Full disclosure: A review copy of Tiny Towns was provided by Alderac Entertainment Group.
If you’re looking to play Tiny Towns rather than read about it, Netters of Nettersplays and I made a playthrough video! Try your luck against us here.
Alright, let’s dig into something new. I’m pretty well-finished with a lot of the titles I still have in my review queue, which is always a relief, especially as we get closer and closer to Origins. Origins ramps into Gen Con ramps into Essen and that’s just a Whole Thing, from a reviewer perspective. But enough about me. Let’s check out Tiny Towns, the latest from AEG!
In Tiny Towns, you are a very small mayor of some woodland creators that have decided to embrace the joy of municipal construction. That’s adorable, yes, but also you need to be practical; resources are scarce so you’ll always use what you find. Or, at least, you’ll do that until you can’t anymore. Whatever works. Will you be able to usher in a new era of prosperity for your little village?
It’s not too bad! Set out the resource cubes:
Give each player a starting board:
Now, to create your town by shuffling all four cards of each building type (save Cottages; you’ll always use Cottages) and placing one into play:
Keep the Monuments separate:
Give every player two cards; they’ll keep one as their private Monument and get a token they can use later. Set the others back in the box. Now, place the various building tokens next to the cards of that type (and give each player one Monument token):
Give one player the start player marker:
You’re about ready to start!
Oh, if you’re playing Town Hall Mode (more on that later), shuffle up the Resource Cards:
Alright, so, your goal in Tiny Towns is to build up your tiny town for your animal friends (sort of like Everdell, but with less worker placement or tableau building). Once you’ve done that, the player with the most points wins!
There isn’t really a concept of “turns”, just that each player takes turns being the Master Builder, and all other play happens simultaneously. The first thing that happens is that the Master Builder names a resource, one of the five types:
All players then take one of those cubes and place them on an empty block in their city. If you’re feeling charitable, you may play with the Cavern variant, in which every player may also store up to two resources off of their board with no penalty.
Once everyone has placed a cube, you may build a building. Building a building is reasonably straightforward; if an arrangement of cubes matches any of the cards, you may place a building on any spot in that arrangement of your cubes and then subsequently remove all cubes in that arrangement. All arrangements may be flipped or rotated, but the relative positions of the cubes to each other must stay the same. You do not have to build a building the turn that you complete one, but you have to place the cube first before you can build a building each round. You may build more than one building per round, as well.
You may also build your private Monument; you can only build it once, though, and they have Fairly Distinct Effects, so try them all out and see what works best for your personal strategy!
If, after this step (even if you don’t build any buildings), you cannot place any more cubes in your town (or you don’t want to), you may declare your town complete! You no longer take any turns as Master Builder, though (and you can’t place any more cubes).
Play continues until all players have completed their towns. Remove all resources from the player boards, and tally scores; players lose one point for each empty square in their town. The player with the most points wins!
If you prefer to play a bit closer to a flip-and-fill game (for fans of Welcome To / MetroX / Cartographers), you can also try Town Hall Mode. Start by shuffling the Resource Cards and discarding five face-down. Now, draw one; everyone places that one normally following the game’s rules. Draw another; everyone places that normally following the game’s rules. After the second one is placed, everyone independently chooses a third cube to place of their choice. You may build after any cube is placed, just like the base game; the flipping is the only difference. Once you run out of cards, shuffle the discarded cards into the deck and discard five more; repeat until the game ends.
Player Count Differences
There aren’t really any; the game scales fairly well at any level. You just need player boards, building tokens, and resource cubes and you could pretty easily play to 100+. So, no preference. It does have a solo mode, though!
- Plan ahead. If you botch a few configurations you’ll be stuck with a bunch of unusable spots and resources you can’t cash in, which will really lower the value of your town. Try to avoid that, obviously, but make sure you’re keeping an eye on what things you can actually build based on the layout of your town. And don’t get stuck.
- Building in the center early can make your life challenging. Keep an eye out for that, because it might block off places that you need to go inadvertently. You can’t place blocks on buildings, so some buildings may be impossible to build if you go this route too quickly.
- Farms (and equivalent buildings) are challenging to build. If you’re going for Cottages you’ll need at least one. Generally they require a full 2×2 of resources, which is large. If you’ve already constructed poorly, it’s possible to put down like, 6 buildings and make it impossible to build any 2×2 buildings; that’s not that many buildings.
- I find that working on a few buildings simultaneously helps. I have them occupy shared spaces that are populated by cubes that they share in common; this generally works out pretty well for me, but I’d definitely recommend making sure that you don’t place your new building inside of the shared space; then you can’t build the other building and you wasted a lot of valuable real estate on unused cubes.
- Don’t forget to read the text of your Monument thoroughly. They’re all different, so make sure you don’t think you know what it does; you need to actually know what it does.
- Feed your Cottages. Or don’t build them, but don’t build them and not feed them; that’s just silly.
- Keep an eye on other synergies. The worst thing you can do is just build stuff that works because it fits where you need it to fit; many of the buildings interact with each other in a useful way and you can leverage that to your advantage if you’ve got a good plan going.
- I guess you can look at your opponents’ boards and try to pick stuff that they can’t use, if you want to live your life that way. If you can do it quickly, more power to you, but you’re definitely going to lose some friends long-term if you’re spending a lot of time trying to do that. It’s not … a strictly that-friendly way to play the game.
- If you’re playing Town Hall mode, count those cards. You should know what your odds are of drawing certain resources are based on what you’ve already seen, or at least have a general sense of it, otherwise you risk making some bad calls when you get to choose your own. Just remember that you haven’t seen five cards and adjust accordingly.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is quite pleasant. I wish you could see more of the animals, but that’s hardly anything to actually care that much about. It’s kind of amusing that the buildings have different styles; I could see some really interesting towns emerge if you start mixing expansions or changing the setting. Tiny Towns 2099 and all that would be rad.
- Another very satisfying spatial gaming experience. I think that Tag City and Roam are very suitable comparisons to Tiny Towns; they all have a rotational / spatial placement component to them that matters a lot for gameplay, and they’re both very satisfying within that. It also helps that one is a roll-and-write and one is an almost-deckbuilder. This feels like it could fit in the same part of town as those but is novel enough to justify its existence in a world where those other two games already exist.
- I like the flexibility of the two modes. Both modes are fun for different reasons; the no-card mode is more interactive since you’re dealing with other players, whereas the flip-and-fill mode is more reminiscent of games like Welcome To, which is never a bad thing to shoot for. They give different flavors of the same game, which I appreciate.
- The variable setups are always nice. It’s my favorite thing about Cartographers, and it still holds up in Tiny Towns. Adding the Monuments is also a nice move, so that each player has their own thing; I’d love to see if Cartographers could do something like that.
- Definitely looking forward to expansions for this one. I can see so many cool ideas that they could do; one of my favorites would be themed sets, similar to Dominion (or like what Seize the Bean is doing): a collection of buildings all under a specific town name that you could use for certain types of games. I’d actually be fine with them releasing a few expansion packs / standalone sets; since the game scales so nicely, it would be nice having a few extra boards to play with other players (and the resources to compensate). Maybe they’ll even do eras? Like I said, cyberpunk Tiny Towns would be rad.
- More clarification on the Monument Cards could be helpful. For instance, there’s one that allows you to place one cube on your Cottages. You can’t use those cubes to build, however, even though you could see that as potentially consistent with the rules. The clarification is in the rulebook, and this is the kind of thing that players might just gloss over. That’s dangerous because being able to build off the Cottage cubes is a huge advantage.
- It would be helpful if the card types had names beyond just their specific colors. This is me being aggressively nitpicky, but it does make it a difficult game to write about.
- I can foresee a lot of negative gaming experiences if players invest a lot of time and energy into trying to pick the worst possible cube for their opponent(s) every turn. You can imagine this making the game take longer, lowering scores aggressively, and not leading to a very positive experience for … anyone. Just be careful with that.
- No real way to recover if you mess up significantly enough. If you bungle a farm-or-equivalent placement, you’re just … done. You’ve knocked out a major chunk of your board. This is generally why I let new players occasionally move some cubes around; it can really negatively impact your experience if you make a mistake because you got a rule wrong or misread something and, well, that’s not the most fun. It’s generally fine once you get a better handle on it, but it’s still pretty tough early on.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Tiny Towns is super fun! Like I said, it falls in the same part of my brain as Tag City and Roam, as they’re all games that deal with a spatial management component but they tackle it in significantly different ways, which is nice. Tiny Towns wins a lot of points on art and theme (though, to be fair, so do the others), which is always nice for me, but I think the thing I like most about it is that it’s got a fairly-interactive and a less-interactive mode to appeal to players who like both of those play styles, which helps it fit in to a few more contexts than it would if it only had one style or the other. It actually makes me wonder what Tag City would be like if you did a similar style of shape selection, but that’s a thought for another time. I worry some about the ramifications of letting players pick for everyone (since it mildly incentivizes negative play), but I plan to just keep a rolled-up newspaper nearby during games in case someone starts trying to Be That Guy. It’ll take you a game or so to really get familiar with the rules of play, but thankfully it doesn’t take too long, so, no big deal there. If you’re into spatial reasoning or you just love building small buildings for small animals, Tiny Towns might be right up your alley! I’ve certainly enjoyed getting a chance to play it.