Ever wanted to be a town planner? Or even try to appreciate the huge complexities of town planning? Well, courtesy of AEG and Peter McPherson, in Tiny Towns, 2-6 players get the chance to produce the medieval-style town of their choice, or at least attempt to.
Each player receives a 4x4 grid at the start and in the middle of the table are the 'plans' (cards) for seven different types of building, each of which is composed of combinations of resource types in a specified shape. Players take turns to be the 'master builder', and on each turn, the master builder selects one of five resources and places it on a free space on their own grid. Each player has to take the same resource and do the same thing. If a player manages to get their resources to match one of the shapes of a building type, they can then exchange all of the resources of that type of building with the plastic mini for the building itself, freeing up space for more resources and buildings. Simple enough eh? Well, it gets a bit more complex from therein.
Whilst each building that is visible is publicly available to all, all players also have a 'secret' monument that has a unique effect on their town. All buildings have a particular way of scoring points and their complexity is varied - whilst some may score according to how many of them are built, others are dependent on placement; so that, for example, buildings only score if they are adjacent to others of a specified type, or don't score at all if two or more are in the same row or column. Some of the buildings, like say, a cottage, are relatively small in terms of their resource size but still need three different types in order to be built, whereas a chapel might only need two types of resource, but needs four of them in total. Furthermore, you might then need to build at least three of them for it to be worthwhile. The game ends when all players cannot build or place a resource and final scoring is affected negatively by empty spaces on a player’s board.
From the outset, Tiny Towns is one of those games that is fun to play but can yet be mildly infuriating: especially when playing with five or six players. You start out with the best intentions, particularly if you need to build your monument first. And yet, in time you’ll find yourself cursing when another player selects a resource that you really have no need for and cannot place anywhere meaningful without disrupting your carefully realised plan. Do you have a strategy to start with or do you adapt to the situation and stave off your most essential building until the end? One thing is certain, keeping an eye on what other players want and are building is vital to success in this game. It helps to understand the distribution of the five resources and what people are likely to be wanting in order to gain an advantage. However, because the game is relatively fast and everyone is involved all of the time, you may find that you don’t have the capacity to actually do this. Tiny Towns can be a relatively frenetic affair where you realise your initial planning is often botched early on and you’ll need to adapt new strategies to make the best of a bad job rather than trying to create your perfect town.
If you're looking for an aggressive 'take that' game, then this may not be for you: the only 'take that' interaction you’ll have with others in Tiny Towns is in potentially denying them a resource they want and forcing them to take resources they cannot utilise. But ofttimes it's good to play a game that doesn't involve hitting your opponents around the head with a metaphorical spade. A real strength of Tony Towns is that it has huge replayability. Each type of building has at least four different versions and there is a substantial array of different unique monuments, offering a lot of depth and difference to gameplay. At around 30-40 minutes a game, Tiny Towns is unlikely ever to outstay its welcome. The resources are just plain coloured wooden cubes but the game comes with numerous different wooden buildings for your town and it benefits from great art by Matt Paquette. This is a family game that has the advantage of simple and straightforward rules and gameplay, making Tiny Towns a very welcome addition to AEG's series of gateway titles that can tax brains of all ages. And, by way of a bonus, the game also incorporates a very playable solitaire version.
(Review by Toby Frith)