|Length||30-60 minutes depending on number of players|
NEOM is a city building tile-placement and drafting game from Lookout Games. Players build their city of tomorrow from three sets of tiles that increase in powers and abilities as the game goes on. Is this SimCity–esque tabletop game worth visiting, or is it a ghost town? Read on, prospective mayor.
One of the commercial tiles is a Casino. Players can’t actually gamble, it just makes you money at the end of each round.
In the role of city planner/mayor, players in NEOM are trying to build the best version of a near-future metropolis as they can. The art and tile names reminded me of SimCity 2000, and some of the later tiles even invoked the huge arcologies you could build in that game—but it isn’t futuristic. You’ll start out building factories and everyday houses before you can work your way up to the big stuff. At the end of the game, players get Victory Points (VPs) a number of different ways. Residential tiles, size of neighborhoods (connected residential tiles), money ($2 = 1VP), leftover resources and goods, and certain conditional tiles (marked with “?” in the corner) just to name a few. You also can lose points for pollution (having industrial next to or diagonal to residential) or not having a power plant. The conditional tiles can prove confusing at first, but the game provides a glossary that explains every single tile at the back of the rulebook. The first few games I looked there often.
Games of NEOM start with players drafting Capstone tiles. These tiles are powerful and unique, and may influence your strategy in the game much like personal objectives. You don’t get penalized for not placing them, but I can’t imagine not using them, as they provide large bonuses if played right. After each player has drafted a tile and passed three times, the first round starts. Players get a stack of eight tier 1 tiles, $6, and one resource from their game board’s city center. Resources are used to build bigger and better tiles as the game goes on. It’s hard to plan for what you want to build with the drafting mechanic, but the game thankfully allows multiple paths to winning. You can make your city a well-oiled machine full of industrial tiles, or a consumer’s paradise brimming with commercial tiles that make you money each round. Or, you could try to make one huge neighborhood across the entire city, shooting for the large bonus at the end. Any of these, and many more versions, are viable options.
So after choosing your first tile and placing it, you pass the stack, and continue to do so until you’ve placed seven tiles. If you ever can’t place a tile because you don’t meet the requirements or the roads don’t work, you can sell a tile from the current tier in your hand for $5. You can also choose to play one of your three Capstone tiles instead. Roads don’t always have to line up, but the new tile going in has to be connected by road to the city center. After all the tiles have been placed, players claim any income from commercial tiles, and the next round starts. After three rounds, points are tallied and the winner is declared.
I found a lot to like with NEOM. I love a good city-building game, and the fact that it reminded me of SimCity didn’t hurt at all. Besides needing a bit of rules reference until the tiles make more sense (mentioned above), my only other gripe is that in games of 4 or 5 players, the point tallying process at the end feels tedious. It felt like I was doing everyone’s tabletop taxes as they joked and talked. A minor point, but besides that I really liked NEOM. It has high replay value with six starting boards and more tiles than you’ll need for most games. If you’re a fan of city-building games, or just good games in general, you should give it a look.
A review copy was generously provided by Asmodee.
The Bottom Line
If you've been looking for a good multiplayer SimCity tabletop game, you should give NEOM a try. With the progression through the tiers of tiles, you'll feel like your city is growing through the ages, and with so many tiles and drafting them with other players, you'll get hours of replay out of this game.