Solo Gaming: Underwater Cities

My latest obsession is Underwater Cities, a worker placement game where you are building a network of cities and tunnels underground with production buildings over three eras. I’m not going to assume you know the basic game-play — there are loads of reviews and play-throughs on YouTube you can check out if you need a primer!

Game play

The game set-up is identical to the 2-player game — using the 2-3 player side of the game board. You have to use the expert side of the player board, which has some additional costs and bonuses for building on certain spots. One of the orange metropolises isn’t used in the solo game, the one with bonus points for building a certain number of cities.

In addition to the normal set-up for the player, the access cards for another player are placed in the first green space, the first red, and the first orange, where “first” is defined as the first space you would get to in each color moving clockwise around the board. Finally, you set aside one additional access card in another player color.

Each round, you take turns as normal, but the “dummy player” access cards block some of the spots on the board.

In addition, you might think that moving on the Federation Track isn’t important in the solo game (since it normally defines turn order each round), but it can be hugely important. Each round that you don’t move up on the Federation Track, a forth spot on the board is blocked (with that spare other-player-color access card you set aside). This is done by taking the top card of the deck, summing the numbers in the lower left corner, and counting that many spaces from the first green space.

At the end of the game, if you have managed to build 7 cities and accumulate 100 points, you win.

How did it work?

Usually I prefer a solo game to have a more interesting win condition than simply getting set number of points. However, Underwater Cities is challenging enough, that I’ve gotten hooked on trying to beat that score.

The solo mechanism works really well here. You always know which spots will be blocked off in the next round, unless you ignore the federation track. Toward the end of the game, there’s a nice tension because you really need every single action to achieve the 7-city goal, but if you don’t have an action that moves your pawn on the federation track, the exact action you need might be blocked by that randomly-placed penalty card.

I have soloed this nearly a dozen times, and the closest I’ve gotten is 7 cities and 99 points (gah!). Usually my score is somewhere in the upper 80s or lower 90s. I’m looking forward to trying again soon. Will I keep going once I crack the win condition? Maybe not, but I’m having fun with the journey for now!

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