Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: ‘Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War’

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Tiny Epic Defenders, Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War

Tiny Epic Defenders is back, with all-new artwork and abilities and new ITEMeeples! Along with it comes the first expansion, The Dark War.

What Is Tiny Epic Defenders?

Tiny Epic Defenders is a cooperative game in the Tiny Epic line by Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games. It’s for 1 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It’s currently on Kickstarter to fund a new edition, along with an expansion, The Dark War. You can pledge for the base game for $25, or the base and expansion for $46. (If you own the first edition, you can get a $5 discount on the bundle.) The game is cooperative so you could play with younger players as well, but be warned that it can be fairly brutal and difficult.

New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer, and visit our Kickstarter curated page for more projects we love.

Tiny Epic Defenders Components

Note that my review is based on a pre-production prototype, and final components are subject to change. My copy included some cards that are stretch goals for the campaign; other content may be added to the campaign based on stretch goals as well. Also, the Kickstarter version will include exclusive content that will not be included in the retail edition.

Tiny Epic Defenders components
Tiny Epic Defenders components. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Base Game Components (includes Deluxe content):

  • 4 ITEMeeples
  • 5 Hit Point tokens
  • 7 Threat tokens
  • 12 Artifact cards
  • 12 Artifact items
  • 7 Region cards
  • 15 Player cards
  • 6 Defender cards
  • 8 Epic Foe cards
  • 8 Dire Enemy cards
  • 9 Enemy cards
Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War components
Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War components. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Dark War Components (including Deluxe content):

  • 6 Caravans
  • 3 Fleet dice
  • 6 Death tokens
  • 3 Sandstorm tokens
  • Great Tree
  • Manticore
  • 5 Soldier cards
  • 4 Artifact cards
  • 4 Artifact items
  • 7 Dark War Region cards
  • 4 Experience cards
  • 4 XP tokens
  • 12 Defender Skill cards
  • 1 Game Mode card
  • 6 Player cards
  • 6 Epic Foe cards
  • 6 Dire Enemy cards
  • 6 General cards

The cards are a mix of oversized cards (regions, player cards, epic foes) and standard sized cards. This edition features all-new artwork, and the abilities and effects of the cards have undergone some changes from the first edition.

The ITEMeeples are also new to Tiny Epic Defenders–they were first introduced for Tiny Epic Quest, and they are plastic meeples that have holes in their hands that can hold small plastic items like weapons and equipment. Now, when you pick up an Artifact card, you also find the matching item and attach it to your meeple. It’s not completely necessary for this game (since the card itself shows what abilities you have) but it is a really great visual. There are some new items now that fit across the meeple’s back, like wings or a cloak.

Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War constructs
The Great Tree and the manticore are both constructs that work with particular region cards. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

In The Dark War expansion, there are also several cardboard constructs like the caravans, Great Tree, and manticore. These will slot together and are used for various regions and the expansion rules, and add some more 3D features to what is primarily a card game.

As with the other Tiny Epic titles, both the base game and expansion will come in small boxes, and Gamelyn Games always manages to pack a whole lot of content into the package, which I appreciate.

Tiny Epic Defenders game in progress
Early in the game, things are looking okay. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Tiny Epic Defenders Gameplay

Rules and Print and Play

In case you’re interested in trying out the game for yourself before you back, check out these links:

Note that the Print and Play does not include all of the content, but gives you a good feel for how the game works.

Overview

You can check out my review of the first edition of Tiny Epic Defenders for more details about how the game works. The core of the game remains the same: you and the other players spend actions to move around between region cards, securing them (to lower the threat levels) and defending against monsters when they attack there. Regions have special effects, and each player also has a special power.

Tiny Epic Defenders defender card
When your card comes up, it’s your turn. With fewer than 4 players, there are extra “All Defenders” cards. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The turn order is actually determined by a deck of cards, which includes enemies and the players. When your card is drawn, you get some action points to spend and take your turn.

Tiny Epic Defenders enemy cards
Each enemy card attacks two different regions. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If an enemy card is drawn, it triggers some effects and raises the threat level in certain regions. If a region’s threat level gets too high, it is destroyed, and future attacks will hit the capital city in the center instead. Players can sacrifice health to defend a region if they are present.

You must survive round after round, with more enemies shuffled into the turn order deck each round, until the epic foe arrives–then the goal is to defeat the epic foe before the capital city falls.

Aside from the components upgrade, the second edition has new region effects, player abilities, artifacts, dire enemies, and epic foes. In addition, there are a few gameplay tweaks. Below are a few more samples of new artwork and cards, and then I’ll tell you about The Dark War.

Tiny Epic Defenders Dire Enemies
Dire Enemies require more health to defend against, and also have different effects. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Dire enemies don’t start in the turn deck, but they’re among the cards that get shuffled into the turn deck if you survive a round. They typically require two health to defend against instead of 1, and also have other abilities that will trigger.

Tiny Epic Defenders artifacts
Powerful artifacts can be acquired when you defend against a dire enemy. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Defending against a dire enemy will earn you an artifact. Each player may carry up to three artifacts—two in their hands and one on their back. The artifacts are powerful and can get you out of a tough situation if used at the right time. And, of course, the new ITEMeeples will carry those little tiny plastic artifacts in their hands, too.

Tiny Epic Defenders epic foes
Epic foes vary in their abilities and how you fight them. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each epic foe appears at a specific region when it is revealed (assuming you survive that far), and from then on you may spend action points to attack it. The foes have different special abilities—some are passive, and some are triggered when the health marker reaches the little flame icons on the track. For instance, to fight the Giant, you must first spend actions to climb up onto it and then attack. Jumping down (or being knocked down) costs you health. The Colossus, a huge sand worm, can swallow you, and all you can do is try to fight your way out.

Tiny Epic Defenders characters
Characters have gotten all new artwork and updated abilities. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Many of the characters will be familiar, but the artwork has been totally redone and the abilities have been adjusted. With 15 characters to choose from just in the base game, there are a ton of different combinations to try out.

Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War setup
Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War setup. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Dark War

With The Dark War, there are two gameplay modes: a single battle (which will be much like the base game, but with some new effects) and a campaign, which has three battles–two against generals, and the last against an epic foe.

Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War skill cards
Skills can be activated by spending experience points. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Experience Points

The expansion adds experience points (tracked on a card for each player) and some skills. You can gain XP by defending against monsters, and XP can then be spent to use your skills and for a few other effects. You max out at 8 XP, and if you choose, you can spend 8 XP to level up, refilling your health and gaining a new skill.

Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War caravan constructs
Caravans need to be rescued! (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Caravans

Another difference in the expansion is the introduction of caravans, which represent citizens fleeing from the destruction. At the beginning of each round, you take a caravan and check the symbol on the bottom to find out what region it starts in. You can move caravans with you by spending 1 XP, and the goal is to move all the caravans to the capital city. You can only kill the epic foe (or the generals) if all the caravans are safely moved to the capital city.

Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War region cards
Each of the Dark War region cards has a hostile side and a friendly side. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Dark War Regions

There are new region cards in the expansion as well that replace the regions from the base game–each one has a hostile side and a friendly side. You won’t use all of these region cards in every game, depending on the game mode. In a single battle, you randomly select one hostile and one friendly region. In the campaign mode, you start with one hostile region, and as you win battles against the generals, you flip them to friendly and add another hostile region.

Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War the Plains
On the Plains, you’ll either encounter friendly mercenaries or hostile barbarians, which get shuffled into the turn deck. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The hostile side of each region has negative effects: the desert causes sandstorms that are harder to travel through; the plains are filled with barbarians that can do extra damage. The friendly side gives you a bonus: you can send out fleets from the coast to help defend regions, or ride a tamed manticore from the mountains to defend regions without losing health.

Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War general cards
In a campaign, you’ll face generals—not quite as tough as epic foes, but still pretty nasty. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Campaigns and Generals

If you want to play a single battle, setup is very much like the base game, with the added cards and caravans. For a campaign mode, you will fight through three battles. The first two times, you use a general at the bottom of the horde deck, and you fight it as you would an epic foe. The third time, you place an epic foe at the bottom.

In between battles in the campaign mode, you keep artifacts, skills, and XP, and you can trade with each other or level up if you have enough XP. Everyone regains full health, and war region effects are reset, as well as threat levels on outer regions. The caravans are returned to the supply. (Note: the capital city does not reset its threat level.) You reset the horde deck but then add an additional dire enemy to it. Finally, you flip the hostile region to its friendly side, and then randomly draw a new war region to place on its hostile side.

To win the campaign, you must defeat the epic foe—but remember to rescue those caravans during each battle!

Why You Should Play Tiny Epic Defenders

If you like really difficult co-op games, Tiny Epic Defenders certainly falls into that category. Since getting the 2nd edition prototypes, I’ve haven’t managed to win yet, though I’ve played several times to try out different epic foes and player abilities. That said, I’ve still had a lot of fun—in the way that getting brutally crushed by hordes of monsters can be fun. Victory does rely a good deal on luck—which monsters get shuffled in, what order the turn cards appear, which artifacts you happen to draw. But even with luck on your side, you’ll need to work together to and use your player abilities and region abilities well in order to survive.

The Dark War gives players more to do—it’s fun to gain XP and spend it to trigger your skills (though we kept forgetting to gain XP when we defended a region). Skills add a little more of the RPG theme, giving you special abilities in addition to your character ability. Moving those caravans around isn’t too difficult usually, but it does mean you’ll want to make sure you have some XP banked up. The expansion does make the players feel more empowered because there are more choices.

Tiny Epic Defenders: The Dark War player cards
In the Dark War expansion, you have skill cards and XP tracker. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

But with that extra power comes extra difficulties. Those hostile regions are, well, hostile! Since you’ll always have one hostile region active, it’s one more thing to manage while you’re trying to defend the regions and wait out the epic foe or generals. Add to that the fact that you’ve got to spend some actions moving caravans around, and there’s plenty to keep you busy and distracted from the Big Bad. It’s a tricky balance, keeping the threat levels low in the regions, getting into place to defend everything, and preparing for the epic foe.

In the times I’ve played so far, everything seems fairly calm at first. There are a couple enemies, but nothing you can’t handle. If some of them attack unoccupied regions, it’s no big deal because you can just go over and secure them later. But after you’ve shuffled more enemies into the turn order deck, by round 5 or 6 things are starting to feel overwhelming—regions are being destroyed, the capital city’s threat level is rising, and none of you have any health left to defend anything. I’ll admit: I clearly haven’t figured out the strategy yet, and it will take some practice.

Tiny Epic Defenders capital city
We’re all in the capital city, licking our wounds—but that means nobody is defending! (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There’s a lot of variety in the game for replay value, ensuring that each experience is going to be slightly different. The mix of enemies and dire enemies isn’t the same each time. The layout of the kingdom will vary each time, and I like that each region is double-sided so that you can change up the effects. And there are so many characters with different powers, and epic foes that you may end up facing at the end of the game. If you don’t like a particular epic foe, you can always give another one a shot instead—there are many to choose from.

Tiny Epic Defenders has a lot of great fantasy elements in it—if you’re a fan of other Tiny Epic games, it’s definitely worth checking out, but definitely for those who like a challenge.

For more information, visit the Tiny Epic Defenders Kickstarter page.

Click here to see all our tabletop game reviews.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype copy of this game for review purposes.

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