Is That a Province in Your Pocket?

Nope, not crazy about the cover art. "Dude with log!" is surely a board game cliché by now.

I’m always on the lookout for good light travel games, even though I don’t actually, ahem, travel all that often. Maybe I just like small things because they make me feel tall.

Either way, the recently-arrived Province, from Laboratory (no “games” after that; it’s just “Laboratory”), is among the tiniest. The question, then, is whether the gameplay is similarly tiny.

Named INNSMOUTH! ... I wish.

A happy little seaside town.

The idea behind Province is that you’re trying to take control of this little town, which already makes it sound way more violent than it actually is. In this case, when I say “take control” I mean you move some workers around to collect resources, then build helpful and non-scary buildings that undoubtedly aid the little seaside town’s economy. It’s more like you’re a local family man engaged in a friendly competition against another local family man to see who can open the most stores and drive the other to destitution. Nothing sinister about that.

Much of the gameplay revolves around the little worker wheel at the center of town. At the outset, there are three green workers there, all shared between you and your rival, and each turn sees you moving as many as you want one space clockwise, gaining money or labor when you land on the corresponding spaces. Which raises the question: why not just move all three workers each turn, generating the maximum amount of resources? Well, see, there are actually some decently compelling reasons not to do that, especially if you’re keeping an eye on your opponent’s goals and trying to keep her from generating the money or labor to meet them. She’s trying to build a Bank? Then she’ll need a little extra money, so position the workers so they can only generate labor next turn. Small-town politics!

What’s more, you can add more workers to the wheel to get more resources. You might be sick of your opponent keeping you from generating enough labor to build a Smithy, so you might build a Camp. This places a little yellow worker on the wheel, and since he can only be moved by someone who has a Camp, you get to move him with impunity! Now you control your own destiny! Then your opponent builds her own Camp, and now she can move this new guy too. So you build a Village, which adds another worker that only you can control! Until your opponent builds a Village, that is. But! You can build a Harbor, and if the Harbor’s random bonus pans out at exactly the right time (it’s based on the flipping of two tokens, a fun way to randomize its bonus without dice), you can hire sailors, extra workers who only you control ever!

So while the resource wheel starts simple, a mere three workers running around and around, after a little bit of time it’s full of options, some that you can control and some you can’t. And while it never becomes complex, it’s definitely surprisingly deep for such a tiny game.

Debate!

Industry!

The second part of the game is the bit where you actually build buildings, spending the hard-earned gold and labor that your workers earned for you through their hard work.

While the initial options are somewhat obvious, especially the Mill to get a free labor point each turn and the Camp so you can move around a fourth worker, there are some nifty things to build that aren’t quite as plainly necessary. For example, if your opponent has a building you could really use access to, like the Bank that doubles your coin income from the worker wheel or the Union that lets you spend money to make more labor, you can build the Lender. Once this is set up, you can take the lender token to use one of your rival’s buildings for the turn — though beware, you need to pay off the lender or lose points at the end of the game. Two points. One for each kneecap, presumably.

Speaking of points, the win conditions make for a neat twist. You get points for being the first to build a particular building in town, and more advanced buildings are worth an extra point. So far not too exciting — but in addition to that, there are also randomized goals for you to pursue. These might be a bonus point for generating lots of labor in a turn, or amassing a pile of unspent wealth, or building a pair of upgraded buildings, and these set the pace and make each match unique, especially for such a tiny game.

Poll: is Baby Cate's little doll-creature a cow-baby or a giraffe-baby?

Province is exceptionally tiny.

If there’s been one undercurrent throughout this review, it’s probably that I’m tacking a lot of “for such a tiny game” caveats onto the end of each paragraph. Granted, Province isn’t the deepest game in the world — but hey, it really is one of the tiniest games in my collection, and it crams a whole lot of fun into such a small package; and when I say “small,” I mean it was shipped to me in a regular 4×9½” envelope, and even that had a lot of empty space left over. And for such a small game — there I go again — it has surprising depth, and because it’s devoid of any real complexity it settles into this really pleasant rhythm of generating and spending resources. It isn’t pushing the evolution of game design by any means, but it’s simple, straightforward, and fantastic as a traveling microgame.

Posted on July 17, 2014, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. digitalpariah76

    Some answers:

    Q1: No, I’m just happy to see you.

    Q2: I’d need to see a full headshot of the creature in question to determine what the hell it is.

  1. Pingback: Today in Board Games Issue #200 - Last chance to win Mage Wars! - Today in Board Games

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