Review: Damn Little Town19 Jun 2014 0
If there's one problem with Klaus-Jürgen Wrede’s seminal tile-laying game, Carcassonne, it’s the dearth of meeple fatalities. Seriously, you can play an entire game without one monk getting eaten by a giant fish or a farmer getting crushed by giant skulls. It’s a little embarrassing, actually.
The developers of Damn Little Town recognized this oversight and rectified it amazingly well. Damn Little Town turns the quintessential Eurogame into a kill-your-neighbor bloodbath, and we’re all better for it.
The basis of Damn Little Town is very similar to the tile laying of Carcassonne, only simplified. Damn Little Town has no monasteries or farms, and the roads are only used for travelling and not for point-scoring thieves. There are no inns and no cathedrals, no traders or builders, and there’s not a princess in sight. A dragon, or at least a scary anglerfish, will dutifully appear in every game, however. What you do build are walled cities and roads, feverishly trying to connect those cities where you’ve placed your meeples to the temples found in the four corners of the board. Unlike the different point values for where your meeples are placed in Carcassonne, in Damn Little Town you receive a flat 3 points for every meeple placed in a city, which are the only tiles in which meeples can be played.
At this point Damn Little Town might sound about as exciting as Mr. Ludo, but something interesting happens when the draw pile runs out. As you’re playing the game, holes will randomly burst open in empty squares of the game board. When all the tiles are played, all hell breaks loose. Literally. Four monsters erupt from the ground destroying any meeples in their path. From this point forward, players draw “monster” tiles and play three of them on their turn, trying to eat as many of their opponents’ meeples while keeping paths between the temples and their own meeples open. After placing monsters, you get 5 movement points to try and get your meeples to safety. Meeples eaten by monsters will lose you 2 points, and any meeples left on the board at the end of the game score you 2, whereas meeples that escape to the temples nab their owners 5 points.
It’s this second half of the game that really makes Damn Little Town shine. Let’s face it, ruining your friends’ days is always a good time and you’ll get to do quite a bit of it. The question isn’t if you’ll destroy your opponent’s pieces, but how many you’ll get. Even in my worst games, the body count was high. The knife cuts both ways, though, so be prepared to want to throw your iPad in frustration as you realize your last 3 meeples are trapped because their only escape route was just blocked. This will happen more often than you think it possibly could, especially with the AI which seems to have been programmed by Croup and Vandemar. Seriously, the AI in this game is downright evil. I have, literally, told my iPad to do unholy things to itself after repeatedly getting screwed over by the AI.
The barbarity of the AI really showcases Damn Little Town’s biggest fault: it’s random as hell. Tiles are drawn randomly, so even if you’ve loaded a city only a few spaces from a temple, if you don’t draw the correct road tile to connect you to the temple, you’re screwed. Monster tiles are randomly drawn as well, so a lot of the game comes down to drawing the correct tiles to set your meeples up in the first half, or tearing your opponents down in the second half.
I usually don’t mind randomness in games, but Damn Little Town offers no mitigation of luck. If you’re unlucky, you’re going to lose. Usually, the mix between good and bad draws evens out over a game, but I have had some insane smackdowns all of which I felt really weren’t my fault. One issue is that you cannot see what tiles remain in the stack. Knowing if a certain road tile still exists, and how many would help you to make better choices with your tile and meeple placement. The randomness of the monster tiles forces the game to quickly become a race for the corners and who can build their cities as close to the temples as possible. Any meeples in the center of the map, even with a path to freedom, are doomed.
The second fault of Damn Little Town is its multiplayer options. No online play (there is pass-and-play) means that you’re going to be playing against the AI more often than not. Like I said, the AI is very good but in a “take that” style game, there’s not a lot of joy in sticking it to nobody.
Despite its flaws, I’ve been enjoying Damn Little Town. Games are fast and deadly, and it added some much needed interaction into what is normally considered a fairly dry game. I can’t wait to see what Eurogame they tackle next: Caylus with serial killers, Ticket to Ride with train robbing bandits, Tigris & Euphrates with laser-wielding space ninjas? We can only hope.