Full disclosure: A review copy of Little Town was provided by IELLO.
Sometimes it takes me a little while to get games to the table for reviews, but most of them happen eventually. And now I’ve been writing from my little Exile Cave on my time off from my day job to engage in 2021 Planning. This has allowed me to get a bunch of reviews pipelined, and hopefully this increased buffer will allow me to do more stuff that isn’t reviewing for a little while, since I will have had the extra reviews written. We’ll see. Either way, I’m finally getting to Little Town, an IELLO title that I had my eye on for a while, mostly because it’s a fairly cute game and I’m a sucker for city-building games. Let’s see how it plays!
In Little Town, you have discovered a new region that hasn’t quite been developed yet, and you want to prove yourself as an architect! Your friends decide to participate as well, and you essentially make a friendly wager to build up town, together! It’s going to take all of you to get there, anyways. The winner gets fame and prestige, and the losers just have to settle for also living in a very nicely-built town, which isn’t so bad. Do you have what it takes to make a name for yourself in this new land?
Player Count Differences
I think this game suffers a bit at two players from the classic two-player problem of “why would I help someone else, even if it helps me?” in that players don’t really want to use their opponents’ buildings, even if it’s a decent deal, because they can just … not give their opponent money. I don’t really think that’s within the spirit of the game, but it was a common enough problem in our two player game that we could both see this being more dynamic and interesting at higher player counts. And, indeed, it is. Having more players with buildings means you’re seeing a lot more money changing hands, especially because with fewer workers per round, you’re going to want to place such that you can maximally benefit yourself, even if you end up helping your opponent at the same time. And that’s good! That kind of energy makes the game more interesting. As a result, though, I think the game really shines at 3+. It’s still fun at two, but you have to both be willing and really ready to just dig in and use each others’ buildings with reckless abandon. It also depends a bit on what buildings are in play, but, even then, still generally recommending this on the higher end.
- Don’t run out of money. This becomes increasingly critical as the game progresses, because you need the cash to activate other players’ buildings. Early on, running out of money is just part of the magic; by the end of the game, that’s the difference between a great turn and a disaster.
- Keep your people fed. You lose three points per worker that you didn’t feed, so you need to keep an eye on your food sources. As the game starts, it’s going to be all fish, but once you can get access to wheat, you’ll gradually see some shifts in that direction. It’s totally possible that you will still be getting fish, but you may have buildings that produce more wheat and are therefor a bit more efficient in terms of overall food generation.
- The game is dynamic, and as a result you need to be responsive to it. I can’t tell you an exact path to follow to win or even much more than general heuristics because it depends on which side of the board you’re using, what buildings are in play, what objectives you have, what buildings players build, and where those buildings are. Keeping those shifts in mind can help prepare you for when you need to pivot in certain directions, but be flexible! You may end up building a more expensive building because a player made it much easier to get wood.
- There are definitely “better” spots on the board than others, and keeping track of those can be key to getting a bunch of resources. You should mentally note which spots are “better” or more lucrative and try to take advantage of them, but keep in mind that that’s a moving target. It may be the best spot on the board for two turns, but once a player builds a terrible building on it or a great building on the other side of the map, the best spot may shift! There’s also some advantage to putting a building on the “best spot” if you don’t need what it produces so that your opponents cannot share in its wealth, either.
- Don’t forget to build, occasionally. It’s good to improve the board, and it gets you some points. Just keep in mind that if you build it, you may not get to use it for a while since your opponents get first pass at it (since your turn ends after building).
- Building that first wheat farm is huge, depending on how easily accessible wheat and other resources are. If you do this after most of the good fish spots have been taken, then you can attract opponents who missed out but still want some resources. You can make a quick buck this way! But the key isn’t that, it’s that opponents may start building buildings nearby to try and capitalize on the synergy between your building and theirs. You may have just founded a little city center!
- It’s not a bad idea to save up for more expensive buildings, as well. More expensive buildings have better effects and give you more points! Don’t just keep building wheat farms. If you build things your opponents need, you get their money and you might inadvertently block one of their objectives! Double win.
- Don’t forget about your objectives! They’re not the most points but they’re worth some points. That can easily turn a mediocre building purchase into a pretty good turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like that the city-building happens in a shared space. I play a lot of games where you tend to be playing in your own tableau with your own stuff. This is nice change of pace, and I like that you can interact with other players’ buildings, too.
- I like how dynamic each game is. I think it helps that you can vary the sides of the board and vary the buildings in play. It works even better if players are drafting or pre-selecting the buildings, but be careful! Players may be drafting with their objectives in mind (or specifically to try and exclude their objectives. Either way, since the placement of the buildings, the map choice, and the buildings in play matter, you’re probably going to be playing very different games every time and have to chart out new strategies that are specific to that board configuration. It’s almost like a little mini-legacy game. It actually reminds me of Charterstone a bit, given the worker placement / city-building aspects.
- It’s a nice introduction to worker placement with some nice tile-building elements to it. I think this is a good way to introduce folks to worker placement. You’ve got placement, you’ve got blocking, and you’ve got resource collection and recalling workers. There’s not a lot of extra to it beyond activating tiles. The one confusing thing in this game is that tiles and resources activate diagonally, and long resources give you extra, but every game has to have something.
- I feel like the double-sided map is a freebie, but a good one! You don’t see that a lot, and frankly, I did a double-take because I thought I was imagining it when I first saw it. It was a nice touch! Adds a bit more variety to the game.
- Simple iconography and a short reference sheet makes the game a lot less of a mental hurdle to learn. I try to avoid calling games “easy to learn” as there’s no objective metric, but this has fewer rules and a lower overhead than a lot of worker placement games that I’ve played, so I would probably show this to newer players before other titles.
- The objectives are a nice guiding star, especially for new players. I think they help tell you what types of buildings you should be going after, which may be just what you need if you’ve never played the game before. Plus, they give you bonus points for doing things that already get you points, which is nice (except for the “Run out of money” objective).
- I like how colorful the game is, as well. It’s bright and inviting, which can go a long way with games like these.
- The whole “discard your objective if it’s impossible” at the start of the game is a bit clunky. This is kind of a weird setup problem, in that it requires players to make sure that their objectives are completable by scanning the buildings. Few reasons I don’t like this. First, it slows down setup by forcing every player to check every building, which is odd. Second, it introduces a risk of player error that can junk up the game later. Third, it’s also just kind of odd. For instance, someone else can take a building that makes my objective impossible; do I get to draw a new one, then? (No, but it still feels weird.) I wish there were just numbers on the tiles and objectives would tell you which numbers they’re valid for. If none of the building numbers match, you discard the objective and re-draw. It’s less subjective, even though the graphic design aspect could be … precarious.
- It is possible to get some truly bizarre configurations of buildings if you deal them out randomly. You may just end up with situations where things don’t synergize … super well, which can be a bummer. Try to make sure at least a couple buildings give victory points each time they’re activated. Just having the game be a whirl of resources can be fun for building reasons, but you kind of need some points to happen, as well. This is somewhat fixable by the two variants they include in the rules, so this isn’t a big problem, but I’m just advising against ever playing randomly, I suppose.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Little Town is a lot of fun! It’s maybe a bit lighter than what I’m looking for right now, but I’ve been playing more complex games more regularly while I haven’t been able to leave the house. I think it’s a nice way to introduce folks to worker placement games, and it does a good job presenting a dynamic city that you semi-collaboratively build. I like the push and pull of other players’ building choices dictating your placements (and your subsequent builds), and I think that it’s sort of neatly tied together with a fun art style and great color palette. The game looks great, and that’s nice. I also feel like it would sit well with folks who are looking to play the same game multiple times consecutively, since it doesn’t take too long to play and it has a nice effect where you can leave out all the buildings you used in the first game and have a completely new set of buildings for the second game. Additionally, it seems like they really focused on making this a low lift for new players; the icons are relatively simple, there aren’t too many different ones, and the flow of the game is pretty short. I feel like that helps new players get in and get going quickly, and then they have objectives to guide them through a few of the game’s critical paths. And that’s good! We need more games like that. I do think this can be pretty well extended with additional buildings, but I wonder how much of the game has to be balanced around the idea that any combination of buildings is valid, even an otherwise-dissatisfying one. Like getting a build that doesn’t really give you additional resources, which is totally possible. You can have tiles that mostly just give you victory points, and that’s gonna make for a slower game. But if that happens, I’d just recommend … not dealing the buildings randomly. Either way, I think this is a great little worker placement game, and if you’re looking for something like that or a nice lighter title that’s great for new players, I’d recommend taking Little Town out for a spin!