"Hold me closer, tiny dancer!" ~Elton John
Okay, there's no dancing involved in today's review, as we take a look at the flagship game for the Tiny Epic series: Tiny Epic Kingdoms!
Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a pocket-sized 4X game that plays in about 30 minutes for 2-5 players... Does it measure up to its tiny and epic claims? Let's find out!
The setup looks like this. Each player takes 7 meeples of the same color, and chooses a faction (there's a ton of them, and they're all unique with special abilities!), the faction card also features a resource track that you place the three resourceeples you'll have on as well (Ore, Food and Mana). Then each player gets a random Territory card and selects which side to put face up and places two meeps on one region.
Jeremiah--One thing you’ll notice while setting up is that the components are, well...tiny. The meeples are smaller than the normal meeple, and the boards--factions, territories, tower, etc.--are printed on a cardstock instead of chunky game board that you would find in a normal non-tiny board game. It makes sense for the game and the packaging. It’s tiny, and it fits in a very small box. I’ve heard of some folks laminating the boards to preserve them, but if you’re playing on a decent surface they should be fine for some time. You’re not shuffling/handling them during game play. They stay in one place and have meeples placed upon them.
Firestone--There are a lot of Territory cards, but they're all very similar--just small differences between how the Regions are laid out. It's not like you'll be saying, "Remember that game where we had the Morandrea Territory? That was crazy!"
On a player's turn he or she chooses one of six actions and places a shield token on the action--there's a separate action board that shows which actions haven't been chosen yet. Then each other player in turn chooses whether to do that action or collect resources--you collect resources for each region on which you have a meeple. Here are the actions you can do:
Patrol - Move a meeple to an adjacent region on the same territory card.
Quest - Move a meeple to a different territory card--but you must be moving from and to an edge region.
Expand - Pay some food and add another meeple onto a territory where you have only one meeple. If someone places his or her last meeple, the game ends!
Build - Pay ore to build on the tower board--you have a castleeple that you move up the tower board. This gives you VPs at the end of the game. If a player hits the top of the tower, the game ends.
Research - Pay some Mana to move your researcheeple up your magic tree on your faction board. This gives you more abilities and VPs at the end of the game--and reaching the top of this also ends the game.
Trade - You can trade any amount of one resource for another resource.
Jeremiah--These actions, and the way they're chosen, are really the meat of the game, and drive a huge amount of player interaction! Because EVERY player can choose to do the selected action or collect resources there's NO down time for a player, ever. And because you have to wait for the action board to fill up before you can do an action again, the tension over when an action is selected is downright nerve-wracking at times.
Firestone--Yeah, one interesting rule is that the player picking the action can't just choose to take resources. There were quite a few turns where that's exactly what I wanted to do as the active player, so then I had to decide which action to choose, even if it was just to keep an opponent from getting to do it (choosing Build when they have no ore, for instance).
There's a battle element to the game, as well. If you move onto a territory with another player's meeple you will go to war. Each player is has a d12 and they secretly set it to a number that indicates how many resources they'll commit to the war. Whoever commits the most resources wins the war and the other player's meeple is removed. Food doesn't count for anything. Ore is worth 1 point toward the war and mana is worth 2. You can also choose to offer the white flag of peace, and if both players do this, they enter an alliance and share the resources of that territory.
Jeremiah--I’ve played this game a lot over the past few weeks, and we honestly haven’t battled very much--but I think that’s more my group's makeup than a function of the game. Battling can be really key, especially if your faction produces a lot of mana for you. You can deplete either the resources or the meeples--which in the end depletes resource and points--of another player by the well-timed battle or bluff. Forming an alliance is a great move to keep resources flowing.
Firestone--Yeah, it seems to be very faction-dependent. The Orcs and Goblins, for instance, are made for fightin'.
Players keep taking turns choosing an action/collecting resources until someone triggers an end-game condition. Then points are tallied and you declare a winner.
Jeremiah--There are a TON of factions in the game, and each one is different in some way that will ultimately drive your strategy. Because there are a ton of them it can bog down setup if you’re letting everyone take the time to pick their faction, or you can shuffle them up and deal ‘em out to get things moving.
Firestone--Yeah, the replayability this game provides, just from the different factions, is huge. I do think a few of them are hamstrung from not having as much internal power synergy as others *cough*Dark Elves*cough*, but they're all interesting and fun and thematic.
Jeremiah--If there’s one thing to be mindful of, it’s that this game plays quickly! Nearly every decision you make drives you toward an end-game condition. If you find yourself a few turns into a game developing a plan that will take about 4-5 turns to pull of, just plan on either a: that plan getting wrecked because you’ll never get to choose the right actions at the right time, or b: the game ending before you can finish your masterful plan. This isn’t a bad thing. The game moves quickly and never feels like it bogs down or overstays its welcome, but if you’re used to a 4X game that you can plan out long strategies, this isn’t that game!
Firestone--While TEK is a 4x game, don't be fooled into thinking it will scratch your Twilight Imperium III itch. The 4 X's are mostly there, but they're less thematic, shrunk down, and distilled down to their essence. That might sound like a dig, but it's actually kudos. They really did manage to cram those X's in here, and as long as you go in knowing it's essentially a meaty filler, it's satisfying. I'm not ready to foist Twilight Imperium III on my family yet, but this game is PERFECT for them. It's introducing those larger concepts, and giving them a taste of the genre, while being over in 30 short minutes. But it's also meaty enough to be a satisfying filler on a game night. There's no randomness here. Just a solid game in a tiny package.
Jeremiah Final Verdict--This game is a works for me for many reasons! It’s a great introduction into 4X gaming without a huge time investment or slow learning curve. For players who are already into 4X games they can scratch that itch in 30 minutes and not 3 hours! It’s also extremely balanced, whether you’re trying to win via area control, tech points, or tower points we’ve never had a blowout. The margin for victory is very narrow, and you’ll never feel like you’re out of contention in a game. Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a lean and mean 4X game; there’s no fat here--every decision will have a direct effect on your chances of winning. The gameplay that takes place in those 30 minutes is tense, deep, strategic, has no down time and has plenty of hefty decisions. Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a hit!
Firestone Final Verdict--I really like Tiny Epic Kingdoms. The game goes by in a blur of action, but when you're done, you've experienced a meaty filler with interesting decisions and a surprising amount of game for such a tiny package. Epic? Maybe not. Fun? Definitely. Having also played and enjoyed Tiny Epic Defenders, Gamelyn Games has proven they're a publisher to be reckoned with. Bring on more Tiny Epic-osity!!
Theology of Games would like to thank Gamelyn Games for providing review copies of Tiny Epic Kingdoms. This in no way affected our opinions on the game.