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Subject: Tiny Epic Defenders: Is it for you? rss

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Jeremy Olson
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I among the lucky few who won the Tiny Epic Defenders prototype in a great contest Gamelyn Games ran the other week. I must admit, I was excited to be receiving a prototype, having always seen folks talking about play testing and early access to games but never having been the lucky one to have that access.

A bit of background on me so you know where I am coming from for this review. I am a primarily a dry euro kind of guy. If a game has a bored or stern looking medival gentleman on the cover, preferably pointing at a map, I can't wait to dive in to the cubes and optimization puzzle.

I HAVE played several co-ops however, and consider myself very familiar with the genre. My current favorite is Robinson Crusoe, because despite my aforementioned affection for Euros, I can be swayed by a strong sense of theme to step outside of my optimization ways. Other Co-Ops I have played include Flashpoint: Fire Rescue, Pandemic, Forbidden Island, and Shadows Over Camelot.

Tiny Epic Defenders sets out on a similar mission as Tiny Epic Kingdoms. It takes a larger game, and fits similar gameplay into a small box and shorter playing time. However, Co-Ops are not always the longest type of game, like the 4x game that Tiny Epic Kingdoms tries to condense, so I would say from the outset that Tiny Epic Defenders strength is MORE the size of the box vs the length of play. It IS a short and quick game, as promised, but I can knock out a game of Forbidden Island or Flashpoint, and even Pandemic in 45 minutes to an hour, vs the 2-6 hours a 4x game could take.

The "Tiny" part is accurate. This is a minimalist game with some cards, some cubes, and a choice few meeples to represent your heroes. It is 100% a co-op that fits in your pocket, which none of the games I have mentioned could accomplish... Unless of course you strap Pandemic to your side like a holstered gun or something... but portability is this games strong suit.

So how is the gameplay then? It's great that you can bring it anywhere, but would you WANT to bring it everywhere?

That is where I am a bit conflicted. Tiny Epic Defenders captures Co-Op 101. You are essentially managing several "threat" tracks, all for the purpose of protecting a more important central "threat" track (The Capitol city's health/ruin track) which is the all important "If this peaks out, you die" track in the game.

Your heroes essentially go around the board lowering this threat, or taking damage to absorb threat posed by the various monster that are attacking the different regions. Much like Pandemic or Forbidden Island, it comes down to a sort of puzzle trying to use your special character powers and well thought out moves to "tread water" and not get overrun.

I mentioned before how theme can win me over and while it is a prototype copy and not final components I feel that this is the weak point so far for Tiny Epic Defenders. All co-ops are ultimately risk mitigation and "track" management to some degree. But in TED I JUST saw the tracks, and did not feel like I was defending a kingdom. This could certainly be improved in the final copy, with beautiful art and fantastic components giving the game an infusion of theme, but it fall flat for me in my plays.

Another aspect that I was not thrilled with was the turn order mechanism. You build a Horde deck that contains both monsters and player cards. Players only take their turn when their card comes up in the horde deck, otherwise the players are just watching those tracks increase. There is some interaction here, because players can defend a region they are in, which means taking a damage to prevent the threat from increasing, but there is a feeling here of the game playing you, vs you playing it. If all the hero cards are towards the bottom of the horde deck, you will be mostly without health and looking at an almost destroyed kingdom, pretty quickly.

I often enjoy the stress of risk management in other Co-ops however, so why does it fail here? In Pandemic there is a bit of schadenfreude when an epidemic breaks out and cubes "explode" because of poor draws. In Flashpoint an explosion or rolling a hotspot brings about a certain sense of dread, but also brings the group together to save the day.

Yet here, it really does feel like the game is literally beating you up. There is not a sense of "gosh we could have done that better" or "darn we shouldn't have left that one city/firespot/underwater tile go for another turn without addressing it" because a bad shuffle and one region getting pummeled to destruction is ENTIRELY out of your hands. It is pure luck for example that three Ruins cards come out in a row, and the ruins, which were ONLY at one damage at the start of the turn, are far away from any of the players, and cannot be defended.

For a risk mitigation mechanic to work, you have to be able to at least FEEL like you can mitigate the risk. I know there are comments of balancing the game a bit differently, and that may help in the final game, but at the moment this tight rope walk feels a bit too dependent on the gusts of wind vs skillful balance.

All that being said, the game IS successful in what it sets out to do. With a couple of tweaks both in theme and difficulty, this will be THE pocket co-op to throw in a bag or just bring to the neighborhood BBQ. It travels anywhere, is quick and easy to explain, and captures a lot of the essentials of the co-op genre.

However, what if I am packing a bag of games, or I know am going somewhere specifically to play games and preparing for the occasion? I must admit I would bring out one of the bigger boxes, and take the extra 20-30 minutes.
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Scott Almes
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Hello Jeremy!

Thanks for taking the time to review, and giving an honest opinion.

I wanted to bring to your attention (and others who read this) about a new mechanic we're bringing in that I think will help bring in the theme. It's a combination of two new mechanics: Dire Enemies and Artifacts. Dire enemies only affect one region, but they bring special game effects when they come into play. And, if you defend against a Dire Enemy, you gain an Artifact - which will give you a one-time use powerful effect. These Artifacts will help you defend the kingdoms against the incoming horde.

We're putting these in the base game, as well as the free PnP that we'll be launching shortly before the campaign. I hope that it will help you find the game a bit more thematic. They were originally thought up as a stretch goal, but the mechanics are too cool and too thematically important not to include from the very start. I'm just sorry we didn't make the call before the POD copies went out, but you'll be able to explore them very soon. It was people like you giving us your thoughts that helps us format this final version, and I think you're going to like it!

Cheers and happy gaming,
Scott

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@Scott
Are you doing anything to address the "problem" that Jeremy (and others) have mentioned about hero and monster cards being shuffled together in the same deck, making the turn order mechanism maybe too random and punishing? Or do you just consider that to be just the luck factor that is essential to gameplay? Thanks!
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Rainer Ahlfors
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kumasawa wrote:
@Scott
Are you doing anything to address the "problem" that Jeremy (and others) have mentioned about hero and monster cards being shuffled together in the same deck, making the turn order mechanism maybe too random and punishing? Or do you just consider that to be just the luck factor that is essential to gameplay? Thanks!


While I certainly do not have any insider information as to the final structure the Turn Deck will take, I can assure you that Scott and Michael are listening to concerns, evaluating them, and considering alternatives while staying true to the design and intent of the game itself.

I, myself, have had specific discussions with Michael regarding this, offered my personal thoughts and ideas, as I know others have as well.

While I have my own concerns regarding this particular aspect, they are not ones related to luck or misfortune. During all my plays, I have found the shuffle of the Turn Deck itself only marginally having an impact on the overall outcome.

Is it as flexible as it could be? I don't think it is.

Is it as detrimental and devastating as some make it out to be? I don't think it is.

It's a balancing factor, yes. It's a factor that affects game play, strategy, and available actions ... but it is not something that makes or breaks the game.

Can it be made better? Definitely. And I am confident Scott and Michael, with the constructive and thoughtful ideas brought forth by others, will ensure that the final published game is of overwhelming general satisfaction.
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Scott Almes
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kumasawa wrote:
@Scott
Are you doing anything to address the "problem" that Jeremy (and others) have mentioned about hero and monster cards being shuffled together in the same deck, making the turn order mechanism maybe too random and punishing? Or do you just consider that to be just the luck factor that is essential to gameplay? Thanks!


The hero and monsters will still be shuffled into the same deck, but we have taken a step to reduce the issue of too much randomness. The turn deck (which includes the players and the monsters) is a key part of TED, as you have to deal with the risk of not knowing when or who will take the next action. This is a big change from the standard "Good guys go, then Bad guys go" flow that's in traditional cooperative games. It's a bit more chaotic, yes, but I find it a unique challenge for the genre. And, I'll be honest, a big part of advancing to the next level of TED is having a good feeling of what's in the deck and what is coming up.

But, obviously a little chaos is fun, but too much can be bad. So, what did we do to reduce the negative affect of this issue? It's a bit ranty, so please bear with me. Originally, we had 12 standard enemy cards. Each region was affected by 4 enemies. Since these cards were randomly seeded in the deck, you could get decks where a region was affected with 3-4 monsters.

Granted, this is generally known - you need to pay close attention to what monsters are upcoming, so you know what regions you need to protect more than others. But, this would be an issue at the beginning of the game, when you don't know what's in the deck yet. So, we reduced the enemy cards to 6. Now, only 2 cards affected each region. When you see the deck at the beginning of the game, the blow is softened. The most a region can be damaged is 2.

But, we had to add some variability back into the game, and that's when the Dire enemies get in. Dire enemies can be added in after the first round (they are not in the horde deck to start) and they will affect just one region. When they start to come into play, it is once possible again to see a region get damaged 3 points in a single round. But, this is known by the players. You'll know that a region is already getting damaged twice, and is at risk for a 3rd damage when another card gets added to the deck.

So, with this change, you can't get a region getting hit 3 times right off the bat. Thanks to the playtesters, we've identified and neutralized the problem. And, with the Dire enemies, we actually have more variability than before. They come with special abilities that can affect the game, which players must also plan for.

Sorry for the long winded reply, but hopefully that helped out. Jeremy's thoughts, as well as others, helped us address some issues before we go into the KS. Seriously invaluable stuff.

Cheers,
Scott
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@Scott
Thank you for taking the time to write up such a detailed answer. I like the sound of the changes that you have made to the game since the prototypes were sent out, and I look forward to seeing this game on kickstarter!

@Rainer
Thank you for your thoughts too!
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