It’s been a while since I’ve done a game recommendation article and I figured it was about time to publish another one. Today, I’m going to be looking at tile laying games based on a question we received here on the Tabletop Bellhop homepage.
I’m looking for tile placement games that help build something large like a city to either explore or use as part of the game. I enjoy Alhambra but the building aspect of it is usually on the smaller side. I tried Suburbia but it was a bit slow due to my groups analysis paralysis to max out the math/points for each placed tile. I’m guessing Castles of Mad King Ludwig would be the same…any other suggestions for me to check out?
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The Short Answer: The Ludwig games are a wonderful place to look if Suburbia is too heavy for your group.
I have to admit that as I was reading the beginning of Steve’s question, Suburbia was the first game to come to mind. I’m sorry to hear that it didn’t work out for that group, it’s an excellent game. I admit, there can be a lot to think about in Suburbia and I can see how that could cause a lot of AP (analysis paralysis).
Steve mentions Castles of Mad King Ludwig in his question. I think this is an excellent suggestion. Castles of Mad King Ludwig is significantly lighter than Suburbia. There are a lot less tiles that rely on what other players have built and there is no income track to worry about. Even simpler is Palace of Mad King Ludwig in which all players are building the same building. Personally, I prefer Castles, but if your group digs lighter games Palace may be the the place to start.
The Long Answer: There are so many tile laying games out there.
Of course, whenever I hear tile laying, the first game that comes to mind is Carcassonne. Before that was Dominoes and I’m sure there was probably something before dominoes. Tile laying is a rather elegant mechanic that game designers continue to use today. There a variety of things to like about tiles. You can get a hand of them, like cards in a card game, and pick from those when determining what to play. Often they are used to build the board as you go, whether that’s your own personal board or a shared playing area and I’ve always enjoyed that mechanic.
The variability in tile laying games is huge, even with a smaller number of total tiles, every playing area built tends to be totally unique and adding even one tile to the set ads a wealth of new possibilities. There’s also something tactile about tiles that you just don’t get from cards. Something more substantial.
There’s only one real disadvantage to tiles that I have found: I can’t stand shuffling them. I hate having to mix up the tiles before any game that uses them. Overall though, I’m a huge fan of games that use tiles.
Moving back to the question, Steve isn’t just looking for tile laying games, he’s looking for games where you build something. Thankfully that narrows things down a bit. At least it removes all the abstract tile games.
Below I’m going to look at some of my favourite tile laying games. I’ve broken the list into light, medium and heavier games. Now I know that Steve’s group found Suburbia to be a bit heavy, but I wanted to include some heavier games for other people who might dig some more weight in their tile laying games.
Here are some light tile laying games I really enjoy:
Carcassonne – I have to mention this one. I’ve been playing Carcassonne since it came out and it’s still one of my favourite tile laying games. Together players are building the medieval city of Carcassonne with roads, fields, cloisters, and castles. If the base game seems a bit too simple add one of the numerous expansions. Each adds something to the game, most making the game more tactical and/or strategic.
Kingdomino and/or Queendomino – This one is probably a little too light for most people, but is a great intro tile laying game. In Kingdomino you are using the age old domino mechanic to build a kingdom. Tiles are drafted and placed into a 5×5 grid trying to create areas of similar terrain types to maximize your score. Quendomio ads in a simple economy with knights that you can use to tax your lands and buildings you can buy to place into your kingdom for more scoring opportunities but watch out for the dragon!
Takenoko – Build a bamboo garden one hex tile at a time. Use the gardener to make the bamboo grow while the panda moves around and eats it. Randomized scoring tiles give you targets to aim for. You may be looking for a specific board shape, bamboo in a set pattern or the right pieces of bamboo in the panda’s tummy. This is an extremely beautiful and well produced game that I found is fun for kids and adults alike.
New York 1901 – If you want city building, what better city to build than New York? Draft cards to build skyscrapers represented by polyominoes. This is a solid, quick to teach, area majority game that has been nominated for and won a variety of awards. At one time, it was thought this might be a Ticket to Ride killer, but it never really took off. It’s a excellent game and a real gateway or next step game.
Planet – If building a city or a kingdom is too small a scope for you, how about building a planet? I played planet at Breakout Con 2019 and absolutely loved it. This is a very quick to teach (under 3 minutes) drafting game where each player is building their own planet by placing the tiles they draft onto a D12 shaped planet. Players are going to score points by having animals evolve on their planets based on the environmental patterns they create. I strongly recommend this game to almost everyone, it’s up there with Azul for simple to teach, accessible games that have surprising depth once you learn them.
Check out some medium weight tile laying games:
Isle of Skye – To me Isle of Skye is a step up from Carcassonne. In it you are playing overland tiles and having to match lakes, roads, fields, and mountains. The big addition to Isle of Skye is that there is an auction phase held each round where players bid on each other’s tiles to determine what they can build that round. A randomized scoring system adds a great amount of replay-ability to the game.
Among the Stars – Draft square tiles (okay technically they are square cards, but they could be tiles!) to build a space station. To me Among the Stars is a hidden gem. It’s one of the best drafting games I own and one I would choose over games like 7 Wonders every time. Start with just a reactor and add crew quarters, gardens, alien temples, bazaars, defenses, and a whole lot more. While building, watch for tile combos and ways to have a single tile score multiple times. A variety of expansions exist if you get tired of the tiles in the first game.
Galaxy Trucker – How about building a space ship? That’s what you do in Galaxy Trucker. Of course most of the fun of Galaxy Trucker is watching that ship get destroyed as it travels through space. In this blind tile drafting game you are trying to make the most robust ship, one that can get to the destination as intact as possible. While the game seems like random fun at first, with more plays you learn what to expect from the draw deck and learn that there’s quite a bit of strategy in how you play your tiles.
Glen More – This one is quite a bit smaller in scale, and probably leads to a final player board that’s smaller than Alhambra so probably isn’t right for Steve’s group but I wanted to mention it as it’s an excellent game. Glen More is an action selection game that uses a rondel-based timeline. This was one of the first games where the player in last goes first and can continue to go while still in last place. Glen More is all about efficiency as you build your small Scottish community.
There are some great heavier tile laying games out there:
Castles of Burgundy – Use dice to draft hexagonal tiles and build your own kingdom. Many people consider this game to be Sefan Feld’s greatest hit. Personally I really dig it but there are other Feld games I like just that little bit more. This is a classic point salad where players are trying to fill their own player boards in the best manner possible with the tiles they draft. While I wouldn’t normally call it a very heavy game, it is heavier than the other games I’ve listed in the earlier categories.
Clash of Cultures – If you want are truly epic game look to Clash of Cultures. Here you aren’t just building a city, you are building a full civilization. You start off on a plot of land that is four hex tiles big with only a city and one unit. Explore the surrounding territory and Expand your territory outward. Exploit resources on the tiles you find and Exterminate your opponents’ units. Yep, this is a full on 4x game. Clash of Cultures is one of the top three civilization building games out there and the only one of the three that uses tiles for exploration.
Xia: Legends of a Drift System – Forget building a city. Forget building an empire. Forget building a planet. How about building a Galaxy? Exploration is a big part of playing Xia, Legends of a Drift System. While you aren’t getting points for laying the tiles, you are making the world bigger and you can get some fame just by exploring, especially when using the Embers of a Forsaken Star expansion which re-balances the exploration tiles making that strategy more viable.
Keyflower – Each player is building their own village through three seasons of construction. Tiles are won through a meeple based auction mechanic that is unique to this game. As you add more tiles to your growing community both you and your opponents can use your tiles to get resources, refine them and deliver them around your board. I personally love this game. It’s one of the top games in my collection but it has a bit of a steep learning curve. There’s a big decision space in Keyflower and it’s not for group who have AP problems, like Steve’s.
So, there you have my big list of tile laying games that are all about building something. They range from building a village to building the galaxy and I hope that you can find something in there that your group enjoys.
Are you a tile laying game fan? Did I miss your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.
Dice Settlers (NSKN) is a 4X-style game combining tile placement and… dice bag filling? I don’t know the right term, you gather dice through play and change what you can roll over time. Anyway, the land is build of hex tiles you place as you explore.
That sounds pretty cool. It’s not a game I know much about, really just heard the name before.
I’ve played Dice Settlers two or three so far. The combination of elements really works for me, and you use such a small subset of the technologies (4X, gotta learn stuff!) in any given game you’re likely to see a fair bit of variability between games.