A taut, strategic game of cute, cartoon critters building the perfect Medieval village. Just don’t expect your young kids to love it.
Players: 1 – 6 Best with: 1 – 6
Age: 14+ GN Age: Teen
Game Type: Board Time: 45 minutes
Publisher/Year: AEG / 2019
Game Play: Resource Management, Worker Placement
Available from: Hobby Stores, Online
Score: out of 12
A few weeks back, I visited our local gamer Hobby Store with my sons. The store is called Battlegrounds, but we always refer to it as “The Hobbit Hole”. Every time we go there, my oldest son tries to coerce me into buying Twilight Imperium while my youngest wants me to get every game that has animals on the cover. This day, James showed me a cute little box with a medieval village on the front. “Look it’s got cute little squirrels and frogs and ducks and this one’s playing a lute. Can we get it?”
Now I had no plans to buy any more games until I’d played at least a dozen games from my Shelf of Shame (games we own, but never played). So, I told my son, “Not today, but I have heard some good things about that game.” That game was Tiny Towns and I promptly forgot all about it. But my kids did not. So, surprise, surprise, Tiny Towns is the game I got for my birthday and it quickly leaped-frogged past several games on the Shame Shelf, including a few we got at Christmas and still haven’t played. But does Tiny Towns deserve this VIP treatment?
The answer is complicated. All four of us really enjoyed playing it but I do have some reservations. Tiny Town plays like a smash up of Catan, Reef, and Tetris; all games that we like. Basically, you need to collect resources and arrange them in your 4×4 grid “village” to construct various buildings and structures that all have unique means of scoring points at the end of the game. The challenge comes as you quickly run out of room to build and the supply of available resources never seems to synchronize with your strategy.
We love the look of the game. There are just four main components, but they are all done perfectly. The resource cubes and the village grid work really well together. The colors are easily distinguishable and don’t distract when trying to plan out your buildings. The Building Cards are all unique with clear layout designs and resource requirement. In addition, the cards are cute and colorful with adorable anthropomorphic animals as citizens; my favorite is the chipmunk monks in the Cloister Card.
But the best part are the individual building tokens. When you complete the layout of a building, the resource cubes are replaced by its building meeple. We’ll call them Beeples. These building all look awesome, and there are so many of them; over 130 Cottages, Chapels, Farms, Taverns, Theaters, Monuments and more. As your grid grows it really begins to look like a pristine little village. It is very satisfying.
All of these buildings provide multiple and unique scoring options, so there is no guaranteed path to victory. In our first game, Andrew and I chose two completely different strategies. Andrew concentrated on chapels and cottages while I focused on my wells and theater. Yet in the end, we were both tied for the lead. There are 40 different buildings, of which only 8 will be used for each game. This variety of building options, all with diverse resource requirements and scoring opportunities, means that no two games will ever be the same.
But the best part of the game is the strategy. This is definitely a game that is easy to learn but difficult to master. The rules are really only 2 pages long with concise instructions and lots of clear examples. Even my youngest, James, was able to explain the game easily to Diane. In fact, the rules were so straight-forward, I was concerned that the game was actually going to be too simple, and not be challenging enough for us.
However, once we started playing, we were pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful Tiny Towns became. We were shocked at how quick the board filled up with unusable resources and dead square. That perfect strategy you started with goes right out the window when you realize that you can’t build the Farm you desperately need because the Chapel and the Theater are in the way and you don’t have any stone! Suddenly, we were concerned that the game was going to be too hard and challenging. And we loved that.
But we did not love how easy it was to make a simple mistake that could catastrophically ruin your strategy, making it impossible to win or even stay competitive. Make two mistakes in a row, or place the wrong resource in the wrong square, and you can forget about winning. You’ll just have to play through the motions, knowing the whole time that the game is hopeless, which is zero fun. There is an optional rule that allows you to place a useless resource out of play. This rule is purposefully restricted it its use, but it can definitely save your game from ruin and I recommend playing with it.
But worst of all, I hate that once your board is full and you can’t place another resource or build another building, you’re done. The End. Game Over. Go sit in the corner and wait while the smarter players continue playing, loser! This is a serious issue with us as gamers; we vastly prefer games that allow all players to play to the end, and everyone stays in the running. This is not a game for players of disparate gaming sophistication. The hardcore gamers will destroy their casual gamer friends and that is no fun for anyone. And this is absolutely NOT a family game for young players. To AEG’s credit, the game is rated for ages 14+ and that is accurate, but the artwork and the theming make it seem more suitable for children than it is.
If your family consists of young children, I cannot recommend Tiny Towns; hence the lower grade. But if your family consists of teenagers who enjoy puzzle-solving then this is a great game, and we’d score it higher. We had a terrific time playing Tiny Towns and we will definitely play it again, but it will not hit the table when our non-Gamer friends come over for Game Night.
As always, cute cartoon critters are not always suitable for children, and Game On!
Hon, when can we have friends over for Game Night again? What d’you mean, never!?