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Subject: From Dud to Dude (a Space-Biff! review) rss

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Daniel Thurot
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From Dud to Dude

If we’ve learned any one thing about Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games’ Tiny Epic series now that we’ve reached the fourth entry — the previous ones being Kingdoms, Defenders, and Galaxies — it’s that they’ve got a lot of heart. Maybe even more heart than bite, sometimes, maybe.

It isn’t that they aren’t tiny, because sure, on a particular scale they’re downright microscopic. And it isn’t that they aren’t epic; when a word has lost all meaning, there’s no reason to keep championing it. Rather, it’s that they live up to their pitch. They’re portable, functional, and for being so compact and workmanlike they’re also decently good times when you don’t have a whole evening to burn.

The problem with that theory is that Tiny Epic Western is actually the sort of game I might play as a non-filler.

I’ll give you five pesos if you can guess the plot to Tiny Epic Western. No, reverse that. You should give me five pesos. Because this is about as plain an outfit as the Wild West has ever worn. Everyone is some sort of ringleader, whether outlaw, chief, lawman, rancher, banker — you get the idea — and it’s your goal to gallop out with your posses, put on a rootin’-tootin’ time shooting up the local establishments, and take command of this here pueblo. There’s also something about railroads and wanted posters, because it wouldn’t be a Western without those. Oh, and you’ll be playing some poker, because of course you’ll be playing some poker.

The thing is, original as unadorned spaghetti though it may be, Tiny Epic Western’s pared-down poker, which uses a three-card hand and a short deck of four suits and number cards from one to five, is what transforms the entire thing from dud to dude.

Let me explain. The town is laid out in a little wagon wheel arrangement, with little destinations and poker cards ringing the periphery and purchasable deeds for spokes, and much of the gameplay revolves around ordering your dudes to claim the benefits of those locations. Simple enough, especially when you elect to take an establishment’s easy money, opting to earn a meager sum of gold, law, or force right then and there.

However, there exists a second option, which is to press your luck a little bit by sticking around and hoping to double your winnings. Rather than just popping by the bank (which, puzzlingly, initially pays out law rather than coin), you can mill around the foyer, running the risk of a shootout, all in the hopes of raking in some extra dough.

While your posse twiddles their thumbs at their destination of choice, a rival might come along and demand satisfaction, resulting in a quick duel that’s nearly entirely settled by the roll of a die. Oh, each player can manipulate the outcome a bit, whether by spending some resources for rerolls or revealing their hidden poker card (more on that in a moment) for a one-off bump to their strength, but it’s largely a random affair. This is somewhat unfortunate, given all the effort that goes into picking out a destination and the fact that you usually only have two dudes running your errands. In fact, the best compliment I can pay these shootouts is that they’re functional and inject some small measure of tension to the proceedings. Other than that, they’re the low point in a game that mostly fires on the assumption that a well-planned victory is an earned victory.

Anyway, once everyone’s posses are out on the town, the real meat of the game decides to show up. This is when everything comes together, all the dudes at each establishment revealing their poker card to assemble a hand with the two cards flanking it. It’s an important moment, the culmination of everything else you’ve done so far: the cards that were laid out beside each location at the start of the round, the choice of card you picked soon after that, every posse you’ve ordered around, and every duel that’s resulted in a prematurely revealed card. At each location, the winner will take home a fat pot, huge quantities of resources suddenly crammed onto their player mat. As for the losers — well, they’re losers. They lost. There’s no pity prize for losing.

I seriously cannot overstate how clever this is, tying the outcome of the game’s biggest moment to every little thing that’s come before. Revealing your hidden card earlier in the round might win you a crucial shootout, but it will also tip off your opponents about where you’re strong and where you’re weak, letting them either dodge around you, foil your plans, or maybe even visit the sheriff’s office to change their own card’s suit or value in order to beat you at some critical establishment. In most games, “resolution phase” means the boring part. The bookkeeping. It’s when you flip up your exhausted tokens or reshuffle a deck or something. Here, it’s an actual climax to the slow-burning tension that makes up the rest of the gameplay.

Even better, the resolution phase’s climax has a second climax, which is pretty dang grand if my pa’s wedding night advice is to be believed. Once all the regular locations are wrapped up and resources have been awarded, everyone’s card is applied to one final hand at the town hall. And this is often the most important contest yet, because it determines both who gets to purchase a building first and which score tracker is advanced.

Both of these are crucial for any wannabe town boss. Buildings are your primary source of points once the end of the game rolls around, and provide tidy bonuses to visitors too. Even better, when someone else visits a building you own, you earn a bit of coin for their patronage. Having enticing establishments of your own can therefore be the difference between victory and defeat.

But that’s not all, because buildings also increase your dominance over the town’s three industries, the mines, railroads, and wagon teams that are represented by the town hall’s score trackers. The winner of that final hand gets to choose which of these trackers to increase, making it — and hopefully their properties — more valuable at the end of the game.

Man, there is some truly clever stuff going on here. The way every round is thick with those poker hands, from the setup when cards are laid out to the reveal of the final hidden card, is absolutely brilliant. Even the worker placement, while about as simple as that sort of thing gets, allows for regular difficult choices between small rewards right now or a potential greater reward later on. Even the game’s weaknesses — the frustrating randomness of the shootouts and the fact that it can run surprisingly long for something that bills itself as “tiny” — hardly even register in the grand scheme of things.

Tiny Epic Western is by far the cleverest, tightest, and best Tiny Epic game yet. To reuse one of my favorite words, it’s a rootin’-tootin’ good time. And a smart one too.




This review was originally published at Space-Biff!, so if you like what you see, please head over there for more. https://spacebiff.com/2016/10/12/tiny-epic-western/

Also, I suppose I ought to plug my Geeklist of reviews: https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/169963/space-biff-histori...
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fightcitymayor
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The Innocent wrote:
Tiny Epic Western is by far the cleverest, tightest, and best Tiny Epic game yet.
Gonna have to disagree there, but I guess it depends on where you're coming from: This is probably the least "Tiny Epic" type game yet. So if you hated the previous stuff, you might find this refreshing. But I liked the previous Tiny Epic stuff, and this might be my least favorite, and is definitely my least played of any Tiny Epic game. It's also distinctly my least favorite Tiny Epic game with 2 players.
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Garth van Doorn
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Nice review. I agree this is a extremely clever design, very impressive. I've only played 3 times now but I have some concerns, do any of these match your experiences?

First, the player powers are underwhelming. They rarely seem to influence the game much. Building powers likewise. I'd have been OK with a bit more asymmetry, and more interesting building effects to duel over.

Second, every game has had a runaway leader. It might be just luck, but it seems someone is sprinting away comfortably and there's not a lot of tension in the result.

Finally, the poker hands matter SO. MUCH. A good card draw will see someone rolling in riches, a bad draw can leave them penniless. Some players have been frustrated with the feeling that they can't really achieve anything. It can be brutal. Certainly adds tension though to the card reveal!
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Scott Mohnkern
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fightcitymayor wrote:
The Innocent wrote:
Tiny Epic Western is by far the cleverest, tightest, and best Tiny Epic game yet.
Gonna have to disagree there, but I guess it depends on where you're coming from: This is probably the least "Tiny Epic" type game yet. So if you hated the previous stuff, you might find this refreshing. But I liked the previous Tiny Epic stuff, and this might be my least favorite, and is definitely my least played of any Tiny Epic game. It's also distinctly my least favorite Tiny Epic game with 2 players.


While I know this is supposed to support 2 players, honestly, I think its sweet spot is really 3-4, and really 4. That might be why you are less than entranced with it.
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Scott Mohnkern
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dzudz wrote:
Nice review. I agree this is a extremely clever design, very impressive. I've only played 3 times now but I have some concerns, do any of these match your experiences?

First, the player powers are underwhelming. They rarely seem to influence the game much. Building powers likewise. I'd have been OK with a bit more asymmetry, and more interesting building effects to duel over.

Second, every game has had a runaway leader. It might be just luck, but it seems someone is sprinting away comfortably and there's not a lot of tension in the result.

Finally, the poker hands matter SO. MUCH. A good card draw will see someone rolling in riches, a bad draw can leave them penniless. Some players have been frustrated with the feeling that they can't really achieve anything. It can be brutal. Certainly adds tension though to the card reveal!



We've played this several times, and haven't had this issue, however I can see with the poker hands, that if someone is particularly lucky, a runaway situation could occur.

Also, if you have an experienced player, they are definitely going to walk over new players as they figure out some of the mechanics.
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Daniel Thurot
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dzudz wrote:
Nice review. I agree this is a extremely clever design, very impressive. I've only played 3 times now but I have some concerns, do any of these match your experiences?

First, the player powers are underwhelming. They rarely seem to influence the game much. Building powers likewise. I'd have been OK with a bit more asymmetry, and more interesting building effects to duel over.

Second, every game has had a runaway leader. It might be just luck, but it seems someone is sprinting away comfortably and there's not a lot of tension in the result.

Finally, the poker hands matter SO. MUCH. A good card draw will see someone rolling in riches, a bad draw can leave them penniless. Some players have been frustrated with the feeling that they can't really achieve anything. It can be brutal. Certainly adds tension though to the card reveal!

Good thoughts, Garth. I'll reply to each of them in turn.

1. I'm not sure I have any thoughts on the player powers, though I can absolutely see where you're coming from. In most games my character's power will only matter once or twice, and I think that's how I like it. That way the focus is kept on the poker hands rather than on the mix of powers/buildings that I've accumulated. Just a personal preference.

2. I haven't really noticed a runaway leader problem. Looking back over my scores, there was one game where someone did score a whole lot higher than everybody else, but that might have been in the final scoring, so I'm not sure. Most of our games have been pretty tight in terms of score. I do know that sometimes it feels like someone was rolling in the dough while the rest of us were skint, but that usually meant they weren't buying enough buildings to stay competitive. I could see it going either way, honestly. The rich get richer.

3. The thing about the poker hands is that there are so many of them. It's true that you can have a round where the luck of the draw means you can easily win three hands, but more often I think you'll see situations where you can win maybe one or two for certain, and a couple others you might be able to win if nobody else outdoes you. And with the ability to manipulate your value or suit, you should be able to figure out a way to win in at least one spot. That's the heart of the game, isn't it? Trying to play your advantages with the card you've chosen, and matching your dudes to those locations. I suspect that's why there are so many "trade x for y" buildings, to ensure you never get entirely locked out of a particular resource due to a bad draw.

Ultimately, though, there is a lot of luck here — the draw, the available buildings, whether your character power is worthwhile. Personally, I like luck a whole lot, and especially games that let me tinker with the outcomes of my luck. That's probably the root of my appreciation for Tiny Epic Western.
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