Carcassonne ($9.99) is one of my favorite board games, and I still play the mobile version to this day. There’s something about the combination of depth with the relatively short length of a session that really calls to me, and there aren’t very many experiences like it on the market. So when I heard that Damn Little Town (Free) was a new take on the classic board game I jumped at the opportunity to try it out.
At first glance, the game even looks like a modified version of Carcassonne. But once you dig deeper into its multiple concepts of play, you’ll realize that it’s not so similar. The initial rounds are extremely easy to grasp — you’re going to be placing fortress walls, which you can earn points for by placing subjects inside of them. Yep, all you’re doing is drawing tiles against an opponent, placing either fortress tiles or roads to connect structures. The ultimate goal isn’t immediately apparent though, as scoring with castles is only a tertiary goal — you have to build roads to the four temples in the corners of the map to prepare for the next phase.
Straight out of an ancient horror flick, monsters and spirits will start appearing on the board, which players themselves place to “block" their opponent from reaching each temple. Turn-by-turn you’ll alternate placing evil tiles and escaping yourself, both of which have their own separate strategies involved. When placing evil tiles, you can only put like-colors adjacent to each-other (blue to blue, green to green, and so on). When escaping, your character pieces only get a certain amount of moves to get to the temple each turn. Naturally, you’re going to want to choose where to block and where to run carefully.
It’s a neat idea that isn’t all that deep, but elicits enough strategy to keep you interested for quite a while. Points are accumulated for a number of factors, such as characters remaining at the end, how many you managed to get to the temples, and points are even deducted if you’re “killed" by an evil tile. To be blunt, the first phase is a bit too similar to Carcassonne, but the “twist" of adding in monsters and another concept intriguing enough to warrant its own style. Regrettably the artwork and text isn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, as it emulates old flash games from the early 2000s in a non-endearing way.
The game’s major disappointment is online play. Now, Damn Little Town technically has it (both matchmaking and direct play with friends), but at this point, practically no one is on the game actively looking for matches. In that case you’ll have to really find friends to play with, because the AI is extremely boring after a few hours.
If you’re so inclined, you can buy the full game for $2.99 as an IAP, which will eliminate ads, give you a bigger board (expanding it to 9×9 tiles), and an online leaderboard. It’s not a huge upgrade, but if you find yourself playing for extended periods of time, the bigger board does make each round more interesting, with more natural avenues to escape through. Thankfully the ads aren’t all that intrusive to begin with.
At the very least, if you’re into boardgame experiences on a mobile platform, give Damn Little Town a chance. While the paid version clearly enhances the experience, the base game is still very much playable, and will give you the general gist of a typical session.