Unless you've been in Board Game Siberia the past few years, you've heard of the Tiny Epic series of games that Gamelyn Games publishes, from designer Scott Almes.
What you may not have heard is that the next installment of the franchise is on Kickstarter right now! Tiny Epic Western is looking to wrangle up enough support to make its way into your FLGS. So is it worth a look-see or should you pull up on the reigns? Let's take a gander!
Disclaimer: Everything here is a prototype, including the rules. There may be changes to the game once the final version makes its way to you. So keep that in mind!
The game consists (at this point) of:
6 Player Character Boards--These provide each player with a special ability.
4 Player Location Boards--These make up the wagon wheel playing area
1 Sheriff's Office Board
1 Town Hall Board--This is where the industries advance
A deck of Building Cards--You buy these to earn VP's and industry icons.
A deck of Poker Cards--These are used to resolve locations and gain bonuses.
A mess of tokens and meeples--You'll have tokens/cubes to track your resources (Law, Force and Gold), three meeples for each player, Industry tokens, Dueling dice, and a First Player token.
When you set up you'll place the Sheriff's Office and Town Hall opposite of each other, and then use the four player locations to create a wagon wheel. If there are fewer than four players you'll use the grayed out looking side of the location boards.
Then you'll deal a poker card in between each location, and a building card to each location except for Town Hall which gets a face down poker card for "The Rival". Each player starts with two meeples standing up, and one laying down -you have to win certain locations for the option of using the 3rd meeple. They also start with one of every resource, and are dealt two poker cards and choose one to keep.
Gameplay goes in rounds, which consist of a handful of phases:
Placing Meeples or "Posse Members." Going in turn order, players will place one posse member at a time and take the action of the space they placed it on. This can be anything from gaining a resource to altering the card you hold in your hand. Some spaces don't give you anything until you win that location. If a player wants to place a meeple on an already occupied space. there's a duel! Each player rolls a die, the losing player can modify their roll by spending resources or revealing their poker card to add the total to their roll. The winner gets the bonus, and the loser doesn't. You'll go around until everyone has placed all of their meeples.
This is a pretty straight forward mechanic. But when you look ahead at trying to win locations with your poker hand it adds another level of decision-making. Getting into a duel can cause you to tip your hand, which doesn't leave you in good shape to bluff your way into keeping folks out of the same location.
Resolving Locations. All players will reveal their poker cards, and then resolve the locations on which they have placed posse members using the cards on either side of the location to make up their poker hand. If there are no other players on the same location, then you flip over the Rival's card and play against the Rival. Each location has a "win" bonus that gives you extra resources or a bonus for winning that location.
Resolve Town Hall and Buy Buildings. After all of the locations are resolved, all players play against each other for the Town Hall. Winning at the Town Hall location allows you to do two things. You can either advance the industry of your choice (we'll talk about that in a few), or be the first to buy a building. Other players buy in the order of their poker hand's strength. When you buy a building you can only buy from locations you have a posse member on. And you can only buy one building per round. Buildings do three things. They give you VPs, they give you industry icons (I promise we're going to talk about those soon!), and they go into play on the "use building" space of your location card. Whenever someone uses a building, they must pay one gold, and they gain the ability, even if it's on a different player's location board.
After that the round is over, you'll deal out new buildings to replenish anything that was purchased. You'll gather all of the poker cards and deal news ones out to both the locations and the players.
Let's talk about the industries. Each building has any number of industry icons (Rails, Mines, or Wagon Wheels). As you buy buildings, you're also gaining shares/control over that industry. When you win the Town Hall location you get to move one of the three industries up on the progress tracker. Once a token moves to the third spot on the track, it's placed in the first finishing position. Once the second token is moved to the third spot it's automatically placed in the number two spot, and the last one is immediately moved to the third spot. This triggers the end of the game.
This becomes important especially with 3-4 player games. Anything you can do to squeeze a few extra points out at the end will help you push for a victory. We also found that it heats up the race for certain buildings in order to block players from running away with an industry they're obviously pushing for.
the End Game
The players add up their VPs on their buildings and then count up how many of each Industry icon they have. Players who control the most and second most of each industry are awarded extra VPs, and the player with the most VPs WINS!
My description of gameplay is as streamlined as I could make it. The rule book (again a prototype) at times felt somewhat ambiguous and dense.... But once you get through setting up the game and one round end, the learning curve is pretty much over and the game really clicks along.
Like all Tiny Epic games before it, there are familiar things, such as character boards, modular location boards, and little cubes to track resources. But the gameplay is once again unique and fresh. Tiny Epic Western has a really great twist with the poker hand location resolution.
Theme is King. If you've read the blog or listened to the podcast at all, you know that I love games that make thematic sense. Tiny Epic Western makes a lot of sense! You're essentially playing a poker hand every round which is seamlessly entwined with a worker-placement Euro game, yet it somehow makes perfect sense! Bravo!
the Final Verdict
Tiny Epic Western further expands the Tiny Epic franchise in yet another fresh, bold, unique, and fun direction. A new theme, new mechanics, and great twists on gaming staples make for another solid addition to one of gaming's fastest-growing franchises!
Check out the Kickstarter right here.
Thanks for reading!
You can watch our Periscope broadcast of a game run-through right here!