Tiny Towns Review

The smaller citizens of the forest have mustered their number together for a cause! They will no longer be vulnerable to predators, they will construct Tiny Towns to live in, in peace and safety! Of course, when you are tiny, you don’t necessarily have the buying power needed to do things efficiently. When ordering a shipment of tiny bricks, tiny stone, or tiny glass, it makes sense to do a bulk order with your neighbouring towns to save on shipping and get a discount. And so it shall be, that our towns are constructed from the same resources, delivered at the same time.

1-6 Players | 30 – 60 Minutes | Designed by Peter McPherson

You might be familiar with ‘Roll-and-Write’ games, but if you aren’t, they are essentially a genre of games where players are confronted with randomly generated events that they then need to react to, typically by writing them down on a sheet in a certain way. Published in early 2019, Tiny Towns fits into the roll-and-write genre despite it containing neither rolling, or writing. Publisher Alderac has managed to capitalise on the challenging and fun gameplay of the roll-and-write genre in a uniquely reusable and minimally random way.

A filled Tiny Town. This one didn’t go so well (and we ran out of churches!)

How does it work?

Tiny Towns is an abstract spatial puzzle game in which players seek to maximise their score by both constructing buildings that have good scoring synergy, and maximising how many buildings they can build through careful planning and forecasting. The game rules feature two ‘modes’, the standard rules, and ‘Town Hall’ variant. We will mostly discuss the main (standard) mode here.

Each player begins the game with a blank 4×4 town, and set up in the middle of the table are several cards representing different buildings. A player’s turn in Tiny Towns is very simple. Pick one of the five resources (stone, glass, brick, wood, wheat) and place it on an empty space in your town. That’s it! The interesting thing is that when you do this, every other player must place an identical resource in their town as well.

When you place resources, you are trying to arrange them in certain configurations that correspond to the blueprints of the buildings (shown on the cards in the centre of the table). At any time, if a player has resources on their town board that match the shape and arrangement of a building blueprint, they can choose to place the matching building on their town in one of those resource spaces, and return all the resources used to build it.

Each building scores in a different way, so players will want to build different buildings to score points. Some buildings depend on others, and you might exploit those synergies to get points as well. The game finishes for each player when they can no longer place any pieces in their town. From then on you wait for everyone else to complete their towns, after which everyone sums up their scores, and the highest scoring town wins!

The spread of available buildings with resources in the centre. You can see the blueprints for each building on it’s card.

What do I think?

I’ve played Tiny Towns 10+ times now, mostly on the higher end of player count (5/6) but a few times with 3. The game certainly feels different with varying players, but takes roughly the same amount of time regardless.

The Good Stuff

  • The game is super simple to teach. It is explained in 1 minute, and then after spending 2-3 minutes going through the building abilities, you can get started!
  • There is no downtime, everyone is always involved in every player’s turn.
  • No randomness. When you get stuff you don’t want, you have someone to blame! (If you want some randomness, you can try the Town Hall variant)
  • The hundreds of building meeples included in the game are all distinctively shaped and coloured making it difficult to confuse buildings. They fit really well with the (admittedly thin) theme and make the game look great when playing.
  • Tiny Towns does a great job of capturing the feel of the ‘roll-and-write’ genre and implements it in a way that feels like more of a substantial game than most games in the genre.
  • Strategy in Tiny Towns is a very interesting thing to think about. There are flaws in both having a long term strategy and in not thinking ahead. If you come up with a plan and are too inflexible to deal with the resources you are presented with, you will quickly find yourself stuck and out of the round. On the other hand, while being flexible means your town will ‘last the longest’, without planning what buildings you will have in your town, you won’t end up scoring very highly as often the big scoring opportunities rely on synergies between multiple building types.
  • I really like how the end-game isn’t a race and doesn’t halt players mid strategy. You get to keep playing until you are done, and it is somewhat an advantage to last past other players as you get more control over what resources you place as people drop out. I am always frustrated by games that suddenly end with little warning, Tiny Towns is great because you only have yourself to blame when your game is over (and your terrible friends who kept choosing stone over and over and over again…)
  • It’s really cool how each building has several cards with different rules for that building and they all work seamlessly together. We’ve had some wildly different games and some very surprising strategies come up because of this. Each game feels really different.
  • The Monuments (personal special buildings) are great for a couple of reasons. Firstly they provide interesting abilities that can be quite beneficial to the player. I think they are also an interesting way to solve the ‘copy-cat’ strategy. Each player having some unique goal means that towns that were built using identical resources end up looking really different which I think is very cool.
  • Despite seeming like a solitary game (most roll-and-writes are), Tiny Towns actually has a lot of potential for player interaction. Especially when nearing the end of the game, it is very fun when it’s your turn to choose a resource because you can generally choose something ok for you and terrible for others.
  • No ‘running out of sheets’. Despite this never having happened to me yet, I always think about how if I really love a roll-and-write style game, one day the pad of game sheets will run out, and then what do I do? No worrying about that with Tiny Towns.

The Bad Stuff

  • The game takes one or two plays for new players to get ‘in sync’ with how the game works. While it’s very easy to understand the rules, usually in their first game players will mis-estimate the pacing of the game and the importance of placement of resources and buildings. Since the game is short this is not really that much of an issue. We generally play twice in a session (which is very rare for us with other games)
  • I’ve often gambled on people choosing the thing that I need and making risky moves. This rarely works out, especially if people notice you doing it. The game can become quite mean when players notice they can stuff you up by picking certain resources, and this often happens! While fun, it’s also a bit annoying to have your grand plans fizzle out earlier than you had hoped.
  • This could be a bit of a group-think thing, but with each card set it feels like there is a ‘dominant’ strategy to try, and when multiple people notice this it further reinforces itself as the thing to do because of what resources people pick. Unfortunately there is not much scope to deviate against the majority or you will end up getting stuck early on.
  • More players actually makes the game harder and harder (when playing the standard game). The more turns there are between your turns, the less control you have over what resources you are required to add to your town. Ultimately you will have a much more challenging time ‘making things work’ in games with more players.
  • For a game called Tiny Towns, the box is pretty big. While the game does have a large number of nicely sized bits, it would have been possible to squeeze them into a bit of a smaller box. I don’t normally complain about stuff like this … but it’s literally called Tiny Towns!
  • Tiny Towns has a unique mechanism of play, and players need to get used to the idea of waiting till everyone else is done before moving on to the next player. We frequently have confusion related to whose turn it is, what resources have been picked, and players who are thinking missing things or getting even more confused because there is a pile-up of things for them to action.
A very average Tiny Town (I’m not great at this!)

I quite enjoy this game, but to be honest you have to be in the mood for something like this, and certain people won’t enjoy it. It’s a relatively quiet and solitary game where you sort of just do your own thing, and because everyone is constantly needing to make their own decisions everyone is always engaged. For some people that’s great but if you have group that likes to socialise while playing then this game probably isn’t the best for that. As for me, when I’m in the mood and want to play a roll-less, write-less roll-and-write game I find this one very enjoyable. If it sounds like something you might like, check it out!

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