Minute Realms is the brand-new card based city building game from designer Stefano Castelli and publisher dV Giochi. Aiming to be a compact city builder the game is built for 2 – 5 players and aims to take no longer than 30 minutes. As the king of a realm, players must construct buildings, gain and spend many a coin and even defend against dastardly invaders. However, does Minute Realms try to cram too much into a small box and a short space of time? Let’s find out!
To start things off the first player is decided and the Invader tokens are placed in a pile on round 1 of the invader tracker. Then, based on the turn order of the players gain a set amount of starting coins and depending on the player count a selection of the cards are removed from the deck. After shuffling the cards setup is complete, making it quick and easy to get a game going. Minute Realms is played out over 8 rounds. For the most part the rounds are identical apart from after the 4th and 8th round, when invaders attack.
At the start of a round each player is dealt a face up card and two cards are dealt into a central marketplace. Starting with the first player each player will get a chance to build one of the cards into their realm. On a player’s turn they can choose either the card dealt to them, dealt to another player or the central pool of two. If choosing the card in front of you it is straight onto the building stage: however, choosing any of the other cards causes a trading action before building.
Trading actions are made up of at least one of three actions: take a coin from the supply, pay a coin to the player a card is taken from (/the supply if it’s taken from the central pool) or place an invader token. The first two are self-explanatory but the dynamic is altered slightly as the actions must be made in order: left to right. If a card says to pay a coin then gain a coin as a trading action the player must be able to pay the coin before gaining one to be able to claim the card.
Only one invader token can be turned over per round, though actions with this symbol can still be used, just no extra tokens are placed. The player takes the top most token from the pile on the round number and places it face down onto the invader tracker segment for that round. Whether a trading action took place or not, next is a building decision.
If you have the coin available to construct the building you can choose to build it, gaining the card benefits such as victory points. If you don’t have the amount of coin available, or you choose to, it gets turned face down to be erected as a defensive bastion. A handful of cards cannot be flipped and turned into defences, a small symbol clearly denotes which cards these are, but most of the deck can. When building a defensive bastion, by choice or lack of coin, 2 coins are awarded to the player. These defences come with two shield symbols for use against invaders.
Once built that building is then out of play and cannot be chosen by others. After everyone has had a turn the first player marker is passed clockwise, the marketplace cards are discarded and the invader token pile is moved along the round tracker. Commonly, a new round would begin again with a new set of cards being dealt. After rounds 4 and 8 the invaders attack before the next round or game ends respectively. At the end of round 4, the invader tokens placed on the tracker from trading in rounds 1 – 4 are flipped and their values added together. This is the amount of shield symbols each player must equal or beat to survive.
If a player does not have enough they must flip over a normally constructed building into a defensive bastion, effectively losing points. This happens again in round 8 but the invader tokens from all rounds, 1 – 8, are combined. The outcome is the same for those whom cannot match the invader score: however, those whom can beat the score gain that many points. Past the 8th round invaders the game is over: players calculate points earnt from the cards they built and from the recent invaders. Simply, whomever has the most points wins.
Aside from the buildings or defences being constructed in your realm, players will also have to balance their cashflow, for the want of a better word. A player could have a high scoring card available but without the coins to discard to complete a trading action for it or to pay for the building it is only a defensive bastion to them. Often players will choose to take the bastion option either early to have coin always available or as a last resort after running out.
To make the coin flow mechanisms more interesting, by default, coins alone won’t score players any victory points. Some building cards directly relate to coins, though not always does more coins mean more points. The Bank building for instance does convert those shiny coins into points, 1 coin equalling 1 point. On the other hand, the Monastery scores the owner 9 points minus the total coins in their inventory at the end of the game. These two cards are often snapped up when they become available as they open up high or low gold strategies.
It is obvious that a lot of attention has been paid to balancing the different elements of the game. Individual cards for the various available buildings will offer similar, but not identical, costs and rewards. For example, one Shack card will have no build cost, offer a gain of two coins when traded and score 2 points. Another Shack card will also have no build cost but a player would gain 3 coins when trading for it but only score 1 point for the card.
Another small but important balancing feature is the amount of starting coins players receive. This only comes into play in a 3-player game; for each position after second in the turn order the player gains an additional starting coin. It isn’t much but does help mitigate the chance of missing out on a good card in the first round, when going last and having less cards to choose from.
Each building type has its own unique and beautiful illustration that when placed together in your tableau create a consistently themed realm. Due to the quality of the artwork I can somewhat forgo the way each Shack or Bank looks the same. In 2-player games players will almost not notice this with the cards being varied. Alas, as more players join more cards of each type are added into the mix. This can result in several the same building being drawn from the deck at the same time. It would have been nice to see slight subtle differences, even differing coloured flags, to give each card their own feel.
Lasting only 8 short rounds with 2 minor events after the 4th and 8th round the game does play really fast. The time taken each round is effectively a short deal of cards, followed by a quick choice that isn’t deep enough to incur major analysis paralysis. Even if new players start out unsure of the optimal cards to go for, the game is short enough to have a trial run to get them up to speed. With longer games this just isn’t a viable option, meaning players get stuck in the rulebook. This enables Minute Realms to be a learn-by-playing game, for some a much-wanted trait.
They may not be shiny gold in colour but the solid and chunky coins are a great inclusion in the box. These tokens get moved around the most so it is nice to see the designers acknowledge this by providing robust coins. These are heights above simple cardboard tokens that you may expect in a small game like this. They are a pleasure to use and I may even have to use them when playing other games with inferior coins!
Two player games get a tad samey after a few games, losing the excitement a little each game. This issue is caused by the same cards being chosen by the two players and the game becoming very back and forth. Add in a third player and things start to become more varied. With the increased player count each round more cards are available to choose from. By bolstering the options available Minute Realms starts to offer viable gameplay decisions, that feel important rather than a seesaw of giving/taking cards from your opponent.
On top of this one of the most interesting gameplay elements, the invasions, start to more heavily impact decisions. With only 2 players it is more than possible for only a couple of tokens to be flipped for the entirety of the game. With extra players the chance of an invader token being put in play each round grows; making buildings that include a shield extremely important. Higher player counts also adjust the risk behind the choice of not burning a card to build a bastion, adding to the decisions players need to make.
A lot of the aspects of Minute Realms truly come alive when playing with 3 or above, therefore I find it hard to categorically recommend it for the lowest player count. It is mechanically the same game, yet it needs extra players to break up the back and forth feeling. Minute Realms uses the homograph “minute” to its full potential, being both minute in size and played in minutes. The box is certainly on the small side allowing it to be easily thrown into a bag and played on a small playing surface. The simple mechanics build together to make choices meaningful yet the rounds fly by and before long you’ll be calculating victory points. The game does what it hints at on the box, players will create a realm within minutes and it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
[Editor’s Note: The game was provided to us by dV Giochi for the review.]