Mini-Municipalities and Diminutive Dwellings: A Tiny Towns Review

by Corey Whelen
19 June 2019

1-6 Players, 40 Minute Play Time, Low Complexity, High Strategy, Ages 14+

Simple, small, and incredibly unforgiving, Peter McPherson’s Tiny Towns hides a surprisingly compelling game behind its cutesy, forest-animal façade.

You are given a 4x4 grid in the heart of the forest and tasked with turning that limited space into a thriving, prosperous town. You’ll choose what to construct from a randomly selected set of building cards (that change every time you play) and try to squeeze them into the painfully prohibitive space. Watch out though- your construction materials will each take up a spot of their own until you arrange them in the correct shape and assemble them into a complete building. Given that buildings generally take 4-5 properly arranged resource cubes to complete, Tiny Towns quickly becomes a delicate balancing act between the resources you have, the architecture you need, and the limited space to store it all.

This Tiny Town has Big Heart! (It’s a serious medical condition)

While it’s mostly a puzzle you solve independently in your player space, the multiplayer aspects of this game add a welcome layer of chaotic tension, as, on their turn, players will name the resource that EVERYONE gets for the round. Players pass around a delightfully tiny wooden hammer every round, and the player with the hammer is the “master builder” who decides what resource everyone receives- be it stone, wood, straw, glass or brick. Every turn will force you to contend with other player’s strategies and selected resources. That’s just part of the fun though, and you’ll see the beauty of this design when you call out the same resource for the third turn in a row, finish that warehouse, and watch your opponents defeated expressions as they desperately search for a place to squeeze yet more brick onto a board covered with clay. 

Tiny Towns will really test your space management skills as it forces players to plan for every one of their 16 spaces. Buildings are built in Tetris-like patterns, which means you’ll have to reserve large sections of your board for awkward T’s, L’s, and crosses. However, certain resources are useful only for certain buildings- which means you’re going to have several buildings on the go at once, especially if your opponents are focusing on different strategies, with different buildings and resources. Space gets tight very quickly, and just one misplaced resource can crush your plans. On the other hand, the feeling of replacing 5 bits of brick and glass with just ONE building is borderline euphoric as it opens up space for more materials.

You choose new buildings every time you play, making every game different!

As with many Kickstarter games, Tiny Towns includes a few options for alternate rules, including the “Cavern” which lets you store up to 2 resources off of your board, and the “Town Hall” rules, where resources are drawn randomly from a deck, not called out by players. The Town Hall variant also allows for a surprisingly engaging single-player mode, where you challenge yourself to build the best town you possibly can. At the end, you compare your final score with a chart that rates how well you did on a scale from builder’s apprentice to master architect! Additionally, all of these variants lower the difficulty level, making the game more accessible for newer and younger players.

 At its heart, Tiny Towns is a game of spatial management, resource management, and planning for the worst while hoping for the best. The rules are incredibly simple to learn which contrasts nicely with how much urban organization and thinking ahead you’ll have to do in order to build a prosperous town (and a high score). I don’t think you can pack more prep and planning into a 40-minute game, and for that reason, I think Tiny Towns is a brain-burner, a fabulously clever game, and a fantastic pick-up for nearly any collection.

Disclaimer: Not sold by Outset Media