People say that the journey is more important than the destination. This is definitely the case with board games. I have played many games and lost more than I have won, yet the experience has nearly always been an enjoyable one. It is important to remember this when playing Tiny Epic Dungeons as this game is hard. I have lost nearly every game and I have loved every minute!
Tiny Epic Dungeons is a compact cooperative dungeon crawler. It is the latest in the small box series from Gamelyn Games. Tiny Epic games promise to be easy to learn, high in strategy and have high replayability. TED is all those things and more. It is quite remarkable how they have crammed such a big game into such a small box.
How To Play
Each player begins by selecting a character. There is a good variety of heroes to choose from. Each character has different attributes and different special abilities. Each player takes a health and focus marker. These are placed at the top of the corresponding tracks on the player mats. They then place their miniature on the starting tile in the centre of the table.
A dungeon tile deck, spell deck, loot deck, minion deck and goblin deck is placed at the side of the playing area. A boss card is chosen at random and placed faced down next to the playing area ready for act II of the game. The torch token is placed at the start of the torch mat track and acts as the timer for the game. You are then ready to play.
Players take turns to move, perform one heroic action and any number of free actions they wish. Players move to turn over new dungeon tiles that reveal goblins, traps, skill tests or minions. To defeat an enemy or perform an action, players role dice to pass a skill test. Successes can generate loot or spells whilst failure often results in loss of health.
After each player's turn, the torch moves down the track. This generates goblins or activates enemies. If the torch reaches the bottom, then darkness consumes you and it is game over. It is a race against time to explore the dungeon, defeat enough minions and find the boss' lair. If you are successful, then Act II begins.
In Act II
The boss card is turned over to real the boss and its lair. The torch card is also flipped to reveal a new track and start the timer again. The bosses are tough and require players to deal a lot of damage to defeat them. Not only that but they also need to be lured out to the minion spawning tiles so that more damage can be dealt. During this epic battle, the torch continues to move down the track after each player's turn. This generates more goblins or activates all enemies. The boss is not the only thing to worry about.
If you manage to defeat the boss, then you win. This is not as easy as it sounds. This game is tough and that is due to the different ways you can lose. If five goblins are generated, you lose; if the dungeon can no longer be explored before the minions and boss' lair is revealed you lose; and if the torch reaches the bottom of the track, you lose. I have played this game half a dozen times and won only once. I have never had so much fun losing as I have with TED. But that victory was oh so sweet!
An Epic Experience
The thing with TED is that the experience is a roller-coaster. One minute it seems that you are on the path to victory and the next you are overrun with goblins. It might feel like all hope is lost until you cast a spell that wipes out the minion in one hit. You could be down to your last health but if your friend can just get close enough to you, they could cast a healing spell. It is these stand out moments that make the game exciting and memorable. By the end of it, win or lose, you will feel like you have been on an adventure and the last 90 minutes were so well spent.
Keep Your Friends Close…
This game also makes you think. It creates puzzles for you to solve and forces you to develop strategies. You have to work together to increase your chance of success. For example, we learned early on that you mustn't venture too far apart from each other. It is easy for one person to become isolated and then overrun with goblins. By only being a few tiles away, you can share damage and support each other in defeating the creatures.
And Your Enemies Closer
You also have to keep the goblins in check. They will spawn in the dungeon often. Before you know it you can have four goblins on the board and you'll be one goblin away from defeat. You need to make sure that you are in a position to keep their numbers down.
There is the potential for you to make your character stronger. Each time you are successful in a skill check, you can gain loot or spells. You can only carry a limited number of items so you have to think carefully about what you keep and what you discard. By collecting weapons, armour and trinkets all from the same set, you get added bonuses.
However, you need to play to your character's strengths. For example, if they are more effective in close combat, then melee weapons might be the better choice. If you work together and carefully consider what items you carry, you have the potential to deal a lot of damage. This gives you the best chance of beating the boss.
But you have to watch that torch track. Because it moves down after each person's turn, you can very quickly run out of time. This means you need to make the most of your turn. If you lose all your health, you're knocked out and the only thing you can do on your next turn is rest.
Great Things Come In Small Packages
TED does a great job in combining strategy, excitement, action and tension. It is amazing that it all comes from such a small box. Don't get me wrong, this is no Gloomhaven but for a game at this price point, it has a lot to offer.
The components feel like they come from a more expensive game too. Each playable character has its own miniature that, although small, is well detailed. The screen printed meeples for the goblins and meeples are beautiful too. They make the blue/grey miniatures feel a little drab. Still, nothing that a quick paint job couldn't fix. The artwork on all the cards is impressive and feel good quality. All in all, this game looks great on the table.
The Not So Great
There are some possible downsides that you need to consider before buying this game. Firstly, it is hard. You need to be prepared to lose and lose a lot. This really shouldn't put you off because the experience of playing is so good. However, some people may find this frustrating.
Secondly, there is a lot of iconography. To begin with, the amount of symbols that are presented to you can seem overwhelming. You will be looking at the reference chart a lot to begin with. This also means that the game can take a little longer to teach than it first appears. However, by the time you are halfway through the game, you will have gotten to grips with how the symbols work. In fact, the array of symbols actually makes the game more streamlined.
Thirdly, it takes up a lot of space. This game is a table hogger, especially considering the size of the box. You need room for a 7x7 grid plus space for player mats, torch track, boss card,
goblin cards and five card decks. Although this helps to make the game feel truly epic, you may find it a tight squeeze on your table top.
This is one of the best value games I've seen in a while. It has already created memorable gaming moments with the family. Because of this and the fact that it is so easy to get to the table means that it keeps drawing us back in. This may not be the deepest game or the most accomplished dungeon crawler but it is so entertaining. Whether winning or losing (mostly losing), this game is exciting, fun and engaging. It truly is tiny and epic.