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In Old Chicago with a Sizable Rulebook

Updated: May 26, 2020

The artwork is eye-catching and intriguing; the theme is sophisticated, so what else could we do but play City of the Big Shoulders by Parallel games. 

Z and D

Set at the turn of the century, shortly after the second great Chicago Fire, City of the Big Shoulders is a euro-style, resource management and worker placement game with an 18xx-style economic engine. Take on the role of entrepreneur and investor as you build one of 15 historical companies, hiring workers, acquiring resources, and producing goods to line your pockets and become Chicago’s most significant resident.

When you start to set up and open the behemoth rulebook, you must overlook the urge to close the book and put the lovely box back on the shelf. I was having a dialogue in my head while da hubby was going over the rule. The conversation- “tell him you have too much to do to play” response “stick it out, just get a round in, and it will make sense.” After missing most of the setup instructions, I buckled up and dove headfirst into how to play.


First, the game board is set up, board sections are populated. Sort and place the Demand tiles, then the Capital Asset tiles. Sort the building tiles by era and place them onto the board. Fill the shaded areas of the Job Market with workers. Finally, prepare a bank of money. 

Pro Tip- do not muddle business money and personal money.

Next, place two of each of the resource cubes onto Haymarket Square (the marketplace) and put the rest in the bag. After giving the bag a shake, draw three resources for each space of the supply chain along the top of the board. Set the Decade and Phase markers to their starting positions. The other components are kept on the side of the board till needed.

Next, each player chooses a color and takes the corresponding player board and pieces. Everyone receives $175 (personal money) and three buildings from the era 1 Building tile deck. Then you’re ready to begin playing!

 After our first game, this process felt effortless. 

Next, start a business by choosing from the provided ten business and purchase stock I chose A.G. Spaulding by reason that it looked as though there were less to acquire to fulfill the perks of the card. This would give me more chances to learn. These next phases are the turns for each decade, and the game spans five decades.

Game play

Phase one of the decade is the Stock phase where you take turns, selling, purchase, or pass until all players have passed.

Sell stock (as many as they want) to the bank earning money equal to the number of stocks sold times the current Share Value of the company. This causes the company’s Share Value to decrease. The sold share(s) are placed into the Bank Pool. The Director’s share may never be sold.

After selling, you can then buy stock (one certificate) from the Bank Pool (if there are any there) or from any player-owned company (even your own). Money paid for stocks in the Bank Pool goes to the bank. Cash paid for shares in companies owned by the players goes directly into that company’s treasury. You cannot sell and buy stocks from the same company in the same round, nor may you ever own more than 60% of any single company.

Decline to perform a stock action.

The Stock Phase goes around and around, in turn, order, until all players have passed in a row; you can pass and rejoin the phase later as long as everyone hasn’t passed. The person to the left of the last person to perform a stock action receives the Priority Deal marker.

 Next are the Building and Action phases of the decade.

During the Building Phase, each player selects a Building tile and plays it face down into the Building area of their color. They remove one Building tile in their hand from the game and keep the remaining one for future rounds. Then play proceeds into the Action phase. Players, in turn, order on the track, take turns placing their partners (tokens) worker placement style, purchasing managers, salespeople, workers, resources, or capital assets (a card that can have residual returns in future decades. The cost of these options are plainly illustrated on each item; the company pays the player who owns the building, the bank pays the player who owns the building, the company pays the bank, the bank pays the company, or the company pays shareholders.

The operating phase turn order is highest to lowest on the appeal track. You work through companies from left to right, purchasing resources from Haymarket Square, produce at your factory, and add any bonus triggered. Now you fill orders from your factory to the Demand Market. Calculate goods price plus premium, then pay stock dividends or withhold and adjust your new stock price. If you have bought stocks in your opponent’s company, you may accrue dividends if they fill orders. 

The last phase in the decade is the cleanup. Discard the lowest value card of the Capital asset tack and add a new card. Refresh the Demand market track by removing filled cards and removing them. Slide cards to the right and refill with remainder cards. Return all the partners to your player board.

After the five decades, each player cashes out all their shares for their final share values, and the player with the most money wins.

Bits and Bobs

Bits and Bobs

The components are wooden and high quality. The board is compelling, and the city map underlain is a nice touch. The money did seem delicate and modest. We did follow the recommendation to use poker chips, and the feel of the poker chips was satisfying. 

Our Thoughts

The city of Big Shoulders is a thoughtful, challenging game that moves swiftly. The historical and nostalgic background of the booming industrial metropolis was captivating. It is not for the faint of heart, but we found once we had a grasp of the rules, we were all in.

It is my favorite game of the year and in the top 3 for the collective Nerdz Garage.

*We suggest having a calculator handy.

“Going to Chicago was like going out of the world.” Muddy Waters.

Designer: Raymond Chandler III

Artists: Emily R. Dearring

Publishers: Parallel Games

Release Date: 2019

Player: 2 – 4

Age :14+

Time: 120 – 180 minutes

Mechanism(s): Commodity Speculation, Stock Holding, Tile Placement, Variable Player Powers, Worker Placement


Nerdz Garage

Suzzan Smith

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