The great thing about deckbuilding card games is their flexibility to contain a variety of themes. We’ve had medieval, fantasy, sci-fi, and even vampires — and now we have one based on city-building! City-building board games have always been about strategy and correct placement of your industrial, housing, and commercial zones to maximize the cash flow of your city.
Concrete Jungle takes the stressful zone management of city-builders and combines it with deckbuilding to create a brand new strategy game that’s all about clearing lines in an approach that is very similar to Tetris.
Is this a city built for success, or is it a slog through dreary admin tasks? Read on to find out…
Gameplay in Concrete Jungle takes place in a grid where the aim is to increase the population of a tile to a targeted value. In order to do this you have access to multiple cards that can increase or decrease the tile values. You can only score a tile if you play a card that can score points on a tile. Not everything collects points – so you’ll always be managing your card list with that in mind.
This is a deckbuilder, but not in the conventional sense – because you can edit your starting deck before you play. This gives you a lot of options to work with on any of the single-player campaign missions and in the competitive play mode. The rest of the deckbuilding happens later as you go through the game and score enough Purchase Points to access the Card Shop.
The Card Shop will let you buy one-card-per-stack of Purchase Points acquired. The way you earn Purchase Points is through the cards you play. In addition to Purchase Points, some cards will also have points that will contribute the points you need to score a column.
There is a fine balance to everything in Concrete Jungle that makes it an absolute pleasure to play. You will eventually have access to a huge pool of cards as you level up: both for your initial deck and as part of deckbuilding within the game. I found myself wanting to level up as quickly as possible just so I could see what cards I would be unlocking. You cannot see these ahead of time so it makes the surprise all the better when you are able to unlock them.
During the course of a game you will always have access to the top two cards on your list. You can also see the next run of cards in that same list – so you can plan ahead very easily. Houses are your most common way of scoring tiles whilst everything else will modify the points-scoring of a tile. There are some cards that will draw more cards from your deck, thus giving you even more information to work with as you build your city.
Concrete Jungle is an extremely challenging game. Most of the levels require high scores for you to achieve 3 stars, and the competitive scene is ferocious. You will want to get plenty of practice in before you play any multiplayer games against a real opponent. Fear not though, as the game will introduce all of the different elements during each of the beginning levels – including a competitive match against the game’s haphazard mayor!
There is a light story to Concrete Jungle too that is joyful and comedic. This will also introduce you to new characters that are not only there to thwart you, but are also unlockable as your playable avatar. The graphics within the game are of a high standard, with a bright color palette and excellent building animations. The cards are quite basic, but they get all of the necessary information across and any more detailing on them would detract from their purpose.
Overall the gameplay is extremely solid. I personally think this is one of the most exciting games of the year and it certainly deserves a lot more attention. The developers have done a great job of avoiding the solitaire-style gameplay of some deckbuilders. This is further evidenced in the competitive mode, which has a higher level of player interaction than a lot of other deckbuilding games.
MODES AND FEATURES
You have a couple of different ways of playing Concrete Jungle. The most basic way of playing is to go through the Campaign. In this mode you will be introduced to all of the game’s components at a nice and digestible pace. The game’s guide, who also happens to be a selectable avatar, has had some very funny dialogue written that makes her feel a little more human.
The Versus mode is a two-player game where both players take it in turns to place three tiles at a time. You can play against a real human player or against an A.I. opponent, if you need more practice! The concept is the same – score points from the tiles in order to advance and clear the row. The difference here is that your opponent will be trying to do the same.
Both players have set, colored lanes that only they can build in, with the two middle lanes between these being a “free build” area for both players. In addition to this, the front row of the grid will always be considered open to both players. This makes for some very late strategic plays that you wouldn’t have seen coming until the previous rows have been cleared.
You will need to score the required number for a row to score the points in it. If your opponent clears it and you have tiles scoring as negative values, those tiles will reduce your score. Also, if your opponent scores a column by more than the basic amount and you have a point or two in that column, but didn’t win it, they will also score your points. The only way you can score when they do is if they score their minimum amount needed.
The Versus mode is by far the most enjoyable, because the points can swing in any direction. Given that, you will definitely have to look at what tiles your opponent has coming up in order to make the best plays. All of the information is public knowledge, so there are never any nasty surprises.
The final mode is the Classic style of gameplay. Here you remove the deckbuilding element and just play with your pre-constructed deck. This is the simplest way of playing and is great for those who just want to chug along with something simple for an hour or two.
The game also features a safe streaming mode for those that like to use Twitch and other streaming services. The “safe mode” means that the music that plays in the game isn’t subject to copyright and is free to use. If you’re inclined to stream while playing, then the developers have you covered here.
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
Concrete Jungle is a deckbuilder, so it only makes sense that the deckbuilding aspect be at the forefront of its gameplay – only it’s not! You have the option of when to go into the Card Shop to purchase new cards and increase your deck size. Perhaps you will be completely happy with your starting deck that you don’t need to edit it at all.
You’ll need a good mix of positive and negative tile-affecting cards. This is because when you’re playing a two-player game you’ll want the negative ones to decrease the opponent’s tile scores. The Classic mode is a safer mode to have all the positive cards in your deck.
Some cards that you can buy in Card Shop are single-use only, so that once you play them, they will disappear from your deck. Remember this when you buy these cards. You can see if they are recurring or single-use from the symbol in their upper left corner.
The only time you’ll need a deep strategy is during the course of a multiplayer game. Here you’ll need to keep an eye on the cards your opponent is playing and what they have coming up in the next turn or two. This can help you plan ahead and ensure that you can ruin some carefully laid plans by dumping a couple of negative-scoring tiles on their poorly positioned building tiles.
Concrete Jungle just might be a late contender for deckbuilding game of the year, in my opinion. The addictive style of gameplay makes it an absolute joy to play. It’s taxing, but never so much that it makes you too stressed. Sure, you may have to repeat a Campaign mission every now and then, but I often didn’t mind that at all.
The Versus mode heightens the fun even further with some excellent strategic elements that will often take both players by surprise. You really have to keep an eye on everything and plan many moves ahead – just like chess. You are in control of almost every aspect of the gameplay. You can elect to never use the Skills Tree or Card Shop as you play if you fancy more of a challenge!
The lane clearing aspect of the game will appeal to fans of Tetris and Lumines. It should also appeal to fans of city-building, deckbuilding, and tactical turn-based games. Concrete Jungle infuses so many great components from these genres with ease and in a way that never seems too fiddly.
Concrete Jungle has the building blocks for one of the best games I have seen and played lately. I do think however that there is room to expand and take the game even further with some true competitive and cooperative play. I’m hoping the developers keep more content coming, as I will be continuing to play for quite some time!
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