Tiny Town (2019) review
Wooden cubes have been in games since the very early days of the modern age of board gaming. They were used to represent troops, workers, resources and even viruses, plus possibly many other things. And as time has gone by, they have been replaced by more complex shapes such as the meeples, different shapes or miniatures. It's been kind of sad that they have been phased out, as we gamers have become more accustomed to having our components look like the object they are supposed to represent instead of having this abstractness. But the cube is not dead and gone, as it is still a cheap alternative for new publishers to get their games onto store shelves. Unless they're going through Kickstarter.
So it's nice to see in Tiny Towns, that tip of the hat to days gone by, as the cubes are back. Replacing resources as we know it like wood, glass, straw, stone and brick with their traditional colours (brown, blue, yellow, grey, and red). These are the things that are going to be used by 1 to 6 players, to build their Tiny Towns. All in a spacious, yet claustrophobic 5 by 5 grid.
The premise of the game is that players are all going to build their own town at the same time with the same resources. One player will be named the Master Builder and will choose one of the five resources. All players will have to take that resource and add it to an empty space on the player board. If you have no empty spaces, you are out of the game and will have to wait until all players have their boards filled. Otherwise, if you have laid out enough resources to match a building schematic, you can build that building. Then the Master Builder role is passed to the player on the left. There, you have all of the rules. You can now go away and play this game. And that is one of the elegant things about this game, it’s simplicity. Within a few minutes, you’ve explained the rules.
So where is the fun of the game? Well, the fun lies in the different buildings that can be built. There are eight different buildings in a game that will be available, seven of which are common and the eighth is unique to each player. Even the common buildings have four different variants in the base box, apart from the cottage. This gives you some replayability as you can mix and match these buildings or take them at random. On top of that, the unique buildings come with 15 very different structures that all have unique scoring abilities and powers. At the beginning of the game you will pick out one of each of the common buildings and place their card in the middle of the table along with the large pile of individually different looking wooden buildings that come with the game .If you’re feeling adventurous as gamers, you can deal out an individual unique building to each player. These are kept secret until complete. This takes a little time as you may need to explain the scoring conditions of each building.
Each card is laid out with all the information clearly visible on these large Tarot size cards. From the unique beautiful art of what the building would look like, and its associated playing piece. Plus a description of how it scores points at the end of the game and a plan of how the building can be constructed. This plan is simply a formation of the resource cubes. Once you have it laid out on your player board, the correct positions and colors of the cubes, that means that you can construct that building. Constructing the building is a simple case of placing the building you’ve constructed in one of the spaces of the resource matching the plan. Then all the resources are returned to the general pool, leaving you space to and new resources and build more buildings. This is a fantastic puzzle aspect of the game as you know what you want to build but the other players do not. Everyone has their own idea of how their city should look or functions, but due to the fact that everyone’s going to be choosing different resources yet using the same resources, can lead to some interesting cube formations. You’ll need to do a little bit of forward planning and leave yourself open to constructing two or more buildings at the same time, possibly from the same resources. Space is going to be of a premium as the game goes on. Head scratching will start with the “what do I build” to “where should I put this.” As the game goes on, you’ll find yourself struggling to construct or squeezing in resources that you don’t need onto your small little town. On top of that, how can you milk the most points out of the things I don’t need.
Each of the buildings will score in different ways. Some will score points if they are adjacent similar buildings or different buildings. Others will score if they are in a particular part of the town. And the basic cottage will only score points if they receive food from one of the farming buildings. This is a basic requirement for every game. Some of the interesting buildings like the warehouse, once built, whenever you have to use a resource that you have no space for or do not wish to disrupt another formation, you can place it in your warehouse. And later on when you are asked to add another resource to your town, you can swap it out with one in your warehouse and use that instead. Of course this is a great benefit but it also has its own penalty. Like the bank will give you lots of victory points for each one that you build but every time you build one, you will have to place a resource on it and you can no longer call that resource out when you are the Master Builder. A really interesting way to screw yourself up but also pretty sure way to get ahead of the pack.
With colourfully whimsical art, chunky wooden pieces and clearly explained rules and scoring conditions, this is a very well thought out production. Although the yellow and orange or red and orange building can sometimes be confusing to distinguish due to the proximity of the colour pallet. The insert holds everything in place and with baggies to hold your components separately, you’ll only be sorting out at the end of your session. A very large score pad that won't have you squeezing in digits, although they won’t be lager. With scores generally around 20 to 30 points, it will not take you long to find out who the winner is, unlike other larger group playing games. Again, games take the same amount of time regardless of the number of players. So if you are eliminated because you didn’t manage your resources wisely, you will not be hanging around long waiting for the others to wrap up.
The game is basically, everyone is being dealt the same hand of cards. But it depends on what you do with them, that determines how well you score. Think multiplayer Tetris. All players have the same blocks that fall. Some players will complete line after line, gaining minimal points, where others will stack them up in hope of squeezing in that long thin shaped one. Boom. Big points. This is something you may see in Roll & Write games or if you have ever been to a convention, you would have seen the “Pandemic Survival.” Everyone's town will start relatively the same, but as rounds go by, they develop into their own thing. And this is the aspect of the game that I adore. It is a real challenge against the other players. You all have the same level playing field (if you play without the unique buildings). It is interesting to see how your town starts going in a direction that is different to your neighbours. And you will need to keep an eye on them too. To try to predict what resource you think they need and will call out, then you will be prepared to slot it in an advantageous space or start building another building to what you had planned.
Or the reverse, on your turn, call out a resource you know they don’t want. Yes, there is a literal element of “screw your neighbour” in the game. You can sometimes shoot yourself in the foot. Although most of the time, you can get by. Unless you are advanced in the game. As space becomes tight, turns take a little longer, but not so long as to annoy anyone. The game has it’s restrictions, at the same time feeling very open to interpretation. With so many combinations of buildings and the way they interact, fitting them spatially on the board, plus the order that changes naturally or the resources makes this a fun battle to play with family and friends.
You can also cater the game to your liking. Giving younger players the chance to mulligan up to two resources during the game. This is a nice way to get those inexperienced players the chance to challenge the more expert ones. Or maybe last a few more rounds than usual. And if you have no one to play with, there is a simple solo mode to jump on to. A small deck of cards are used to dictate which resources are available from round to round. Not as fun as playing in a group but a sweet little puzzle for those who like that sort of thing. And with an expansion coming later this year, more buildings are rule will ensue, expanding this already replayable game a little further.
Technical score 9.5 / 10
Basic cubes that don't bug you and are easy to remember. Cute art and solid components, from the insert tray, to the wooden buildings. Easy to read text on cards and easy to read rulebook with examples galore. Apart from some confusion over the colours, there is nothing that I couldn’t recommend to be changed
My BGG score 10 / 10
Outstanding - will always enjoy playing.
Simple to teach. Simple to play. A great puzzle challenge for anyone in your neighbourhood. Playing on a level playing field is what makes board gaming great for me. I’m always left with that “I could have done that better” taste in my mouth. A great family weight game. Possibly this generation's Catan.
Combined score 9.75 / 10
My cup of tea, maybe it's yours too. Try it...
Rattus (2010) Review
Europe, 1347. A terrible plague falls on the known "world": the Black Plague. In less than five years, this disease will eradicate no less than half of the population of the time. It is well known that one of the agents of it spreading, was rats. These small rodents carrying the virus, infiltrated everywhere and contaminated everyone who crossed their paths. No one seemed to be safe. Divine punishment spared neither the poor nor the "well-born". But what if this contagion had a specific purpose?
Rattus plunges you into the heart of this tumultuous time. You are at the head of a cube population, without a fixed country. Your goal will be to try to grow your color in Europe where the mortality rate is extremely high. But that's not all, because in turn, you will be able to take possession of the personification of the Plague itself to prevent overpopulation.
Rattus is a game by Åse Berg and Henrik Berg. It was released in 2010 by White Goblin Games. It is a game of simple majority, in the vain of a light atmosphere game. Initially planned for 2 to 4 players, the game has several extensions and has translation into several languages.
The board represents Europe of the Middle Ages. At the beginning of the game, the players will be asked to place face down on the map, randomly the rats tokens. The rats represent the infection and who will infect the population with the Plague. On each token, you will find a number and symbols. The numbers correspond to the population level required for the Plague to take effect. The symbols indicate which characters, and by extension the players, are targeted. For each icon, the target player loses a cube in the region. If they do not have one, all the better for them. When a rat is returned, if the required number is insufficient, the Black Death does not kill.
At the beginning of a turn, a player may, if they wish, ask a character for help. The characters are drawn at random at the beginning of the game. They represent the local population who wish to help you in your survival. There are six categories of characters: nobal, warrior, merchant, priest, farmer and wizard. Each has their own power. But also their own symbol. When you choose to take possession of a character, you collect that tile. You are not limited by the number of tiles you can have at the same time. The more tiles you collect, the more help you can get. The powers of the characters you have can all be activated once in your turn. However, this can be double-edged. Remember the rat tokens? Each rat counter indicates specific symbols. As a result, the more characters you have, the greater the risk of suffering the plague. A pure dilemma. You can choose not to ask for help and to get by on your own. It is quite possible. You will be less focused. It also means that you will be more limited in your progress.
Once this optional character selection phase is completed, players will be able to expand their population on the map. You will choose a region and you will put as many of your color cube as there are rat tokens in that area. As you can see, the more dangerous a region, the more people reproduce. Again, there is a choice for you. Are you going to play small to protect yourself and not spread out too much or are you going to try the most infested areas and place more cubes? A region can have only three rat tokens at most. At this stage, you can also use each of your tiles once to help you ... or slow down others.
Finally, you will move the Plague counter. You can move it to an adjacent region, except if you have a special character. Be careful, the map is small and everything is more or less connected, so it’s difficult to hide. When the plague arrives in a region, the epidemic will first spread. You’ll count the number of rat tokens present in that region. The player takes the same number from the reserve (with a maximum of two) and places them on the neighboring regions. It can very well be placed in the same region or on two different ones (in cases when there are two rat tokens for example). If the plague moves on a region without rats, nothing happens.
Once this expansion is complete, the plague will do its job. The active player will therefore choose the order in which the one or more rats present in the region concerned is solved. They will then turn over the first rodent. The number indicated on the upper part corresponds to the value required for the disease to have an effect. This value is for ALL cubes in the region, regardless of color. If the number matches, the rats contaminate the local population according to the symbols below. For each of them, the players concerned loses a cube. You’ll resolve the icons from left to right, which can play an important role. In case of a tie, the players concerned all lose a cube. If the number does not match, nothing happens. The other rats are returned until there are no more rats or there is no more of the cube population (in this case the unused tokens remain in place).
The game ends when a player has successfully placed all their cubes onto the board or there are no more rat tokens in the pool. A bonus round then takes place. During this round, played in the reverse direction of the players turns, everyone except the one who has just finished, may activate their characters a final time. If they do not have one, too bad for them. Finally, all the rats remaining on the board are activated. The player with the most cubes at the end of the game wins.
Simple, no? Rattus is indeed a simple game, which can be learned and explained in a very short time. The turns are fluid and the decisions seem fast enough to take. Thematic level, even if you have fun killing others, it remains quite light. The game plays around 30-45 minutes, which is nice for this type of games.
Rattus has a fairly high degree of randomness. This is especially true when resolving rat tokens. But that's also what makes it charming. We felt a little pressure when we saw the arrival of the Plague in a region where we are present or relief when we decide to send it to others. Because yes, Rattus is a nasty game. If you want to play in your own area, avoiding any conflict, it is possible. But there is little chance that in the end it is really profitable. It must also be confessed that you will lose the charm of the game this way. You will have to play the opportunist, deceitful and not hesitating to be ruthless to others. The population addition system is, as such, rather well done. When you add cubes to a region, it depends on the number of rats present. So you can deliberately choose a region with three rats, so increase the local population significantly, why not, for example, in a region with a lot of opponents. And of course send the Plague right after. The carnage will only be greater.
The characters play a very important part in the fun of the game. All bring the same feelings. Some are no longer there to help you score victory points while others are clearly there to help you to wipe out the other players. The choice available is very important. In the basic game, you have six characters. However, with no less than nine extensions (more or less important), that will give you a choice of 51 cards of different powers to change the game. As much to tell you that the available combinations vary enormously. Even if all the characters are not as fun as each other, there is always something to do, especially when you only choose six. In addition, each character brings interest at one time or another during the game. At first glance, some seem more essential than others and yet all seem very well balanced (even if they require more control). It is of course recommended to choose at least one class each for each part. Besides the number, the mechanism of the characters are really interesting. Will I take one at risk of it falling on me? Will I choose an available one or will I pick one from an opponent? Sometimes, some players can tear themselves up for a character letting others take advantage to recover and keep those they want.
Luck is certainly important but it participates, as the choice of characters, for that very important replayability. Of course, this is not a game that will make you addicted, but you may have to bring it out fairly regularly in the presence of a family audience (as long as they are open to black humor or the Black Plague). Each game is different. Whether you play caution or attack, Rattus will delight you.
The game becomes really interesting with four players. At three players, it is nice and playable. With two, I can only advise you to choose something else. Not that it is bad, it’s just players are in each other’s face and the fun is replaced by optimization. Of course, you’ll lose a lot.
Rattus is a game that I can only advise you, if you are not allergic to luck and strong interaction. This little atmosphere game offers a lot of originality and cunning. This is certainly not the deepest game that exists, but in its category it stands out very much from others. You have to be opportunistic. To be fairly present on the board without being too much so as not to be the target of rats or other players. Juggle between protecting yourself or attacking others. The illustrations of Alexandre Roche put us in the mood. Personally, I like a lot. All the iconography is clear and easy to understand and the rules are simple. A very good game of majority, rules accessible, randomly present but important pleasure.
So there are no less than nine extensions to this game. Of these, only one brings real changes in the gameplay. The others correspond to combinations of new characters (attention: nevertheless it brings replayability).
Rattus : Africanus adds an extension to the plateau, North Africa. It also adds the possibility of playing up to six players. As new mechanisms, Africanus adds area cards that can protect you or give you points at the end of the game. Finally, we see the appearance from this extension of a new class power: Islam. New characters, new powers, and in five or six player games, you have the choice between six power tiles or eight. This extension brings a small wind of quite pleasant novelties. The game of six only increase the pleasure. But if you have little opportunity to play from five, Rattus: Africanus will not bring you much.
Technical Score 7.5 / 10
The graphics put in the mood. The power tiles are pretty thick. The rest of the material is correct. The iconography reads rather well and the rules are well written.
My BGG Score 8/10
(Very good game. Like to play and recommend it)
In its category, Rattus has everything of a big. Simple, deceitful, fast, clever. Some may blame the excessive importance of chance or the excessive importance of opportunism. But the replayability is huge and the extensions ensure it in the long run.
Combined Score 7.75 / 10
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