In the far flung future as sea levels rise, we will need to find ways to live on the oceans, to thrive despite our mistakes. We will succeed, we must succeed and maybe that success will be giant teetering towers of glass, steel and concrete pushed out into the ocean.
Megacity Oceania from Hub Games and designers Michael Fox and Jordan Draper, puts you in the boots of those tasked with making this bright future happen delivering towering structures in the waters surrounding Australia.
When you first crack the box on Megacity you are immediately struck by how bright everything is; colourful cards nestle away in a stark white plastic insert, chunky plastic pieces hidden away in a bright blue bag and cute little transparent cubes for player markers. This feels like a hopeful vision contained within. The moment you lay your hands on those pieces you are going to want to start putting them together, without really understanding why.
Your architectural journey will start with a small amount of materials, but soon enough you’ll find yourself grabbing contracts to fulfill for points, platforms to build on, and requisitioning a load more material from the ever present bag of plastic goodies.
In between your turns you’ll build, following the restrictions on one of the contracts; enclosed area on the ground floor, archway on the upper, at least 45(mm) high, no glass etc. Every platform you build on has utilities that must be connected, vents that must be avoided. In these restrictions is bred creativity, forcing players to inventively use their pieces to grab the highest scores. When you put a building together you’ll get points if it is the tallest or only made of one type of material: steel, concrete or glass. All this only comes if you deliver it though.
You’ve built your masterpiece, an edifice to rival the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House or the Empire State Building. Now it’s time to join it up to the rest of the city. Oh yeah, you don’t build these things right on the ocean that would be madness. No, you build them on shore, in front of you, then float the teetering behemoths out into the wide blue yonder. When a player is ‘delivering’ a building the entire table stops to watch, cheering when it makes it, commiserating should it fall. These are the moments that make dexterity games great.
It is a shame then that the games gets in the way of these moments. When I first played Megacity at UK Games Expo 2019 I really enjoyed the spectacle of watching towers slide into place, and it carried me through the game. I don’t know if something has changed between then and the release version, but the game feels clumsy and trips over its own feet.
Relying on the other players actions as effectively a timer is a neat idea, that doesn’t quite shake out in execution. When it works it means that everyone gets a bit of time to build, takes a couple of actions, builds some more. It doesn’t work all the time.
As the game progresses and you build up your pile of construction pieces you find yourself wanting to build more and take actions less. This means that when it comes to your turn all you want to do is pass and keep building, but you can’t. The game insists on you taking actions, because without them the other players don’t have time to build. You are focused, intent on getting your building correct and someone is waggling a bag of plastic pieces in front of you telling you it’s your turn. You don’t notice. They have to bug you and you are brought out of your revery, reluctantly, resenting the intrusion.
Megacity: Oceania feels needlessly fiddly and nowhere is this more obvious than in the monuments. These are single pieces that can be deployed in parks to give points to surrounding buildings. Deploy a public building and you get to change the central park monument for an extra point. None of the other types of buildings do anything, so why bother with this at all? Don’t forget you get points for having a diverse portfolio or for specialising but again these are nothing to do with the act of building and balance. All these little rules feel like a distraction from the main focus of the game, an attempt to add strategy where it really isn’t needed.
Dexterity in games is such an overpowering mechanic that anything that distracts from it feels like an annoyance. Games like Jenga and Rhino Hero are so well loved because they do just that, they focus on the drama and tension. They have rules light enough to provide structure whilst melting away when the moment comes to balance another piece. Megacity’s rules are a constant intrusion, taking you away from the building and pushing and giving the game a very staccato pace.
I loved putting the buildings together. I loved watching my fellow architects succeed and fail to deliver their wondrous creations into our burgeoning city. I was annoyed every time the game imposed itself on either of those activities. Megacity: Oceania is a bold game trying to do something different with the dexterity genre. Although I think it ultimately fails, these experiments are to be celebrated, but not necessarily followed.
A copy of Megacity Oceania was graciously supplied by Coiledspring Games.