Tiny Towns Board Game Review
Updated: Aug 16, 2022
WBG Score: 7.5
Player Count: 1-6
You’ll like this if you like: Sagrada, Cascadia, Azul
Published by: Alderac Entertainment Group
Designed by: Peter McPherson
Space Base, Calico, and Cascadia are all wonderful, low to mid-weight games of the highest calibre. When AEG aim to make a game in this niche, they tend to deliver. When Tiny Towns was released in 2019, the general opinion was they had delivered again. But, I did not enjoy my first few plays. It felt generic and lacking in any real satisfaction. But after multiple plays, I became a little obsessed. I think I know why I did not enjoy my first few games, and I certainly know now why I like this game. Sounds like this has all the making of what I will now call a "review". Let's get this to the table.
Tiny Towns is all about building the most efficient town, based on the cards that were drawn. In this respect, it's very similar to Cascadia. In this respect, it's very similar to Cascadia. Each game, you will need to draw one card from each of the six types, and lay these out with the Cottage. The Cottage is present in every game. Lay out all the resources and buildings accordingly, and give each player a town play mat and two special building cards. From these, each player must chose one to keep and discard the other. One player is given the starting master builder hammer, and you're now ready to play.
Starting with the master builder, one player will call out one of the five resources. Each player will then take one of those resources and places it onto their board. It can go onto any free space. Then, each player can convert resources into buildings (not possible on turn one!) if they so choose. The hammer is then past one space clockwise and the round begins again. This continues until all players have filled their board, at which points the total points are calculated. The game really is that simple.
When placing resources, you are looking to match the patterns that each building requires. Such as the below Abbey. Once you have done this, you will remove all pieces that made up the building, and then place the building onto any of the spaces that you just removed a resource from. The buildings will slowly block your spaces to add and new constructions, so you need to be careful where you build.
Each building will only score if placed in a specific location, or with certain other constructions added to your mat too. You need to be mindful of where you place each building in relation to all the others you have built, and all those you plan to build. Planing of course is not always as easy as you would hope. Remember, you only get to chose which resource you use each turn when you are the master builder. In a six player game, this obviously does not come around very often. As such, the game provides cards which you can use instead where by the resources are randomly determined. These also work for the solo game.
Is It Fun?
There is some theme around tiny animals making the perfect village for or some other such thing you will instantly forget. You absolutely wont 'feel' this as you play. The resources are also 'Wheat', 'Brick', 'Glass', 'Stone', and 'Wood', but you will quickly call these yellow, red, blue, grey, and brown! But, none of this is a problem. This is an abstract strategy game, and theme is not relevant. But it perhaps is one reason some players won't get on with game one. There is a distinct lack of charm when compared to games like Calico, and Cascadia. It feels more formulaic. A little more structured. And a lot less attractive.
The building's scoring requirements are initially quite frustrating. Building A will only score if Building B is here. And building B will only score well if you build building C here. The building's requirements are all interlinked, and initially I just found this annoying. Initially I also found it too simple. I thought you cannot make them all work together all the time so if you pick two or three to focus on, build lots of those, you will still score highly. This works for a while, but other players can quickly stop this from working for you.
However, after a few games, I realised I needed to focus more on what other players were doing. They pick your resources for you as well after all. This was picked up by all the other players around the table too. And as such, the games became a lot more strategic. We were choosing not just what we wanted, but what we knew other players didn't want. We were focusing on constructing buildings that we thought may work with other players strategies. As in, if we knew another player was going to say a particular resource based on a building it was obvious they were building, we would start to build a building that could use that same resource too, knowing we would be getting one from them soon. This made it harder for other players to block you by picking resources you didn't want.
Working out each game how the building's work together is a real joy. There is a pattern to be found. A way you can link them up to maximise your points that is both beautiful and excruciating. In early games I avoided looking for this. Instead focusing on just a few buildings. And it works for a while. But it's not much fun, and easily blocked by other players. If you embrace the full game, not only will you enjoy the process a whole lot more, but you will take a great deal more satisfaction when you score well.
In some two-player games, I did find that both players were building the same buildings, calling out resources that they knew the other player needed, because they were doing exactly the same thing. It is hard to stop this. You don't want to change your plans just because someone else has the same idea. It may be the best strategy! But you won't win every game this way. To avoid this, the game encourages players to focus on different things through the special Monument buildings. Each one not only needs a completely unique construction to get it completed. But each one also offers a specific scoring mechanic which often out-ways any other building in the game. Ignore your monument at your peril!
The monuments are so powerful that some say they can break the game. If one players gets a particularly powerful one such as the Obelisk of the Crescent for example, and another player gets the Grand Mausoleum of the Rodina, it can lead to a big swing in points. However, you do get to chose from two cards, and there will be seven other buildings with unique scoring opportunities for you. And games are quick. If you really do get an unbalanced game, just rack-em-up and go again!
Each game feels very different in this way. Like Cascadia, the game very much evolves around which scoring cards you have randomly dealt that time. The game has a suggested start set, and the rest all feel significantly different. How they all work with each other of course makes the combinations for set-up almost endless.
Working out the best way to combine each different group of buildings to maximise your scoring is a highly engaging, rewarding, and satisfying experience that I only really started to full appreciate from game four onwards. The patterns cleared in my mind, and I went from really not enjoying this game to loving every minute of it. I have not had such a large swing in a game like this before.
I think Tiny Towns is a lesson to me that playing games can often be a learning curve. Some games I love from game one, and then tire of after10 or more plays. As such, I always try and get into double digits for plays before I review anything to avoid over hyping something from the new game shine. But, other games like Tiny Towns go the other way. If i had reviewed this after two or three games I would have scored it low. Very low. But now, after multiple plays I can safely say this is a good game. A very good game in fact. It's so simple to set-up and get to the table. Incredibly easy to teach and start playing. And like other games of it's ilk, it rewards multiple plays as you learn better strategies. Increase your understanding of how to manipulate the board to your advantage. It's initial lack of charm is found as the game grows on you, game after game.
I can see this game being played a lot in the future by myself. It works so well in a two, and is a perfect filler game when you want a nice satisfying quick game. I would like for the art on the player mats to be more exciting, and the variation here could be easily improved with larger boards, or mats with obstacles on. Although, there are a few expansions out that bring in some added variety. Fortune, which adds in money, and Villagers which brings in new abilities.
Overall, I would say this is a good game that I will certainly keep in my collection. I prefer it to Calico as it is runs a little more simply, but it sits just below Cascadia, mainly down to aesthetics. But if I were to remove this from my thinking, Tiny Towns would edge it. Both games can work in the same collection if you enjoy this sort of abstract puzzle game, but I see Cascadia as being much more popular from it's theme.
Tiny Towns certainly is a game to seriously consider if you have Cascadia and Calico. If you enjoy those, I would wager you will like this too. If you have neither game, you may want to consider the theme as the way to choose, despite the fact that they are all quite abstract. Simply as they are all quite similar games. But I like how in Tiny Towns you interact more with other players as you choose resources for all players. And this reason is why I like this one the most when I remove theme and art from my consideration.