There’s something special about a little game. It can be counterintuitive to look at the tiny box and say yes, that’s what I want. There’s certainly a reason why some kickstarter games seem to be all about extra miniatures, we just love those chunky plastic toys! But a really nice little game is special too. The Tiny Epic series is an example of this, as are Oink games such as Scout or Deep Sea Adventure. These may not take a long time but are utterly engrossing and with the low price they are worth every bit as much as the Kickstarter monsters with their hundreds of pounds add-ons that weigh almost as much as they cost. Into this arena, and with a box that truly lives up to the “micro” in the name comes Micro Dojo from Prometheus Game Labs. Funded on Kickstarter itself last year, this is a tactical game that can be played with one or two players in an easy 20 minutes and can pretty much be taken anywhere you can take a good book. But is it as good as a good book? Well let’s find out.
Micro Tic Tac Toe
Micro Dojo is a two player game with players competing to earn victory points either by completing objective or building specific buildings which generate points. Turns are very simple. Move one of the characters on the board and take the action that you land on. This might be to collect money or food, or it might be to take another action or build a building. If you build a building then you need to spend the money or food cost and move it to your space. After this, every time you land on an action space you can take the action of that building. That might be collecting extra food or money or even involve spending food or money for victory points. Other possible actions could involve trading gold for food (or vice versa) or resolving the next objective on the track. First person to seven points (or once all the objectives have been taken) wins!
While this might seem a little simple on the surface, there is an element of tactical depth here. Firstly and most obviously, the objectives that are randomly assigned at the beginning of the game may well push you into playing a certain way. But do you collect that gold as per the first few objectives and get a good head start, or do you focus on the later objectives and effectively sacrifice the first few points to your opponent? And if you’ve gone for the first few, do you complete them early (thus opening the door to your opponent to score the higher points later) or do you hold off and try to make them use actions to give you victory points so they can get to their higher scoring objectives? It’s a tricky balancing act and it’s made all the harder by the fact that you’re both playing a kind of tic tac toe/connect 4 sort of game on the actual board.
This brings me to the second point. Every time you move one of the little characters on the board, you put your daimyo piece on it and that stops either of you using that piece until you’ve taken your next turn and put the daimyo on something else. This means that apart from the very beginning, your options are limited to one of two pieces and a significant aspect of the game is manoeuvring these piece around so that you can get to the squares you want while your opponent can’t get to the ones they need. As an example, perhaps you really want to move the samurai piece to the build space, but doing so would allow your opponent to reach the double action space with the geisha. Do you take the building you want because it’ll get you regular food or gold, or do you hold off and use the geisha yourself because you can’t afford to let your opponent have those two actions and grab the objectives that they’ve been working towards? As you get deeper it can get even more complex, sure you’ve stopped your opponent now, but what about in a three turns? Have you stopped yourself from getting the building you needed because now they’ve moved the samurai away completely and the other pieces simply can’t move into the space at the moment so your building plans will need to wait?
The whole game is a fascinating puzzle and that is still the case with the pleasingly simple solo mode. With just eight cards, (and a few rules on how to change the challenge level) the designers have created something that will keep you busy for hours as you experiment with that and the advanced rule set that comes in the box.
So is this worth getting? Well at under £12 it’s not a difficult decision. This game kept me coming back for hours, especially when it was sitting on my desk and the alternative was work! But thanks really the point, it’s a little box, with a little board and a simple set up. This is a game you could take on the train, to the pub, even on a plane journey where it would fit on the ridiculous tray tables that they give you in economy class. And it’s not going to disappoint. Either in two player or solo, the quality of the puzzle and the charm of the design are so strong that you can and will come back to it again and again. If there is a disappointment, the tic tac toe design sometimes reduces options too much, to the extent where it feels that some turns can be wasted. Oh, and the little resin pieces that came with my review copy are charming, but they actually are slightly less useful than the standard punchcard pieces when it comes to moving round the board.
So there you go, if you want a charming puzzle that will keep you coming back to it, Micro Dojo is absolutely the game for you.