Tiny Towns’ main mechanic draws inspiration from the myriad of “merge” game apps out there, like Merge Dragons or Merge Farm. Players add resource cubes to empty spaces their grids, one to a space; when the right resources are in the right configuration of spaces they can trade them in for one of eight kinds of buildings, with the building going in one of the vacated spaces.
Eventually, buildings take up so much room that no more merging is possible, and that player must drop out. Player elimination is usually a no-no, but games of Tiny Towns are so short that downtime never lasts long. Soon, everyone is done and then the scoring happens.
Some buildings are worth VP on their own; others depend on their quantity or adjacency. Some score depending on where they’re located in the grid, or on what other buildings are in the same row or column. Others don’t score at all but enable other buildings to score--ie, each Farm you build lets you score a certain number of Cottages. Yet others don’t score but enable you to break certain rules. Finally, each player gets a unique building at the beginning of the game called a Monument, and they in turn have different effects when built. Monuments are what produce asymmetric play, because each monument has different requirements.
All this sounds well and good, but wouldn’t it be easy to just figure out which building combos get the most points and just stick with those? Not if each of the building types come in four varieties each. That’s right, there are 4,096 ways to play, not even including monuments.
The best part is, I haven’t even told you how the resources cubes land on spaces in the first place. That’s because Tiny Towns’ two play modes offer different methods for acquiring resources. In the first, each player on their turn gets to be Master Builder and select a resource that everyone must place. This version is more cutthroat, because you can definitely mess with other players’ plans by choosing resources that are currently useless to them, blocking up their grid.
The other mode, “Town Hall”, uses a deck of fifteen cards, three for each resource. There is no Master Builder. Instead, rounds play out in groups of three, with the resources for the first two rounds determined by the random flip of a card, and the third being a “wild” round where everyone can pick whatever suits them. This mode is more about card-counting and gaming the system and obviously less adversarial. In this way Tiny Towns can appeal to both types of gamer: those who prefer multiplayer solitaire and efficiency-racing, and those who like a spicy hint of Take That.
The solitaire mode uses the resources deck as well and is even more puzzly, because every turn you get to pick one of three resources shown by the cards, and then the resource you choose goes back to the bottom of the deck, so there is no shuffling, and your choices have future consequences. At game’s end you compare your score to the pre-chewed point thresholds in the rules.
The game is rated 14+ agewise, which is a bit of a mystery; there is absolutely nothing inappropriate or violent about it, but the decision probably came down to the amount of reading on the building cards. But, like Dominion, parents of kids as young as seven or eight could help with that, and the gameplay is definitely accessible to children.
It is true that the game’s theme isn’t a strong one. But as a gateway-suitable game that offers really good gameplay value for your money, I think Tiny Towns is going to end up on a lot of best-of-2019 lists. Lightning in a bottle. Snag a copy while you can by clicking here.