If our world were to carry a motto, a legend that would simultaneously underline the core essence of human existence, while transcending those deviations that are caused by social structures and cultural mores, that motto would be ‘might makes right’.
From the dragon-haunted days of warring states China to our current folly of handing the reins of our fragile planet to a rampaging Id, wrapped in orange bacon and topped with a piss-coloured wig, the ability to thump one’s chest and roar as loud as possible has been the way to get on in the world.
The art of the deal has never been clever manipulation, no matter what Machiavelli or Milton Friedman may tell you, but the ability to not show even the slightest remorse as you relentlessly pummel your opponent into the shag pile carpet. Whether that be using a beautifully tempered Guandao or the cast iron certainty that even your lies are true.
This is why CMON and FFG stand so tall in board gaming. It is their sheer adherence to might above all else. If the oil fields of plastic don’t get ya, then buying up all the distribution channels will.
The result of this is that small and delicate voices can be crushed under the sheer volume of weightier titles.
This is what happened to Between Two Cities, the wonderful partnership city building game from Stonemaier Games. No sooner had it been released than Scythe came and stomped all over it with its huge, metal feet.
Between Two Cities was drowned in the smoke of choking diesel and the roars of Siberian tigers and while it’s gargantuan stable mate is of undoubted quality, I want to put a case across for the little guy, and I speak, not as a hollow demagogue, manipulating your prejudices for my own ends, but as someone who feels that there is always room for a subtle voice that implores us to find a more amicable solution.
If Between Two Cities had a motto it would be, ‘Work Together To Your Own Benefit’.
In this game cities are built between players and each player contributes to the city on their right and their left. Players draft two tiles, 7 Wonders style, then place them into their cities. Tiles represent entertainment establishments, residential buildings, offices and factories. Particular placements score points in particular ways. For instance, entertainment buildings score more points the more of them there are in a city, and offices get bonus points, if they’re next to them, because there is no better antidote to the workaday life than cirrhosis of the liver.
Tiles are placed, draft direction is reversed and reversed again until between each player a four by four grid is sat, that represents their valiant attempts at civil engineering. Some of these may be great metropolis like New York or Kuala Lumpur, and some may be Preston. But the fuel that pushes this game along and gives it its heart is that players will only be scored for their lowest value city, so there is no incentive to allow one city to fall into managed decline and pump all of your resources into the other one (can you hear me, Margaret Thatcher?).
This is a game that scales beautifully, but really sings at its full player count of seven. There is no doubt that there is much borrowed here from 7 Wonders, but this isn’t simply a grave robber making off with the funerary mask of Tutankhamen. Between Two Cities has gently brushed off the foundations of 7 Wonders and built something beautiful on top of them.
This game is short, but nourishing. The decisions and limitations are interesting and challenging. There are enough elements here to make you think but not too many as to overwhelm but it is in the cooperation that this game really stands out.
In building the cities you are compelled to engage with the people either side of you, but with the limitation that you can’t consult with them when you draft your tile. Between Two Cities is a game of compromise and rubbing along with one another. It is a game of presenting what you have and then, with the help of your partner, making it work. Between Two Cities teaches you that your success is directly dependent on the success of those around you. In this it is as much a lesson in social cohesion as it is a game. The important thing is, though, is that it never lets you forget that it is a game and as a game it is beautifully designed and a real pleasure to play.
We are entering an age in which ostentatious bluster will be the norm, and those of a more delicate demeanour are in danger of being swamped by the gaudy, gilt-drenched absurdity of it all. This is why it is incumbent on all of us, who value something more than just size, should make our voices known and extol small, subtle pleasures whenever we can. This is why I’m writing this review and this is why you should play Between Two Cities.