Review: Singapore

Posted by James (admin) on October 8th, 2012

Singapore is an interesting mix of tile-laying and economic/resource management.  Players are aiming to score the most victory points (VPs) which are earned through moving your worker(s) and using buildings.  The board consists of several sections which can be combined in many ways which gives some variety in replay.  Most squares on each board section show the cost of building on that square (£1-£4) .  At the start of the game, there are 4 neutral buildings – every round players build one building and connect them to neighbouring buildings.

Players start with some money, 5 VPs and one worker.  At the start of each round, a number of buildings are revealed (equal to the number of players plus one).  Then, the player in last place takes one coloured marker from each player and places them on vacant lots that neighbour any existing buildings.  These markers show where each player will build a building that round and the cost on the square dictates how much it will cost them.

Starting with the player in last place (and then going clockwise), players select one of the available buildings and pay the cost to build it on their marked square (leaving their coloured marker on it to show they own it).  If a player can not afford the building cost, they must exchange 1 VP for £2 until they can (or they get the building for free if they have no cash and no VPs).

The player places a road to connect the new building to an adjacent building and then they get to move their worker (which is the main action of the game).  A worker can move up to 3 spaces along roads and use up to 3 buildings that they are located on including the one they start on.

Players can use buildings that belong to other players, which gives the owner 1VP.  Each building offers various advantages such as gaining resources and cash, exchanging resources for points or other resources, moving up to 5 spaces that turn, etc.  One building allows you to gain a second worker for the rest of the game and you split your movement and actions between the two workers.

One clever game mechanic is the illegal buildings.  When a player builds or uses an illegal building they must draw a cube from a bag (which starts with 16 black and 2 white cubes).  If it’s a black cube, no problem (yet) and the player keeps it (it can not be spent) and it remains visible.  When anyone draws a white cube, a raid occurs and the player with the most black cubes and opium cubes combined (opium is a resource so it’s stored behind each player’s screen like other resources) must pay  £1 for each black and opium cube, discard all their black cubes and half of their opium too.  As with building, players must exchange VPs for cash if they can’t afford the cost.

Overall, Singapore is a really interesting game as you try to find the synergy between the buildings especially as each player can only use each building once per turn.  Plus, not only do you want buildings that work well together, but also buildings which are near enough so that every step you take (I tried re-wording that phrase to ‘every move you make’, but it still sounded like the song by The Police) is useful.   For this reason, the extra worker is very valuable as it means you can use buildings in different areas of the board in the same turn.  Players can build new roads anywhere at any time for £1 each and this can make a major difference.

The player making the choice of which plots are to be built on each round determines how much each player will have to pay for their building and this is entertainingly mean.  Trying to keep enough money (so you don’t need to lose VP to pay for it) is important but also difficult.  As the player making the decision about where the new buildings will be, it’s tempting to build your own buildings close to each other so you can use them yourself without much travel and without earning other players the bonus VPs.  However, this also means other players are less likely to use your buildings and earn you bonuses; plus, you’ll need buildings that work well together.  In a 2-player game it is easy for the board to become very polar which feels a bit less interactive (even though workers have no effect on each other), but I think this will be less so in a game with 3 or 4 players.  The buildings are divided into 3 different stacks so that the buildings later in the game are more powerful which adds a nice progression.

The illegal buildings game mechanic is excellent.  If you get hit with the fine when a raid occurs, you’ll have to pay the cost but you know that you were to blame for this for having the most black and opium cubes.  The illegal buildings are temptingly powerful (and some deliver the highest amount of VPs of any building towards the end of the game) and I like mechanics that tempt you into taking the easy path but at a potential cost.  One building lets you discard black cubes so this can be very useful too.

I didn’t find any obvious downsides to the game.  The only bit I thought a bit strange (although minor) was turn order.  Turn order starts with the player in last place (which I like) but then surprised me by going clockwise from that player and not in reverse VP order with the player in the lead going last.  I think turn order may balance out as a player who goes earlier gets a better choice of building to build but can’t use the tiles.  In my 2-player game, it didn’t make any difference, but I thought that would seem a bit weird in a 3- or 4-player game as the player to the left of the first player gets an advantage even if they’re leading.  So, I thought going in reverse VP order seemed more logical to me – maybe going last has its own benefit because you can use the buildings other players built that turn.

In the end, Singapore worked well with 2 players (I expect it will be even better with 3 and 4 players), had lots of interesting decisions, and felt tense and very competitive.


[Played with 2 players]

4 Responses to “Review: Singapore”

  1. olavf Says:

    Did you play with the official 2-player variant? Or just played this 3-4 player game with 2?

  2. James (admin) Says:

    Hi Olav,

    We played it just like a 3-4 player game (so without the variant). I don’t think we realised it said 3-4 on the box until later.

    I’ve read the 2-player variant rules since and they seem good. A neutral 3rd-player adds one neutral location each round which means more buildings are added to the board each turn (although using anything other than your own buildings gives the opponent 1VP so that remains the same). The other addition is that the ‘3rd player’ can gain black chips for adding illegal buildings so there’s potential they could be raided (but they’ll probably not have many black chips as they can’t gain them for using illegal buildings like players can, and can’t have opium resources either).

    So, the variant rules seem nice and subtle. Overall, we thought Singapore played fine without the variant rules too.



  3. Peer Sylvester Says:

    Thanks for the nice review!
    The turn order is clockwise, because its much easier to play out that way, if you dont always have to think whos next (especially if several players have the same number of VPs). But feel free to play it in ascending VP-order. It will work fine (if you dont mind the looking).
    kind regards

  4. James (admin) Says:

    Hi Peer,

    Thanks for the reply. Always great to hear from the designer. I can see it definitely makes the game easier/quicker like you say (and I think going early or late balances out as players that go early in a turn get better choice of buildings to build, but fewer choices of buildings to use as players still to take their turn have yet to build theirs). When I next play it, I shall play it your way.

    I hope things went well for you with Taschkent at Spiel this year. I am hoping my friend (who’s copy of Singapore I played) bought it at Spiel so I am able to play it soon.



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