Rebuilding Seattle Proves that Economic Board Games Don’t Have to Be Too Convoluted

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Rebuilding Seattle Proves that Economic Board Games Don’t Have to Be Too Convoluted

When I first saw the game Rebuilding Seattle at PAX Unplugged last December, I assumed it was a futuristic game based on the earthquake that might obliterate the Pacific northwest in the next few decades. I was wrong, as usual, as the game actually takes its theme from the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, and asks players each to build up a neighborhood in the city, combining tile-laying and engine-building mechanics for a very Euro-style game experience that plays quite a bit faster than I first expected.

The heart of Rebuilding Seattle, which plays two to five players and has a solo mode included, is the game’s assortment of buildings, which come in six colors of polyomino tiles and range in size from one to four squares. Players start with one neighborhood tile that has some buildings preprinted on it, and over the course of three rounds, they’ll buy various buildings to cover that tile and additional suburb tiles they’ll buy or gain to expand their neighborhood, while also using the game’s six Events in each round and passing Laws for one-time benefits.

The vast majority of your turns in Rebuilding Seattle will involve buying a building, and maybe also buying a suburb tile to expand your neighborhood so you can place more buildings. Suburb tiles cost $4, and regular buildings cost $3-5. You can buy a building card from the central market, which varies in size by player count, and then take the building tile shown on the top half of the card while also getting some kind of benefit shown on the bottom half of the card. Some of these are immediate bonuses, like moving up one of the three scoring tracks on your personal board, while others are end-of-round or end-game bonuses of points or money. The spaces at the ends of the market also have preprinted buildings on them that you can buy once players have bought the cards on top of them, gaining the building tile but no additional benefit. Each player also begins the game with two Landmark cards and tiles, which cost about $15 to build and bring larger rewards, again varying from immediate to end-game.

Three of the six building colors provide you with the bulk of the victory points you’ll accumulate during the game, representing entertainment, shopping, and dining. In each of the three rounds, an event will trigger scoring for each of those three building types. You’ll gain points and/or money based on how many of that type’s symbols you have anywhere in your neighborhood and how far you’ve moved up the track for that type. There’s a very interesting catch, however: When an event triggers scoring for one of these building types, you have to see if you have more of that symbol than you have people in your neighborhood. Your population starts at 11 and increases by 12 at the start of the second and third rounds, with various ways to decrease your population as the game goes on. If you have more dining symbols than people when the dining event is triggered, you get the full benefit. If your population is higher, however, you subtract the difference from whatever bonus you would have gotten, maybe all the way to zero.

Rebuilding Seattle


Players trigger those events by choosing one Event card rather than buying a building, and this gives Rebuilding Seattle its one cutthroat aspect, because you want to try to choose an Event card that really benefits you—you have more symbols than people and you’re high up that track—and doesn’t help some of your opponents because they have far fewer of those symbols. It’s a balancing act in each round as you try to get enough of the right buildings and don’t want to trigger an event too soon, but know that your opponent might try to trigger it before you’re ready.

Each player’s personal board also shows three Laws unique to them, and the player can invoke one of them per round, including choosing the same Law multiple times in the game. These are all beneficial, giving you points and/or money or allowing you to reduce your population, sometimes requiring you to pay money for the benefit. This also takes the place of your turn and gives the game a little asymmetry, which otherwise only comes from the slightly different starting neighborhood tiles.

At the end of each round, players get income from all of the money symbols on green buildings on their board and trigger any cards that have end-of-round bonuses. The building market is refreshed from the next deck, each of which has progressively better buildings in it, and all events are returned to the middle of the table to be used anew in the next round. Play continues until the end of the third round, after which players receive income one last time, and then players score all of their end-of-game cards. The player with the most victory points wins, with a tie going to the player with the lowest population.

Rebuilding Seattle is an intimidating game on the table because it has a zillion pieces, but the game play itself is still fairly simple, and I’d say even less challenging than other games where you’re placing polyomino tiles on small boards, like Bärenpark. It’s more of an economic engine game that has a modest tile-laying element, and gives you a few small ways to try to help yourself at the expense of your opponents, so it’s more than just competitive solitaire. It can play inside of an hour and a half if players keep their turns short, which is very easy to do given the limited number of choices you have on each turn. My one quibble is that the graphics and colors are not that easy to distinguish, especially at a distance, which will come up when playing this because it’s a real table hog. Otherwise, it’s a great economic game that doesn’t get you too far into the weeds, like some of Martin Wallace’s bigger economic titles (like the Brass series), and is accessible to a lot more players.

Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.

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