Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser
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TINY TOWNS (Alderac Entertainment Group [AEG], 1- 6 players, ages 14 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.99)
Darwin was right: the world really is a matter of survival of the fittest. That’s why those poor little critters near the bottom of the food chain had to do something. Survival is at a stake! So, these critters have banded together to find secluded locations in the forest to construct “safe town – towns without predators. However, resources are scarce, so building materials are at a premium and none can be rejected. Their (and the players!) challenge is to construct the most efficient and prosperous town.
Peter McPherson’s Tiny Towns is unique in that players take turns naming a resource and all players MUST place that resource into their towns,whether it is beneficial or not. Players are trying to form specific patterns on their town grid so as to construct buildings that will earn them points – provided those buildings are placed correctly. The game requires spatial visualization and planning, but this can easily be upset when the needed resources are not named or when undesired resources clog one’s board. The game can be both challenging and frustrating.
Each player receives a small 4 x 4 board whereupon resources will be placed and buildings constructed. Seven buildings are revealed, one in each of seven different categories. Each of these cards lists the resources needed to construct that building, as well as the exact pattern in which these resources must be present on a player’s board. When a player gets the resources positioned on his city grid in the matching pattern, he replaces those resources with the matching building. Buildings can score points if the conditions listed on the building are met. More on this later.
Players each receive two “monument” cards which are special buildings only they can construct. They choose one and discard the other.
Each turn the start player—known as the “Master Builder”—announces one type of resource (wood, wheat, brick, glass or stone). Every player must take one of the matching resource cubes and place it somewhere on their board. A resource can be placed on any square unless it already contains another resource or building. The idea is to arrange the cubes into a pattern that is required for the building one is hoping to construct. Of course, since every other player gets to name a resource which you then must place into your city, accomplishing this is no easy feat!
If a player does successfully arrange the resource cubes in the required pattern, he may remove those cubes and place the matching building onto one of the locations occupied by one of the resources. This, of course, also frees up the other spaces for more placements.
Why construct buildings? Well, as mentioned, those buildings can earn the player victory points, provided the restrictions listed on the card are met. For example, abbeys, just like in real life, prefer some seclusion. Each abbey a player constructs will earn the player three points, unless it is located next to certain buildings (almshouses, bakeries, trading posts, etc.), in which case the abbey is worthless. Cottages earn the player three victory points but only if their occupants are fed which requires a farm. One farm feeds four cottages but do not earn points by themselves.
So, the challenge is to not only arrange resources in the proper fashion so as to construct buildings, but also acquire/arrange the buildings in the proper format so as to maximize the points earned. Again, this is no easy task.
There are 25 different types of buildings in seven different categories. One from each category will be revealed for each game so the variety of buildings and how they interact is likely different every time.
Each round the “master builder” role rotates clockwise so a player will have the occasional opportunity to name the resource he desires. The rules also suggest using the “Cavern” rule wherein, twice per game, a player can set aside two resources that he does not wish to place. This does give players some wiggle room but use it wisely at it can only be exercised twice per game.
A player’s monument card may also be constructed once the player assembles the required resources in the required pattern. Monuments tend to be more difficult to complete but potentially earn the player more points.
When constructing buildings, care must be taken to position them properly not only to score points based on their requirements and restrictions, but also to allow space for other buildings to be constructed. Each building occupies only one spot on the 4 x 4 grid but improperly placing one can make it difficult or impossible to assemble resources in the proper pattern to construct other desired buildings.
When a player can no longer legally place a resource or building, his game is finished. Play continues until all players reach this position at which point scores are calculated. Players examine each of their buildings and their respective card to determine the points—if any—they earn. They also lose one point for each spot on their board NOT occupied by a building. So, having leftover resources present on one’s board will penalize the player. Of course, the player with the most points emerges victorious and is celebrated by small creatures everywhere.
Tiny Towns is a clever, albeit frustrating, game. The game requires some spatial ability, not unlike the classic game of Tetris. Required patters can be rotated,which can prove challenging to some. Understanding and carefully managing the restrictions and requirements of the building cards so as to maximize points is critical and also challenging.
All of this careful assessment and planning can be wrecked, however, if opponents consistently name resources you do not desire. Since players are forced to place every resource named (save two if using the suggested Cavern rule), these resources often foil a player’s construction plans, particularly in the later game stages. While frustrating, this is also part of the challenge. Some buildings allow for the storage and exchange of resources so, if in play, they can potentially help mitigate this situation. Players can also plan ahead and try to place these seemingly undesired resources so that they may prove useful in the construction of a future building. Only in the very late stages of the game can a resource prove completely useless.
Tiny Towns plays quickly – usually in 45 minutes or so. The rules are straightforward and easy to grasp. Yet, the game is demanding, particularly in the proper placement of resources and buildings. Flexibility is the key in the resource placements, giving oneself numerous options. This, of course, is easier said than done! While I am do not possess an abundance of spatial acumen (I scored a -3 in my first game!), I still find the game fun and challenging. It is the type of game that should appeal to a wide spectrum of gamers and families. Give Tiny Towns a try … and save those little critters! – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
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