Tiny Epic Defenders & Tiny Epic Galaxies Review

Byron & Craig

What does this rating mean?

Posted by Byron & Craig on Jan 21, 2016


BC: They didn't invent the concept, but Gamelyn Games struck Kickstarter gold in 2014 when they introduced their line of Tiny Epic games, games with a small box, footprint and playing time but the feeling of a full, robust game. After the success of Tiny Epic Kingdoms, their flagship title, a mini 4X title in a fantasy setting, they introduced Tiny Epic Defenders, a cooperative base defense game set in the same world, and Tiny Epic Galaxies, a sci-fi dice/civ game. This year, they are revisiting the concept again with Tiny Epic Western, a poker-inspired worker placement title. Beyond fulfilling their promise of shrinking epic games down to tiny size, these titles have introduced a host of clever new mechanics and often come packed with variety.

Let’s talk about their most recent release first. Tiny Epic Galaxies is a dice game that pays homage to the sci-fi classic Race for the Galaxy in its “follow” mechanic, which also keeps players engaged throughout the game...provided you manage to roll those culture points to begin with. I found this game creative and satisfying, to the point it hardly feels like a “microgame” to me. However, I did have a few nitpicks about the luck factor and the game-end trigger. What are your thoughts on this one?

CC: I’m also amazed at the epic feel generated by these tiny games, and TEG certainly delivers in that regard. I agree the follow mechanic keeps players engaged on opponents’ turns if they have spare culture points and the converter dice can help mitigate poor rolls, while the mystery involved in end-game scoring makes the conclusion a bit more suspenseful than Tiny Epic Kingdom’s does. My one knock on the game is its other similarity to Race for the Galaxy: both feel a bit more like I’m building a combo engine, or in TEG’s case, an options engine, than a space empire.

Landing on foreign soil to exploit its inherent benefit? Sure, that’s in my DNA. But why do I need to fly away and come back, or bring in a second ship, to colonize the place? Once colonized, the planet disappears under my player board, leaving only its special ability showing, which builds my empire in a sense but makes the board feel a bit less spacey at the same time. And upgrading an empire using only energy or culture makes it harder to utilize the follow mechanic you mentioned because players never know what resources they’ll have at their disposal the following turn. What’s your take?

BC: You’re right that there are some not-so-thematic elements to the game, but that doesn’t bother me too much. My nitpicks had to do with the fickleness of the dice rolls. Yes, this is a dice game, and they offer several ways to mitigate your luck, such as spending energy resources for rerolls or, in an emergency, spending 2 dice to change a third to any side. My problem is that none of those options are really viable until you get your empire off the ground. Until you get a few extra ship and dice, you’ll generate energy at a pitiful pace, leaving you more at the mercy of the dice, and since this is a quick game you can get pretty badly hosed if it takes you a few more rounds to get going than the other players. I like the Roll Through the Ages’ concept of rolling some dice and figuring out how to spend them, but this game will sometimes throw you totally unusable turns, like 5 Colony icons when you have no energy, culture or colonies.

I’m glad you brought up the hidden goal cards, because I actually wasn’t a big fan of those. Some goals simply felt more achievable than others. In one game, I had to get a bunch of Diplomacy planets, and the few that came out had subpar abilities compared to the other planets in play. Meanwhile, my opponent had something like “Get all your ships into play,” which you are naturally going to do anyway. My related beef is with the low point threshold to end the game. It just feels over too soon. All that aside, though, I was very impressed with the game. The solitaire variant is really well done, as well, with many levels of difficulty and different AI “behavior.”

CC: Good points- having an equal number of actions on the dice, when some are more important to your empire-building than others, does hamper the game. I also thought the AI was very well done, and having a good solo mode made it easier to learn.

Let’s move on to Tiny Epic Defenders! Taking place in the Tiny Epic Kingdoms world, TED cast the players as heroes defending the kingdom from invading monsters, with its main innovative mechanic being a card draw to determine turn order and an ever-increasing amount of baddies to contend with. I say that rather than “baddies to fight”, because what players do doesn’t feel a whole lot like actual fighting, but it works fairly well in the context of the game and TED delivers a tense experience building to a frantic climax, provided the cards fall a certain way. How did this game feel to you?

BC: “Provided the cards fall a certain way” is right. Like TEG, I found Defenders to be full of creative mechanics and a lot more variety than you would expect from such a small box. My favorite part of the game is the way the enemy deck works. In Wave 1, you don't know what’s coming at all, so you are mostly reacting, but as cards get added to the deck one at a time, you get to learn the deck and anticipate what’s coming. This helps you plan so that your defenders are waiting at the locations that are likely to get hit, especially the ones targeted by elite enemies, which give you epic gear when blocked. This gear is subsequently needed to survive the last few rounds. It’s a great overall structure, and I have never seen anything quite like it before. I also like that each location has a different ability on each side, so you get more variety between games, although I found I never use certain abilities and use others every wave. The designers also did a great job balancing the game for different player counts with the wild-card player activation cards, which also become more powerful as you get toward the end and start losing locations.

The big flaw I found--and it’s not enough to make me stop playing the game--is that the element of learning and anticipating the deck becomes useless when you need it the most, in the final few rounds. At that point, there are enough enemy cards in the deck that every location has a roughly even chance of being hit, and you are much more likely to encounter streaks of enemy activations that can decimate a location at full health before you get a chance to react. The rest of the game feels like a nice balance of luck and skill, but the very end can be either really easy or really hard based on how the cards get clumped together, which makes this game land a peg below Galaxies in my opinion. Unlike Galaxies, it definitely had the feel of a minigame or microgame, albeit a clever one.

CC: I agree. Every game of TED ends with a shuffle, followed by the team saying, “We've got this if you and you get to go before the Big Baddie. Otherwise we've lost.” And then the final turn begins.

Speaking of final turns, let's end by going back to the beginning. Tiny Epic Kingdoms was the first entry in the series, putting both the tiny epic concept and Scott Almes on the gaming world's radar. What's your take on this one?

BC: I’m less familiar with this one--I’ve just played a friend’s copy--but if that experience is representative of the game as a whole, I can see why the Tiny Epic concept took off. It’s got a Puerto Rico feel to it, mixed with a concept almost like Terra Mystica with how the different races gain abilities as you upgrade their magic track. My friend mentioned, and I’d agree, that this is the most “epic” game in the series so far.

CC: I agree it's the most epic so far, and borrowing Puerto Rico’s role selection mechanic gives it the same level of strategic planning, where players strive to choose a role their opponents can't follow, with getting to collect resources being the consolation prize. Plus it's the only Tiny Epic game to date with direct player conflict.

Overall, the Tiny Epic series of games have shown the board game world epic things can come in small packages and it's possible to pack a lot of game into a short play time. I never thought I'd be able to play an almost-4X game during lunch at work, but I'm very glad to be proven wrong. Can't wait to see what their future brings!