Under The Microscope – John Clowdus’ Irondale by Small Box Games

I’m examining John Clowdus’ Irondale by Small Box Games under the microscope this time.


You are the builders of the great city of Irondale.  It’s your job to expand the city.  With its card laying mechanic, special card abilities, focus on hard choices, and strong hand management component, it is a deceptively deep and strategic game.

Materials & Methods

Irondale comes with 24 brown, 24 blue, and 24 green cards. Each card is a building that can be built in to create the city of Irondale. The card has the building name and type, its building cost, and the building’s abilities. Also on the card are the building’s point values when built next to the other building types. Lastly the card has the building’s Master Plan.

There are four building types Commons, Academia, Improvements, and Dwellings. The type of building comes into play throughout the game. Each building costs a certain number of cards to build. But unlike other games where players have to discard that number of cards to build, in Irondale the player only needs to have the building cost number of cards in their hand. Each building has an ability. This ability comes into play when it is built or built next to. Abilities grant extra points. Disallow certain buildings to be built. Or grant a bonus of some kind. A building’s point value is shown on the bottom of the card. There are four point values depending on what the adjacent buildings are. Finally is the Master Plan iconography. There are two different building types shown. When a player builds two buildings of the depicted types they can discard this card for bonus points.

Game Play

Set up

Separate the cards into 3 decks based on the color on the card back, green, brown, blue. You take the starting building out of the blue deck – Dormitory, Grinder’s Mill, Guild Hall, Artisan’s Abode. In the Irondale expansion, there are special cards for this.

Playing Irondale

To start each player draws one blue, one brown, and two green cards. This is the Draw phase.  Next is the Build phase. A player may


build two buildings by playing cards from his hand. The player must have the building cost in cards in hand to be able to build. The chosen building is placed next to a previous building. The placement must follow the abilities on the card and on the building(s) to which it is adjacent. The second building has to be built next to the first or next to the building that the first was built next to. The Scoring phase is next. The player adds up his points from the Build phase being sure to remember points scored from adjacent buildings. He then may reveal a Master Plan to gain the points from that, draw a card and take one point, or draw two cards. The Master Plan card is discarded. To record this score he takes the top card of any deck and uses the back of the card to display his score. He must use a few cards as possible to do this. If his score was 6, he could not take three 2’s but must take a ‘6’ if possible. The card is set to 6. The next phase is the Upkeep phase. In this phase players reconcile their points cards to the fewest possible that sum up their score. Any cards discarded here are placed in the discard pile. This pile is sorted according to back color, flipped face down, and placed on the bottom of their appropriate deck. The last thing in this phase is to count the buildings in Irondale. If the building number end game condition is met, each player gets another turn. Then the one with the most points wins.


I like Irondale a lot. It has some really neat mechanics that I have not seen anywhere else. The first is the scoring system. Scoring based on what building you build next to is adds a unique aspect to the game. It adds a depth and injects a ton of strategy into what could have been a run of the mill (pun intended) game. It creates the quandaries and choice that is the meat of a good game. Then adding the abilities that are affected by or caused by those very same adjacent cards it genius.

Irondale has depth, is fairly easy to learn, and plays quickly. All in an inexpensive deck of cards. The second edition of Irondale was released recently.  It replaces the four starting cards with a start card that has an icon for each building type on one of its four sides.  It includes a scoring track card and counter for each player.  It also includes the previous expansions and some additional buildings not found in the first edition.  (I need to pick this up.)   John Clowdus has created a classic in my opinion. You should check it out here and here.  Get your copy now.  And check out my interview with John here.

The new Irondale

Conclusion:  4.5 out of 5 microscopes

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