London. The city of, wait what is the London the city of? One cursory search later, London is the city of smog. Which is actually a great opening for the London board game which is set during Victorian times. This was a period a great industry, of wonderous new machines, revolutionising the way things get made. And there’s also awful poverty. All things that the London board game addresses.
I feel we’ve gotten slightly off-topic, so allow me to pull it back. London, is a game about creating a tableau of a city in front of you, running that city, gaining points, trying not to accumulate poverty and trying out London the other people in the room. On your turn, you are going to draw a card and then either play a card into your city (discarding one of the same colour at the same time), draw some extra cards or run your city. When running your city, you are going to do everything each card says and then flip it over (if it states you should), never to be seen again. After this, you are going to be handed a large pile of poverty for each card in your city and your hand. All of this poverty might seem perfectly harmless at first. So what is the poor have nothing, look at how well I can make shoes! Well, it does matter, because at the end of the game your poverty is going mean minus points, and negative prizes.
And this is the integral puzzle at the heart of London. You want to gain as much money and victory points from your city as possible but the bigger it gets the more poverty you make as a result. However, if you keep your city too small then you won’t be able to compete with your opponents growing metropolis. Deciding which cards to value over others and which cards to play and which to discard is crucial. So is, knowing when to run your city. If you can work it so that you can run your city, not make too much poverty and have zero cards in hand, then that is fantastic. However, often you’ll be pushed to do things before you want to and this will put you in a sticky situation. Those shoes might get made but you’ve had to kick people out of their homes to build the factory.
London is a wonderfully thematic game. Every card is dripping with social and political relevance and make sense in the wider context of Victorian London. It makes sense that having sewers reduces poverty, it grimly makes sense that building prisons reduces poverty and it makes sense that you want to build a museum because they are worth points. As well as building your city, you can also buy a district. These provide one-off bonuses such as poverty reduction, card draw or money. Some of them also give you a special power that you can use each turn. While they aren’t a core part of London, they do add a little extra consideration and help to bring the city to life on your dining room table.
The theme is where London excels. While it is a mechanically competent game, I couldn’t see this game working with any other theme. It needed to be London in this period. The upheaval of Victorian London is famous and it feels like a grand statement in this day and age to boldly say “Poverty = Bad”, but it is refreshing. It shouldn’t be, but it is. However, at the same time, London also says a little is necessary as you steadily grow your industrial segment of the city watching poverty levels grow. But it’s fine because you can build some sewers and the masses will calm down a little after that. Alright so maybe it doesn’t pull off this statement as adeptly as I first thought but poverty does affect your end game scoring.
If you have built a city that is riddled with poverty and you can move for a poor person, then you are massively penalised. If you have the least, then you get to dance through a field of daisies knowing that your part of the city is comparatively well looked after. The important word there being comparatively. This means that you could both be racking up double digits of poor people but because you have one less, you are seen as being a god among mortals, a true trickle-down economics savant, the one who lifts the poor up and shouts “We will not stand for this kind of treatment”. And all because you had one less poor person than your opponents – ah the imperfect analogy rears its head once more.
When it comes down to it though, London is one of my go-to economic card games. Every turn is snappy, you care about what your opponents are doing in so much as you don’t want them to take cards you need but at the same time, you can focus on getting your own little steam engine of a machine running in front of you. This balance is enjoyable but not overly taxing. London is complicated, yet straightforward and once you get past the complexity around running your city and that poverty=bad, it is an easy game to pick and play with almost any group.
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