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Tiny Epic Kingdoms

Reviewed by: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

(Gamelyn Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, 30 minutes; $26.99)

tinyepic1One of the things gamers are looking for is a great, perfect and engaging epic fantasy game. From the time of Battlemist (and the renewed edition of Rune Quest), several titles have tried and failed to hit the heart of epic fantasy lovers. Another dream of most games hoarders are small boxes. It sometimes seems like the quality of a game is directly in proportion to the dimensions of the box so many publishers are over-boxing their releases and disappointing a lot of gamers in the process. What Tiny Epic Kingdoms, from Scott Almes, tries to offer is a full 4X Epic Fantasy experience in a small box.

From 2 to 5 players compete in a race to become the greatest fantasy kingdom: expanding, researching and building a great tower. Every player can choose between many different fantasy races going from classical dwarf and elf down to undead, merfolk and centaurs. In my Kickstarter edition, you can choose between 13 different faction cards and 8 different double faced territory cards.

Everyone starts with a faction card, a territory, two units and 3 resources. The aim of the game is to score as many points as possible before the end. Points are scored in 4 different ways: researching, building the tower, expanding (actually bringing in play more units) and, sometimes, with special faction powers. The game ends when one of the players reaches the 5th level of research or the 6th level of the tower or puts into play his 5th unit. Everything usually happens in something close to 30 minutes: not bad at all! Now we can go into the details.

The game is played on several maps. Each player starts the game with a territory card made up of 5 different territories: forests, mountains, plains, ruins and capital cities. Each card has a different arrangement of territory so it could be you have two forests, one plains, one ruin and one mountain or two mountains, two plains and one forest. Every territory card has at least one of each forest, mountain and plain that are the basics for building and empire. You will start with two units in one of your territories but, during the game, you can also expand also into other players’ territories.

Every faction card has a picture and a research table showing the different powers/abilities gained in going from research level 1 to 5, which is actually different for the different races. Finally, around the faction card, there is a resource track for Ore, Mana and Food.
tinyepic2The game is played in turns; in each turn a player selects and marks one action from the action card and then takes that action. All the other players can take the same action or gather resources. Then, the turn pass to the next player. This proceeds until 5 of the 6 different actions are taken. Then the action card is emptied and the show goes on!

The different actions are the simple pillars for building your empire.

Build: you can rise up to the next level of your tower using Ore.

Research: you can raise your Magic level using Mana.

Expand: you can add a new unit on the map using Food.

Trade: you can exchange one or more unit of one resource for another one.

Patrol: you can move one unit from one region to an adjacent one.

Quest: you can move one unit from a territory card to another one.

The action taken during your turn is the cornerstone of the game as you try to be able to get the full benefits of an action when opponents are not able to do the same. Build the tower when no one has enough Ore or research when other players are lacking Mana is always a nice choice. Or it could be useful to gather resources instead of making a useless action because you can’t gather resources when is your turn to choose an action.

Simple rules but a lot of strategy and planning. Actually Tiny Epic Kingdoms, having no randomness at all, is much more a “brain burner” than you might expect. The road to victory sometimes runs along a narrow path of perfect timing and use of resources. What makes Tiny Epic Kingdoms really great is all the small expedients and trade-offs centered around this simple core mechanic. We can now go deeper into the details starting from how the resources are gathered.

Deciding to gather resources rather than doing the action selected by an opponent will give you one resource from areas occupied by one or more of your units: Ore for each mountain region, Food from plains and Mana from Forests. Ruins will let you choose the resource. Food is used to improve the size of your armies but is useless in wars. Ore is great for wars and is needed for building the tower that can give a lot of points but offers no benefits during the game. On the other hand, Mana is used for Research giving you new powers/abilities.

Which one is better? Who knows? It is difficult to win with just the two starting units so, of course, you need to get some food and expand but not researching will prevent you from accessing the specific benefits of your faction and being last in the tower building means you will need to make up for a lot of lost points. Of course you can’t totally ignore one of the three resources and it is always good to be able to gather at least one of each.

Tower building is simple. With the build action, you can use Ore to ascend to a new tower level. The cost increases from 1 to 6 and the points gained from level 1 to level 6 are 0,1,2,4,7, 10. Research is also simple. You can rise one level by paying as much Mana as the level gained (so 1 for getting level 1, 2 for getting level 2 and so on). You can’t jump up two levels of research or of tower in the same turn so you need to plan wisely. Hoarding just one resource for a final rush is not possible.

To Expand, you need as much Food as the units you are going to have so getting the third unit costs 3 Food. The new unit comes into play in a region where you already have a unit so it is useless for gathering resources until you take a Patrol or Quest action. Patrol and Quest actions are the way to get new territories and/or change the resources you are going to gather. You can also bring war to opponents by just moving a unit into a region occupied by an opponent’s units. Although you cannot attack a region occupied by two enemy units, it is not a good defensive strategy to keep two units in the same region as you lose the possibility to gather one more resource. War is resolved simply, simultaneously, and secretly by deciding how much “power” to use (using a 12-sided die to bid). You can have 2 War points by expending one Ore and 1 War point expending 1 Mana. The Winner is the highest bidder and he/she gets the region. Losing units are removed from the game.

The game is close to ending when one player gets the 5th level of research or the 5th unit into play or the 6th level of the tower. At that point, the round continues until the fifth action on the action card is selected. Then we total points. Players receive 1 point for each research level (so from 0 to 5); 1 point for each unit in play (actually from 1 to 5) and points from the tower (from 0 to 10). High score wins but winning or losing is usually a matter of just 1-2 points.

The different races of the game are well done and will offer you different strategies to play. Of course, playing to maximize your factions’ benefits is a big part of the deal. I really like Tiny Epic Kingdoms because it offers exactly what it promises: a full 4X fantasy experience in a small box in just 30 minutes.


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