Tower Review

andysmTower is a set-collection and worker-placement game, designed by Ben Haskett and illustrated by Derek Bacon, and published by Undine Studios.  Playable in about 45 minutes at all player counts, Tower has 1 to 4 players taking on the role of architects, each competing to be the first to build three sections of the titular structure.

The Kingdom of Meeplestand has a distinct dearth of vertical structures, and it's up to you to do something about it!
The Kingdom of Meeplestand has a distinct dearth of vertical structures, and it’s up to you to do something about it!

andysmAndrew:  See, there’s your problem.  The King of Meeplestand hired, like, four architects to build one tower!  That’s going to make all kinds of coordination issues!

jessmJess:  Spoken like someone who isn’t going to build his tower in time.

andysmAndrew:  Hey!  No, it’s just that if we all go scrambling around to get materials at once, we’re guaranteed to have problems with –

dianasmDiana:  Move it!  Pile of lumber for the new tower coming through!

andysmAndrew:  Yikes, ok, but hold on a second!  I mean, the markets don’t even have enough for-

robsmRob:  Yes!  Snagged some clay.  All I need is some water…

andysmAndrew:  I should probably start building my tower sections now, yeah?

jessmJess:  Listen, that sounds great honey, I’m headed to the Black Market.  See you later!

andysmAndrew:  …Sometimes it’s like I’m all alone here.

Each turn, players will grab a handful of gems from the royal coffers and then head to one of the market stalls (the number of which are determined by the player count) and trade gems for goods in an effort to complete build contracts.  The gems come in three colors, with green the most common, red the rarest, and blue resting comfortably in between.

The market stalls weren’t designed with the King’s competition in mind and can only accommodate one architect per turn, so getting boxed out from buying that last barrel of water you need is something to be concerned about.  Of course, your opponents can’t shop where you are camped, either.

A market stall, with goods and prices on display. No haggling, no loitering! (It's in the rules)
A market stall, with goods and prices on display. No haggling, no loitering! (It’s in the rules)

Each contract has five goods required before they can be built, and you are restricted to working on a single contract at a time.  Once a contract is completed, though, you can proudly add a tower section in your color and move on to the next contract, hopefully faster than those other architects can manage.

The tower begins to rise...
The tower begins to rise…
Salil collects all gems spent and lets you trade for them.
Salil collects all gems spent and lets you trade for them.

In addition to the market stalls, players can head over to Salil the Tax Collector, who facilitates gem trades.

jessmJess:  Salil’s rates are outrageous!

andysmAndrew:  Yeah, but he may be the only reliable way to get exactly the gem you need to make that critical purchase and complete your contract.

Finally, players can also make a once-per-turn trip to the Black Market.  The Market caters to the less-savory side of business, letting you gain one-time benefits at a rather steep investment of gems (even walking in costs you gems).  These cards are always a bit of a gamble (you never know which you’ll draw), but they are almost always helpful to some degree or another, if you can afford their rates.

The Black Market gives you plenty of powerful options, if you have the gems to pay
The Black Market gives you plenty of powerful options, if you have the gems to pay
An example of the build cards. This one has a pretty good diversity of required materials
An example of the build cards. This one has a pretty good diversity of required materials

jessmJess:  Whew!  Bam!  Tower section 3 finished!  The King is going to be super happy with me!

dianasmDiana:  Is it just me or is that tower, uh, listing very slightly to the left?

jessmJess:  Depends on which way you face it, I guess.  Still, I win!

robsmRob:  Dang it.  What am I going to do with all this clay?

dianasmDiana:  I’m sure I can come up with something…

jessmJess:  Still, despite my triumph, I feel like there could be more here.

andysmAndrew:  Well, we could always throw in the in-box mini-expansion.

jessmJess:  Let’s do it!

Tower is a mechanically simple game – you draw some gems, make the best purchases you can, and try to build faster than your competition.  In that design, it succeeds beautifully, offering a light-weight set-collection experience without any agonizing, drawn out calculations.

The Bully is one of the hirable citizens. He's a jerk, but he also shows off Derek Bacon's artwork perfectly, which I love.
The Bully is one of the hirable citizens. He’s a jerk, but he also shows off Derek Bacon’s artwork perfectly, which I love.

If you want to spice up your architectural experience, however, you can always add in the Citizens of Meeplestand mini-expansion.  This add-on introduces several non-player characters, all of whom have special abilities.  The Runner lets you make purchases at two stands simultaneously.  The Stand-In is just sort of there, occupying a stall so that no one else can purchase from it.  The Bully kicks people out of stalls so that you can shop, which is handy when the Stand-In is loitering meaninglessly in front of that bundle of straw you need for your tower.

The other optional element you can add to Tower is the Royal Guard.  With this mini-module in place, you can steal gems from Salil (though at the exchange rates he charges, it’s practically civil service).  If you decide to indulge in a discount of the five-figured kind, though, you will be considered Wanted, and will be hunted by the Palace Guard as he stalks the stalls.  Get caught and you have to pay gems to bail yourself out.  Of course, you can always clear your name by giving Salil a precious red gem.

(It’s not an official rule, but we like to house-rule that you cannot win if you are Wanted.  Even if you build your third tower section, unless you get arrested and pay bail or clear your name with Salil, the other players still have a chance to win!)

Finally, there is Lutfi, the automated player.  This simple AI can be added to 2 and 3-player games to make them a bit more exciting by grabbing up resources (Lutfi is doing home renovations, not working on the tower, and can’t actually win the game), or he can be used as a fully-fledged automated player to play against solo.

robsmRob:  Yay!

Lutfi is a nice guy, but the first time he grabs the straw you need out from under you...
Lutfi is a nice guy, but the first time he grabs the straw you need out from under you…

Tower is uncomplicated fun, featuring a little bit of luck, some strategy, and satisfying set-collection mechanics.  The general lack of direct player contention feels fine, especially since the Black Market cards do occasionally allow you to mess with your opponents, but only just enough to feel engaging, rather than jerkish.  And once you throw in the Citizens of Meeplestand, Tower provides the kind of light-weight gaming that is the perfect warm up or wind down.  Light enough to play while chatting but engaging enough to stay entertaining, we think Tower is great!

If you want to try your hand at tower-building, you can order directly from Undine Studios right here!

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