Since a few individuals have inquired about the usefulness of SimCity4: Prima's Official Strategy Guide, I thought I would offer my review of the book.
Overall it is a somewhat useful guide. It provides many facts and figures that may assist the player in understanding the inner workings of the simulation. The various interface elements are described in more detail compared to the game manual. There are several tables of data that may help in various decisions, such as if and where one should place various reward buildings. There are also several game play tips scattered throughout.
It must be noted, however, that the Guide is very light on strategy when it comes to the design and layout of a city. For example, it will provide adequate data regarding freight trip lengths and rail capacities, but very little advice on how to actually lay out a rail system for maximum efficiency. And should the freight station arrow face the road or the rail? The Guide doesn't say! Anyway, if you're interested in the figures, and can develop city layout strategies on your own based on those figures, then this book can be very useful. If you're looking for a bit more advice on city layout strategy, you will be disappointed. But it is still a whole lot more informative than the manual provided with the game!
I must also note that several errors are evident in this book. For example, conflicting figures are provided on different pages for the age ranges of educational buildings. Some buildings' radius of effect figures are more confusing than helpful. I am fairly certain the figures in the Time To Cross table on page 246 are minutes per tile, not tile per minute. The errors do not detract too much from the overall usefulness of the book, though. (Did I mention that it is a whole lot more informative than the game manual?)
Before I get started on a more detailed review, I must state that there are now numerous other resources on the internet, many of which will be much more helpful than the Guide, especially in the area of region and city layout strategy. Additionally, many of the useful lists and tables from this Guide are duplicated somewhere on the net. Consider this before deciding upon purchasing this book.
Here is a review of the contents by chapter, in case you're bored.
Chapter 1: Getting Started
This is a very brief introduction to the region view, basic terra-forming and game modes. It includes a useful tip on land value.
Chapter 2: Life of a City
This contains a breakdown of game play and city growth into "phases," which might be somewhat useful to the beginner. Provided are some general guidelines of what to provide for a city at successive population levels. It's the closest thing to a "strategy" in the Guide but it lacks specifics and provides no city layout strategy.
Chapter 3: Vital Information
This chapter just contains lists and tables that are scattered throughout the Guide. It's fairly useful, but could have had more table data consolidated here though. It might have been more useful yet as a detachable quick reference card.
Chapter 4: Quick Tips
This is probably the most useful chapter in the book. There are a lot of tips in here. This is a "must read" for the beginner. Did you know that, if you go §100,000 in the red, you'll be impeached? I must try that sometime.
Chapter 5: Modes
Here the various tool menu icons are explained for all modes in a little more detail than that found in the game manual. Includes cross-references to other chapters and a few useful notes and tips.
Chapter 6: Pre-City Considerations
This chapter starts with a few helpful thoughts on how to view the region overall before starting the first city within a region. It notes the number of tiles per city size, and that a tile is 16 meters across. A great portion of this chapter is dedicated to the terra-forming tools of god mode. Much information is provided here that is lacking in the game manual, like the keystrokes that control the size and strength of the various terra-forming tools.
Chapter 7: Developer Types and Occupancy
An understanding of the concepts in this chapter is crucial before studying the chapters on demand, desirability, and development. Developer types and occupancy are simple concepts to grasp though. A thorough description is provided here for each of the 12 developer types in the game. Provided are a few paragraphs each on how developer types work with zoning, demand, desirability, development and some ancillary effects. Good explanations of occupancy and abandonment are provided as well. It's a useful chapter for general background information but not one that I have bookmarked.
Chapter 8: Demand
This chapter I have bookmarked! Demand is the most important aspect of SimCity 4, in my opinion. In this chapter, the concepts of demand and demand caps are defined thoroughly. There is some information on how taxes affect demand. Several important tables are included: workforce demand, business demand, demand caps, demand cap relief structures, and jobs in non-RCI structures.
Chapter 9: Zoning
In this chapter is the closest thing to a city layout strategy found in the Guide. Included are some guidelines for the placement of the different zone types. Most of it is common sense, though. There is a good tip providing a reason to "zone low density for as long as you can." For the players of previous versions of SimCity, it is noted that tile counting and zone balancing concepts are somewhat obsolete. The information on automatic streets and "parcelization" is somewhat obvious by just playing the game.
Chapter 10: Desirability
Here is another one that I have bookmarked. Desirability is almost as important as demand. This chapter defines desirability and provides good information on the factors that affect it: air pollution, crime, garbage, health care, land value, NIMBY/YIMBY effects, zone proximity, radiation, education, terrain slope, traffic volume, commute, or freight trip time. Actually, my bookmark is on the page with the Desirability Factors by Developer Type table. That table shows the relative effect of the desirability factors. For example, I know that traffic noise is a bad thing near residential, but according to this table I should only worry about it for R§§§. R§ and R§§ are much more concerned with other factors. The three pages preceding that table give a good overview and breakdown of desirability factors by developer type. The specific numbers here are not as important as understanding what the simulation is doing while one is trying to develop a city. I found this chapter very helpful in that regard.
Chapter 11: Development
This chapter details how the simulation develops the zones. A few important concepts are defined in this chapter: stage limits, stage caps, and abandonment. Stage limit tables are provided that indicate the percentage of each stage level structure that are available at different population thresholds. I don't find this to be all that useful, actually. (The primary thing that it was good for was when we were proving that it was nigh impossible to obtain the infamous Stage 8 Skyscrapers!) The information on stage caps and abandonment is more useful, perhaps, but mostly common sense.
Chapter 12: Getting Information
As the title suggests, this chapter provides instructions on how to obtain available information. It discusses visual cues, lot props, "zots", pop-ups, the query tool, data views, graphs, polls, advisors, and the news flipper. No surprises here, mostly explanations for the information easily found by just clicking on every informative tool in the game. Included are instructions on how to watch a crime in progress. This chapter also includes some details on the "My Sim" mode. Here's a tip: "Keep an eye out for your My Sim's departed soul as it lofts heavenward."
Chapter 13: Budget and Finance
This chapter describes the features of the budget panel. There are many cross-references to other chapters since budgeting affects almost everything. (Or is it the other way around?) Also provided are the effects of over-funding and under-funding various structures. The most useful information provided here would be the short-term effect on your mayor rating when you adjust the tax rates, and the tip about keeping zones low density until the city map is full.
Chapter 14: Pollution and Environment
A great amount of detail is provided here regarding air pollution, water pollution, garbage, and radiation. For those of you who really like to see a lot of numbers, a four-page table shows the pollution levels of several structures. It gives general information regarding the consequences of pollution - it lowers desirability, mayor rating, and health quotient. Also gives some advice on combating pollution, which is a bit more useful.
Chapter 15: Crime
Herein lies one of the errors. The Base Criminality by EQ chart has its axis labels reversed. Not that it matters, anyway, since it doesn't actually help one play the game. There are a lot of details regarding the causes of crime and which crimes are committed where. All you really need to know are three things: keep your Sims employed, increase your Sims' education quotient, and provide heavily overlapping police coverage. I bet you were going to do those things anyway without needing a Guide to tell you that! Oh, and by the way, crime cannot be eliminated completely.
Chapter 16: Mayor Rating
This is a fairly useful chapter for one who is concerned with one's mayor rating. Provided are the short-term, long-term, and building effects upon the mayor rating by various factors in the game. It's nice to know what those factors are. Of course, the exact values given are useless without units. I see effect radius values like 256 and I wonder what that 256 represents. Is it tiles? Then why do some buildings have a radius of 440 when you consider the fact that the largest city square is 256 tiles across? Little things like this really annoy me.
Chapter 17: Utilities
Herein are several good tables regarding the usage, aging, decay rate and utility output of the various utility structures. Of course, one only needs to periodically query each structure in the city to see when it needs to be supplemented or replaced. Then again, one might want to know the expected lifespan of a power plant in the first place, so this chapter is somewhat useful. The Non-RCI Building Utility Use Table is interesting. Did you know that the John Han***** Center consumes 1,500 units of water per month?
Chapter 18: Public Safety
This chapter provides details on the usage and effectiveness of fire stations, police stations, and jails. It also provides useful information on dispatching fire trucks or police units. Perhaps the best information here is that of flammability - especially the fact that "an abandoned building is the most flammable of all, increasing [base] flammability by 50 percent." And, did you know that the protection strength is zero at the exterior of a police station's coverage circle?
Chapter 19: Transportation and Traffic
This should have been one of the best chapters in the book. The transportation feature is completely revised from the previous version of SimCity. This chapter is full of facts and figures regarding the transportation elements of a city. Network capacity, maximum speeds, route planning, congestion effects, transit switching time, travel selection by wealth type - it's all here. However, there are no helpful strategies, nothing that instructs the reader in how one should actually apply all this data. There are a couple of useful tips, like how to best utilize the airport and seaport, and the obvious suggestion to place mass transit stops between the origin and destination. If this is supposed to be a "strategy guide" then I would expect a bit more helpful strategy here. A quick perusal of the internet forums will reveal that there are a lot of issues with the transportation feature of SimCity 4. Experimentation has revealed various quirks in the usage (or lack of usage) of mass transit features and ways of circumventing those quirks. Unfortunately, none of those issues are covered in this Guide.
Chapter 20: Education
There is some useful information in this chapter. It actually includes an "Educational Strategy" section. It is also useful to know that "educational buildings do not need to be in contact with transportation" unless you want your Sims working in them. I would have never guessed that, "at death, a Sim bequeaths to the next generation 80 percent of his EQ." However, the discrepancies between the tables and charts might cause some confusion. I understand that the effects of various educational buildings can decline over the age of a Sim, but the EQ Boost % axis of each chart doesn't look quite right to me. And I love the picture of the opera house - looks like a golf course, to me!
Chapter 21: Health
No surprises in this chapter. It includes an interesting note about how increasing the health quotient contributes to pollution reduction.
Chapter 22: Parks and Recreation
This short chapter includes a wonderful "building catalog" that shows the YIMBY, pollution effects and demand cap relief of each park and recreation item, which is invaluable to mayors who like to squeeze as much value as possible out of every simolean.
Chapter 23: Rewards
Another bookmark! The "reward directory" allows me to decide which rewards are worth the cost of placement. It provides the YIMBY/NIMBY ratings for the rewards so that I know whether to place it near residential or near commercial zones for a positive effect. The demand cap relief values are shown as well. (I don't believe the relief numbers for the courthouse, though; those are probably supposed to be the job numbers.) The listing of prerequisites is useful as well, although this information is readily available in the game.
Chapter 24: Ordinances
If you want to know which ordinances hurt your mayor rating or lower demand, and by how much, then you will appreciate this chapter. Too bad one of the ordinances is missing, though: Neighborhood Watch Program. Tsk, tsk.
Chapter 25: Multiple Cities
This chapter provides a fairly good explanation of regional development and how neighboring cities affect each other. Neighbor deals are also explained thoroughly.
Chapter 26: Business Deals
You can probably guess that a business deal is not necessarily a good thing, outside of the monthly income, of course. This chapter gives the details on various effects of these structures, not necessarily all bad - YIMBY/NIMBY, pollution, crime, mayor rating, jobs, and demand cap relief. Yes, the army base provides a 100,000 IM demand cap relief! Included is a tip to use a disaster (or repeal Legalized Gambling) to remove a business deal structure instead of bulldozing it. It's much cheaper that way. Unlike the rewards, these don't show up on the menu until you have met the requirements. The listing of prerequisites is therefore useful.
Chapter 27: Disasters
The god-mode disasters section contains mostly obvious information. Of course, I didn't know until I read it in this Guide that you could direct the path of some disasters by holding and dragging the mouse pointer. The section on simulation initiated disasters is a little more interesting. Never had a riot, but if I do; now I know how many police units to dispatch.
Chapter 28: Landmarks
This chapter simply lists the costs and effects of the landmarks that were available upon release of the game. Generally speaking, the more expensive the landmark, the better the commercial YIMBY and the higher the mayor rating boost. If your city is large enough to afford them, do you really need to know the specific numbers?
Chapter 29: Cheats
Herein are the cheat codes that were widely known throughout the internet within hours of the game's release!
I hope this information has been helpful to somebody. Go build a city!
If you have any questions about this article, please PM STomnibus.