I recently expressed my disappointment regarding the component quality and aesthetics of Underwater Cities. However, I have been playing the game regularly for two weeks now, and must say I'm very pleased with it. I just wish the company had splashed out more on its production.
This purchase was a safe bet, considering my love of Terraforming Mars. Fans of TM will immediately feel familiar with the mechanisms, and perhaps enjoy Underwater Cities even more, since most of its cards are of use to the solo gamer. My only gripe is that I would like to feel more an underwater sense of wonder and less like I'm an efficient accountant. But nevermind, the game is very, VERY good.
You start out with one dome (half a deodorant ball), and gradually amass resources to build seven domes and connect them with tunnels, desalination plants, food plants and laboratories. On every turn you have to decide which action on the board you want to take and combine it with one of your cards - if you can. Some spots on the board will be blocked but you always know which ones won't be available, as the blocking works like a conveyor belt. Your goal is to score 100 points which is doable but not always a given, at least for me.
Underwater Cities is not bogged down by complex or hard-to-remember rules, and at the same time offers satisfying decision making on literally every turn. It gives you the pleasure of seeing your network being built piece by piece on your player board, and the frustration when you can't connect a city to a point-giving metropolis. It really is well-suited for solo play, and I find it to be quite addictive: on some days I played multiple sessions back-to-back.
It would be nice if the game had a bit of asymmetry: if each player assistant card offered a different bonus, or if there were different companies that you can play as, like in Terraforming Mars. Still, it has enough variability to last for many plays. I haven't looked into the expansion yet, but I soon will, unless it's better suited for multiplayer. I'm also thinking about ordering upgraded components from Etsy, although I don't like to spend money on cosmetic bits that could have been provided by the publisher. But anyway. If you are a fan of engine building and hand management, Underwater Cities is very much worth diving into.
PS. JW encouraged me to give the article a title that incorporates the letters UC along with an F at the beginning and a K at the end. He suggested "Fantastic Underwater Cities Knocked me out", "Fantastic Underwater Cities is a Keeper", and "Feed me Underwater Cities Kelp" which I chose as the winner.