Paris: La Cité de la Lumière is a brand new 2 player, abstract strategy, board game from publisher Devir Games. Designed by Jose Antonio Abascal Acebo, featuring artwork from Oriol Hernández, the game sees the two players wander the streets of 19th century Paris. With the streetlights lighting up nearby buildings, the game utilizes tile placement and polyominoes. However, is the gameplay illuminating like the streetlights? Let’s find out!
The game is split into two phases: the first about forming the cobblestone streets and the second revolving around placing buildings. Once the setup is complete, players will have between them the main section of the box, which is where the cobblestone street tiles are placed. Around this will be 8 action cards, randomly drawn from a deck of 12. They will also have in front of them 8 cobblestone tiles, 7 chimneys and 4 action tokens all in their player colour. There will also be a pile of building tiles, of various shapes and sizes, placed within reach.
In phase one players can perform one of two actions on their turn. Predominantly, this will see the player place a cobblestone tile into the 4×4 grid, before drawing a replacement from their tile pile. Instead, a player can choose to claim a building tile, placing it in front of themselves. The round ends when both players have added all 8 of their cobblestone tiles to the grid. Once a player has placed all of their tiles, they can pass on future turns – rather than drawing building tiles. This phase is all about setting up point scoring opportunities in phase two.
Each tile is made up of 4 squares. Squares can be either of the two player colours, blue or orange, a wild colour, purple, or they can contain a streetlight. In phase two players will mostly only be able to build on top of squares of their own colour and the wild colour. Therefore, the placement of the cobblestone tiles directly impacts what a player can do in phase two. To denote a building tile as their own a player places a chimney of their player colour onto the tile when it is added onto the cobblestone streets.
Placing a building is one of the two actions available in phase two, with the other activating an action card. These are one time use special abilities, with each player activating 4 of the 8 cards. Ranging from making an opponent’s space wild, allowing you to build over it, to seeing a Parisian dancer wander the streets, the variety makes each game unique and allows for specific turns to feel much bigger and more successful.
When neither player can take a turn, either placing a building or activating an action card, phase two and the game ends. Scoring comes from 4 elements, with two directly linked to the building tiles players have placed. First, illuminated buildings score. Individual building tiles score based on their size multiplied by the number of adjacent streetlights. After this each player then determines their largest group of adjacent buildings, scoring a point per space covered by the group. 3 points are then lost for each building tile that was claimed but unused by the player. Finally, some of the postcards award bonus points. Combining all of their points, whomever has the most wins – with ties split by the number of visible spaces of a player’s colour.
No tile is truly yours leading into the second phase, though a player’s tiles will feature predominately spaces of their own colour. There is a distinct change from the first play onwards. No longer did players stick to their own side of the board, meeting in the middle with the tiles. Once players have seen how the formation of the streets impacts the second phase, they understand how to place street tiles to better their chances, or hinder their opponent. This results in tiles being initially dotted around the board, with gaps filled in later.
Another way Paris: La Cité de la Lumière develops a tactical nature is via the abilities. Often there are many highly beneficial powers. It isn’t the case if taking 1 each in turn order though, as revealing a plan can cause it to be blocked. Players have to watch what their opponent is lining themselves up for – to react to it as best as possible. This leads to a game that the choices on every turn, of both phases, is massively important – right up until the end.
Not every game ends perfectly, with an occasional anticlimactic ending sprinkled in among great ones. If activating powers is the last thing to be done, before the end is official, often players will realise that unless point scoring cards are still available there is no impact to their choice. This only really happens if players are overly cautious and don’t take too many building tiles, else they’ll be trying desperately to squeeze them onto the cobblestone streets.
Paris: La Cité de la Lumière is simply a colourful, stunning, game. Whilst there are a few niggles, such as there is no grid inside the box to help align tiles, the components literally help build a visually pleasing game board. By setting the board off the table, having the game played within the box, helps boost this with a unique look. This also allows the game to be played with very limited table space, the box doesn’t even need to be 100% flat, due to dual layer cardboard in the box, designed to perfectly house the 16 street tiles that the players will place in phase one.
The postcards are both glorious components and a frustration point. While it ebbs away after a few games, the postcards have no explanation on them. Despite the stunning artwork on their reverse, this is rather unhelpful when playing the game for the first time. To make matters worse is the layout of the postcards, around the box. Whilst great for the visual presentation of the game, having them lined up next to the board, rather than around it, makes it easier to see them all. Simply, it removes the need to lean to see around or over the board.
Paris: La Cité de la Lumière can be a little daunting at first, with every decision made in phase one impacting not only your opportunities in phase two, but also your end score. After a few games though this, aside from still slowing down those whom suffer from analysis paralysis, is what excites players. Combine this with the ability to shuffle in different action cards and there is plenty of replayability in what is a small grid that fills with polyomino tiles. The action cards should be clearer, to allow new players a more easy entry to the experience. Though, again this issue swiftly disappears with a couple of plays. This leaves gamers with a beautiful game, that’s full of choices, and all plays in around 25 minutes!
(Editor’s Note: Paris: La Cité de la Lumière was provided to us by Kosmos Games for the review. Check out the official webpage for more information.)