Tiny Towns

Tiny Towns - Box Front

I picked up Tiny Towns about a month ago knowing nothing about it other than people seemed to think it was good. Since then it has been hands down my most played game of the past month.

One thing that helps here is the varied player count: it plays well (and fairly quickly!) at all player counts from 2 to 6. That’s pretty remarkable in and of itself.

The other contributing factor here though, is that I just want to keep playing it! It really is unlike any other game I’ve played, for a number of reasons, which keep me coming back to it again and again. Let me tell you about it…

The ruleset is very simple. Each player is attempting to fill a grid (their tiny town) in front of each of them with buildings. Different building score points in different ways and most points wins at the end.

Tiny Towns - Bakery

On your turn, you name a resource (brick, wood, stone, etc.) and everyone has to take one of those resources and place it in their town on one space (you can never have more than one thing in a space).

Turns procede round the table until you’ve managed to arrange the right resources in the right pattern to make a building. For example (see image), to construct a Bakery, you need a yellow, two red and a blue resource in the pictured pattern.

Patterns can be rotated or even reflected, so there’s more freedom than you might think to make the patterns. To build the building, you remove all the resources from their spaces and replace one of those spaces with the appropriate building token.

You can see at the bottom of the Bakery card, it will score you 3 points at the end of the game as long as it is next to certain other buildings. Sounds simple enough right? At the start of the game, it really is. Just wait though: it gets much more difficult later on.

The rules don’t get any more complicated, but as your board starts to fill up, it becomes very hard to fit the right patterns in to make more buildings. Sometimes you need to make a different building to the one you intended, just to remove the resources and free up space.

Tiny Towns - Town

You see, if you completely fill your board (usually with a mixture of buildings and resources that you haven’t managed to convert into buildings yet) then your game is over. You remove all the resources you weren’t able to convert into buildings and each empty space on your board is minus one VP at the end.

Everyone continues without you until everyone has filled their board and then you score up to see who wins. Being the last person to fill up their board is very powerful because you can keep choosing resources without other people picking resources that don’t help you.

Each game has a selection of 7 building cards that remain fixed for the entire game. They each have different patterns and score in different ways, but you are selecting from a total of 25 possible building cards each game, so there’s lots of variety from game to game.

The trick with the game is dealing with the resources that other people choose. You might be building a Bakery that requires wheat, brick and glass, but if someone else is trying to build a Farm that requires wheat and wood, you’ll be fine when they pick wheat, but what are you going to do when they pick wood?

Tiny Towns - Full Board

You see, you have to place that wood in your town somewhere. You could try building a Farm like them, but that might not fit with your point-scoring strategy. Or you could try building something else, but what if people aren’t picking the right resources for that building either? It’s very easy to get caught out later on in the game. You really need to pay attention to what other people are doing.

It’s definitely more strategic with fewer players. With larger player counts you have to wait longer before you get to choose a resource so we use an extra rule that allows you not to place a resource that someone else picks throughout the game on two occasions. It’s not much, but in those situations where someone’s choice would stuff you up royally, it can be a life saver.

The strategic decisions involved in picking a good combination of buildings to score you the most points are solid and common to many Euros, but add in the spatial element, the need to pay assiduous attention to other people’s boards and sometimes adapt your strategy on the fly and it becomes another beast altogether. It’s much thinkier than it appears at first and really benefits from repeat play.

And yet, the rules are so simple. I think it’s a masterstroke of a game. Any perceived randomness comes from other people’s choices, but you can usually work out what they will choose if you watch carefully. It can be brutal for beginners though, so be aware of that!

Have you managed to try this one yet? Does it appeal?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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