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Micro Dojo - Solo Review

Designer: Ben Downton
Artist: David Grigoryan
Publisher: Prometheus Game Labs
Player Count: 1 to 2 Players
Play Time: 15 Minutes

Looking for a bite-sized game that won’t lighten the wallet and packs a strategic punch? In this review of Micro Dojo, I overview how to play one of the tiniest tabletop games, describe the surprisingly deep strategic gameplay, and consider the impact micro-sizing a game has on handling the components.

purple box with title micro dojo on top of a pile of loose game components
Micro Dojo box cover and components

The Gist: Two Daimyo

Micro Dojo is a compact strategy game in which players are two competing Daimyo—feudal lords in Edo Japan. Players must direct their retainers to gather and exchange resources, construct buildings, and complete the Shogun’s tasks in order to score victory points. The game features quick, highly-interactive gameplay with little left up to chance.

Prometheus Game Labs re-released Micro Dojo for retail in late 2023, upgrading some of the components from the original Kickstarter. In addition to the original punch-out versions, the retail edition also includes wooden Daimyo tokens and wooden meeples of the four retainers—Sumo, Ninja, Geisha, and Samurai—that players move around the board. The game no longer fits into a thin envelope but the box is still only about the size of a cassette case.

four colored meeples on a 3 by 3 grid board with tokens around it
Micro Dojo game midplay

Gameplay: Loyal Retainers

During setup, players will select six of the twelve available buildings to include in the game and five of the nine different objectives (14 including the optional advanced play objectives). Swapping these components in and out between plays adds some replay value to the game and can significantly change up which strategies and actions will be most relevant.

On their turns, players select one of the four shared retainer meeples on the board and move them one space in an orthogonal direction, resolving the instructed action on that space. Then they place their Daimyo token beneath the meeple they just moved, indicating that this meeple cannot be activated again until after that player’s next turn.

six white and gray board game tokens with symbols on them
Objective tokens

Micro Dojo is played on a small 3 by 3 grid, with each space containing symbols indicating actions that are resolved by the player who moves one of the retainers into that space. Food and gold symbols, for instance, provide the player with that many of the specified resource, and the building symbol enables the player to pay the associated cost and construct a building from the available stock. The ‘A’ action symbol opens a host of actions to the player, including triggering an objective and converting resources.

The first Daimyo to achieve seven victory points has appeased the Shogun and is awarded lordship over the town. Victory points are scored primarily by completing the five objectives chosen for that game. Only the left-most objective is active and it must be triggered and claimed by a player before the next one is available. Regardless of which player triggered the objective, the player leading that objective scores the victory points for it. For example, if the Banker Objective is active, the player with the most gold is awarded the victory points regardless of who took the Trigger an Objective action. Players can also score points by using an action to activate a building ability or donate 5 of any one resource 

Optional advanced play rules add additional objectives for more variety as well as alternative movement options for each retainer. For example, the Geisha may ignore Daimyo tokens and the Samurai may move diagonally. The advanced play options lend more tactical depth to the game and encourage the player to try new strategies that may not be relevant or viable in standard gameplay.

square tokens with building titles and symbols on them
Seven building tokens

Micro Dojo, Deep Gameplay

Although there are elements of resource management and light engine-building, at its core Micro Dojo is an abstract strategy game. Gameplay is highly interactive, despite the lack of abilities or actions players can take to directly impact one another. Given the small size of the board and the shared nature of the retainers, every movement action is consequential. Players not only have to consider how to advance one’s own progress towards constructing buildings and completing objectives, but they should also keep in mind how their movement will strategically remove options from their opponent. Blocking opponents from moving into spaces with resource or action symbols they really need to take can be a sure, but bitter, path to victory.

Turns go by quickly with only three steps—move, place Daimyo token, and resolve—and I have found that most games last between 10 and 15 turns. In such a short and fast game, the player who is able to outmaneuver their opponent early to gain more resources and construct buildings is typically the winner. However, the game counters this runaway winner dilemma in a few clever ways. First, the objectives players can score are very diverse and do not favor one particular strategy. For example I played a game where the first two objectives were Builder (awarded to the player with the most buildings) and Farmer (awarded to the player with the fewest buildings), two diametrically opposed objectives that would be difficult for one player to claim both. Monopolizing all objective conditions would be rather difficult to achieve. Later objectives also score more victory points, allowing the trailing player to catch up quickly towards the end of the game. So although the game can be very swingy, decisive point scoring is never far out of reach for either player.

The advanced gameplay options add a good deal of depth to the game. The standard objectives are scored by comparing resource values accumulated by players. For example, the Peasant objective goes to the player with the highest food total minus gold and the City Planner objective to the player with the highest total cost of buildings. However, many of the advanced gameplay objectives are awarded to the player who triggers them if certain spatial conditions are met on the board. For instance, the Organizer objective is awarded to the triggering player if there are three meeples in a straight line anywhere on the game board. These advanced objectives task players to be more careful with their movements, and be mindful of the relative location of all meeples on the board. And the alternative movement options for each unique retainer further open up strategic plays each turn.

Rounded tokens with symbols of food and gold coins on them
Food and gold tokens

Solo Dojo

In the solo variant, the player’s opponent is an automated Daimyo controlled by two decks of cards. On the AI’s turn, the player flips the top card of each deck; the first deck determines which retainer to move that turn, with each card listing the four retainers in a different priority order. If the retainer at the top of the card cannot be moved because they are blocked or have a Daimyo token underneath, the player checks the next one, and so forth. The other deck determines the movement direction in a similar fashion.

Resolving the square that the automated Daimyo’s meeple moves into is simplified to reduce the overhead of managing the AI. For instance, the automated Daimyo will collect food and gold resources as normal and construct buildings if they can pay the cost. However, if they land on an action space but are not leading in the current objective or land on a building space but cannot afford a building, they are awarded 1 victory point instead. This provides a slight scoring advantage to the AI to make up for their lack of intelligent decision-making and account for the various gameplay elements that are only available to the human player.

two rounded tokens with green and blue daimyo heads on them
Daimyo tokens

For example, when they move into a space with an action symbol, the only possible action the automated Daimyo can take is triggering an objective. They may not activate any buildings they have constructed, trade resources, or donate resources for victory points. Similarly, the cards in the AI decks do not include any functionality for the retainer’s advanced alternate movement abilities, so those are unavailable to them as well.

Generally this very quick game is made even quicker when playing solo since the AI turn is so straightforward and uncomplicated to manage. Left up to the draw, sometimes the automated Daimyo makes a great play and sometimes they don’t. But with only 4 cards in each deck, it can be fairly easy to predict which retainer(s) will be towards the top of priority next turn and which direction they will move, giving the player a significant tactical edge.

The solo mode rules offer some alternative setups benefitting the automated Daimyo that make solo play more challenging, and these adjustments are likely going to be necessary after just a few plays. Outmaneuvering the automated Daimyo is painless and can lead to some easy, decisive wins, especially if the player is able to block the AI from accessing either build or action spaces. Starting the AI player with some resources or even victory points can help even the playing field.

blue and red decorated meeples on a stone
Geisha and Samurai meeples

Tiny Board, Big Fingers

The smaller game components are, the more difficult, or “fiddly,” they can be to handle. And the components in Micro Dojo are rather small. Reviewers of the original Kickstarter edition commented on the struggle of moving the flat tokens around such a miniature board. Thicker, wooden components are included in the retail version to try to alleviate this problem with middling success.

The play area of the board measures just over 2 inches in either direction and bears four meeples, two of which are perched atop Daimyo tokens, making the 3 by 3 grid a bit crowded. On their turn each player moves at least one meeple and shifts their Daimyo token from underneath one meeple to another. This is a good deal of moving tiny bits in a small area, and as someone with cumbersome fingers, I find myself frequently knocking over the meeples and bumping the board during gameplay, which then shifts the objective and building token. Some clumsiness is the price to pay for such portable components.

The coloration also presents some difficulty distinguishing components, especially in low-light. For instance, the green and blue Daimyo tokens are somewhat faded and both printed on the same brown background. Two different background colors could have been used to more easily differentiate these components. Similarly, the beige and gray tones used on the standard and advanced objective tokens respectively look identical unless they are directly compared side by side.

Micro Dojo game box on a wooden plank with a pagoda in the background
Micro Dojo front box cover

Final Thoughts

The retail version of Micro Dojo features some notable improvements over the Kickstarter version. Namely, the wooden retainer meeples and Daimyo tokens—the components with which the players are interacting the most—are much more manageable. However the overall tiny size does carry with it some clumsiness when handling the pieces and potential legibility problems.

The solo variant is an enjoyable abstract puzzle about overcoming the slight scoring advantages given to the automated Daimyo. But after a few games, the winning strategies become clear and although the challenge level adjustment can shift the outcome in favor of the automated Daimyo, it does not alter the difficulty of play itself.

Micro Dojo is an excellent little two player option for gamers looking for something at the intersection of clever and bite-sized. Retailing for about $15 and capable of fitting into most pockets, this little game delivers great strategic gameplay for the value. I recommend Micro Dojo for any duet gamers who are looking for something more strategic but won’t hog the table on their next game night.



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