Inspiration can come from unexpected places. For Peter McPherson, a Saratoga Springs-based freelance writer and board game developer, the idea for his hit board game, Tiny Towns, came from a little game that he and his father—John McPherson, the man behind the syndicated newspaper cartoon Close To Home—like to play while waiting on food at a restaurant. “We make a 5-by-5 grid on our napkins and take turns naming a letter that we each have to write down,” says McPherson. “Once there are no more spaces, whoever can make the most words wins.”
That simple premise is what drives McPherson’s debut game, Tiny Towns, which was released last May by entertainment behemoth Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG). In the game, each player is the mayor of his or her own tiny town, represented by a 4-by-4 grid. Instead of letters, players compete over five essential resource cubes to create different building types that interact in varying ways and score points based on their location and size. Once no more moves or buildings can be made, whomever has the most points wins. “It’s light on the rules and quick to play,” says McPherson. “You can also play with as many people as you want, as long as you have enough board games.” He’s not kidding; McPherson attended an event last year where more than 100 people were playing one giant game of Tiny Towns.
McPherson grew up between Saratoga and Schuylerville (he calls both his “hometown”) and started playing with board game prototypes while he was studying English at SUNY Oneonta. “Tiny Towns was the first prototype I’d made where right after the first play I thought, ‘OK, I have something here worth pursuing,’” he says. The original model arrived in 2016. “I probably play-tested it at least 100 times before I started pitching it to companies.”
Clearly, McPherson was onto something: The board game quickly sold out of its first run (50,000 copies), and an expanded version, Tiny Towns: Fortune, hit stores this past February. Though not yet sold in Saratoga, McPherson says that both are available online and at Zombie Planet in Albany.