When’s the last time you read the instructions of a board game and felt like you were at a feminist rally of gamers? As they picket the headquarters of a gaming company demanding equality and burning pink game pieces in effigy? When? When? When?! If your answer is more than zero, then you are probably in the 1% section of gamers and most likely have a restraining order against you. But, why does it have to be “Parker Bros,” when it was the Parker sister’s idea, probably? When will we get our day in the sun, ladies? As we sit in a basement or coffee shop rolling 12-sided dice, daydreaming of being wooed by Klaus Teuber or Leslie Scott, and having them create a RPG where the goal is to garner our attention and approval. It’s time for a bit of recognition and kudos for being the minority in a culture saturated by mouth-breathing breeders.
Ginkgopolis may be the answer for us, sisters. It may not be perfect, no one is, but it acknowledges women in a subtle way that can be appreciated by all. Before we get into all of that, let’s go over the game. Just like anyone out there, it may be difficult to get a good bead on it from your first impression, but you should never judge until you get to know them a bit. Ginkgopolis is based on the concept that, over the years, mankind has depleted its natural resources, and as an urban planner you must gather the best team of experts to expand the livable areas of a desolate world. Gingko Biloba, the oldest and strongest tree in history, represents the symbol of endurance and perseverance that must be maintained to survive and live in balance with resources and their consumption. Hopefully, a sequel will come out one day that involves saving whales, hugging trees, and having an ever expanding love-in.
The concept of being an urban planner is a bit different from what you may know of today’s stereotypes. You aren’t designing a city whose roads confuse motorists enough to become frustrated and stop at price gouging gas stations for directions or getting kickbacks from contractors. This is more along the lines of . . . well . . . planning an urban area, otherwise know as a city. Surrounding yourself with bio-engineers, bio-city planners, and bio-technicians, you work to beat your competitors to develop the best and most dominant area of the city, which seems like much more sense than working together to create the best metropolis possible, but, hey, it’s a game and you have to compete against someone, right?
Starting off, you construct a 3 x 3 building tile grid surrounded by Urbanization cards lettered A-L in alphabetical order starting at the top left of the grid. In a 2-5 player version of the game, resources and corresponding character cards are given to each player based off the color resource they choose. It seems fairly straight forward there, but more experienced players would know which color to choose, which grants specific bonuses to the characters that color receives. I find it best to let fate decide which color each player gets by randomly picking from a hat or other such device of hiding the options, like a bag or gently used turkey carcass. Recycling is important, folks. Once cards and game pieces are appropriately doled out and set up, the game begins. As may be expected from a game based on the concept of geo-considerate re-urbanization, the first player to go is, wait for it, the last person to have planted a tree. No, I am not kidding. At least it isn’t the last person to have cleaned off a pelican due to an oil spill. Maybe in a possible expanded edition.
After a first player is determined, play begins. Each player lays down a card at the same time and, if they choose, a tile to play along with it. After all plays have run their course, accompanying actions are taken and pieces distributed. The FIRST PLAYER card is passed clockwise, each player takes the 3 unused cards from the player to their right, draws one, and discards the rest. Play continues until all of the tiles are exhausted or all resources from a player are used. I just explained it in the most bare bones description possible. Like if I were to say that the universe is this place I went to during spring break. The universe has these sick a– dance clubs and body shots. The universe is also, like . . . you know, like, time and space and junk.
Ginkgopolis takes a couple of trial and error attempts to get through. And, that’s just the instruction manual. The setup is fairly straight forward, but the wording of the manual proved a bit vague. It wasn’t until a few rounds of the game and a YouTube video or two that helped flush out the kinks and get us rolling. After a general feel for the directions was learned, the game went quite a bit more smoothly. Playing it out with a number of different opponents, the general consensus was that, although the game was less about strategy and more about luck of the draw, it would be a pretty solid replay. It won’t be thrown to the fire pit of rejected games for all eternity. From what I’ve seen from other reviews so far, I’m not the only one to think that. Speaking of being the only one . . .
An interesting option in the game is a solitary play option. When I first read the number of players on the box and it said, “1-5,” I assumed it as a bit of a translation mix up since this is another creation of Namur, Belgium’s Xavier Georges. Georges, creator of a number of other titles including the award winning Troyes, has been a contributor to the board game world for almost 5 years now and a force to be reckoned with. It’s always a tight rope walk with solitary game play. It’s either slackless and well balanced or loose and flailing as it plummets to its demise, taking the rest of the game with it. I’m still testing to see how taut the rope is before I decide whether it sinks or swims. In solo play, you are up against an imaginary opponent named “Hal.” I’m going to take the high road here and not make a 2001 reference. This is basically a scaled-down version of the 2 to 3-player game with you controlling the actions for Hal. It’s almost as if someone you are up against doesn’t have arms, but you are resigned to upper cut yourself based on the luck of their draw. The single player game is still a bit vague to not only myself, but most other gamers on the web. Multiple searches found only 1 mention of its rules and execution, which have been disputed and disproven. No videos as of this article show a solo game played out, which I hope will soon be corrected so more players may enjoy sitting alone on a Friday night with a bowl of ice cream and a few cats to round out the evening. Also, just because I said “cats,” that doesn’t mean the lonely souls I refer to are women. That would just be sexist. Speaking of sexism, let’s take a moment to circle back to the feminism I mentioned earlier.
For all the years I’ve been a gamer, I’ve never considered the player description a point of interest. Pouring over what must have been phone books worth of instruction manuals, it never occurred to me that the pronoun to describe the player was innately masculine. On occasion the he, him, or his would be changed to a gender neutral they, theirs, etc., but not until the instructions to Ginkgopolis have I seen the player pronoun distinctly feminine. Every mention of a player is qualified as she or her, it gives player examples strictly as “Faye” or “Margaret.” This doesn’t add to or detract from the quality of game play, but it may add to the future of gaming qualifiers for the rest of time. Then again, it could just be something added to compel reviewers to mention it in their periodicals. If so, go ahead and take a page out of George W.’s book and say, “Mission Accomplished.”
Ginkgopolis isn’t going to change the world or anything so bold, but it just may draw a solo player out of their shell and more importantly their basement to go on the best quest of all, joining the rest of humanity, since, at its very least, it is a two-player game. Give it a shot and see what you think. I can’t tell you what you’ll make of it other than you will have some reading to do and a few things to debate. That, in itself, will get you to interact with the outside world, since conflict is the mother of resolution. Try it on for size.
You can thank me later.