Micro Dojo and Loyalty & Deceit Expansion Review
It seems like the world is striving for smaller in everything. It’s always micro-this or nano-that, and board games are no exception. The concept of a mint tin game isn’t new, Buttonshy make wallet-sized card games, I’ve even got a tiny version of Heckmeck which fits in my pocket. Micro Dojo, however, is the first game – with meeples no less – I’ve had through my door in an envelope.
Designer and self-publisher, Ben Downton (aka Prometheus Game Labs) has created a teeny-tiny little game which promises to give the same experience as a proper big-boy game. The board is tiny, the chits are tiny, and the money’s so small it puts Nusfjord to shame. There’s a good reason for this though. With the international shipping crisis what it is, and costs rising, it means you can get this through your door, internationally, at very little cost.
The question is – do you want Micro Dojo dropping through your letterbox?
Every day I’m shuffling
Not cards in this instance, the shuffling here refers to the way you move around the board. There are four characters/meeples on the 3×3 grid, and on a turn you move one, and carry out the action on the space it moves to. You might get some resources, build a building, or carry out an action or two. Sounds simple enough, but where the game gets its bite is in the fact that you cannot move a meeple that either you or your opponent moved on your last turns.
As well as picking from your restricted options, there’s a really clever bit of forward planning going on. When you move someone to a new space, you open up a space for the other player, and some of the spaces are much better than others. The centre square is the one everyone wants, because it grants you two (two!) actions, whereas the corner squares do things like give you one food, or one coin. Rubbish!
It feels tight and congested on the board, and the clever rules for moving previously-moved pieces works so well. It’s possible to force your opponent into really sub-optimal turns, which then free up something you really want, just to really twist the blade. It’s really nice to play another game that’s designed solely for two players. There’s a solo mode in the
box envelope, which is good, but this is a game that is best played mano-a-mano.
VPs are tight in Micro Dojo. Getting seven VPs triggers the end of the game, and there’s no hidden information. The randomly-chosen objectives start off worth one VP each, and end up worth three as you work through them. Scoring an objective is a standard action, and they’re clever point-in-time things. You might win one for having the most food and money when it’s triggered, or having spend the most money on buildings. You both know which objective is next, and you both know which of you would win it, so it’s a case of jockeying for an action space to claim it.
The random objectives, and random buildings that go along with them, mean that every game feels different. It’s the epitome of passive interaction. You can’t directly do something to another player, but indirectly you’re blocking spaces, hoarding resources you know will win you the next objective. It’s got that nice edge to it, in the same way something like Targi does, but in a much smaller, and quicker, package.
I get the impression that if you played this too often against the same person, you could get into a state of being able to practically mind-read the other person, which could sap some of the fun out of it. There’s only so many ways to move on a 3×3 board which doesn’t change, so it’s only really the buildings on offer and the objectives which change. Hmm, if only there was some way to change that… Oh wait, there is!
Loyalty & Deceit Expansion
Loyalty & Deceit takes the base game of Micro Dojo and improves it in every way. As the name implies, there are two additional paths open to you now. One clan, the blue, offers lots more chances to earn points and convert one thing into another, whereas the red clan moves the game into the realms of direct interaction. You can do things with the red buildings like force the other person to lose VPs, or steal resources. The concept might be more Chinese than Japanese, but the two clans have a very yin-yang feel to them.
One of the new actions allows you to increase your loyalty with either clan, shifting your marker up one side of the new overly frame for the main board. Each side has actions and building abilities available if you climb high enough in them, but in a game that doesn’t last too long, you need to decide where your loyalties lie early in the game.
The other big change is the introduction of tiles to overlay on the main board, which means the layout can change every time you play. This is great news, as it really alleviated my main worry about the game getting stale. There’s even a set of cards included with suggested setups, each leading to a different feeling for the game. Flip the frame over, and there’s a longer version of the game which goes up to nine VPs.
Micro Dojo delivers what it says it does. It’s a proper (for want of a better word) game, in a very small package. I love it when games are designed for just two players, as there’s nothing else for the designer to factor in. No compromises or changes for more or fewer players, just something refined for a duel. It’s light enough to teach to just about anyone, and after a single game most people will be on an even footing. It proves, once again, that a limited choice of options doesn’t equal a lack of room for strategy.
While the base game is fun, and very enjoyable, the way to play it really is with Loyalty & Deceit added. There’s just a bit more to think about, more things to do, and I really enjoy the abilities which affect the other player. Two-player games should have a little bite to them, and bite is precisely what the expansion adds. The ability to change which tiles are on the board really opened the game up for me too, it’s done a lot to keep the game fresh.
Is it going to replace your board games? No. Is it going to impress anyone who sees it on a table at a convention? Probably not. But to have an option that packs this much game into something you can stick in your jacket pocket and take to the pub, or train, or just about anywhere – is fantastic. As I write this, you can get the base game, expansion, fancy triple-layer boards, eight wooden meeples, and some collector boxes to keep it all in, for £20 + shipping. It’s an absolute bargain for what it is, and the Kickstarter campaign is running right now.
Review copy kindly provided by Prometheus Game Labs. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Micro Dojo (2021)
Designer: Ben Downton
Publisher: Prometheus Game Labs
Art: Ben Downton
Playing time: 20 mins