Mill City Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


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The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 8+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Approximately 45 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Balance milling and shipping of flour to make a lot of dough

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek mixed!

Overview

From the banks of the Mississippi river, Saint Anthony Falls looks to be an endless wall of powerful water. Many see the falls as nothing more than a natural wonder to gaze upon and enjoy. You, however, see it as an untapped opportunity. Outside the Twin Cities, the prairie is full of wheat fields. Within the Twin Cities, mills are located by the river, tapping its strength, to grind the wheat to flour. All that is missing is a person to get the flour to buyers. You are that person and you plan to make this little venture very profitable.

Mill City, designed by Eric Alvarado and to be published by Knight Works Games, will reportedly be comprised of 56 Order cards (for 4 different companies, 14 cards per company), 4 Water Power (River) cards, 16 Boxcar cards, 4 Player Aid cards, 4 Company cards, 32 Stock cards (for 4 companies, 8 cards per company), 16 Purchase tokens, 1 Starting Player card, 80 Flour cubes, 4 Stock Tracking cubes, 4 Water Power discs, and 66 Money tokens (in values of 1, 5, and 10). As this is a review of a prepublished game, I will not comment on the game component quality.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first give each player 1 Player Aid card.

Second, place the 4 Company cards to one side of the game playing area in a row and within easy reach of all the players. Note that the Company cards are double-sided. One side is referred to as “Basic” which will provide for an easier game. The other side is “Advanced” and will require more strategy and tactics. It’s recommended that the “Basic” side be used if playing for the first time.

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Basic on the left, Advanced on the right (note the lock symbol on the Advanced side)

Third, place 1 Stock cube on the “0” space found on each of the Company card’s Stock Value tracks. Then separate the Stock cards by company and place each pile of Stock cards above its matching Company card.

Fourth, separate the Flour cubes by color and then place them on the Company card that matches the cube color. For a 2-player game, only 10 cubes are used per company. For a 3-player game, only 15 cubes are used per company. For a 4-player game, all 20 cubes are used per company. Any cubes not attached to a Company card are returned to the game box.

Fifth, separate the Orders, Water Power, and Boxcar cards into 3 piles and shuffle each. These are now the Order, Water Power and Boxcar draw decks. Place the draw decks to the side for the moment.

That’s it for game set up. Determine who will be the first player and give them the Starting Player card.

Milling for Millions

Mill City is played in turns and rounds. A 4-player and 2-player game is 4 rounds long and a 3-player game is 3 rounds long. Each round is comprised of 6 phases in which players take turns. A round is summarized here.

Phase 1: Setup

No, not the game set up. You’ve already done that. This phase sets the stage for the mill barons to either make a lot of money or lose their shirt.

To begin with, grab the Order deck and deal each player up to 6 Order cards. Note that if a player ever has over 6 Order cards during this phase, they must discard down to 6 Order cards. The rest of the Order cards are placed face-down to create the Order draw deck. Draw the next 4 Order cards and place them in a row, face-up, next to the draw deck. Players should now take a moment to review their Order cards.

Now it’s time to see what the state of the river is. Take the Water Power draw deck and deal 4 Water Power cards to the table, face-up. Each Water Power card will have a space with an icon that shows 2-players, 3-players, and 4-players. Place 1 Water Power disc on each space that matches the number of players in the game. Then arrange the Water Power cards in a row so they are in descending order, with the highest value the first Water Power card and the lowest value the last Water Power card.

Finally, take the Boxcar draw deck and deal 1 card per player in the game. Place these cards next to the Water Power cards in a row.

All the players now know 4 things:

  • How much flour each company has in stock
  • What companies have orders to make flour
  • The power of the river which will be used to mill the flour
  • The available boxcar space to ship the flour ordered

This information is very important going forward as it will help the player make choices.

Phase 2: Investment

But what good is information if you cannot use it? Zip, really. Good thing players can now take what they know (or think they know) and invest in the future.

For the first round, each player is given a choice of stock to obtain. In all later rounds, players will be need to purchase the stock

millcity_stock

The initial stock offering is created by taking 2 Stock cards from each company (a total of 8), shuffling them, and then dealing 2 to each player. Any Stock cards not dealt are returned to the game box, NOT to the Company card.

Players now look at the 2 Stock cards, keep 1 and place it face-down in front of them. The other is discarded and out of the game. Players should look at their Order cards when making their Stock card choice, as these identify which Company card already has orders to fulfill and money to make.

If this phase is part of the second, third, or fourth round of game play, players must purchase Stock cards if they want them. Purchasing stock is always optional. Beginning with the Starting Player and going in turn order sequence, each player can buy any available Stock card for the listed price on the Company card, but only 1 Stock card can be purchased per round. It’s possible that some stock is worth $0 or less, which means it can be taken for free.

Phase 3: Milling

Now it’s time to get to work and make some flour! Since this game is set in the 1880’s, the best way to mill a lot of flour is to use the mighty river.

Each Water Power card played during the first phase will be used once per round. In round 1, the Water Power card with the highest value will be used. As the game continues, the Water Power card values will diminish, and so too will the ability of the players to produce a lot of flour.

millcity_waterpower

Beginning with the Starting Player and going in turn order sequence, each player selects 1 Order card from their hand and places it face-up in front of them. When the card is played, the player takes a number of Flour cubes equal to the current water power level from the Company card associated with the Order card. The Flour cubes are places on the Order card in front of the player and the Water Power disc on the Water Power card is moved to the next lowest water power level. If the Order card has a Draw/Discard value, the player now draws or discards as required. If the player gets to draw cards, they can either take them from the face-up Order cards or draw blindly from the Order draw deck. If the Order draw deck is ever exhausted, shuffle the discarded Order cards to make a new draw deck.

Quick word on the Order cards. They are used during the Milling and the Shipping phase. The top-most part of the Order card is for milling, while the button is for shipping.

millcity_ordercards

As the game continues, there will be Company cards that cannot provide the amount of Flour cubes required. If this is the case during the player’s turn, they take all the correct Flour cubes they can. They then substitute the remaining Flour cubes by taking them from the Company card that has the lowest Stock Value. Thematically, the player is taking flour from a struggling company who is willing to get rid of their goods for cheap.

It’s also possible that a player finds the Water Power card to have a water power value of “0” on their turn. If this is the case, too bad for the player. The river is simply not powerful enough to mill. But the player can still take action. All players have 1 chance to use an Order card for its Boost value. The Boost value is shown as 1 or more water drops. The player can discard 1 Order card to increase the water power level of the river by 1 for each water drop shown. Note that a player must do this BEFORE they mill. As such, they could be helping their opponent by boosting the river’s strength for the next player to tap it.

Of course, a player can also decide not to mill at all for this round. If that is the case, the player selects 1 card to place face-down in front of them and then draws 1 card back to their hand. The played Order card is considered a “dead card” and cannot be used for anything.

When all the players have had a chance to tap the river, any remaining water power is transferred to the next Water Power card. The current round Water Power card can either be removed or flipped over, as it will not be used again.

Phase 4: Shipping

Now that the players have all this flour on their factory floor, it’s time to ship it out to complete orders.

VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure all the players do a quick count to determine how many total Flour cubes they have on their Order cards before doing anything during this phase. Players will need to know this in order to accurately determine their score and avoid penalties. Note that there is no way to determine from which player’s Order card the cubes come from, so it’s up to the players to keep track of this for themselves. I suggest jotting it down on a sticky pad or just counting the total cubes and remembering the number.

Before anyone can start sending anything, the Starting Player card is passed to the next player in turn order sequence. This new Starting Player will being this phase.

Starting with the Starting Player and continuing in turn order sequence, each player will now play a second Order card. What’s that? I just played one! So true, but the first Order card you played is the player’s flour mill. The actual place that tapped the river and made the flour. The second Order card played is the player’s logistics card that will help move the flour to the boxcars.

The Order card that will be used to help ship the flour is played face-up. The player can only select 1 “flour mill” Order card with Four cubes on it at this time. The played Order card will have a “Shipping Value” that lists how many Flour cubes can be moved to the Boxcar cards. That number of Flour cubes is then moved to a Boxcar card that has open slots. If there are no more open slots, no more flour can be moved.

millcity_boxcar

If, by chance, the player plays an Order card that has a Shipping Value higher than the total number of Flour cubes on their “flour mill” Order card, they must make up the difference by placing Flour cubes from an opponent’s “flour mill” Order card. The player then receives $2 for each Flour Cube they helped transfer.

After a player plays their Order card and transfers their Flour cubes, they can now draw 1 card, discard 1 card, or leave their hand as it is. Note that players do not need to transfer any Flour cubes at all if they don’t want to.

This phase continues until all the Boxcars are filled, all the Flour cubes have been transferred to Boxcar cards, all the players have passed (electing not to move Flour cubes), or all players have run out of cards.

Phase 5: Scoring

Time to collect some money for all your hard efforts! Each player counts the number of Flour cubes that were transferred to the Boxcar cards from their “flour mill” Order cards. Using this number, players subtract 1 for each cube they still have left on their “flour mill” Order cards. The resulting number is how much money the player is given.

Players should not get attached to this money…

Phase 6: Maintenance Phase

If there are any empty spaces left on the Boxcar cards, player must pay a penalty. If the number of empty spaces falls into the range of 1 to 5, each player must pay $1 EXCEPT the player who PRODUCED the most flour (not the player who shipped the most flour). If the number of empty spaces is 6 or more, each player must pay $2 EXCEPT the player who PRODUCED the most flour. Thematically speaking, the players are paying a penalty for not fulfilling a contract with the railroad.

So, you know, fill those boxcars.

All the Flour cubes NOT shipped are now returned to the Company cards. It’s now time to determine how each company stock is performing. This is done by looking at how much flour from each company has on the train.

  • The company or companies with the most Flour cubes on the Boxcar cards increase their stock value by 2 spaces
  • The company or companies with the second most Flour cubes on the Boxcar cards increases their stock value by 1 space
  • The company or companies with the least Flour cubes on the Boxcar cards decrease their stock value by 1 space
  • All other stocks do not move

All Boxcar cards are now discarded. Players can keep any cards in their hand they like or discard them (including all their cards if they like).

If playing the “Basic” game, all Order cards played are also discarded.

If playing the “Advanced” game, players should now look at the Stock Values on the Company cards. Any Stock Value that is less than the Company card’s “lock space” will exercise “Contractual Clauses” during the next round. Which isn’t a good thing. Players who played cards from these companies must return at least 1 card from each company back to their hand for the next round. Which is to say, they are being forced to play with these Company cards and help raise the stock of the company. All other Order cards are discarded.

This ends the round.

Ending the Game

After the final round is completed, it’s time to cash in the stock! Each player collects money equal to the current Stock Value price for the company they have stock for. This money is added to any earned money during the game. The player with the most money wins!

To learn more, visit the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

The Child Geeks understood how to play the game after being taught, but had difficulty with the Order cards. Specifically, the use of the Order cards to create and fulfill orders. Which is pretty much the majority of the game. According to one Child Geek, “I understand how to make flour and grab flour, but I can’t get the flour on the boxcars.” Another Child Geeks voiced his frustrated by saying “I think it’s stupid that some of these boxcars only take 4 bags of flour. Look at all the extra space!” But not all the Child Geeks were vexed. The older Child Geeks had a great time and found the purchasing of the stock and the subtle manipulation of the stock prices to be a lot of fun. One of the more gleeful comments I heard was, “The best part about this game is watching your stock rise in price!” When all the votes were counted, Mill City was both enjoyed and disliked, giving it a mixed approval rating from the next gaming generation.

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My oldest makes an inappropriate joke about”what else floats down the river”. Poop jokes (rolls eyes)…

The Parent Geeks found Mill City to be a delightful game that contained both casual play and depth. According to one Parent Geek, “You have to think about what cards you want to play and how much flour you are going to take. I like that. You don’t want to be too greedy, but you don’t want to take too little, either.” Another Parent Geek said, “This game challenges you to take just the right amount of risk. Too little or too much and you get sent down the river, so to speak.” All the Parent Geeks voted to approve Mill City.

The Gamer Geeks enjoyed Mill City, as well, finding the game to be an excellent exercise in hand management, resource control, and price manipulation. The depth of play was just right for the game, with some surprising twists and turns that kept the Gamer Geeks on their toes. According to one Gamer Geek, “I really like this game. From the very start with the river all the way to shipping flour, there are multiple ways to engage the game and your opponents.” Another Gamer Geek said, “This is a fun game. It’s light enough to introduce to new players, but deep enough for game nights. Two thumbs up from me.” All the Gamer Geeks agreed that Mill City was well worth their time and attention.

Mill City is a lot of fun. The Order cards run the show and allow players to do a lot, but never too much as to overwhelm the players. That, I think, is the best part of Mill City. The game is deigned to flow like the river it’s thematically built around. The players get to use the Order cards to explore different channels in the river. Some are deeper and allow some very interesting game plays, while others are shallower and are fairly straight forward. Either way, the game keeps pushing the players down the river until the game comes to a satisfying conclusion. This push, however, was not enjoyed by all our players.

I would recommend Mill City to any Gamer Geek and Parent Geek, but would pause for a moment before telling a Child Geek to play this game. If a Child Geek doesn’t understand or have a good grasp on hand management and resource control, this is not a game for them. If they do, then they are going to enjoy it. If you also enjoy a good game full of hand management, resource control, and price manipulation, with a chancy river, then do play Mill City.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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