Tiny Towns (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Peter McPherson
  • Artists: Gong Studios, Matt Paquette
  • Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
  • Players: 1-6
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Times Played: 6

“Do you think there is going to be a sequel where Cthulhu comes and takes over all these tiny towns and gets rid of all the anthropomorphic creatures? Those things creep me out.”

In Tiny Towns players are competing Mayors trying to build the best scoring tiny town. You do this by using resources placed in your 4×4 grid to build buildings that will allow you to score the most points.

Each player starts the game with a blank 4×4 grid, this grid through careful planning and arrangement will soon be the tiniest of towns. One building is always in the game, it’s the Cottage. Other than the cottage there are six different types of buildings and each of those has a stack of four cards. Shuffle each stack of cards and randomly pick one from the six stacks and place them out in front of all the players and these are your available buildings to fill your tiny town. The five different resources used to build your buildings — Wood, Wheat, Brick, Glass and Stone — are represented by cubes in colors specifically for each resource, these are placed out around the table for everyone to have access to. An eighth building — the Monument — is then chosen by each player. Deal two Monument cards to everyone playing and each player will choose one to keep and discard the other. Monuments are special buildings, they are bigger and more costly to build, but they also will grant a bonus over the entirety of the game, be it points at the end or a benefit that allows you to bend the rules a little bit and help with fleixibility.

Everyone is now ready to build their towns. To do that each round, the Master Builder, the first player, will name a resource and each player will then take that resource from the supply and place it on their tiny town board in one of the squares. This is all done simultaneously. The players are placing the resources on the grid in hopes of building the buildings that are available. Each building has a set pattern of resources, noted on the building card, that needs to be replicated on the player board. The buildings themselves, as you place resources, do not need to be facing the same direction as the card, you can flip and mirror them on your town, but the resources need to stay in the same spots respectively. The game isn’t that restrictive, there is a bit of leeway here. When doing the resource placement, a player may complete a building. When they do that, they remove the resources that made the pattern for the building and take a building token that matches the building and places it on one of the squares that the resources previously occupied. Usually you will be doing this to best score points, so placement of buildings matters. After everyone has done this, the first player passes clockwise and the new starting player selects a resource for everyone to add and the game proceeds. .

The game will end when everyone has filled their tiny town, either with buildings, or resources that could not be converted into buildings. Each resource is removed from the tiny town and each blank space is then worth a negative point.

The buildings in your town will score differently, some will score based on adjacency, some will score based on where they are located, some may not even score you points but allow you to do things during the game that you normally could not do. For example, buildings like the Warehouse allows you to store resources on them during the game, so when a resource is called and you don’t want to use it at that point, you can place it in the Warehouse. Later turns you can exchange the named resource for one in your Warehouse to better serve your building needs, but at the end of the game, the Warehouse is worth a negative point for each resource left on the Warehouse. Buildings like the Cottage, which is in every game, scores three points for each Cottage which is fed, which means that you will need to have built one of the Red Buildings, which could be a Farm, a Granary, or one of two other red buildings, which feeds buildings usually based on locations. The Farm feeds four cottages anywhere on your player board, but the Granary will only feed Cottages on the eight surrounding squares. Lots of variety in these twenty four cards, so be sure that you understand what each of them does at the beginning of the game. The player who has the most points is the best Mayor of their Tiny Town and wins the game.

There are a couple variants that you can use to make the game play either a little more flexible, or a bit more random. The first one is called the Cavern Rule and we use this one quite a bit. It allows you to discard a named resource instead of placing it on your player board, twice per game. Meaning if the Master Builder calls for wood, but you have no use for that, you can take a wood and sit it off the side of your player board and ignore placing it. The other variant in the book is the Town Hall Rule. This variant takes the choice of resources out of the player’s hand for 66% of the game. In the box there is a deck of Resource cards, fifteen of them. Instead of calling a resource, the Master Builder simply draws a card which tells everyone what they are using. You do this two turns in a row and on the third turn players will get to individually choose what resource to pick up. Then back to drawing cards for two, choosing for one. This is repeated throughout the game. This deck of Resource cards is also used in the Solo Variant, which I have not tried as of when I wrote this review.

After my disappointment with Space Base and a couple of other previous AEG titles, I came into Tiny Towns with a bit of trepidation. Their games seem to strike me as intriguing on the outside, but usually from experience, don’t offer a whole lot on the inside. That’s not the case here, TIny Towns is a wonderful game that fits my playstyle nearly perfectly.

Tiny Towns is at its heart a spatial puzzle. A puzzle that each play will be unique. The many different combinations of buildings, 25 of them with only the Cottage being constant, can make the game feel entirely different. Your strategies, and how you approach each town you build, will have to adapt and you will have to find that pattern that works best for you. Sometimes you have a combination of buildings that will use a lot more wood, than glass, so you have to be careful about what buildings you start, and where you start them just due to resource scarcity.

I’m not sold completely on the Monuments in the game. They are expensive to build and take up a lot of space, so the natural thing for everyone to do at the start, is to work on completing their individual Monument, seems kind of scripted and honestly a lot of times the monuments aren’t worth building once you get past a certain spot in the game. But there are some monuments that are just absolutely invaluable, not to the point of being game breaking, but when you get them, you definitely can see your path in the game. Which is another thing that the Monuments are there for. They are to help guide you a bit. To give you a nudge in what you should be doing.

Production here is pretty spot on, the resources, while just boring cubes, perfectly serve their purpose and don’t take over the limited space on your player board. The buildings all have unique shapes for each color and while they can be a bit overwhelming on the board, they are easy to spot and remember what you are building. The rule book is well done and any questions we had about different buildings was spelled out for us in the clarifications for each individual card. My older eyes also appreciate the larger score pad.

Tiny Towns could have probably been done as a small roll and write, or a flip and fill game, but the choice here to go with a big box game makes sense. If you were writing, even in dry erase, you would have to be doing a lot more “bookkeeping” with what you are doing, probably drawing as much as you do in Sunflower Valley.. So for once, I think it’s good that a publisher went with a bigger size, rather than trying to compact itself into something smaller and more manageable for folks with smaller spaces. It is a bit of a table hog because of that, not as bad as Space Base, but it does take up some space on the table and the shelves.

As far as I can tell, this is Peter McPherson’s first big foray into board game design, and I think he has managed to have that first design out there that makes a statement about his idea of what makes a good game, and also it does have a bit of that AEG touch. You cannot play this game as a solo efficiency game if others are paying close attention to what you need, your resources will never be called by the other players, you have to pay attention to what everyone wants and needs and try to either adjust yourself to need the same things, or put yourself in a position where the resources called can’t hurt you. There also may be a bit of “hate” calling for resources as well. If I see you don’t need Wood and I can use it, I’m going to pile it on your board as often as I can and make you call for other resources that I need. There is some balancing to do as far as min/maxing your town goes. Flexibility and good planning are the keys here.

Tiny Towns is a wonderful, lighter spatial planning game, one that makes me grit my teeth from time to time while planning, and it absolutely makes me dislike the players at the table who have planned a lot better than I have and can exploit that. This can be one of those wonderful interactive experiences that the game group will remember for a long time if the game is played aggressively, much like Manhattan in our game group. So in that case, maybe this isn’t the game for folks who don’t want others messing with their plans, but isn’t that what we all play games for? Trying to outsmart our opponents and have the foolproof plan that we can rub in their faces when our town in the greatest?

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers:

Alan H: I had some concerns as I find city building games to be a bit hit and miss though I like the genre. After several games I think this is one of the better ones. As Brandon says the production is good but I like the monuments in the game as this will mean that everyone will have a different problem to solve.

I think this is Spiel des Jahres quality and I hope it receives the accolades it deserves.

Patrick Brennan: A functionally fine game, but one which failed to excite. Like Dominion, you get a set of semi-random building cards before you start, all with different scoring mechanics (this next to that, etc) which you analyse and come up with a plan on which ones you’ll build and where. The hook is to see how you go given the vagaries of which resources come up in which order (be it by player decision or by cards, both valid variants). It’s then largely processional, each turn like the previous, placing a cube on your tableau, swapping cubes out for a building if they match shape and colour required, freeing up spaces for more cubes / buildings, executing your plan as best you can, changing tack as needed. I have an issue with the end-game, where you either get lucky or shafted with the final cube placements – the point-swings felt high for what ends up being a 45 minute game. This, and the mechanics, felt more appropriate for a 20 minute game.

James Nathan: It’s unusual for Patrick and I to be on the same page, but a “functionally fine game, but one which failed to excite” is a perfect summation of my feelings on Tiny Towns; his processional is also an apt word here.

Dale Y: I liked this one.  I think the base game is an interesting puzzle, with a bit of interaction as you can try to predict what cubes your opponents will call – and try to get all the colors you want when you want it.  I have very much enjoyed all of my games of the base game. Now, when you add in the variant where you pull random cards out to decide cube color — the game falls apart for me. Now, it becomes filled with frustration and simply not fun.   We’ve had some weird games where we run out of cottages (only need 3 cubes to build) and build only one or two factory pieces (which need 5) – yet my box is filled with factory buildings and doesn’t seem to have enough of the cottages. Also, in a 6p game, the game runs perilously close to running out of cubes, esp if people keep calling the same color.  Aside from that, the wooden bits are nice to hold, and the production quality is very good.

Doug G: I like this one (and we discuss it on Episode 674 of the podcast), but the card mix can be painful at times. Definitely play with the recommended cards for your first play.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it. Brandon, Alan H

I like it. Dale Y, Doug G.

Neutral. Karen M., Patrick Brennan, James Nathan

Not for me…

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5 Responses to Tiny Towns (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. Jacob Lee says:

    Thanks to your review I am excited about this one! I’m pretty sure the title alone would not have made me give it a second glance.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      You’re welcome. Yeah, the name itself doesn’t really give pause but I am glad I took a chance with it.

  2. Pingback: Tiny Towns (Game Review by Brandon Kempf) – Herman Watts

  3. Garry says:

    Our experience was that you had to pay attention to what others were doing and plan accordingly…which then led to fairly scripted play and pretty much everyone doing much the same thing. The building blueprints do not lend themselves to much flexibility to allow for varying from what other players choose to do.

    As such, I would actually be interested in trying the variant with the cards as that appears to offer more options. We also found the monuments to differ wildly in value and most of us just ignored them our second game as the can be a fatal distraction.

    We had some fun playing it but I was disappointed with how scripted it starts to feel with the master builder.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      Maybe it’s our group, I don’t know, but there has been more complaining about what the master builder has chosen than scripted play. But I agree with you on the monuments and their actual value in game. Most if you don’t get them out early it’s a fool’s game to try to buiild them.

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