the same time, adding more players doesn’t increase the length of the game. Most people ask to play a second round, with the game being even faster the second time, especially as people have a better understanding of how the tiles work.
There are six different kinds of tiles: shops, factories, taverns, offices, parks and houses. Each kind of tile has a unique way of scoring: shops score best in rows of four, factories score best if your city has the most, taverns are a simple set collection, offices can be anywhere but score an extra point if there’s a tavern next to it, parks are best scored in sets of two and houses score a point for each different kind of tile in your city (unless the house is next to a factory, then it scores one measly point). All this you have to fit within a 4×4 grid. There are lots of different ways of grouping the sets together to get the best score: you can focus on trying to complete as many sets as possible, or just have one of each and fill your city with houses. Of course, the other person working on your city has to be on board, too. It’s also worth remembering that you’re passing on the tiles to the next person – so you could place a tile which doesn’t make much sense, but compliments a tile that your neighbour can play on the next turn.
The tiles used in the game are good quality, but will suffer some slight wear after around 10-15 games. The artwork is well made, and I love how each tile has slight differences to it. It’s still extremely easy to tell the different kinds of tiles apart, but each tile of the same type has slight differences that you’ll notice if you look closely. It doesn’t enhance the game, but it’s a really nice touch. Between Two Cities also comes with wooden meeples for scoring (two of each – one for the scoreboard, one for the city). These are really nice meeples in the shape of famous buildings, like the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, Great Pyramids and St Louis’ Arch. My only complaint with the components is the scoreboard: it’s a nice scoreboard, and is even double sided so you can choose your preference of snaking or left-to-right progression. The issue is that it’s just way too big, and just gets in the way. Especially as you don’t do any scoring until after the game.
Between Two Cities also contains some nice extras. First is a set of cards to determine seating order: pick a card and it will tell you the order to sit, such as height order or alphabetical by last movie watched. It’s kind of pointless, but it’s fun to have – plus you can use them with any other game if you wanted to.
There are also alternate rules sets for 2-player and solo modes. The two player mode has you building two cities each, and then adding up the scores. It’s a more aggressive game as you have more options of picking tiles that your opponents need. The downside is that it doesn’t really feel in the spirit of the game: the co-operation with your neighbours is key to the game. The solo mode features two AI players. There’s a deck of “Automa” cards which will determine what their city picks for the city they share with you, as well as the city the AI shares with the other AI player. This AI-controlled city isn’t placed in a grid, but instead each group of tile scores optimally. So shops will always be in a row, houses never suffer the factory penalty and parks will be scored in groups of two. The Automas variant is a fun distraction, and offers additional “campaign rules” for playing multiple games in a row.
Overall, Between Two Cities is a great filler game which can be played by a good range of players. It’s simple enough for casual gamers while deep enough for more experienced board gamers. It’s nowhere near as deep as other drafting games like 7 Wonders, but it’s still a good little game to pull out every now and then.