After making it on Kickstarter last year with the backing of Golden Egg Games, Fallen City of Karez has finally hit the market. In Fallen City, each player takes on the role of a guild that is seeking to rebuild Karez back to its former glory. A semi-cooperative game, Fallen City brings together two distinctive play elements, with a worker placement mechanic to take actions in the city itself, and then an adventuring system where the guilds sent parties of heroes off to make the city safer and more attractive to new residents. Fallen City of Karez retails for about $70.
Note: I backed this on Kickstarter. Twice (I ended up paying less on the second Kickstarter because I got an early-bird price, so that worked out well for me). I throw this up front because I know that some people think that being a Kickstarter backer of a game can influence one’s opinions of the game. I’m not sure how much stock I put in that, but if you think my backer status matters, consider yourself forewarned. Sub-note: I got the Golden Dragon mini-expansion for being a backer, but I have not played with it yet, so everything in this review is based on just the base game.
The Quick Take: It’s complicated (the game, and my opinion). I like it, but it lacks elegance. It’s good, but it could have been better. There’s a lot of flavor and interesting and distinctive mechanics here, and I still really like the combination of worker placement/economic mechanics with the heroes and questing. Whether the more quirky rules aspects were fun, or aggravating, seemed to vary a good bit among our players – although it sometimes varied with whether the player was on the wrong end of some randomness, and the very uniqueness of the mechanics has kept us from getting a good handle on the faction balance (hence the rather lengthy gameplay overview in this review). Regardless, the definite positives here are hampered by some rough edges and a very poor rulebook.
In Fallen City, each player controls a guild that is helping to rebuild Karez from Village to Town to City over the course of eight game turns. Players accrue victory points in a variety of ways – having valor (most commonly earned for succeeding at adventures), owning buildings, having crystals (which mostly exist only for VPs), having the single best hero, and a faction-specific VP source. But Fallen City is a semi-cooperative game – if Karez is not in City status at the end of the game, everyone loses.
Karez expands by adding more citizens. The two kinds of “workers” in Karez are citizens and adventurers (adventurers do not count for expanding the city). Open threats to the city – mostly adventures that have not been tended to by the players and their heroes, generate (appropriately enough) Threat. Defeating adventures (and a few other things) generates Valor. At the start of the ‘end of turn’ steps each turn, the amount of Threat on the board is compared to the combined amount of Valor that the players have. If there’s a lot more Valor than Threat, then the City is relatively safe and attracts more citizens. If there’s a lot more Threat than Valor, then the City is relatively unsafe, and attracts more adventurers to deal with said Threat. The default addition is two citizens and one adventurer – you only need 12 citizens to make Karez into a City, but a decent number of the actions require removing workers from the pool, so the supply may stay tight throughout the game.
When Karez expands from Village to Town, and then again from Town to City, more advanced buildings become operational, and an additional (more threatening) adventure stack opens up. Karez can also backslide if too many citizens are lost.
There are three main phases to each turn – action selection, action resolution, and adventuring. In the action selection, players take turns (*gasp*) claiming the available action spaces on the board by placing one of his or her six guild tokens and any resources necessary to pay for that action. It is uncommon that the number of guild tokens is the restricting factor. The quickest resources to deplete in most turns are the citizens and adventurers. Basic actions include generating gold, producing equipment for the heroes, removing a citizen from the pool to generate valor, and removing an adventurer from the pool to add a hero to your lineup.
In addition to standard action selection, there are three other things to do during this phase, each of which happens instead of a normal selection. First, you can buy a building, which permanently locks one of your guild tokens onto that building. All of the Village level buildings start out owned by a particular guild, or cannot be bought, but all of the Town and City level buildings can be bought for 2-3 gold. Being the owner of a building will give one or more of three different benefits – an owner-only action, payment for use of certain actions, and no longer needing to expend a guild token to use that building’s actions. Second, you can drop one of your guild tokens on an adventure, which means your heroes will attempt that quest later in the turn. Third, you can buy a piece of equipment, if one happens to be laying around from a prior turn.
Action resolution is exactly what you’d think – go around the table resolving one action at a time until everyone has done everything they can do. Players can also use their turns to buy any equipment that’s available and action resolution is when that will tend to happen because that’s when the new equipment is produced (because that’s when the resolution of the equipment production actions happens).
In the adventuring phase, any player who assigned to an adventure will select some or all of his or her heroes, plus appropriate equipment, to venture forth into danger. Each adventure defines how many heroes may be sent on that particular quest (1-2 for Village quests, 3 for Town quests, and 4 for City quests), and each hero defines how much equipment it can carry (usually 2, but sometimes 1 or 3). Each adventure also defines a series of 2-5 encounters that must be faced by the heroes, each card drawn from a particular one of five decks – humanoids, beasts, undead, ancient monsters, and traps. Combat is resolved by rolling six-sided dice. Each monster and hero has hit points that are depicted on the card by a particular face of a d6. They take a hit and lose that die when the other side makes the appropriate role. So, for example, a cleric has a 5, 5, and 6 for hit points. If an enemy rolls a 5 and a 6, he’ll use a wound token to cover up the 6 and one of the 5s. Now he doesn’t get hit by 6s, but he will die if hit for the last 5. Except for traps (which just hit once and then are finished), the heroes may flee an adventure after an encounter card is revealed, at a penalty of losing an equipment. If the heroes stay, the fight is to the death. Equipment is either instants, which last for an encounter and are then discarded, or items, which stick around but can only be applied once per encounter. Defeating the adventure means gaining valor equal to the number of heroes permitted on the quest (regardless of how many were actually sent in), a similar number of rolls of the treasure die, and removing that adventure stack’s threat for the turn. Each treasure die will hand out 1-3 gold, a piece of equipment, or a crystal. Losing the adventure means your heroes are dead and their equipment gone, and an extra threat is added to the adventure.
Finally, at the end of the turn, the balance between threat and valor will be determined, new workers added, and then current status of Karez marked. Valor determines the turn order for the next turn – more valor = going sooner in the turn order. If it’s turn 1-7, then lather, rinse, repeat. If it’s the end of turn 8, then you’re done.
There are five guilds in Fallen City – Public, Traders, Builders, Heroes, and Arcane. A player’s guild defines five things: how many heroes he starts with (0-2), how much gold (1-3), the turn order tiebreaker (which also dictates turn order on the first turn), which building the player starts the game owning, and a method of getting bonus victory points.
– The Public guild starts with the Lava Mill (where citizens can work to produce gold) and gets VP for every citizen above and beyond the 12 needed for the group to avoid losing.
– The Heroes guild is the only guild to start with two heroes. It also starts with the Inn, which turns adventurers into heroes and can generate gold from adventurers. The Heroes guild gets more VP from valor than the other factions (1 VP for every 2 valor instead of 1 VP for every 3 valor).
– The Builders guild gets double VP from owning buildings and starts with the blacksmith, which produces items.
– The Traders guild gets VP from having gold at the end of the game, and starts with the marketplace, which produces instants.
– The Arcane guild … well, we’ll get to that later.
A lot of how a worker placement game flows can be based on what actions are available, and Fallen City is no exception. So I’ll “briefly” give some highlights. You can check out the game board below (sort of; see down below for why I’m showing you this odd not-full-color version) to see what sorts of actions there are, and then the text will single out the aspects I think you might want to pay attention to.
The Village buildings (blue orbs) form the foundation of the game flow here, plus a few Town ones (the City buildings are basically just gold or VP generators). There are three that can never be owned (all Village), the two important ones being the black market and the city watch. The black market lets you pawn one of your guild tokens for 2 gold (and does not require workers), with the option to buy it back later for 3 gold. This can be a strong move early in the game because gold is scarce then and guild tokens are plentiful. The city watch is the only relevant valor-generating action until City status is achieved – assign two citizens, remove one of them from the pool, and get a valor (one of the citizens is the cop, the removed one is the crook, and see now your city is safer!).
Two of the five guild-specific buildings (they are just neutral if a particular guild is not in the game) are the two production buildings, the blacksmith and the marketplace. The distinctive things about production and selling in Fallen City are that (1) being the player to produce a good is of no benefit in getting to buy it (in fact, because you use your action resolution pick to resolve the produce action, every other player gets the chance to buy it first) and (2) the owner of the building always gets the payment for the equipment, not whoever took the produce action (if the owner wants to buy the equipment, then he or she needs to have the cash on hand, but then gets the money back, so it’s mostly free). If the appropriate guilds are in the game, this means that the building owner is usually going to be the only one to ever take the produce action.
The inn has one of the most important actions on it, because it is one of two ways to generate hero cards, and the only one available at the Village stage – send an adventurer to the inn, pay the owner 1 gold, and the next morning the adventurer will wake up a hero (remove the worker, take a hero card). The inn is also a cash generator for the Hero’s guild, since it has an owner action to generate a gold. The Public guild’s building, the lava mill, is a pure gold generator, with an owner action to produce a gold, and a general action that generates one gold for the actor and one for the Public guild.
At the Town stage (green-ringed orbs), the most important new addition is probably the arena, because it’s the second way to get hero cards. For the cost of one valor and one citizen removed from the pool, a new hero will be forged from the fires of arena combat, and join your team. Valor can also be spent at the library or barracks, where existing heroes can improve their attack (by getting to roll an extra d6) or defense (by getting an extra hit point).
The appearance of the tower also gives an opportunity to break the Trader/Builder monopoly on equipment production, since it can produce both items and instants (in smaller quantities, but this hasn’t been too relevant).
The last building I’ll note here is the cemetery, also known as “seriously, don’t let your heroes die.” If a hero dies when Karez is a village, then the hero is just gone. If a Hero dies when Karez is a Town or City, then the hero card is turned face down, and the hero takes up residence in the cemetery, where one of your guild tokens is then locked down until your heroes are resurrected. This could be a while, since the only reliable resurrection method isn’t available until the City stage (which you may never reach), and it takes a crystal to do.
The Arcane Guild and Private Dungeons
So, I’ve been skipping over both of these topics, because they’re intertwined and play a bit oddly with everything else. Private Dungeons are basically your own little monster-infested joint that you can open up, and hope that foolish heroes and adventurers come on by to die in. If you aren’t the arcane guild, there’s really only two reasons to open a private dungeon. First, the owner has a handy action to kill off an adventurer in order to get to roll a treasure die (whatever loot the deceased fellow left behind), which also adds threat to the private dungeon. Second, if you have a private dungeon open at the end of the game, it’s worth a VP (this is best achieved by waiting until everyone else is busy on turn 8, and then tossing your last shield to open a dungeon).
If you’re the Arcane guild, however, your entire game is basically about your private dungeon, because your bonus VP come from the threat that has built up on your private dungeon. And you don’t even get a hero at the start of the game, but instead a set of three monster cards that heroes who venture into your private dungeon might face (actually, everyone but the Hero guild starts with a monster, but they were never used by anyone other than the Arcane guild). Other players can send their heroes into your private dungeon just like they would an adventure, and can rack up treasure dice and valor for smashing their way through it. Also, if they succeed, the private dungeon closes and all the accumulated threat vanishes. To stop this, there are a whole array of actions on the board that are basically only relevant to the Arcane guild – using the wishing well (the Arcane guild’s starting building) to create humanoids, the Workshop to create traps, the cemetery to create Undead, and the storyteller to create beasts.
And, yes, the fact that the Arcane guild gets VP from threat means that it is, to some extent, working at odds with the rest of the players. The Arcane guild still loses if Karez doesn’t become a City, but its efforts to generate threat will keep down the number of new citizens coming to Karez (the Arcane guild also wants to attract more adventurers, so it has someone to feed into the private dungeon).
Components, Art, Graphic Design, Layout, and So Forth
There’s quite a bit in the box (almost all of it pre-bagged too!) – 75+ full size hero, encounter and adventure cards, 60+ equipment and visitor cards, 26 dice (including custom treasure dice and a healing die), 24 workers, 48 wooden cubes of various sorts, 5 gold bricks (for when you have too much cash), 10 crystals, and a variety of tokens. Everything was of nice quality, although there need to be more than 16 blue valor cubes (you’ll also run out of heroes in 5-player games, and maybe 4-player games, but I don’t know if that’s intentional or not). I’ve seen it noted online that all of the cubes (except wounds) are intended to be limited, but we couldn’t find that in the rules and, well, either way there should still be more valor cubes because it would have really messed up the game to run out of them. Card artwork is passable, although the “attacks last” icon blends too much into the cards and there seem to be some editing errors (“Menticore” and “Cyclop,” for example). There’s also an enormous (6-fold) board, a rulebook, a large player aid (yes, only one), and the five faction cards, which also have building summaries on them.
Now, with that said, the game could definitely stand some editing and graphic design fixes, especially with the rulebook. What follows is going to include some pretty harsh criticism, so let me preface it by saying that I am aware that there is a difference between gameplay and things like how well your rulebook is written, and that you can have a great rulebook for a bad game, or vice versa. But I do think it matters at least to some extent, and I do think it can affect the gameplay experience, and I do think there are a reasonable portion of gamers who share those opinions, so I think it’s pertinent, and I’m going to talk about it. If you disagree, feel free to just skip to the next section.
Let’s start with something that I think will be pretty obvious to anyone who tries to learn this game on their own (and has certainly been mentioned in BBG posts) – the Fallen City rulebook is terrible. Not subpar, not has some typos, not is unclear in some corner cases, but just on a fundamental level does a bad job of explaining how to play the game. I’m not going to try and pin down every little problem, but I read the rulebook three times, watched the designer’s videos twice each, then sat down with my usual Strange Assembly guys to spend about an hour puzzling over some things, and there were still a whole stack of things that we basically had to guess exactly how they worked. The rulebook is not arranged to make it easy to figure out the flow of the game. Vital rules are tucked in ‘notes,’ which makes it easy for them to be overlooked. Cards use symbology that is never explained in the rules or on the player aid. It’s not clear from the rules how items work in repeated rounds of combat (although the designer’s videos at least make that clear), or the particulars of how some of the item effects work generally. There’s an “FAQ” at the back that isn’t really an FAQ, but rather a list of basic rules questions that should have, but were not, covered in the actual body of the rules. The rules explanation for the most basic and fundamental thing you do in the game – selecting an action – is muddled, vague, and fails to inform on a variety of important aspects (some of these are covered in the “FAQ”). It’s really hard for me to read the rulebook and not conclude that there was a failure to include a playtest session that involved just taking the game and the rules, giving them to a group of players who have never played the game, and seeing if they can easily figure out how to play. That’s a really important step that a designer/publisher needs to take, but the holes in the rulebook are so obvious that it’s hard to think that such a session was conducted, and yet the rulebook was left to stand as is (that, or they created the FAQ in the back as a rather inadequate way of addressing some of the problems that such a playtest uncovered).
There are also some suboptimal graphic design and component decisions that make it harder to track what’s going on in the game. The chart of buildings on the back of the guild cards doesn’t include the neutral buildings. There should really be a player aid for each player.
The board, while pretty, makes it hard to track what is going on. Basically, the art for the city is too flowing and busy – it’s too hard to pick out the actions from across the table, and too easy to “lose” workers and (especially) guild tokens in the art. As counterintuitive as it might seem, this board would benefit greatly from art that was more basic, along with increased definition between the buildings (either smaller art and bigger spaces between the buildings, or else some sort of solid line demarking them). I’m not sure how much pictures will help without any sense of scale, but I think there’s a useful contrast between the actual board:
and this “incomplete” version of the board that the designer put up on BGG:
As a game board, the “incomplete” would actually be much better than the full-color full-art one, because you can now easily single out and identify what the game-relevant parts of the board are (not only does the color make it easy to lose the guild tokens and make it harder to pick out the action slots, but the final art has lots of connecting roads that make the buildings flow into each other – again, nice from an art perspective, less great from a gameplay perspective). The difficulty is picking out guild tokens is exacerbated by failing to differentiate the tokens enough. There are five guilds, and the border colors of those tokens are red, white, yellow, yellow, and yellow. I’m not sure why they couldn’t have just been something like red, white, yellow, green, and blue.
Opinions, Observations, Judgments, Etc.
So, I still like the concept, and I enjoyed the game. I’m glad I backed it on Kickstarter, and I do want to play it more. But while it hits on the concept and the flavor and the general gameplay, it does have some unusual design choices that seem to detract from the experience – maybe a bit rough around the edges, an extraneous rules bit or two, that sort of thing. There’s probably more words spilled below about what’s less-than-perfect about the game, but keep in mind that it’s a lot easier (for me at least) to write about that at length. The flavor, for example, is fantastic. I love the flavor of a lot of the action tiles (like the City Watch and private dungeon, mentioned elsewhere), but I have a hard time writing two paragraphs about that concept. So, I’d say good game, but not as good as it could have been.
The game time is listed on the box as 120 minutes, and that’s probably a minimum. I’ve played with a couple of groups and across the range of player quantities. The second group, where I knew the game (as well as I could figure out, anyway) but had to teach the rest, took almost five hours to go through a 5-player game (not counting setup). Obviously, that’s protracted because of teaching new players (and it also took longer because this group actually tried to engage in resource trading – yes, there’s resource trading, which by the end of this sentence will have received as much treatment here as it did in the rulebook; I’m not sure if the designer intends it to be important to the game, but it ended up feeling to us as relatively unimportant and not worth the time spent on failed negotiations), but I think that 5-player games are just not going to get done in 2 hours. The game worked at the maximum and minimum players.
The mash-up of the two core mechanics – worker placement and adventuring – works well, although a couple of my players felt that they were too distinct and that it felt forced. Personally, I kind of figured that pushing the two mechanics together was kind of the point, and was one of the things that interested me about the game in the first place, so it didn’t seem like any sort of issue to me. Using your actions properly in the worker placement aspect is vital to assembling an appropriate adventuring team, and succeeding with your adventuring team is necessary to keep Karez growing and to accumulate enough valor to go early in the turn order.
I’m not sure how much player quantity affects how hard it is to ensure that Karez becomes a City. I think that more players makes it easier, but other factors seemed more important – and we did have games where we finished with way more citizens than we needed and another one where Karez only barely got into City status, and only at the end of the final turn. First, whether the Arcane guild was in the game. The Arcane guild’s bonus VP condition is at odds with the team, and so a 3-player game that includes the Arcane guild is going to be a tougher challenge. So we would definitely recommend not doing that configuration for your first game – really, unless you’re at five players, we would recommend not using the Arcane guild just because it plays so differently from the rest.
Indeed, the Arcane guild and the private dungeons seemed out of place to us. This whole system of everyone starting with encounter cards, and then the option to build a private dungeon, is just very divorced flavor and mechanics-wise from the rest of the game. There’s some flavor for the Arcane guild itself, but not anyone else, and it requires this whole extra rules section for raiding private dungeons when that’s maybe going to happen once during the game. Everyone else gets these encounter cards that they’re never going to use. There are multiple actions on the board – including two entire buildings – that are completely useless if you aren’t building a private dungeon. And the Arcane guild is in the unenviable position that, if someone else has a good squad of heroes put together, his private dungeon and all of his victory points are going to get shut down (this relates to the feedback loops I mention below). The best thing about the whole mechanic is the flavor of killing off an adventurer to get his loot, which is basically what the action on the private dungeon spot on the board signifies.
Second (yes, this is the second of the things that affect how easy or hard it is to make Karez a City, it just takes me a while to get around to my point sometimes) is how your first few adventures go. The first adventures are worth 1-2 valor cubes if you beat them, and the threat level increases if you try and fail. So once you go into an adventure you’re looking at a 3-4 point swing on the threat/valor balance. And if you fail by getting killed, instead of running away, then that’s a lot of resources down the drain as well. So a bad early run can leave the table short on heroes and citizens and needing to claw its way back into thing.
Which leads me into something of a “review” observation and something of a strategy observation. Going on adventures involves drawing random monsters off of a deck and then rolling dice to see if you beat them (and then rolling dice to see what your reward is if you beat the adventure). That means that, yeah, it’s random. There are going to be times when you pull the nasty monster off the deck, and times you pull the weak one. There are going to be times when the monster rolls multiples of exactly the number it needs to kill your wizard, and times when it can’t hit the broad side of a barn. So if you hate random in any form, this is going to be a problem for you. But, for the strategy observation, don’t be afraid to run away. Losing a single piece of equipment (or a valor cube, but on your early adventures you may not even have one yet) isn’t the end of the world – yeah, it’s annoying, but it’s OK. But if your party doesn’t run away, and gets wiped out, that can be an insurmountable obstacle to your future success. Now, you might make a strategically sound decision to fight on and the dice still just hose you, but running away if you flip up the biggest humanoid in the deck is a legitimate option.
The adventuring mechanic is creative and usually fun – although we found it more fun to have another player roll the monster/trap’s dice, instead of you just rolling it for yourself. This also helps keep another player involved, which is handy generally, but especially when from time to time the dice decide to make a fight take too long – sometimes you can end up rolling ten dice five times in a row, and just nothing is coming up with hits (or whatever hits are coming up get blocked).
Part of reason why the success of an early adventure can be key to the flow of the game is that Karez definitely has some aspects of the game where there is a vicious or virtuous (depending on whether you’re on the receiving end of it) cycle. The Arcane guild is a narrow example. If lots of threat stays on the board them there will be enough adventurers for him to always be able to feed one to his private dungeon, which increases the threat, which generates more adventurers, and so forth. If all of the threat gets cleared out early, then there will be very few adventurers, and he won’t be able to grab them to feed to his dungeon, so he doesn’t generate threat, so few adventurers come, and so on and so forth. On the flipside, if the heroes are successful early on then the players will earn valor and gold, which means they can use the Arena action to recruit more heroes and the Library and Barracks actions to improve their heroes and can purchase equipment, which means they’ll be able to clear later adventures. If the heroes fail early then they won’t earn valor so they’ll have a harder time recruiting more heroes and improving existing ones, so it will be harder to succeed later on.
I’ve seen some criticism of faction balance (most commonly “the builder’s guild is too good”) but I haven’t seen enough to conclude that – maybe we just haven’t played enough, but it hasn’t shown up yet. The Builder’s guild certainly looks a bit unfair at first – extra VP for doing what you were going to do anyway, and a virtually guaranteed 3 VP by game end – but it hasn’t won a game yet for us. There might be some advantage there, but not as much as it seems – and it does matter that it’s going to tend to be on the tail end of the turn order. There might be some distinctions between player quantities, however – the Arcane guild, for example, seems like it will tend to have a much rougher time in 5-player games than 3-player games.
The absolute biggest negatives, however, are not about the core gameplay, but about the rulebook and the graphic design making it way too difficult to figure out how to play the game, and a hassle every turn to figure out what’s happening on the board. How much that sort of thing matters to you isn’t really something I can tell you, but if that’s a real turn-off for you, you might want to take a pass, or wait until the online version of the rulebook is more polished. I’m not going to go into the rulebook again, but the suboptimal graphic design on the board makes the game longer and can be frustrating – we constantly found ourselves searching to make sure there wasn’t some other action to take, and then when resolving actions constantly peering to see if there were some cubes or guild tokens on the board to make sure that we had resolved everything. And by making it harder for new player to grok what’s going on, it makes the learning curve steeper.
The “looking for more actions to take” aspect felt to us like one of those “rough spots.” It isn’t that there was necessarily anything “wrong” about it, but for the large majority of the game we always had way more guild tokens and open spots on the board than we had the resources to use. It left us with the constant sense that there was supposed to be something else we were doing, and so we ended up doing a lot of scanning the board and the building summary for something useful that could be done without workers (or valor cubes).
Going first is important. Maybe too important (especially given that you can’t just select “go first next turn” as one of your actions). There are going to be serious constraints – you need a certain kind of worker and there are only two (say, you want an adventurer but people keep removing them to gain heroes, or to feed the private dungeon), or you really want to get a hero but everyone keeps grabbing the handful of action spots you need for that (the valor cube generator, or one of the two hero-generating spots). That last one definitely plays into the feedback loops I mention above – you don’t have a hero (or you only have one), so you can’t do adventures, so you can’t gain valor, so you can’t go first, so you can’t get heroes (this can be frustrating for the player in question, because questing is half of the game). Going first is really important when Karez first goes up in status, because some of the buildings are great and some of them are bad and there’s only going to be one chance to get the good ones (it is, likewise, really important to make sure you have gold to pay for this; do not underestimate the strength of the Black Market early in the game).
Finally, although I can’t say it was done “wrong,” almost everyone found the production system slightly off-putting. Less importantly, you have to buy from another player, and players tended to be really reluctant to throw cash at other players when the money was tight – on the flipside, if the game gets to a point where everyone has enough gold that it’s mostly irrelevant, then taking the production action becomes pretty low priority even for the guy that owns the building, because all he gets out of it is a couple of gold. Which brings us to the “more importantly” – taking the produce action is worthless if you don’t own the building. The player who owns the building gets any money for sales. The player who goes after the producer gets first dibs on buying the new item – indeed, the player who took the production action only gets to pick up what he just produced if everyone else passes on it. This – along with the fact that the building owner could by equipment for sort-of-free – tended to be mildly off-putting to the players.
In sum, I overall have a positive opinion of Fallen City of Karez (and there are definitely plenty of games that I give a “meh” to, so “positive opinion” is not trivial). It’s a fairly novel set of mechanics, with a solid gameplay foundation, and with great flavor. But the gameplay does feel rough around the edges, and there are serious rulebook/graphic design issues.