When imagining your typical post-apocalyptic game, one usually pictures an atmosphere akin to Fallout, The Walking Dead, or maybe Book of Eli. Men bent on destruction, looking out for only themselves, and wreaking destruction on any foolish imposter in their way. On the other hand, some stories in the genre focus on the less vile side of the scenario. What about the survivors? How do they rebuild? What if the people aren’t focused on violence, but their conflict instead focuses on proper restoration of society, despite their calamity?
Enter Dubai: Rebuild the Ruins, from Greater Than Games, and designers/bloggers/husband/wife Chris & Suzanne Zinsli.
A Premonition into the Future
A great war will shatter the peace and stability of planet Earth over 200 years from now. Cities will be raided and ransacked by selfish men, bent on their own desires. Families, security, and hope will all be reduced to rubble. As the dust settles, resources from the once great cities are left scattered across the landscape, nothing left but old dreams, now decayed.
Different factions vie for resources and rebuilding.
In Dubai, players take control of one of five factions. Each people group has decided simultaneously to gather blueprints for old structures, bid on valuable resources, and rebuild the old structures from the past to encourage the people, and bring order. Like a swayed mind, the factions have different preferences of how they would run a renewed civilization, so naturally, while each group hopes to restore civility, each group wants to do it differently.
Each faction grants variable player powers, with the opportunity to take on multiple abilities, based on the desired level of complexity players prefer. A tableau gives each player a living diagram of building options. As they are rebuilt, restoring life to the ruins of old Dubai, players receive bonuses to each specified action. These buildings also act synergistically with one another, granting additional victory points at the end of the game.
The name of the game is control. Dubai isn’t really concerned with players commanding swaths of land for conquest though. Players must establish placement in order to demonstrate their ability to peaceably rule the land. Dubai presents no opportunities for cruelty, however. Sure, you might take a stab at another player by preventing them from lining up three buildings in a row (which grants 5 end-game points), but it doesn’t feel vicious. It almost feels necessary. The theme of the game relies on players reconstructing the dreams of an older, extinct civilization. The arts, homes, businesses, and recreational outlets become revitalized, creating a newborn realization of what once was.
But, How does it Play?
Each location offers different actions.
In a sort of modernized rondel mechanic, players send their workers to one of three action selection tableaus: The Port, Engineers Guild, and the Ruins. One might feel like a fearless tribal leader, sending men off to various parts of the city to complete tasks. In a realistic depiction of the plausible future Dubai tells, workers actually wait in line as they complete their goals. As a player sends a worker to each area, they get in the back of the line.
Each meeple is placed clockwise, then activated counter-clockwise. Each location features different actions, which sometimes leaves a player feeling bummed because they really needed to accomplish something else before taking the current action. It’s a setback, but not a game breaker. Once the action(s) on the location are completed, the meeple in front of the line is picked up by its owner and placed in the back of a different location.
The Port allows players to bid on a resource with the ability to pay for multiple at once, price-dependent on the amount of tokens that players reveal. The Engineers Guild allows players to receive project finance, or purchase the blueprints to build a structure. The Ruins will give players extra goal cards, trading opportunities, or the option to build a purchased structure with their resources. In a unique design choice, each location offers a varying number of actions for those present. Some locations give a player actions per meeple, while another gives only a single action for the entire group. If you don’t have a meeple present, you can force a worker to that location for losing one point, or just take some money instead.
Each worker location track will be sectioned off onto its own standee, allowing for an interesting 3D perspective of where your workers are located. Though even on the prototype board I have, it’s a tad tedious to move and shift the workers.
Artwork overall is just decent. The tiles are a little messy, with resource icons not entirely clear on what is what. We had played a few games before we realized one of the resources wasn’t actually clouds, but cement. But of course they wouldn’t use clouds to build structures!
I think it wise to defer readers to the Kickstarter page instead of here for thoughts on presentation.
I think Greater Than Games and the Zinsli’s approach to the theme of the game is very interesting. My groups were not as thrilled with the theming, but I feel comfortable attributing their unease to the unfinished prototype, and to my overlooking of explaining the thematic situation to them. As stated in my opening paragraphs, I like this unnatural approach to the rebuilding of a ruined society—men and women working together to restore destruction.
I like bidding on resources because it feels very gamey and spooky all at once. I’m nervous about what others might bid, because I know I won’t get a single resource from a failed bid I can’t afford. Luckily, the design allows for players to still receive some extra money when they miss out on resources. I find this choice brilliant, because otherwise, it would become extremely punishing and unforgiving. We don’t want that.
Purchasing structures and building them feels natural. Though I’ve had many times where I wished other players had chosen a different worker location, because they all want the chance to build, when I could only watch because I lacked resources. The stacking nature of building abilities is powerful, however. Players will develop a robust engine, focused on cranking out building for free resources, or purposefully failing bids and stacking the Port to generate income. This can lead to some seemingly overpowered scenarios, where some players need only visit the Port and Engineer’s Guild, back-and-forth, producing a strong engine for building and buying. Likely this situation arises because players were not vigilant enough to deny them by buying out the engine builders.
Melvin places a control crystal onto his newly constructed building.
My biggest gripe is the length of Dubai. The game either ends when a player places a meeple on the white space of the ruins, or when the structure deck is mostly depleted. It feels like a natural way to end a game, but the wait to get there is depressing. Players might feel stuck in an endless cycle of buying a resource, buying a structure, then finally building a structure. Then you need more money before you can buy another structure, but you might not have enough resources, which means you need to buy those first, etc.
Drawing into and maybe past two hours doesn’t seem unusual for Dubai if you take the structure drawing route. With the ruins, however, games could end quickly, and are far more player dependent. Those groups surrounded by analysis-paralysis prone players will be wishing they chose a different game. The name of Dubai perhaps shouldn’t be control, from this perspective. Instead, players will feel the game to be quite a drag unless the table understands they should take turns more quickly. When the game flows swiftly, it feels just right. Engines crank away, player powers continue to innovate their processes, and people enjoy the game.
Overall, Dubai is thematic and interesting. I’m curious to see the finished worker tracks and components, and I think the game sits in a completely underutilized theme. It’s potentially on the long side, and you might want something shorter for what it is. If you’re interest in making the game a reality, head on over to Kickstarter and bring the game to life.
Chris enjoys the simple things in life, like teaching his wife the newest review game, looking up Ketogenic recipes, and playing 10 hour long indie games on Steam. If he's not thinking about the oil drum components from Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, playing Player Unknown: Battlegrounds with his college buddies, or dwelling on the release of Daredevil Season Three, he's probably shooting or editing video, because that's what he does for a living.
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