Paris La Cité de la Lumière: A four-sided review

Paris La Cité de la Lumière box artwork

Paris La Cité de la Lumière is a two-player tile-laying game that plays in about 30 minutes. It’s part of the Devir/Kosmos small box two-player line and is recommended for ages 8+, which feels about right. But that’s a ‘gamer kid’ age range, as it’s quite a thinky abstract.

The production quality is gorgeous. You’ll be creating a tile grid within the box itself then populating it with buildings to score points. While the theme is doing very little work, there are lots of nice little thematic touches that help make the game come to life. for example, action choices are on late 19th Century postcards that look fantastic.

In the box (which doubles as the board) you’ll find 16 standard tiles, 12 raised building tiles, 14 wooden pieces, 17 more cardboard pieces and 12 action postcards. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for just under £20 – good value for the work that’s gone into it.

Teaching Paris La Cité de la Lumière

Paris La Cité de la Lumière is a game of two halves. In the first you’ll be placing the 16 cobblestone tiles that form the game’s foundation, while also choosing building tiles. In the second half you’ll be placing those buildings into the shared grid you’ve built, while also using the action postcards to make small tactical shifts and adjustments. Or, if you’re me, to make up for mistakes you made when mentally ‘planning’ during the first half of the game…

Each player starts with a defined set of eight cobblestone tiles. Each tile is split into quarters and contains a mix of your player colour, your opponent’s colour, a neutral colour, and/or streetlights (used for scoring). These are shuffled and you take one randomly if you don’t have one in hand at the end of your turn.

On your turn, you can place your cobblestone tile onto any free space within the 4×4 game grid. Or alternatively, take any one of the 12 building tiles – all of which are different sizes and shapes. This continues until both players have placed all of their eight cobblestone tiles or have passed. So the amount of building tiles you each end up with for the second half of the game is not predetermined and could be different for each player.

Building the cité

The player who placed their last cobblestone tile first begins the second half of the game. If you choose to place one of your buildings, it can only cover up yours or neutral-coloured spaces. Alternatively, you can carry out an action. There are eight (randomly selected from 12) in each game, each of which can only be used once – after which it is marked in your colour and flipped over (some can be used on a later turn).

These actions variously break rules and/or give scoring opportunities. For example, there are tiles that add a streetlight, extend one of your buildings or change an opponent’s space to a neutral one. While others let you swap one of your unplaced buildings for one that wasn’t taken, or to avoid end game penalties. The second half of Paris La Cité de la Lumière ends when the last of the eight action cards has been used, regardless of whether players have any remaining buildings left to place.

You each score for your largest contiguous building area, for every lamp that borders each of your buildings, and for any end game action card scoring chosen. But you’ll lose points for any buildings you chose but didn’t manage to place on the board. Highest score wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I’m not usually that bothered by appearance. But Paris La Cité de la Lumière is a gorgeous looking game. However, don’t let the romance of Paris fool you; this is a cutthroat abstract gaming experience. And before you start thinking about your opponent, you have your own puzzle to solve. You try to create areas for the building tiles you hope to pick up. But even the building tiles are against you, as they can’t be flipped over, leaving even less room for mistakes. That’s just plain mean.
  • The thinker: An excellent game. Your tile placement and building selections show your strategic intent. But the neutral spaces (and some action cards) make it largely impossible to guarantee success, bringing in the crucial tactical element. There’s an element of luck in how your tiles come out in phase one. But once the stage is set, it’s purely about your decisions.
  • The trasher: Paris La Cité de la Lumière is a classic push or pull puzzle. You usually have at least two good options to choose from. And know that your opponent is in the same boat – with the same limited placement/pick up options. Do you deny your opponent a great spot? Or claim a benefit that will help in the long run? Knowing that neither option works if its opposite is taken away from you. A very good game, despite a dull theme.
  • The dabbler: I absolutely love this game! The artwork beautifully captures the romantic magic of Paris past. And the rules are really simple. However, there’s so much to think about on every turn! So, you soon get the hang of the mechanics, but the choices remain really tricky. It also sets up and plays really quickly. So is great if you just have a little break in real life in which to squeeze a sneaky game. However, you do need to be able to think in several directions at once! It says ages 8+, but I wouldn’t play with kids.

Key observations

Paris La Cité de la Lumièr is a lovely looking production and does exactly what it set out to do. It won’t be for everyone though, as it is deliberately mean. I can see some care bear types almost agreeing what each other can/will take as they each try to get massive scores. But most will throw each other under the bus at every opportunity. Of course, the problems arises when one likes one style, and one the other.

Some players won’t get on with the tough choices you have to make here. It’s a strong contender for breaking ‘analysis paralysis’ players. While a player who is naturally good at this kind of game will smash an opponent that isn’t. Which is never fun in a two-player experience. I’m pretty rubbish at it, but enjoy the challenge. And I don’t really care if I don’t win. I can see it being very frustrating for some players.

I’ve seen complaints that the postcard actions open up the decision space to much. Especially as they have no text to describe these actions on the postcards. However, there are only 12 different actions – and only per game. Most are self-explanatory. And we found the others were in our memories by the second play.

But I’d like to have seen a bit more thought going into the actions. Choosing eight of 12 means you’ve seen all the game has to offer after two or three plays. As always with a good two-player abstract, it’s as much about playing your opponent as it is about requiring variety. But in the modern board game arena, we tend to expect a bit more variation.

Conclusion: Paris La Cité de la Lumière

Paris La Cité de la Lumièr has become the sixth Kosmos two-player game in my collection. And it was a very easy decision to make. It looks great, Sarah likes it, and there’s loads of game for something that sets up fast, plays quickly and takes up hardly any room. So, beyond a slight worry about long-term replayability, I’m all in on this one.

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