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Subject: Is it Tiny Enough? Is it Epic Enough? rss

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Nathaniel Hobbes
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Let's start out with full disclosure. Tiny Epic Kingdoms is probably my favorite game. I'd rather play it than just about anything else. When Tiny Epic Defenders was announced, I backed it in the first hour at the deluxe level. Then I created my PnP copy. I've now gotten in around a dozen plays, and I think I'm getting a good handle on the game.

Tiny Epic Defenders is a co-op game where you protect the capital city by defending the outer realms from the onslaught of the hordes under the control of the Epic Foe. To win, defeat the Epic Foe before the capital city falls. All standard so far.

The game is set up by putting six region cards in a rough circle around the capital city. The cards directly to the east and west of the capital city are the only way to enter it, and each region is considered connected to two adjacent regions, right and left. Next, blindly choose one of the Epic Foes, and remove the others from the game. Based on the difficulty you want, choose a number of Dire Foes blindly (one for easy, two for normal, three for hard) and remove the rest from the game. Of the nine horde cards in the box, only six are selected for any one game. Three are placed in the horde reserve (shuffled together with the dire foes), and three are added to the current turn deck. Each player selects a hero, then their action card (plus any group action cards in the 2-3 player game) are added to the turn deck.

Play begins by turning over cards in the turn deck. This is really what makes the game interesting. You know that you have 3 horde cards and 4 player action cards in the first round, but you don't know what cards will be drawn when, or even which horde cards are in the deck. Going through the turn deck completely is called a round. At the end of each round, a new horde card is shuffled into the turn deck, so the odds keep getting worse for you, and when the dire foes start coming up, they really mess things up. Each horde card increases the threat level on two different regions. When a region gets four threat, it has fallen, and all future attacks on that region go directly to the capital. A Dire Foe only threatens one region, but each has another nasty ability that messes with the regions or the heroes. Defending against a Dire Foe gives you an artifact, a powerful one-use magic item that can help even up the odds. When all the horde cards have been shuffled into the turn deck, the the Epic Foe attacks. Turn its card face up, place it on the appropriate region, and follow any special instructions on it. You are now in the end game. Kill the Epic Foe before your kingdom falls.

So what does a player do when her action card comes up? Each hero gets 3 actions. An action is moving one space, fighting (reducing threat in a region or damaging the Epic Foe), or using a special ability (some regions, hero powers, and artifacts take actions to use). A player may spend 1 health per turn to push and gain one extra action. Health does not only count for extra actions, though. The most important use of health is to defend regions. You cannot simply fight down all the threat, the horde is much too powerful for that. Instead, you have to be in the proper regions when the horde attacks. When this happens, you can defend by spending 1 health, or 2 health for a dire foe. The foe is blocked, and the threat level of the region does not increase. Most Dire Foe powers are also blocked when they are defended. When you reach 0 health, you do not die, but you cannot fight or defend until you heal. You heal by limping back to the capital city, and when you begin your turn there, your health is restored.

That's a basic overview of how the game works, but how good is it? I enjoy it a lot. Like Tiny Epic Kingdoms, it feels like a big box game experience. You don't have cubes all over the board like Pandemic. You don't have cool haunting miniatures threatening your village like in Ghost Stories, or walls that fall down like in Castle Panic. But, despite the lack of a beautiful board and amazing components, you get that same tense feeling; the feeling that everything is just one move away from falling apart, and you're not going to be able to stop it.

There is a lot of variety in the game. You don't know what basic hoard cards are going to come up, let alone which dire foes and what epic foe. You can set up your regions differently every game. You can choose to play different heroes. The game can be quite hard to predict. Counting cards and recognizing your new additions into the turn deck are important. I try to keep a running tally of how many threats are on each region so we know where to defend. This brings me to another point. Because you simply don't have enough actions to just fight down the threat in each region, defending is absolutely essential, and you have to know where to defend. Defending dire foes is also the only way to get artifacts, which can often be the difference between victory and defeat.

After a few plays, certain combos become evident. How do characters work together? What regions are good with what characters? (Hint: put the Sorcerer in the Ruins and the Warrior in the Plains.) I like this element, as learning these tricks creates efficiency and allows players to move up to the higher difficulty levels.

It's not only me either. I've played this with different groups and people with different gaming tastes and backgrounds. I have not heard a single complaint or criticism. Everyone is impressed by the solid game play with such minimal components. One player has also backed it, and a couple others are on the fence. Different player counts work well too, with the group action cards filling in a solid niche for the loss of an additional meeple on the board.

I've also had the experience of playing through an update to the PnP. It's the update that really makes me feel comfortable giving this game a high recommendation. Before that, it was good, but I had to hesitate. Seeing the changes makes me a lot more comfortable telling people that this game is something special. Changes were made to hero powers, artifacts, the 2 and 3 player group action cards, and one Epic Foe, and all make the game tighter, more solid, more fun all around. I thought the PnP was supposed to be advertising, not playtesting, but I'm really glad that Gamelyn Games is open to player feedback. It's amazing to see the product getting better right before your eyes.

That doesn't mean that the game is perfect, though. There are still some drawbacks I'd like to mention. The first is difficulty. I've read a lot of reviews that say that the game is really hard and they never win. I don't have that problem. I lost one 2-player game on regular difficulty with a new player, then I lost my first solo game on hard difficulty, and it was down to the wire. Every other game we have won. There are still difficulty levels ahead of me, so it's not a big problem, but it's making me wonder if I'm doing something wrong with the rules.

The second problem is just that there is a lot of content that feels untested—developed on the fly. When I'm backing a project, I want to know that the game has been through a robust development cycle. I don't want to feel that I'm paying for the privilege of play-testing a game that will be great by the time I get my hands on it. Don't get me wrong; it is a lot of fun sharing feedback and ideas with the Gamelyn Games community, but I feel that this phase should come sooner in the development cycle, maybe with fans of previous projects, before the company launches a fundraising campaign. This is the downside of the positive mentioned above. I love seeing the game get even better, but I don't think I should have to at this stage.

Another problem is that some regions just get hit harder than others, so it makes the game a bit predictable. For example, there is both a Dire Foe and an Epic Foe for both the Mountains and the Ruins, only an Epic Foe for the Plains, only a Dire Foe for the Desert and the Coast, and neither an Epic nor a Dire Foe for the Forest. That creates an imbalance; I know that the Ruins and the Mountains will almost always be more important than the Forest. This is being addressed in the final product as new cards are added into the game as stretch goals, but, again, I feel that there should be a solid play experience out of the box, not teased at and possibly denied through stretch goals.

It would be remiss to review a co-op game without touching on the "quarterbacking" issue. How is quarterbacking in Tiny Epic Defenders compared to other co-op games? Well, the turn deck makes it better. There is no more of one player telling another what to do to plan three turns ahead because there is no assurance that the cards will come up in that order. On the other hand, within a single player's turn, there is still huge potential for a self-appointed field marshal to take over, "You should go to the forest, fight down the threat, then move one more space to the mountains so you can defend against the dire foe when it arrives. If you spend one health for an action, you can enter the circle so it only takes 1 Health to defend instead of 2." At which point, you think, why am I playing this instead of you just playing the solo version? This is not a criticism of TED, as such, as it is a problem endemic to all co-ops. I include it to point out that the innovative and awesome turn deck does not prevent quarterbacking, though it does provide an interesting new co-op experience.

My final complaint is just that the theme feels a little bit too generic. The Tiny Epic world doesn't feel alive and unique to me. It's just "Plains" not, "The Plains of Ahlfors," just "Warrior" rather than "Criswell the Bloody-handed" and so on. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'd like it better if everything had specific names and fit into some limiting mythology. The non-specificity has its own appeal. I guess this is more a rumination than a complaint, really. Currently, the Artifacts add in a bit of color, and there is a discussion on BGG right now to add names for the powers, which should fill things out a bit more.

So what is the final verdict? A resounding "Yes." I not only am continuing to back this game, I am considering raising my pledge to get a copy or two as presents for people. Here is why. All my complaints are real, but they are minor or already being handled. The game is getting the testing it needs and keeps getting better, most of the additional foe cards needed have been unlocked, and the others are close, the difficulty level is scale-able, and flavor is being added to the cards. On the other hand, the game is fun. I enjoy playing it, and am eager to play it again. In fact, it's hard to finish writing this review instead of going to play another solo game to see if I can beat it on Hard.

Here's probably the best thing I can say about it. With its portability, easy set-up, and low teaching time, this game will get played more than many others in my collection. My favorite co-op is Ghost Stories, but I've probably played it fewer than 6 times in the past 4 years I've owned it. I've already played TED twice that much in a month. It scratches the same itch, but it gets played a lot more. There is no finer endorsement any game can receive as to be present on the table again and again.

-Edited for: spelling errors-
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Christoph Müri
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Very good review! I feel pretty much the same about TED. It's tight, it's quick, it's very fun. Of course there's some prediction in the game, but since there is no game out there with infinite possible cards showing up, the prediction really is a fact of every game. But I get it, there are quite few cards in the base game, and I'm very excited about the revealed stretch goals and even more about the deluxe version, and especially about the stretch goals still to be achieved! The quick setup and gameplay of TED will definitely make this one of the most played co-ops in my playing group. Those guys love co-ops, but most of them simply take too long, so here's the solid solution!

Thanks Hobbes, and see you in the capitol (= TED community)!
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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I really like having to predict and count cards. I feel like developing the skill for TED will also help me in other games.

I think the real brilliance of this game is not only the small size, but the simplicity of rules with such deep and meaningful choices. I love all the stories I've heard about players introducing this game to children or non-gamers, and they can easily pick it upon the first game and feel confident about what they're doing.
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Criswell Weatherman
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Combos? I hadn't even considered combos. TED strategy and complexity just went up a notch.
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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Criswell wrote:
Combos? I hadn't even considered combos. TED strategy and complexity just went up a notch.

Try it! Find the hero and region combos, then re-evaluate when the dire foes start popping in. I think you'll see your win ratio go up! It's pretty awesome. Forcing myself to find combos and synergies is why I always assign regions and heroes randomly. arrrh
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Eric O.
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Nice review. Very thorough and well thought out points.
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Wilson St.James
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Well done. This is certainly a good review. Thanks.

I really enjoy the game as well. I'll not likely back it though and here's why.

1. I think the free PnP actually satisfied me. I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing

I look at the stretch goals and the characters/villains and such and think they look really cool! I DO want the full on copy but my first reason coupled with my second makes it prohibitive for me. Namely,

2. It's not $16 in Canada. The most interesting level for me is the $24 level so that I get all the bonuses I am interested in. After currency conversion and shipping it's not quite as inexpensive as it seems at first glance. I LOVE those Kickstarter campaigns that have/include free shipping to Canada So am I just cheap? Maybe. I really would like to support this fun, creative game but I guess when I see that there is already so much support that there is no danger the game won't go into full production.

I will continue to enjoy my free version a lot. And when the time comes for me to dust off my wallet I will seriously reconsider.

Good game! Support it if you are in the USA, or not cheap like me laugh
 
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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Well, I will never tell you what to do with your money. I wish for your sake that there was a separate shipping tier for Canada, because that does drive the cost up.

What I can say is that I'm not in the US either. I have to pay that exorbitant extra shipping cost, and it does sting a little bit. On the other hand, the art, the components, and the additional content are enough that I'm continuing to pledge for the deluxe. Plus, I want to see what all can be added, especially the double-region cards, which will add unimaginable variety.

What I would recommend for you, since you're enjoying playing it so much, is backing at the Premium PnP level. You'll get all the updated content for your PnP with no shipping costs. I've been playing my Premium PnP for Tiny Epic Kingdoms for months now, and I have absolutely no complaints. Because of the small size, I had it laminated; it's virtually indestructible. I plan to do the same with TED.
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Wilson St.James
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Hey, terrific idea.
Yes, I am pretty tight with the funds and it's not really because I wouldn't spend it myself, its just that I have to have some decent rationale with my wife or else I kind of get the "what do you need another game for?" look.
In her mind all the games I have are the same
I may yet fund this - time's running out!


Edit - sorry. I hijacked your thread. Yes, great review!
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Greg Gresik
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Oh - I hear you both...and I live in the US

Rationalizing expenditures to my wife is a little easier when my 18 year old and 9 year old have been playing the heck out of the PnP and are begging for deluxe.
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Scott Almes
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Nikoms wrote:
Rationalizing expenditures to my wife is a little easier when my 18 year old and 9 year old have been playing the heck out of the PnP and are begging for deluxe.


Well, that is just awesome to hear
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Greg Gresik
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scottbalmes wrote:
Nikoms wrote:
Rationalizing expenditures to my wife is a little easier when my 18 year old and 9 year old have been playing the heck out of the PnP and are begging for deluxe.


Well, that is just awesome to hear

Lol - but she has also asked "Didn't you just order Tiny Epic Something a few months ago?"

Luckily, the boys quickly explain that this game is different...they play together instead of argue against each other.
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Joe Costa
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Great Review man!

At first I wasn't interested in it because I am so new to kickstarter and tabletop games in general but after watching some videos and reading your review I think I may back this today.

I do want some opinions here. Is the few extra cards in the Deluxe edition worth the $8? Is there anything else added with the deluxe that I missed like different boxing or higher quality product?

Thanks
 
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Greg Gresik
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joecosta wrote:
Great Review man!

At first I wasn't interested in it because I am so new to kickstarter and tabletop games in general but after watching some videos and reading your review I think I may back this today.

I do want some opinions here. Is the few extra cards in the Deluxe edition worth the $8? Is there anything else added with the deluxe that I missed like different boxing or higher quality product?

Thanks
When you get deluxe you also get the premium PnP and the pdf art collection. Since the actual game will not ship until March, that means deluxe players will have access to the "full game" (including all the extra deluxe cards) in August...6 months!!

Basically, deluxe is the $16 base game + $8 premium art pdf and premium PnP PLUS the added content (the extra 11 cards when all the stretch goals are added).

Edited for clarification blush
 
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Joe Costa
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So what does the Premium art mean? Does that mean the art on the cards in the Deluxe set is going to be different (better) than what would come in in the standard set?

Thanks for the reply btw.
 
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joecosta wrote:
So what does the Premium art mean? Does that mean the art on the cards in the Deluxe set is going to be different (better) than what would come in in the standard set?

Thanks for the reply btw.


No -sorry for the confusion. I was typing fast. Not "premium art" - I should have typed Premium PnP and PDF art collection. The Premium PnP contains all the final art (including the art/cards for deluxe). The PDF art collection is pretty cool too (I got the same thing with the TEK deluxe) - it has concept art, work in progress things, etc. It's a neat way to see the artistic evolution of the game.

For me the big thing is the Premium PnP - the ability to play the full game in August with a few pages of cardstock off my printer and some card sleeves!
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Joe Costa
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Nikoms wrote:
joecosta wrote:
So what does the Premium art mean? Does that mean the art on the cards in the Deluxe set is going to be different (better) than what would come in in the standard set?

Thanks for the reply btw.


No -sorry for the confusion. I was typing fast. Not "premium art" - I should have typed Premium PnP and PDF art collection. The Premium PnP contains all the final art (including the art/cards for deluxe). The PDF art collection is pretty cool too (I got the same thing with the TEK deluxe) - it has concept art, work in progress things, etc. It's a neat way to see the artistic evolution of the game.

For me the big thing is the Premium PnP - the ability to play the full game in August with a few pages of cardstock off my printer and some card sleeves!


Cool! Thanks for the clarification.
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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To me, the extra cards are worth it for the Deluxe because I love the game, and I expect to play it enough to want and need the extra variety.

What really tips the Deluxe set over is the premium PnP. I am playing the game now, and I intend to keep playing it until my physical copy arrives. With the PnP, for a game this small, I can get the entire game printed and laminated for under $5 and play it for 8 months. Instant win!
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