Tiny Towns (AEG, 2019)

Date played: October 25, 2020

Basic details: 1-6 players; 45 minutes; competitive

Gist of the game: You are the mayor of a small forest settlement trying to develop your town through additional building projects, but these buildings require various resources, which you must be strategic about gathering and utilizing.

Players receive a 4×4 grid on which they will build their town. Each building players build will earn victory points, and the player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.

To set up the game, the cottage card is placed face-up in the center of the table. The remaining buildings are sorted by symbol into piles, shuffled, and once card from each pile is placed face-up alongside the cottage to form the set of possible buildings for the game. The remaining building cards are placed back in the box. The wooden resource cubes (wood, wheat, brick, glass, stone) and building meeples are placed in a common supply area. Each player receives two monument cards, of which they select one and place the other in the box. Each player then receives a monument meeple.

Monuments are special buildings that are unique to each player. They can only be built once, but can be constructed in any round, just like regular buildings. When the monument is constructed, its card is read aloud and its immediate effects are resolved. The monument is scored at the end of the game, just like regular buildings, though the monument have have effects or abilities that will carry through the remainder of the game.

The game is played over a series of rounds. The first player names a resource, and all players must take a cube of this resource and place it on an empty square in their town. After being placed, resources cannot be moved to another square in the town, and can only be removed from the town by constructing a building. Only one resource can be placed per square. After placing resources, players may (but do not have to) construct any buildings they can, matching their resource configurations to the resource placement requirements on the building card. This is done simultaneously, and players announce which building(s) they construct. Once all players have placed their resources and constructed any buildings, a new round begins with first player status passing to the next player.

In order to construct a building, a player’s resources must match the shape/color configuration presented on the building card (but the shape is valid along any 90 degree quadrant). The resources are removed from the board and the building meeple is placed in one of the squares that had previously been occupied by the required resources. A resource can only be applied toward the construction of one building, but players can wait however long they wish to construct the buildings, and may construct multiple buildings in a turn. Once built, buildings cannot be moved. Except for monuments, which are unique to each player, any player may build any building — buildings are common among the players and can be built any number of times by each player.

When a player’s town is filled with resources and they cannot or will not construct any additional buildings, their town is complete. They are out of the game and no longer take turns as the first player. The game ends when all players’ towns are complete. At this point, all remaining resource cubes are removed from the board (except any affiliated with a warehouse-type card) and players lose a point for each empty square in their town. Players earn points for each building according to that building’s guidance and the player with the most points wins. In order to score points, cottages must be “fed” by agriculture-related buildings in the town. Fed cottages are worth 3 points each; unfed cottages are worth 0 points.

Color commentary: This is a game heavy not only on spatial reasoning, but also ability to envision multiple possible arrangements of resources in order to maximize their options and useful buildings for any strategy they may be using.

Both M and I definitely over-built farms in the first game, as each farm can feed 4 cottages and neither of us had more than 4 cottages (but we did have 3 farms each, the other two of which served no real purpose because they don’t score points in and of themselves, they just allow cottages to be scored). We likely overbuilt because they were easy resource configurations to put together, but clearly we were a bit short on strategy in this go-around.

There’s a lot of strategy for where to put buildings when to keep as many options open as possible for future resource placement. There were several times when I realized too late that I had cut off possible configurations even though the total number of spaces was sufficient (but not the location of those spaces). In all 3 games we played, we both spent our first several turns constructing our monument because they tended to make future moves easier to deal with and opened up more possibilities for point accumulation. M’s monument in the second game was extremely beneficial, as he could place buildings in any open space, not just spaces that the resources had occupied. Largely as a result of this, he won that game in a 12-point blowout. Actually, his third monument was also extremely useful, as his 756,982 empty spaces at the end of the game scored 0 points, as opposed to -1 point each, which is what clenched that victory from him.

To do well in the game, it may be necessary to balance helping yourself and perhaps trying to cut off opportunities for your opponent (I think M was going for a simple strategy of maximizing his own points, but when the way he was carrying out that strategy became clear, it was in my interest to try to limit the extent to which he could continue to capitalize on that strategy). On the other hand, we also communicated during the games to try to help each other out (though obviously some of us, namely me, were much more helpful than others of us, primarily M).

The game does have a beat-your-score solo option as well as an expansion. Coupled with the fact that there are multiple buildings within each type and each individual building as a unique resource configuration, there’s a lot of replayability here across various formats.

Thoughts from M: (note from Petra here: M was struck speechless by his 3-game sweep of a spatial reasoning game, including one especially unbalanced game which he won by double digits.) This was a fun game that I believe could be a higher strategy game, but I’m not sure what the proper strategy would be. The meeples are wonderful.

Our ratings of the game:
M’s rating: 5/10
Petra’s rating: 7/10*
*losing repeatedly and by not especially narrow margins 3 games in a row probably does temper my enthusiasm somewhat

Rating scale:
10 – super fun game that I can see myself playing frequently well into my retirement years (M’s 10 benchmarks: Lost Cities, King of Tokyo; Petra’s 10 benchmarks: Carcassonne as a bundle of all its expansions and forms, Dinomals, Kingdomino)
8-9 – really fun game that I’m happy to play again and again
6-7 – fun game that might get old at some point
4-5 – fun game to play sparingly
2-3 – game I don’t especially enjoy but will play if my partner really liked it
1 – game I never want to play again (joint 1 benchmark: SeaFall, which was so terrible we never made it to actual gameplay)

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