The citizens of Flip City want you to expand and renovate their neighborhoods — but if you ask for too much in taxes all at once, they won’t be happy! Flip City is a micro deck building game by designer Chen. Chih Fan, Tasty Minstrel Games, and Homosapiens Lab. The game plays with 1-4 players and lasts 30-50 minutes. For those unfamiliar (come on people, get with the times!) a deck builder is a game in which each player starts with an identical small deck of cards, and as the game progresses, they add more and more cards to their deck. This allows each player to adapt their own deck to whichever strategy they like. In Flip City the cards represent buildings in your city, and each card is double sided (hence the “flip”). Many deck building games have graced the friendly local game store (FLGS) shelves of late, but Flip City is unique among them.
How the Game is Played
The goal of Flip City is to play cards from your deck until you have either eight gold medals in one turn, or have played eighteen cards in one turn, one of which has to be the Convenience Store. Each player starts with the same deck of nine cards; four Residential Areas, an Apartment, a Convenience Store, a Factory, a Hospital, and a Central Park. Each card is double sided, and as such you have to make sure that you are only flipping cards over when you are supposed to do so, and cards must maintain their side whether on the table, the discard pile, or in your deck. You also have to shuffle blindly to avoid shuffling in your own favor. However, it also means that the top card of your deck is always visible.
In the first phase of each player’s turn, they will play cards from their deck to the table, acquiring gold, medals, or sad faces in the process. They continue to play cards as long as they want to, but as soon as they obtain three sad faces the turn ends immediately! While the top card of the deck is visible, the next card is obviously hidden, so if the player decides to push their luck to get that last piece of gold that needed for a Factory, a Residential Area might be uncovered, forcing the player to play it and get that third sad face! Once the end of the deck is reached, the player may choose to stop the play cards phase and move on to the buy phase, but they may also choose to keep going, in which case they must shuffle the discard to form a new deck and they MUST play the top card, even if it is that fateful third sad face.
Once a player decides to stop playing cards, they move on to the buy phase. In the buy phase the player may spend the gold that they acquire in the previous phase to either purchase a building for their deck, flip over a card in their discard pile, or buy a building AND flip it over. Some cards grant the ability to do more than one action in the buy phase. Then the turn is over and play passes to the next player.
The game also provides rules for a single player game in which the clock is the piles of building cards. Each turn, in addition to buying cards, one building must be removed from the game. When the stacks of buildings are gone, the player loses.
The game comes in a small box that fits two stacks of cards. It is of a good quality and the graphics and artwork are top notch. The cards themselves are of a good quality as well and have held up well considering that you shuffle blind. Due to this fact I think I will sleeve them eventually, and in the test that I just did, it looks like the cards will fit in the box in sleeves. I’m not sure if the stack of cards will be too tall with the added thickness however. The only issue that I have with the packaging as it comes is that there is no way to keep the two stacks of cards from mixing while in the box. There is a good half-inch or more of extra room. I solved this by making a quick folded insert with some chipboard I happened to have laying around. Flip City also comes with the optional Office expansion.
The rule book is a fold-out pamphlet type of book that is printed on both sides. The rules are straightforward and easy to follow. While the rulebook does show every card and it’s flip side, it doesn’t spend any time talking about any of the abilities, leaving some of them up to interpretation. For example, Central Park states that you may “Buy” one additional time during the buy phase. So normally you can buy, flip, or buy and flip the same card. Central Park gives an additional buy but it could be read that you have to buy once prior to that extra. We play that you still get the choice on your normal action, but then get to buy as well. It is a minor quibble, but it is still a question that came up during play.
One interesting thing in these rules, that I don’t recall seeing anywhere else, is that they use some of the symbology throughout the rule book and on all the cards. For example, the sad face is never actually referred to as a sad face or unhappiness, the actual icon of the sad face is used in the text.
With the nature of the fold out rules page, I could see it wearing down rather quickly, but the game is small, and after a few plays you know what everything means, so you don’t have to refer back to the rules very often. I don’t see it being a real issue.
The theme of Flip City is that you are attempting to improve your city. To do this you must collect taxes from your constituents (gold coins), but if you do this incorrectly or too fast then the population becomes unhappy (sad faces), and your turn is over without getting to make the upgrade and you have to start over the next turn. I hadn’t really considered the theme of the game much prior to writing this, but now that I think about it, it makes sense. Adding cards to your deck or flipping over the cards already in your deck is improving your city and certain things make the citizens unhappy. I think the one change I would make on this to reverse the residential area and apartment effects, as the residential area is technically worse than the apartment… but that could just be bias because I live in a suburb and would rather do that than live downtown in an apartment.
While the game play and mechanics certainly make sense together, I could see Flip City being some other theme without changing the mechanics. Unlike some other games, it would take me some time pondering to come up with a viable theme though.
The heart of Flip City is in the cards. The cards of Flip City represent various buildings throughout your city, and each has a cost (save the Residential Area), a resource (gold, medal, or sad face), a special ability, and a flip cost. Typically when you flip a building over you are giving up something but gaining something else. For example, the Hospital gives you a gold and a sad face, but it also gives you an additional gold for each sad face that you have played up to that point. If you flip it over it becomes the Church. The Church doesn’t give you any resource, but it does increase your sad face limit. Both sides of the card are good, depending on what type of strategy you are trying to accomplish. Another example is the Convenience Store which gives you a gold as well as the alternate win condition of playing eighteen cards, where the Shopping Mall on the flip side gives you two gold and a medal, but it also forces you to play another card that turn. The point being that there is a lot of game play packed into just five different cards (ten if you count the flip sides, and twelve if you are playing with the optional Office/Trade Center) because you could have a game in which you are striving to flip every card, or you could have a game where you are buying as many cards as possible, rather than spending that gold on flipping.
I’ve been trying to determine if there is a strategy that would work over any other. The last time I played (two-player) I focused on getting and flipping a couple of Hospitals in order to have Churches that increased my sad face limit, and then getting Convenience Stores and flipping them into Shopping Malls to gain medals, and a couple of Central Parks for even more medals, as well as the boost of getting to buy more than once in the buy phase. Flipping your Residential Areas into Apartments is important as well because it removes the auto-play on the Residential Area, and you have the option of moving your apartment into an opponent’s deck as a Residential Area if you can come up with eight gold on one turn.
Quite honestly, the most I’ve played Flip City is as a single player game, and I really enjoy that as well. However, I always included the optional Office/Trade Center card among the available buildings to buy, and I’ve beaten the game every time. I think if the Office is included, it is just too easy. From now on I will play without it, or I may try making the stacks one card smaller, or remove a different building to change it up from time to time.
This deck-builder, unlike any other that I’ve seen, really wants you to be very aware of the cards that are in the deck, so a good memory is key. A key feature of most deck building games is the ability to cull cards from your deck to enable the better cards in the deck to be more effective. Flip City does have this ability, but only five cards out of each player’s starting hand may be removed. The catch is that those cards go into other player’s decks, and their copies of those cards can end up back in your deck. This is another way that Flip City varies from other deck builders, you can actually manipulate the other player’s decks. However, it isn’t easy. First you have to flip your Residential area, then have the Apartment in your discard pile with eight gold so that you can flip it again into someone else’s discard. The final verdict of all this is that while direct interference with another player’s plan is possible, it isn’t very economical, so it should not come up often enough for those players who tend to dislike that sort of direct interaction.
It is obvious that I enjoyed Flip City. I was worried on my first play that I wouldn’t like it, as the others I was playing with didn’t seem to like it, but the more you play the more familiar you get with the cards and what they do, and it becomes much easier. I was able to play again with my sister-in-law Karen and she said that it was much better the second time. Now I have to get my wife to give it another shot! The art of the game is great and fits the theme very well. The mechanics are solid and I enjoy the fact that unlike other deck builder games Flip City has introduced a new mechanic successfully (double sided cards). The handling of the deck is important, and it can be difficult to shuffle blind, especially for kids, but these are relatively minor ticks against the game as a whole. Had I given up on the game after that first play, I would be saying that it was a terrible game, but I’m very glad that I gave it another chance, because I certainly enjoy it.
Cast Iron Rating:
Note: Please see my previous review for how my ratings system works!