During the early part of the summer the Hidden City Philadelphia arts festival opened up and exposed unique locations in the city, filling them with art and performances and, in many instances, allowing visitors into spaces that are otherwise not accessible to the public. In conjunction with this project the Hidden City Philadelphia card game was produced. I was much more interested in this. The goal of the game is to build up actual Philadelphia neighborhoods to prosperity, the winner being the first player to complete a neighborhood with the required components. The festival focused on much of the Philadelphia that is off the beaten track, and while these elements are represented in the game the focus is more on the typical and the well known. I thought that was sort of weird.
Hidden City is for two to four players, but each player needs their own deck of cards to play the game. The cards themselves are totally lackluster for the most part. They are very simple and have no art on them at all, they are really just text. I guess the part that was most disappointing was that it seems like a great opportunity to include little facts about the places and people that are in the game, but it really does little of that. A good example of this are the neighborhood cards, it doesn’t even say where in the city the neighborhood is. Sure, I know where Logan Square is but I think it would greatly increase the appeal of the game (especially to out of towners) if some information about it was included, maybe a famous event that took place there or a bit of slang that the locals are known for. And I also feel compelled to acknowledge the total lack of South Philly in the game. Really, South Philly doesn’t get a neighborhood? Tacony is there. I see Fishtown. The best that South Philly gets is Two Street, thus totally ignoring the Italian Market, the Stadiums, and just about everything else. The cards are broken into several categories and they are easily identifiable by the different colored borders, which does help a lot.
Game play is very simple. Each player draws a hand of seven cards from their deck and then a single landmark card is placed in the center of the board. The game works on a resource and purchase system, essentially every card in play generates a set number of resources each turn, which are used to pay for additional cards. Cards are drawn each turn and many of the cards allows the player to draw extras. The landmark in play is shared by all players, allowing everyone to benefit from the resources that it produces. Example, William Penn’s Charter (4 resources) is in play as the landmark, and I also have Society Hill (4) and Mayor Michael Nutter (6) on my board. This gives me a total of 14 resources to spend on my turn to purchase new cards. With my resources I decide to purchase The Constitution for 12. I decide to not make any more purchases, thus my two remaining points are wasted for that turn. It is very easy, but also extremely cumbersome as the game goes on. By the last couple turns of the game Mike and I were both generating over 40 resources a turn, making it tough to keep track of them. The rules do suggest that a pen and paper may be helpful for his, which I agree with. However, I think it would have been better if the game came with counters or a less intensive system was developed.
The game is won when a player has a neighborhood in play and all of the components that it requires have been played on it. That neighborhood has now been fully developed and the player wins! Two Street requires that an Art, Education, Economy, and History card be played onto it. I also really do not like that the aspects of the neighborhoods are called components, it seems so robotic and cold. Actually, the whole game sort of feels that way. I suspect that the game design was purchased and then Philadelphia was just plugged into it, sort of like Mad Libs.
I really wanted to like this game a lot, but unfortunately it falls into the mediocre category. I suspect that I will certainly play it a couple more times, but I do not think that I will purchase a third or fourth deck and get some others involved. The main thing is that it loses steam as it goes along. In the first couple of turns each player has only a couple of cards in front of them, making it easy to keep track of things. But it quickly gets bogged down, collapsing under the weight of the awkward resource point system. More play testing would have benefited this game greatly.