It’s that time again! Time for us to settle into a run down of one of the best designers out there. We have scoured the land of board games, from the gigantic to the small, and we have come up with a belter this month. Today, we are looking at games designed by Scott Almes, perhaps best known as the designer of the Tiny Epic series of games, the big games in a tiny box. But looking at Board Game Geek, Scott has a lot more listed on there than you might think. 188 listings, including promos, expansions, solo only games, and many, many more. There are more for you to explore, but here are our top five.
Out of all the Tiny Epic Games, Quest is probably my favourite, it's either that or Tiny Epic Galaxies. Tiny Epic Quest, like it says on the box, is an epic quest for one to four players and will have you completing quests, learning new spells and delving into temples for their various riches. Plus, the best thing of all, you get to arm your meeples with little plastic bows and wands. How can you not like that?
Tiny Epic Quest is split into two distinct phases, the day phase and the night phase. In the day players will be using various movement cards to place their three meeples on parts of a randomly generated map. These cards will allow you to learn spells, use powers, fight goblins or delve into various temples. Where you place your meeples in this phase is not only vital to your success but also vital to what happens in the night phase.
The night phase is basically a massive push-your-luck session where each player takes turns to roll a set of dice then execute the results. You will be hitting goblins, moving up the temple tracks and increasing the chances of learning new spells. However, you will also be taking damage and this gets more and more likely the longer you stay in and roll. The issue is that if you die, you lose progress on everything and if you back out early, you lose some progress too, just not as much. Decisions, decisions, it's all rather juicy.
Throw into the mix artifacts, weapons that give you bonuses and other tasty little wrinkles and you have a rather entertaining adventure with some fun mechanics all in a tiny box. So grab some friends, bop some goblins on the head and become a wizard!
Tiny Epic Galaxies is the game that really brought Scott into the board gaming zeitgeist back in 2015. Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Defenders came before it, but once we left this mortal land, and began to explore the galaxy, everyone’s head was turned. In TEG, players take on the role of galactic empires, looking to expand their Starfleet, colonise planets and expand the influence across the vast emptiness of space. Everyone starts with their own galaxy mat and secret mission, and will take actions based on the dice rolled to attempt to gather new planets under their control. There are six faces on these dice: Move a ship; Gain Energy or Culture; Advance Colonisation with Diplomacy or Economy; and Utilise a Colony, which lets you use the special action of any of your colonised planets.
One thing that can really impact your turns is the inclusion of the “Follow” mechanism. When a player chooses a die to take an action, the other players have the option to Follow, by spending 1 Culture. This lets them copy the action taken by the active player, potentially letting them colonise planets on opponent’s turns or building up their own resources ahead of their turn.
I love TEG! I think it’s a really neat system of dice action selection, with a tiny box and really good theme. There’s always a race to build up your empire’s level to get more dice and ships to let you sprawl out as far as you can. But because there is a good sized deck of planets you can colonise and the dice will never roll the same way for you from game to game, there’s a wonderful variety of replayability and a lot to explore in this. There’s an expansion too, BLAST OFF! and an Ultra Tiny Epic Galaxies version if you want to take it around in your pocket.
Scott Almes is responsible for creating a catalogue of tiny epic masterpieces, but the pick of the bunch for me is his 2020 release, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs.
Before I even go into the mechanisms of the game, I want to talk about how cute the artwork of the game is. Also, the small dinosaur meeples (dineeples?) are adorable too.
Each player is playing as a ranch owner in the now lucrative business of dino-ranching. At its core, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is a worker placement game, where you send workers out to retrieve supplies, food and even dinosaurs. Over the course of the game, you’re looking to compile scientific research and complete contracts on your ever-growing ranch. The complications of having a growing ranch are that there’s a lot more mouths to feed and a lot more enclosures needed. Failing to do so can lead to dire consequences.
Failing to feed dinosaurs might mean that they then turn on each other. Dinosaurs which aren’t properly enclosed can also escape. There’s a balancing act between getting enough dinosaurs, as well as enough resources to look after them.
The game is played over six rounds, and points are earned for dinosaurs in the ranch, fulfilled contracts and points earned from research cards, with the highest score being winner.
Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is a reminder to the world that a worker placement game doesn’t have to be a table hog to be enjoyable. It’s one of my favourite games in the genre, and a game I’d happily bring to the table again and again!
While Scott Almes has made a name for himself with the Tiny Epic series, he has other great small box games like Harbour. In the coastal town of Gullsbottom, you’re fighting to be Harbour Master by acquiring the best buildings in the harbour. Harbour is like a more accessible version of Uwe Rosenberg’s La Havre. My favourite part of the game is the variable market. You ship goods to earn money for buildings, but once you ship, the market shifts and the goods are worth something different. While this could be annoying for some, it’s a really good game for being strategic and adaptable.
There are lots of buildings that let you trade a good for another so you can quickly switch your now next to worthless fish for some livestock or stone or wood (it’s a strange market).
Scott Almes is really good at packing a lot of game into a small box, and Harbour is no different. One of the outstanding parts of the game is the visuals, it’s just so charming! From the art on the buildings to the character cards, it creates such a lovely experience. It’s good for those who are getting more into board games and introduces some common game mechanics to them in a really accessible way. There’s lots of satisfying parts of the game like swapping your resources and collecting little icons to gain bonuses.
The game is worth playing for the art alone, and appreciating all the buildings and characters. And it’s a great game to boot. All the characters have unique abilities that fit with their description, such as the Efficiency Expert, who can use both abilities of its starting building (when you can normally only use one). It all adds to the replayability. It’s not the most complex of games but often that’s a really good thing. It’s also a speedy game, perfect when you want a lighter 30-45 minute game during game night.
Scott Almes? Multi-use cards? 2 Player only? Yes! Yes! Yes! I love Scott’s designs generally, but this one fills me up and makes me one very satisfied gamer indeed.
In Beer & Bread, we play neighbouring villages that loves to brew beer and bake bread. With competition brewing, we are are willing to share the raw materials on offer, but bucolic pride soon bubbles over as we compete for points!
Taking place over 6 years (rounds), it’s a tasty mix of close drafting (pick and pass) style card play and good old hand management. Multi-use cards act as recipes or upgrades to your ongoing in-game actions, and you need to balance brewing and baking as only your lowest scoring treat will count at end game!
Fruitful years (odd numbered rounds) pay out resources a plenty. And that’s good because you need ingredients to make up the recipes for your delicious delectables. And if any wheat (or other resource) goes wasted (because you don’t have the room to store it), your opponent gets to take what you can’t use! During the dry times (even numbered rounds), however, you need to survive on what you’ve got (or gain from your opponent).
Essentially, everything you do in each year has an effect now and later on in the game, which is excellent. It makes you think about strategy from the first brew to the very last bake. The gameplay isn’t mean either, but you always need one eye on your opponent depending upon whether you are rolling in rye or begging for barley!
Scott has packed a baker’s dozen of brilliance into a small, neat package. The small box and easy rules belie a cardboard onion that has strategy and balance behind each layer, just waiting to make our eyes water with tears of joy!