September 24, 2015 9:10 AM | Lena LeRay
City builders are strategy games at heart. How should you place your residential, industrial, and commercial zones so that they are convenient to each other without interfering with each other? Traffic, utilities, cash flows, and other aspects of the simulation are all related to that core issue of balancing zone types. Concrete Jungle takes that zone balance aspect of city builders and combines it with deckbuilding to create a strategy game about clearing lines in a way reminiscent of Tetris.
The playing field is a grid, with the player's goal being to meet a certain population threshold in every column. The player only has so many columns available at one time, and must meet the threshold in the first column to clear it and reveal a new column at the other end of the visible grid. Population points are obtained by placing different kinds of buildings to increase the point values of nearby spaces and then placing residential buildings on those spaces. Negative point values are possible, too, and although playing residential buildings on spaces with negative values is a bad idea, the buildings that produce negative values have other uses.
There's a lot of depth to the game, much of which stems from the deckbuilding and its interrelated systems. For example, every card has two values in the upper right hand corner. One of those contributes to the player's ability to buy new cards for the deck and the other contributes to raising the required population threshold for clearing columns. Cards that contribute a lot of points towards card purchases often also contribute a similar amount towards making the game harder. They also tend to be the ones that create negative point values. When engaged in deckbuilding during the game, the player can really hurt themselves by avoiding buildings that create negative point values on the board because those buildings are crucial to building up a strong deck.
When I previewed the game last October, deckbuilding phases were forced on the player at intervals. In the final version, the player can buy cards at any time, provided they've amassed enough card buying points to do so. There are also two options for buying cards now, one of which is to choose one of four cards presented at random from those the player has unlocked. The other is a tech tree, which has powerful options the player can select at will. However, the later cards in the tech tree can't be accessed until the player has bought enough cards from the random selection pool.
Another thing present in the final game that wasn't in the prototype is a campaign mode. It introduces the player to the complexities of the game gradually, of course, but it also introduces the different characters in the game. The cards available to the player are the same no matter which character they choose, but each character has their own tech tree. Some of the maps have special challenges tailored to the story, too. The story is silly, which is great,
but it very much needs a skip button for the story once you've seen it. Clicking through dozens of lines of dialogue is less interesting on your seventh or eighth time playing a level that's giving you trouble. Edit: The developer informed me after this was published that an arrow key can be pressed to skip the dialogue, though the game doesn't yet make this apparent. That will be improved in a later update.
Campaign isn't the only mode. Solo mode lets the player create a game and just play. Classic mode has no deck building and is more like the game's predecessor, MegaCity, in terms of gameplay. There is also a local multiplayer mode for 2-4 players on two teams. This has a zone for each team at the top and bottom of the playing field and some neutral territory in the middle. Players all have their own decks and take turns making three plays, but they can only place buildings inside their own zone or in neutral territory. The first column is cleared if a player meets the population threshold or if the column is full, with points for the column going to whichever player has the highest score in that column.
With multiple ways to play and a great deal of depth to explore, I would recommend Concrete Jungle to fans of strategy games, city-builders, block-clearing games such as Tetris or Lumines, and deckbuilding games. I do not recommend it to anyone who dislikes deckbuilding games, since that's a huge part of the gameplay.
Concrete Jungle is available for Windows on Steam or directly from ColePowered Games. A native Mac version is still in development, but users who buy the game via the developer's web site get access to a wineskinned version in the meantime. The game is regularly $16 but is 10% off for the launch at time of this writing.