Released in 2012, Suburbia garnered critical acclaim both within and outside the board game hobby, by following up its successful release at Essen with a Mensa Select Award. It has aged well, remaining among the top city-building titles to this day. The first expansion, Suburbia Inc, was a solid addition to an already great game, seamlessly adding new choices to the game without any increase in complexity. Our original opinions have held up over the years, with both Suburbia and Suburbia Inc. standing as must-haves in any game collection.
Today, our city’s zoning board will survey the second expansion, Suburbia 5★, and see whether this title lives up to its name and is worth the time to apply for a variance to the city’s master plan. I also promise to stop with the housing and development jokes.
Suburbia 5★ adds 50 new building hex tiles to the game and six new ‘boundary’ tiles (like the ones in Suburbia Inc.) These new building tiles represent tourist-friendly attractions to add to your borough. New goals, challenges and bonuses are also there to be added to the game.
The major addition of Suburbia 5★ to the core rules is the Star Track. All the new city and boundary tiles are marked with gold stars, which correspond to the number of spaces a player moves up on the track when those tiles are placed in their borough. Each player can receive a one-time bonus to both population and income when they pass certain points on the track, and the player order on the star track becomes fixed when all players reach the end based on the order of finish.
The star track serves two functions in-game. After each round of turns, the players with the most stars gain a population, while those with the least lose a population, representing how well the travel and tourism industry is working (or not) in the boroughs. Turn order is then rearranged with the player with the most stars going first in the new round, then continuing down in the order on the star track. At the end of the game, order on the track is used to break ties when determining success in achieving goals.
The less-flashy aspect that Suburbia 5★ adds to the base game is all the cardboard you will need to play the game with 5 players. The rules recommend that, for optimal play experience, to only play 5 players with the 5★ expansion.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
The first thought when adding all these tiles to the game was concern with the frequency which star tiles would appear, which was allayed by the new rules that provide guidance on how many regular vs. star tiles are added to the stacks during the initial setup, ensuring that enough star tiles show up during your game. This was a quick process that didn’t measurably increase setup time.
Conversely, having a mandated setup where half of the tiles are 5★tiles means that the core and Inc. tile pools get diluted, leading to a game that was, in our experience, not as enjoyable. Both the core game and the Inc expansion are very well-balanced, and pulling half of the borough tiles out in favor of the 5★ tiles can lead to some rough game states. In one play, no income-generating buildings appeared until much later in the rounds, leading to an extremely cash-poor game state. It felt like 5★ threw a monkey wrench into the harmonious balance that is the core game.
While Suburbia has quite a bit to keep track of in terms of population, income, scoring and the like, there is a bit of a flow to how the system and turns work. Suburbia 5★ unfortunately adds another aspect to keep attention to with the star track, and it feels like an extra that simply was not needed. While the variable player order is clever, and the use of the track in tie breaking is novel, the game became more focused on gathering stars, and this took away from the enjoyment of the game.
It is worth noting that the graphics and names of many of the new tiles are very clever, with names such as Lactose Princess, Pharaoh’s Favor (Favor of the Pharaoh), Alien Mountain (Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind), Ludwig’s Castle (Castles of Mad King Ludwig), and others adding quite a bit of flavor and humor into the game.
Is Suburbia 5★ a bad expansion? No. It gives players new options in terms of tile availability and player powers, and a new statistic to keep track of when building their boroughs. The ability to add the expansion into your base game makes it easy to implement, and the rules are extremely straightforward and simple, especially if you are familiar with how Suburbia works from the start.
That said, the original Suburbia and Suburbia Inc were extremely balanced and elegant on their own, that it felt like 5★ came in and muddied up the waters. More things to keep track of are not necessarily a good thing, and while the variable player order is interesting, the addition of 5★ makes the game feel like Suburbia 5★ is the core game, while the other tiles act as the expansion.
Sometimes too much of a good thing is not necessarily great, and with respect to Suburbia 5★, I would agree with that statement. The core game and Inc. expansions provide everything a gaming group would need to feel like they are engaging in a fun city-building experience, and 5★ does nothing to add more value to that experience.
• Adds another statistic to keep track of during the game
• Game becomes more about 5★ and less about Suburbia
• Dilution of the building tile pool due to adding 5★ cards