I have always been a pretty big fan of the board game publisher Gamewright. Gamewright makes a lot of games gauged specifically for children. It also makes a lot of games that work well for a family audience including both children and adults. The company has made some truly great games that hide a surprisingly deep game inside an accessible package. One of my favorite board game genres is probably the engine building genre as it is just really satisfying creating a functioning city/factory/etc that becomes more and more powerful as it grows. I was intrigued by Happy City as it seemed like Gamewright’s attempt to make a more accessible engine building game. Happy City is a cute and charming game for the whole family, that hides a surprisingly deep game beneath the surface.
It is kind of hard to pinpoint exactly what type of game Happy City is as it features a number of mechanics. On the surface it looks like a city building game, but there is more to the game than just building your city.
The ultimate goal of the game is to build the city that has the most happiness. Happiness is determined by the number of citizens and hearts in your cities. As these two are multiplied together to get your final score, you need to acquire both or your score will suffer. In fact to maximize your score you are best off trying to acquire the same number of symbols of both types as this will increase your multiplier.
This seems simple as you should just try to acquire every building that gives you hearts or citizens. There is more to the game than that though. In order to purchase buildings you need to acquire coins which you will use to purchase buildings. To start the game you only acquire one coin each turn which isn’t enough to purchase almost anything. You could just wait to acquire enough money to purchase more buildings, but you are better off trying to create your own economy.
If you would like to see the complete rules/instructions for how to play Happy City, check out our how to play guide.
This is actually where a lot of the strategy for the game comes from. At least in the early game you have to mostly decide between building your economy or increasing your city’s happiness. A lot of the early buildings only feature citizens, hearts, or coins. Therefore you need to choose whether you want to focus on the long term picture for your city, or if you want to increase your current score.
Early in the game you basically need to spend some turns building up your economy. If you don’t you will earn so little money each round that it will really stagnate your growth. How much time and resources you spend building your economy is going to be a big part of where the players’ strategies will diverge. You could spend most of your early turns acquiring a bunch of revenue earning buildings. This will give you more money and allow you to acquire more valuable buildings later in the game. You can’t spend too much time and resources on your income though, as money doesn’t have much value at the end of the game. To do well in the game you really need to find the right balance between the two.
In addition to deciding between building your economy versus your happiness, you also need to consider what type of buildings to acquire. This is where the Bonus Buildings come into play. The colors of buildings you acquire will have an impact on what Bonus Buildings you are eventually able to acquire. There are enough Bonus Buildings for everyone to acquire one. If another player wants the same building as you, you may need to rush your plans in order to acquire the corresponding buildings before the other player.
For the most part I would say that Happy City is a pretty solitary game. Usually the players do their own thing without having much impact on one another. There are two areas in the game where you can have some impact on the other players though. The first is the competition for the Bonus Buildings. As they are gone once someone takes them, players will have to compete against one another if two or more players want the same building.
An unintended area where you can impact the other players is by choosing which cards will be available for the next player. If you already know what card you want to purchase, you may choose not to discard a card at the beginning of your turn. This keeps more of the current cards in place for the next player. This can be helpful if you don’t think the next player wants any of the current cards. By doing this they will only be able to change one of the cards decreasing their odds of getting a card that they actually want. In the same way you could fill the Building Supply with cards that the next player can’t afford. This will also reduce the number of cards that the next player will have to choose from.
I am not going to pretend that Happy City is filled to the brim with depth as it simply isn’t. In many ways the game feels like a more simplified version of a more complicated city/engine builder. Yet I was kind of surprised by the amount of strategy that the game does have. It does rely on some luck as the cards you get to choose from to purchase will have an impact on what you can do. Yet your decisions in the game do have a pretty big impact on what ultimately happens.
If you are the type of gamer that only cares for games filled with strategy, Happy City probably won’t be the game for you. The strategy is for the most part pretty straightforward. You need a general strategy, but you don’t need to think multiple turns in advance. In many cases there is usually an obvious choice for what you should do on your turn. I think the game has enough strategy to remain interesting. If you need a game filled with strategy, you likely won’t get it with Happy City.
In a way I would say that Happy City feels like an introductory game into the city/engine builder genres. Like most games made by Gamewright, it was designed to be accessible for most of the family. This includes people that don’t play a lot of board games. The game has a recommended age of 10+ which I think might be a little high. The game has done a really good job streamlining mechanics that otherwise may be a little intimidating for players. I think the game could be taught to new players within five to ten minutes. Most players shouldn’t have all that much trouble playing the game.
I think this is what I enjoyed most about Happy City. I am a firm believer in the idea that a game should be made as simple as possible while retaining the essence of the gameplay. It feels like there is no real filler in the game. The game was made just as difficult as it needed to be to still work. This is why I think the game will work great as a family game, and one that could introduce children or non-gamers into more complicated games down the line.
I had a lot of fun playing Happy City as it is a really enjoyable game. It is probably not the most original board game though. I can’t really think of any mechanics in the game that I haven’t seen in other board games. This is not surprising as it feels like a streamlined version of a more complicated game. The game is still fun, but I do wish it had a little more originality. You may already have a game in your collection that is already quite similar to Happy City, where it may not differentiate itself enough to warrant a purchase.
Happy City actually ends up playing quite a bit quicker than you might first expect. At first it might seem like it would take a while to acquire ten buildings. This is partially due to it taking a while to build up your revenue. Once you get going though things move quickly. In fact outside of a couple of early turns, you could acquire a building almost every turn. I think the game will usually only take around 20-30 minutes, which seems about right for this type of game.
In general I like the idea that the game plays quickly. Happy City is the type of game that will thrive as a filler game. Don’t have much time to play a game? You can easily bring out Happy City and play a quick game. Need a break between more thought provoking games? Happy City will give you a good break. Want a quick rematch? Happy City is short enough that you can play games back to back.
Unfortunately this also is responsible for one of the biggest problems that I had with the game. In theory I think the game is about the right length. In practice though, the game feels like it ends quicker than it probably should. As you build up your city you eventually reach a point where things really start to hum. Your city is really starting to come together and then the game ends. While I enjoyed my time playing Happy City, I think the game seems to end a little too early. I don’t think the game should be drastically longer, but I think adding a couple more buildings to your city would make the game better as you could take advantage of your city starting to gel for a little longer.
My final issue with Happy City is the first player seems to have a slight advantage in the game. Its not big enough that the first player has a much greater chance of winning. I think it could occasionally impact who ultimately wins though. All of the players will get the same number of turns. Getting to go first each round does give you a slight advantage. I think a lot of this has to deal with the Bonus Building cards as the first player will have the opportunity to get their pick of cards before the other players are even given a chance.
Before wrapping up I wanted to quickly talk about Happy City’s components. While the game mostly just comes with cards, I thought the game’s components were really good. The coins are pretty typical cardboard, but they serve their purpose. The highlight of the game is the card’s artwork which is quite cute, but also looks really nice. The overall style of the game really fits the game, and should appeal to the whole family. On top of the artwork, the cards are designed well where it is easy to find any information that you need. For a game that only retails for $15, you get a lot in the game.
I generally enjoyed my time with Happy City. The game is not going to be for everyone, but it is a really fun game that I think a lot of people will really enjoy. In a way the game feels like a streamlined/simplified city builder/engine builder game. You slowly build up your city which opens up even more options on future turns. The game may not have enough strategy for everyone, but it still has quite a bit especially when you consider how accessible the game is. It is quite easy to play where the whole family can enjoy it. Happy City finds a really good balance between accessibility and strategy.
Those looking for a really strategic game may be a little disappointed with Happy City though. The strategy most of the time is pretty obvious. Happy City is not the most original game either as many of the mechanics are just streamlined from other games. Finally the game seems to end just as things are really starting to pick up. The overall length is pretty good, but I think a couple more rounds would have made the game even better.
Ultimately my recommendation for Happy City comes down to your thoughts on the premise and a simpler city builder game. If you really care for the theme or want a more in depth game, I don’t know if Happy City will be the game for you. If the game sounds interesting to you though and you like games that find a good balance between strategy and accessibility, I think Happy City will be a game that you will enjoy playing.
Year: 2021 | Publisher: Gamewright | Designer: Toshiki Sato, Airu Sato | Artist: Makoto Takami
Genres: City Building, Engine Building, Family
Ages: 10+ | Number of Players: 2-5 | Length of Game: 20-30 minutes
Difficulty: Light-Moderate | Strategy: Light-Moderate | Luck: Moderate
Components: 20 1 coins, 10 5 coins, First Player card, 5 Happy Market cards, 12 Residence cards, 66 Building Cards, 18 Family Bonus Building Cards, 38 Advanced Bonus Building cards, instructions
- Finds a great balance between accessibility and strategy.
- Really fun, quick little city builder with a cute theme.
- Might be a little too simple for some players.
- Feels a little too short where a couple extra rounds would have made the game even better.
Recommendation: For people that are looking for an accessible cute little city builder game that the whole family can enjoy.