Theme and What is it?
In this stand-alone sequel, the good people of Flip City are looking to get out of the city and into the wilderness. Over the course of the game, one to four players will carefully exploit their existing properties to acquire new and better properties in their attempt to build the perfect retreat for their citizens. The first to do so wins the game.
Flip City: Wilderness is a deck-builder with a press-your-luck mechanic featuring double-sided cards that represent two different locations on the front and back. Each player begins with an identical hand of shuffled cards: four trailer parks, one trailer park flipped to the country resort, and one each of the other four cards all beginning on their front side. The double-sided nature of the cards and upgrading or “flipping” your cards is the key mechanism to this series of games and really sets it apart from other deck-builders. Each card provides various benefits or penalties and may trigger special actions under certain circumstances, such as when a certain card is bought or developed, played to the table, flipped, recycled, or a specific condition is met.
A player’s turn has two phases: the Play Cards phase and the Building phase. In the Play Cards phase, players will play cards from the top of their deck until they either choose to stop, or exceed the unhappiness limit of two. This is akin to a bust and the player’s turn immediately ends. If the player reaches the end of their deck, they have the option of whether or not to shuffle. This is important because if the top card of the player’s deck is ever a trailer park, it must also be played. As they provide one unhappiness each, these are the cards most likely to cause a player to bust and are therefore likely the first cards players will try to remove from their deck. Aside from unhappiness, cards may also provide money, victory points, or purchasing power solely for the “flip” or develop actions which are a part of the Build phase. Additionally, any card(s) in a player’s discard pile featuring a recycle icon may be recycled, yielding temporary benefits, and flipped to its opposite side. The recycled card remains in the discard pile.
In the Build phase, players may take one of three options: Buy, Flip, or Develop. A player may buy a card from the general supply by paying its building cost, displayed in the upper right-hand corner, using money generated during the first half of the turn. The card is then placed into the discard pile. A player may instead choose to pay the flip fee of any single card in their discard pile, indicated near the bottom right of the card, and flip the card to its opposite and generally more powerful side. Thirdly, the player may choose to develop a card from the general supply, paying both its building cost AND its flip fee, then adding the card to their discard pile with the back side up. If, at the end of their turn, a player received eight victory points from their cards, that player wins the game. If not, play passes to the next player. Coins, unhappiness, and victory points do not carry over to subsequent turns.
Flip City: Wilderness also includes a solo variant wherein the general supply is limited to four of each card. Play occurs as normal, but at the end of each turn, the player must discard a card from the general supply and any recycled Country Resorts are discarded from play. The victory condition remains the same.
Having played the original Flip City, I was curious to see what additions the designer had brought to Wilderness and what effects those had on gameplay. I like deck-building games and, unlike most games of this type, the Flip City games bring a micro-game feel by comparison as they are only slightly larger than an average deck of cards rather than hundreds of cards. I was also curious to see if the rulebook had improved at all. The rules in the original had been concise, but I had found them not intuitive and frustrating in their brevity and it required seeing the game in motion and getting through a few rounds on the table to work out the kinks.
Quality of Components and Insert
The box is a small form factor like the original. It has a single divider to hold the game’s 76 double-sided cards in two small stacks for storage. The cards are a good thickness which is a necessity for a deck-building game which requires numerous shuffles per play. As players’ personal decks rarely exceed 20-30 cards, they can also side shuffle the cards which will decrease wear. The box includes a small token sheet with nine happiness tokens as an optional inclusion during play to aid players in remembering card effects for their next turn. I appreciate the extra step of including the tokens as the card effects can easily be forgotten in the heat of gameplay or if it’s late in the evening and focus has started to wane.
The art and graphic design are the same style as in previous Flip City titles allowing Wilderness to be integrated together with the original and its expansions, should you so choose. As in the original, the artwork is similar to what one might see in an indie city-builder on the PC or mobile app sphere. The art style features clean lines and sharp colors. Each card is evocative of the location it is trying to emulate. The iconography is again similar to the original which adds to the continuity for the brand. It is clear to read and follow once the player becomes familiar with the system.
Flip City: Wilderness is a deck-builder and therefore creates the energy of trying to get your deck functioning optimally and being faster than your opponent in the race for victory points. The relatively small number of cards and push-your-luck gameplay means that turns are quick and exciting and keeps disengagement of players to a minimum. Players at the table feel some suspense as they hope to build their engine, competing over the limited resources to add into their decks.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
As a deck-builder, Flip City: Wilderness is primarily about streamlining your deck and building your engine to efficiently generate coins and, later, victory points. In many games of this style, there are many options to be weighed and sorted, but Flip City: Wilderness only ever has four different cards in the general supply from which to add to your deck. Even if one were to mix in cards from the previous game and expansions, they are added in place of existing cards, keeping the amount of purchase options relatively low. The box recommends ages 14 and up but I think younger players could easily grasp the mechanics. I found the rules a touch confusing in their brevity as they do not break down some of the more compounded actions players might encounter, but most of those cleared up through a few rounds of gameplay.
I really like Flip City: Wilderness. It has a quick playtime of 30-50 minutes, edging toward 30 or less in a two-player game. The double-sided cards and flipping mechanism are unique and give this series a different feel within the deck-building genre. The push-your-luck aspect with cards that generate unhappiness helps players understand which cards in their deck may be problematic and focuses the decision-making process on how best to enhance your deck. If you see yourself playing this with the same opponent, there may come a point where you would want to expand your collection to include the original, and perhaps even its expansions, to offer some options to vary the cards in the general supply and force you to alter your build strategies.
My only complaint with Flip City: Wilderness is the same complaint I had with its predecessor and that is the rule pamphlet. To clarify, I do not think the rules are bad. They are clear and concise and they explain the iconography with large diagrams. However, as I alluded to previously, you will run into situations in your first plays where the cards create compounded actions or an icon is applying in a unique way on a certain card. In these initial cases, I found myself stumbling over how to properly interpret all of the iconography. I was able to parse the cards, but I think it is just a case where some things will not make sense until you see the parts moving in the course of play.
Ultimately, I think Flip City: Wilderness is a wonderful small-form deck-builder that treads a different enough path from its big-box cousins that it would make a nice addition for someone looking for deck-building gameplay with a significantly smaller footprint and faster setup. The inclusion of a solo variant is nice for when you are waiting for players to arrive or perhaps over lunch alone. Additionally, as a standalone sequel, there is already more content for you to expand into when you are ready.