Bonjour! Bienvenue à Paris, la cité de la lumière! Pardon my French, but this game brings something romantic out of me. Ah, Paris, the birthplace of democracy, existentialism, and, well, other things. Maybe it’s the thought of envisioning myself in the bustling heart of Paris—home of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Serge Gainsbourg—that stirs the soul. Or perhaps it’s the idea of walking along the Seine with my sweetheart, the dulcet tones of accordion music emanating around the corner, that turns my eyes into hearts.
Or maybe the truly romantic thing about Paris: La Cité De La Lumière—a 2-player tile-laying game by José Antonio Abascal and published by Devir Games—is the idea of a new 2-player experience that truly feels fresh and invigorating and plays in 20-30 minutes. Mon amour, the thought is enough to make one’s head spin.
Paris is split into two phases. The first phase involves each player taking one of two actions. One possible action is to place one of your cobblestone street tiles and help create the landscape both players will be competing on. The other is to claim one of the polyomino buildings from the available building pool and add it to your reserve. The cobblestone street tiles are 2×2 tiles that have some combination of 4 different squares: a square in your color, a square in your opponent’s color, a purple “mixed color” square, or a street lamp. Once the final tile of cobblestone street is placed, phase one ends.
The second phase also gives players the option of taking one of two different types of actions. The first is to place one of the buildings you claimed in phase one onto the collaboratively-constructed game board, noting your ownership of the building by placing a chimney in your color on it. The rub is that you may only place your buildings on spaces of your color or the purple mixed color. The other option is to claim one of the 8 unique actions that were randomly drawn from the deck of postcards at the beginning of the game. Some of them introduce new architecture onto the board, others allow for endgame scoring bonuses, and each can only be claimed once by either player. Once all 8 action spaces have been claimed (each player has 4 tokens to claim their pick of half of them) and neither player can place any more of their claimed buildings, the game ends.
Each player scores their buildings by how many street lamps are orthogonally adjacent to them, multiplying the size of the building by the number of street lamps. They then score their largest contiguous group of buildings, score any end-game points provided by the action cards/postcards they claimed, and subtract 3 points per building they were unable to place on the board.
We’ve all likely played our fair share of tile-laying games, whether it be Carcassonne, or any of the plethora of Uwe Rosenburg polyomino propositions. It’s a wonderful mechanic when implemented well, but there does come a time in any avid gamer’s life when the concept feels a bit played out. There are only so many gardens you can arrange, quilts to stitch, Vikings to feed, or Barens to park before things start to feel a little stale. So it truly was delightful to be caught off-guard by the very simple tweak Paris offered to the mechanic. In essence, you are laying tile twice, once to create the game board, and another time to place the buildings you’ve claimed. You are the architect of your opportunities, either successfully creating fertile ground for your buildings, or being thwarted by your opponent, leaving you with a fallow playing field.
Also, did I mention that the game is beautiful? Like a single solitary reference rose, Paris is a delight to behold. The postcard action spaces are transportive little works of art, each featuring a gorgeous and era-appropriate illustration by the immensely talented Oriol Hernández. The expansion, Paris: Eiffel, introduces additional postcard action spaces, many of which are accompanied by wonderful 3D cardboard structures such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, or a little standee of Mona Lisa, adding to the already ample visual wow factor.
The wide variety of postcards, each representing a unique game-breaking action, allows for high replay value. The base game comes with 12 different postcards, while the Eiffel expansion adds 8 more. The mere knowledge that one or another action is available can completely change the strategic and tactical decision space in a given game. But the absolute scarcity of each action adds a delightful push-your-luck element to the game (should you make sure to get your building down onto a potentially disputed area, or do you claim a postcard that could net you big-time points?). It’s this wonderful push-and-pull factor that makes phase two of the game a real head-scratcher.
In a very interesting development decision, Devir decided to incorporate the box into the gameplay by making the bottom of the box the actual board on which the tiles are placed. While I applaud the decision to try something different, ultimately I feel this choice backfired. While adding the expansion box solves some of the storage issues, the base game on its own is difficult to store due to the height at which the game board sits within the box, requiring you to take apart the painter and dancer standees to close the box. With the expansion, I chose to store all postcards, scoresheet (part of the expansion), and cardboard elements that accompany the postcards in the expansion box. It’s always unfortunate when you can’t store an expansion in the base game box, and with Paris, you actually can’t even store the base game in the base game box, at least not comfortably. This could have all been solved by simply having a separate game board that lay flat in the box.
Another complaint is the lack of information on the postcard action spaces. While lovely to look at, the postcards could have had more information on them and explained what each action did rather than strictly remain faithful to what a postcard should look like. I have no intention of mailing these out to friends and family any time soon, so rather than forcing us to constantly reference the rulebook to remind us what each unique action did, the developer could have very easily included this useful info on the cards.
The last minor critique is that once most of the contested elements are resolved (i.e. building placement in disputed areas, action cards that can potentially swing a lot of points), the last few actions of the game each player takes are almost predetermined, and feels a bit quantitative. There is clearly a correct move that will net you a few more points, and it becomes fairly easy to discern who won the game. It doesn’t suck the fun out of the game, it just makes it a tad bit anticlimactic.
Despite those few issues, this really is a wonderful game, one I would full-throatedly recommend to gamers of all experience levels. As a big fan and proponent of Uwe Rosenberg’s classic 2-player game Patchwork, I believe Paris rivals it in almost every way, and certainly bests it in terms of replayability thanks to the variety of postcards to choose from.
Paris: La Cité De La Lumière is an exciting addition to the 2-player game field. It’s a fast-playing game, offers variety with each play, and is really a joy to look at. Not only that, but the subject matter (Paris! Lights!) is universal enough to not frighten away skeptical non-gamers. The really wonderful thing that makes me feel like I’ve found a keeper is the subtle twist on the tile-laying mechanic. You are creating the field upon which you play, and it’s always an exciting moment when, upon finishing the cobblestone terrain, you get to start thinking about how you’re going to utilize it in the next phase.
Final Score: 4 stars – If you find the idea of a 2-player tile-laying game that plays in 20-30 minutes, makes the concept of tile-laying feel new and fresh, and allows you to construct the most romantic city on Earth exciting, Paris: La Cité De La Lumière will have you singing “La Vie en Rose.”
• Poor decision to build the game board into the box
• Lack of info on postcards
• Last few actions are anticlimactic