City-building games have traditionally been very freeform. Allowing players a playground to build wherever and maybe tossing in a technology tree or age advancement requirements. With the advent of roguelikes and the rising age of game players, more bite-sized experiences are being released to meet the needs of a gamer with less time on their hands. Cardboard Town offers a roguelite city-building experience that moves at a casual pace with manageable expectations. Essentially, this is a turn-based city builder. Though the pace is casual, the challenges and opportunities provided are anything but.
Initially, you’re met with a tiled board and a city center in the middle, a hand of five cards with various buildings or supplementary cards, and a cute table with some interactable objects on it. The city center in the middle doesn’t just plop down, it builds up in square tiles as the rest of the board situates and you’re dealt your hand. It’s quite cute. You’re given a trouble meter, a town name and population indicator, and a resource management bar. Cardboard Town starts to lay down its rules pretty quickly.
The trouble meter advances 1 point per day. At the halfway point, a small disturbance happens, and at seven days you’re given a random disaster. I was given a drought on my first disaster, requiring 2 additional water to any card that lowered my water resource. You’re able to use resources to get rid of this disaster, or you’re able to ride it out over a series of turns. The disasters aren’t easy to ride out, as they last upwards of 20 days, which if you’re counting, means you can have roughly 3 – 4 disasters going at the same time. I tried to stay ahead of the disasters but my luck was left up to the fate of the cards.
Population and resource management are fairly straightforward. You gain income based on your population level, population level is directly tied to various housing cards. I was able to place things like houses, residences, trailer parks, condos, and skyscrapers, and as I did, my daily income increased. More importantly, the amount of money I was able to hold increased as well. Like some competitive card games, you’re given your maximum amount of money per turn, but that’s it, if you have a card that costs more than the money you can hold, you can’t save money for the next turn. This adds a layer of challenge that might seem frustrating but is alleviated greatly with some supplemental cards.
Supplemental cards can pull you out of a jam. Cards like Pave the Way provide some extra road cards or Change of Plans that discard your entire hand and have you draw 3 new cards. These cards can be used to great effect in helping you get rid of cards too expensive at this moment or unnecessary for what you’re currently building. Along with supplemental cards, you’re given red mission cards. These are cards that have a certain requirement that must be met and are associated with a specific time limit. A post office only costs $1 but requires you to build two other buildings on the same day before you set it down. If you don’t complete the mission, it negatively affects your resources. If your resources dip below 0, you’re given a red alert. Three red alerts and it’s game over.
Cardboard Town seems to alleviate the primary stress I have with city builders in that it moves at a pace I set and doesn’t seem like it’s going to become overwhelming. Many times, at scale, I start to struggle with resource management. Cardboard Town has a small, manageable amount of resources to work with and doesn’t lay too many complicated systems on you. I loved my time with Cardboard Town and hope you check out the demo at Steam Next Fest. Remember to wishlist the game if you like it. Cardboard Town releases sometime in 2023.