Real-Time Magic: Sorcerer City Review
Take me down to the Sorcerer City where prestige is green and the time is ticking!
For whatever reason, the sorcerers of this city like to change its layout—every year, so good luck ever finding what you’re looking for. Fortunately, you’re the sorcerer in Sorcerer City, creating districts and adding to them as the year progresses. But, as is common among cities such as these, monsters tend to get a little too friendly with the locals. So that’s something else you’ll be dealing with as you rearrange your district each year.
#Sorcerer City is a real-time tile-laying game with a deckbuilding mechanic (or, rather, tile building? Stack building?). Each round you build your district, buy more tiles to add to next year’s rearrangements, and so on.
There are a lot of tiles in this game! Fortunately, the insert makes it easy to separate, store, and set up without having to search for the tiles you need. The rule book does a pretty good job at walking you through the game, and after the first few rounds, you should have the format down.
I’m a big fan of real-time games already, so I was excited to give Sorcerer City a go. I find the real-time aspect fun and engaging, and there’s a good amount of strategy and thought that goes into it as well. First impressions are good, and Sorcerer City made me want to come back again and again.
The gameplay of Sorcerer City is fast-paced with a good amount of strategy. There’s an aspect of deckbuilding involved, in which you add to your initial stack of tiles by purchasing more at the market at the end of each round. Monsters also get added to your stack after each round, and they do some rather unpleasant things to your district or scoring conditions. As monsters do.
The first part of the gameplay is the building phase, in which you build your district. The game comes with a 2-minute sand time, but I highly recommend using the official app for the timer. Sand timers are fine, sure, but you can’t hear when they run out. The app gives an audio cue when time is running out, plus there is epic thematic music to help you really feel the theme. But really, use the app for the timer. It’s worth it.
Anyway, during the build phase, players take one tile from off the top their stack and place it in their district. The first tile can go anywhere (as there is nothing to build on yet), but subsequent tiles must be placed adjacent—orthogonally only—to another tile already in the district. Sides don’t have to match, although certain scoring conditions will certainly benefit from connected colors.
Scoring conditions appear on tiles as a large shield that shows what you must do to your district in order to score points/resources of that type. Some show three blocks in a row—this means you need at least three tiles of that color in a straight line in order to score points. It can be longer than three tiles long, and you get one point of that resource per tile connected with that color in that shape/form. Other tiles require tiles of the same color to be connected in something of an L shape, so the whole thing can’t be a straight line.
Some scoring conditions require other scoring tiles (i.e. shield tiles) to be neighboring it (which is different than simply being adjacent). Neighboring includes orthogonal and diagonal tiles. Some tiles that are purchased from the market have special abilities on them, so if you have that tile visible in your district, you can use the ability.
All this needs to be done in two minutes. After two minutes, no more tiles may be laid and you score your district, moving your score markers up on their tracks according to what you scored in your district. There are four types to score:
At the end of the scoring phase, all of your mana points can be transformed into one of the other three. So, if you have 6 mana, you can convert it into 6 gold, 6 influence, or 6 prestige. Influence is used to gain bonuses, whether it’s abilities, points, or both. Money is used to buy new tiles. Prestige is points (represented by the green column), and you collect those at the end of the round before you reset all of your track markers to zero.
Monsters are distributed to each player after each market phase, and those go into your deck (along with anything else purchased). When monsters are drawn from your stack of tiles wihle building your district, you do what it says to do on its corresponding card. Some monsters destroy city tiles, while others mess with your scoring conditions. There are others that make it more difficult to place tiles or to plan ahead. The monsters add a fun bit of surprise to the game.
At the end of the game, the player with the most prestige points collected wins.
Thoughts on Gameplay
The gameplay is fun, of that there is no doubt. Everyone builds their districts simultaneously, so that cuts down on what would be a lot of downtime. Really, Sorcerer City shouldn’t take over an hour to play, which makes it a great game for many occasions.
I find the real-time phase of the game to be very well done. As the game progresses, it gets more and more difficult to place all of your tiles, since you keep accumulating more each round. It creates a fine balance of stacking your deck (so to speak) with lots of tiles for lots of points, and being able to play all of your tiles—even effectively, if you do manage to play them all—before the timer runs out. I know I’ve had far too big of a stack and—wouldn’t you know it—the two I really needed for some killer scoring were on the bottom of the stack, and the timer ran out before I could get to them. C'est la vie.
While it’s obviously a good idea to do as well as you can, being last also has its rewards—namely, a tile from the top of a market stack. This is a helpful catch-up mechanic, and could be your ticket home, or just another tile to find a home for. It really depends on what you draw.
Speaking of drawing tiles, the monsters create some fun moments where your district suffers and you just have to deal with it. Because everyone has the same monsters, it’s balanced in that way. However, luck of the draw can play a big part in whether you do well or want to cry and give up.
One game, I drew a monster three rounds in a row after having placed my first tile or two, and these monsters were the destructive sort, so I had to get rid of those tiles. Unfortunately, they were good tiles—tiles with scoring conditions, bonuses, and the like. I ended up losing that game miserably, most likely because of those unlucky draws. Because others had more tiles in their districts when their monsters emerged, they had more options of which tiles to remove. Me? I didn’t have that luxury. But, despite the tragedy of those draws, I still had a lot of fun. And that's the important part (says the loser).
All in all, the gameplay is really good.
The fantasy theme is enhanced by the official timer app, thanks to the music track associated with it. The monsters are also your traditional fantasy/D&D monsters: gelatinous cube, dragon, dark mage, etc. It’s a fun theme, and while I’m sure there could be a lot of themes slapped on to this one, I think the fantasy/sorcerer theme fits the bill the best.
There isn’t much art, save for some of the cards, like the monsters, but what there is is really good. The game is Invested with colors (perhaps this takes place on Nalthis?), and your districts will end up looking like a deformed rainbow (in a good way, obviously). Even though the colors are designed to aid in scoring conditions, I like the colorful nature of the game.
Sorcerer City is great multiplayer, and it plays extremely well solo, too. There are a few differences in gameplay, but the core of the game remains, which is always good for a solo variant (I don’t always like it when the core game changes just to make a solo variant).
At the end of the Buy phase, you get one monster as normal; however, you place the five remaining monsters from that current year/round on tiles in the market that have at least one matching color of the monster tile being placed. If, at any time, a monster tile must be played on a market tile but there are no valid options, you lose. So, you’ll need to buy tiles with monsters on them (getting both the monster and market tile), making your deck size grow faster than it would otherwise. And, because you keep the monster with the market tile, you’ll have a lot more monsters to deal with.
It’s a fun puzzle, this solo variant, and is one I’ve been happy to come back to. Yes, the enjoyment factor is way up there for this one.
These are the things that make the game so awesome (for me, anyway):
- Good solo variant
- Not much down time
- Fantasy theme
- Dragons! (Even though they’re baaaaad in this game)
Things to Consider
As I mentioned above, the luck of the draw can really put the kibosh on your game. I do think that my experience was a fluke, as no one else has had that experience, but the fact remains that it can happen. But it didn’t stop me from having fun, so there’s that.
Obviously, if you’re not a fan of real-time games, Sorcerer City might not become one of your favorites. However, the official timer app has three time settings: Easy (3 minutes), Normal (2 minutes), and Hard (1 minute). So if two minutes of frantic tile laying isn’t your cup of mulled wine, there is no shame in setting the clock for more time. It’s all about having fun, so do what works for you!
Yes, Sorcerer City is a very good game. Solid mechanics with a fun theme equates to some good ol’ game time. As an avid fan of real-time games, I was really hoping I would like this one. Now, that bias might have two extreme effects. One, it can mean I go in with rose-colored glasses and love it regardless. Or, two, it could end up as a severe disappointment because I went in with my expectations too high.
Welp, I’m proud to say that I held on to my wits. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Far from it. And my regard toward the game is approaching very close to love. I like this game. A lot. And I enjoy playing it every time. The solo variant is solid and a boon to the game.
Sorcerer City is a wonderful game and a fine addition to my collection of real-time games. The fact that it incorporates the deckbuilding mechanic adds a lot of familiar fun as well. All in all, I am very impressed with Sorcerer City and not only love that I can play it whenever I want, but also the fact that it exists makes me incredibly happy.
Have you played Sorcerer City? If so, let us know your thoughts on the game! If not, leave a comment with what interests you most about the game.
About the Author
Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He’s a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego’s Copyediting Extension program. He’s a freelance writer and editor, covering everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Benjamin_Kocher. You can also read his board game inspired fiction (among other things) at BoardGameImmersion.com.