Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday, 19 May 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Tiny Epic Tactics

Game: Tiny Epic Tactics

Publisher: Gamelyn Games

Designer: Scott Almes

Year: 2020

Tiny Epic Tactics follows in a long line of Tiny Epic games from Gamelyn Games and designer Scott Almes. These games really do try and keep to their name-sake - by focusing on a small box size and often smaller components, they do try to cram a full size game into the box size of a small card game. Not only that but many of their games often feature something unique in terms of their production. Tiny Epic Quest had the 'ITEMeeples', where you could accessorise your meeple with swords shields and other battle gear. Tiny Epic Tactics uses the box itself in a big way. The base of the box, as well as many smaller boxes inside of that come together to create the 3D terrain of the game, and also flip to create the dungeons that are used in solo and 2-player cooperative mode.

Games that boast cooperative and competitive play, and many different game modes always make me nervous - have all of those modes truly been considered well or is one of them the 'best' way to play. If so, which one? We've explored both cooperative and competitive modes with two players for this review.

Gameplay

Tiny Epic Tactics has two main modes, the first is a combat situation between 2-4 players with only one player/team surviving to tell the tale. The second is a 1-2 player cooperative game where the players will fight of waves of enemies while exploring dungeons. Regardless of which mode you play the main gameplay elements of moving and fighting remain the same.

Each player will gather a team of four characters, one of each of the four classes. On their turn they will have 3 activations which can typically be used to move, attack, or ranged attack. Every character also has their own special rules which slightly tweak what happens when they attack/defend/cast spells. Each character can be activated once per turn without penalty and a further time at the cost of exhausting them, which limits their ability to act next turn.


Moving lets you move orthogonally a number of squares equal to your character's move stat, some terrain, such as rivers and cliffs, will slow you down as you move. Attacking in melee lets you do a set amount of damage to an enemy standing next to you at the same height. You will deal your character's damage (adjusted for terrain such as forests) and then may choose to roll a number of dice to try and push them back, if you roll the correct faces on the dice they will be pushed away from you, potentially dealing extra damage if they hit objects. If your target is able to they may then counterattack with a relevant attack if they are in range. Ranged attacks are fundamentally similar in performance, except they have a fixed range, which can be adjusted by being on higher ground, or made unlimited by being on a mountain. Instead of rolling to see if you knock back the enemy you roll the dice to see how much ammo you used. Magic works very similarly, except instead of losing ammo your can use your choice of magic power. For each point of magic power you use your get to roll one more die, which may land of a face to power up your spell.

The battle will continue with these actions until either one player is left standing, or enough flags (depending on player count) have been claimed. Flags can be claimed by successfully guarding one of the flag areas for enough rounds to take it, which your opponents are sure to make no easy feat. Even if you are far away from the enemy, the map is littered with portals that let you move instantly from one side of the map to the other. There is a good variety of terrain with effects such as defensive boosts/debuffs, health recovery, changes to range and even special ranged attacks for claiming which all lends to the tactical nature of combat. Should the game end based on flags claimed then each player will add up the points for defeated enemies and flags owned to determine victory.

 
Amy’s Final Thoughts

Tiny Epic Tactics certainly impresses out of the gate. Using the box within a box method seen in games like Ice Cool you end up creating a map which is not only larger than the box, but also has an impressive 3D element. The representation of hills does wonders to making elements of the tactical combat clear, there's no question of whether one character is on a higher elevation than another, it's plain for all to see. The included meeples, health tokens, mana tokens and ammo tokens are all of high quality, which all combines to a complete charm offensive upon opening the box.

There is no question that combat is tactical, moving your characters through terrain to take advantage of their unique benefits can dramatically shift the balance of combat in your favour. Knowing when it's worth exhausting your characters to get a second action with them can be critical for taking out vulnerable enemies before they ahead  chance to retreat and heal. I've long been a fan of tactical combat video games, so this should be right up my alley. But something feels off, and I fear it's the thing that often ends up being off for these style of games and that's the clunkiness involved. Even the simple things such as rolling for pushback become a slog as the dice only show the face that does anything a third of the time. This can especially feel bad when attempting to power up your spells, a heavy investment can result in no gain. This in turn takes the combat away from feeling tactical, and instead more dice-based.

Not that I'm trying to argue that dice-based combat can't be tactical. I grew up on a diet of Warhammer and 40K! But there is a distinct difference in my mind between a platoon of soldiers rolling 20 dice a round over a 4-6 round game, giving you a good  ~50 dice rolls (account for casualties) across the game. You can expect a solid swing towards the average, and thus tactical play exists. When your mage has 2-4 notable rolls across a game good/bad luck become the main factor in success. It feels bad when my archer runs out of ammo on the second shot, while my opponent never dreamed of going to town to buy more arrows. It feels bad when my soldier fails to knockback their opponent and in return gets retaliated and knocked down down a cliff.


This is, of course, personal taste. There's certainly the argument in favour of the hero who performs well enough in one clutch roll to win the match. Just be aware that despite having fixed range, cover and damage the game still maintains a good degree of luck. You also may find that not all heroes are created equal, especially with mages who all come with a unique spell, some are simply better for certain situations than others, and some of those situations are rare. Overall the free for all and team modes are competent, but not outstanding, the advantage then must come from the relative portability of the game, which is always a factor with the Tiny Epic games.

The two-player coop mode pits you against AI controlled enemies who seem (though admittedly the rules were a little hard to digest) to be nigh unstoppable killing machines. Not only could they put out a ton of damage, but even putting them in the ground didn't stop them from being replaced with a brand new, full health, foe to fight! If this is sounding unfair, then good! Because not only are they powerful, but they are stupid. You can, somewhat, predict which of their characters are going to activate which allows you to always have the upper hand tactically. This is where the tactics really shone through. Outgunned, but not outsmarted, you had to manipulate your foes to put them in positions of weakness, taking out those who became vulnerable to buy time to explore the map. If the game was half as long as it actually was, I think I would have had a whale of a time. The easiest way to make a co-op take half the time is half the player count! Overall Tiny Epic Tactics makes for a great solo game, a halfway decent multiplayer combat game, and a very promising co-op game that outstays it's welcome.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

The theming, artwork and production of this game really drew me into a game which, when you look under the hood, would not be something I should enjoy. Competitive experiences where you have to think carefully about your placement in terrain and you range and melee abilities are something I'm very bad at and as a result do not enjoy. The addition of the doorways to the terrain in Tiny Epic Tactics, as well as exhaustion were a step too far in making it more than my brain could handle to do anything that be a slow moving target for arrows and punches.

In spite of not enjoying the competitive game, the cooperative game definitely sounded more exciting to us. The cooperative mode is for two players only and is a direct adaptation of the solo mode. What I enjoy about the cooperative mode is that it feels like you're playing twice the game. Not only are you attacking the enemies above ground, you're also flipping over the boxes to explore the dungeons - collecting them gems that both give you a bonus and enable you to ultimately win the game. It lets you use all of the content in the game as well as adding even more layers because you need to find ways to lure the enemies away for the built up terrain, because you can't flip a box that has meeples standing on it.

The cooperative play is really quite fun as you strategise about which enemies to focus on killing and luring away. The only downside is that it takes a long, long time to explore all five dungeons. When the enemies continue to re-spawn, it really got to feel a bit tiresome and repetitive. We managed to win, but it wasn't that much fun doing so and at the end of the game I was just in the largest dungeon, protected from enemies, making turn after turn to slowly grid through the dungeon and get hold of the final gem - it was a really disappointing ending to a long game.

If you enjoy area control and tactical combat games, then Tiny Epic Tactics packs a great competitive game,with lots of variety into a small box. If you're looking for a solo or cooperative experience, then I think that Tiny Epic Tactics showed a lot of promise, but needed to be tightened into a punchier and more exciting package to make it a cooperative game worthy of our games collection.


You Might Like...
  • Tiny Epic Tactics crates a lot of table presence from a small box.
  • The cooperative experience really takes on an adventuring feel, which was a new type of cooperative game for us.
You Might Not Like...
  • The cooperative mode is really just a solo mode, and it outstays its welcome.
  • The competitive mode at two players can quickly go all downhill for one player as they become outnumbered.

The Verdict
5/10 As a competitive game, Tiny Epic Tactics just isn't in our wheelhouse. It's got elements of a tactical war game where positioning and range are everything and that's something neither of us particularly enjoy when playing together. As a cooperative game there's a lot more here for us, but we were done after 30 minutes and simply had to grind our way to an eventual victory. The cooperative mode is really a modified solo experience, but you'll be sitting down for a longer game that we'd recommend.




Tiny Epic Tactics was a review copy kindly provided to us by Gamelyn Games.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for your review. Its helped me put into words some of my frustrations about the game. I'm a huge fan of tactical games such as final fantasy tactics or heroscape and thats what drew me to this game hoping it could be a travel tactical game. But i also feel that this game is little too clunky to really enjoy it like i do those other games. Now after reading your review i may go in and tweak a few rules to streamline it a bit and hopeful make it go smoother (and shorten the long coop mode). Thanks for you input.

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    Replies
    1. Really glad that our review could help!

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