Game Spotlights

Published: November 27, 2023

Adam Knight

My City: The Coziest Campaign

Imagine, if you will, sitting down to a table with friends or family to spend a light hour in good cheer, in tight but not tense puzzle-solving, in a contest where the biggest brains or slyest tricksters hold little advantage. There will be winners, but there will be no outright losers. Instead, if you try My City and My Island, the coziest legacy games, there’ll be smiles all around.

Taking a Tile Trip

Both titles, and the neighboring, dice-focused My City: Roll and Build, are designed by Dr. Reiner Knizia, a master of reducing tabletop concepts to juicy decisions and little else. Those decisions, here, are at first simple ones: you’re tasked with covering a personal board. In My City, you have a pleasant set of green grass, trees, and a river. My Island gives you . . . an island, with beaches, palms, and rainforests.

This idyllic backdrop gets covered and transformed in quick half-hour sessions—play is simultaneous, so even in a full group of four the games move fast—where, as a group, you’ll be placing the same tiles on your boards. In the very first game, the opening will be identical. After that, they’ll never be the same again. You might drop your second tile, a small L shape, say, on the right side of your starting spot, nestling it against some trees. Your partner might instead just set it straight across the grass, expanding, as all tiles must touch a previously played one, their playable space.

Quick, satisfying decisions.

You’ll continue drawing and placing tiles one after another, working your way through your stack and limiting options until, inevitably, despite your best plans, you’ll find yourself in a dilemma: a tile must be placed, but there’s no room for it. This leads to a simple, devastating choice: lose a precious point to stay in the round’s race, or keep it and drop out, betting your current score will be enough to win. A glance at the remaining tiles gives you an odds snapshot, making the choice a calculated one.

My City and My Island treat luck like a casual friend, inviting it over for big events but leaving it out of the moment-to-moment. The tiles go where you want, the whole board and all the new tricks—more on those in a second—are revealed at the outset. Sometimes, the wrong flip comes, but you can mitigate it . . . for a point.

At the round’s end, after the scores are tallied, victors gain progress while everyone else gets something even better: stickers. Simple, permanent modifications to your town or island that make things slightly easier the next go. While progress leads to overall victory at the end of 24 or so episodes, those little stickers are way more fun, though maybe that’s just me coping. Still, dropping more palm trees, a few boulders or trees, offers just enough pleasant pick-me-up to bring you back after a round where every shape seemed to be the wrong one.

Light Legacy Done Well

My City and My Island are some of the most approachable legacy games around. You’ll be making permanent changes to your boards (reversible sides allow for a ‘standard’ one-shot game if you’d prefer) from game to game, with bigger changes coming every three episodes or so, organized into chapters. Even by the end, though, these are hardly heavy games, still playable before bed on a weeknight with only a couple minutes of setup time.

What narrative exists is light fluff, a paragraph or two baked into the rules. Set either one aside for a week or a month and you’ll be able to jump right back in. This won’t molder on your shelf, stuck after a few plays when your group split, now a useless cardboard lump. Dropping players isn’t hard, nor is adding new ones: drop on a few stickers, color up some progress tokens, and with the simple rules, onboarding in a cinch.My City

The best legacy games offer a lure to bring a tabletop squad together. My City and My Island don’t pack the grand story of something like Middara nor the cooperative stress of Pandemic: Legacy, but their pull is just as compelling: fast, tight, and competitive, with an evolving puzzle. Those 24 episodes, coming in somewhere around 12-14 hours of play time, hit the right length for My City’s style, doing what all games should and ending on a high, rather than dragging bored or exhausted players across the finish line.

Right Weight, Right Time

Which brings us to the last mark where My City and its friends excel: time, in all aspects. I’ve highlighted the length, both of the campaign and individual episodes, but the most-so-secret element to the joy in these titles is downtime, or the lack of it. The drawn tiles apply to the whole group simultaneously. You pick, you place, and then you all turn to look at the poor schmuck who’s blocked themselves into a corner. A couple seconds later they’ve either dipped out of the round or docked a point, then you’re on to the next piece.

Passing on the round is about the nicest form of player elimination. By the time anyone gets to where they’ve tiled so much of their map that passing makes sense, the round’s only a couple minutes from ending anyway, so by the time you’ve refilled your drink, hit the bathroom, or pledged for a few more Kickstarters, it’ll be time to count up the scores. An early, tactical pass on a tricky round doesn’t condemn you to an hour or three of watching other people chuck dice or swap stocks.

My City also strikes a crucial middle ground in the campaign game space: coming in at a cost that won’t have you wincing at placing a sticker or writing on a board. You’ll see all of the content in a single play-through, and still have a playable, fun game left at the end. Your gaming group won’t have to commit to the same title for a year (or more) to witness the conclusion. It’s also not so boutique and out of print your friend, after a play, won’t be sent into shock when you tell them what arcane rituals had to be done to get a copy.

In short, My City and its brethren are everything a low weight legacy game should strive for.

A Delightful Gateway Game

Inexpensive, easy to teach, and with a theme that works for just about everyone makes My City, My Island, and My City: Roll and Build a perfect pick-up for family gatherings. The campaign’s length makes the whole thing doable over winter break or, if you’re really feeling some tile placement, a coffee-loaded weekend. 

Use these games to bring new players into campaign-style formats, or take a breather from bigger adventures. Sure, you might agonize over an unlucky tile draw, but not for long, as a cute sticker and a new round will soon cure all ills.

Warm, friendly, and fun: Reiner Knizia’s My City is gaming’s idyll.