Assemble your team and take control of key points on this tiny 3D terrain, in the latest Tiny Epic game from Gamelyn Games and Scott Almes.
What Is Tiny Epic Tactics?
Tiny Epic Tactics is a tactical combat game for 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes 30–60 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $20 for a copy of the base game or $25 for the deluxe edition (which includes the Lanterns mini-expansion. There’s also an option to pay $12 for two more map sets (see below). Tiny Epic Tactics has a few play modes available: solo, free-for-all, 2-player cooperative, and 4-player team vs. team. Based on my plays, I would say you could probably teach the game to kids as young as 10, though it helps if they have some experience with combat games so they can successfully strategize.
Tiny Epic Tactics Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. My photos also include some components that are stretch goals for the campaign, like the shaped tracker tokens and the cloth map, which are currently wooden cubes instead. However, based on Gamelyn Games’ track record with Kickstarter campaigns, I would be surprised if most of the stretch goals aren’t reached by the time everything is over. My prototype also did not include the solo rules and components.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 1 Map Scroll
- 6 Map boxes (different sizes)
- 16 meeples (4 colors each of 4 types)
- 24 Unit cards (6 each of 4 types)
- 14 Tactic cards
- 3 Action dice
- Control card
- 3 Control tokens
- 10 Weakened tokens
- 32 Tracker tokens (16 Health, 8 Ammo, 4 Mana)
- 9 Solo Enemy cards
- 6 Solo Crystal cards
As with other games in the Tiny Epic series, one of the most amazing features is how much Gamelyn Games manages to cram into a compact box. For this game, the terrain is made up of a set of boxes, including the box bottom, which are placed onto the map scroll to create a 3D landscape. The interior of the boxes will have dungeons printed in them, for use in the solo and cooperative game (not seen in my prototype photos). The map boxes look really great, with lots of fun details like forests, villages, caves, and buildings.
The current map boxes and scroll have one specific layout, so the terrain will always be the same. However, you also have the option to add on two more terrain sets for $12: these will each consist of another map scroll, as well as cardstock box covers that fit over the map boxes, not only changing the look of the terrain but also changing up the layout for a bit more variety. I really like this idea a lot.
The unit cards have the various characters that you will have on your team: fighters, wizards, rogues, and beasts. The artwork is almost a chibi style, where the characters look like cute kids even if they have beards. If you’ve played Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, you may notice that there are some champions from that game who show up here, too. There were a couple characters that felt a little out of place in this mostly fantasy-based realm, like the ninja, monk, and Native American wizard. I’d worry a little about crossing the line into cultural appropriation, but even apart from that there may be better ways to introduce some diversity to the cast of characters. Still, I did appreciate that there was a good mix of male and female characters (and even a couple that are ambiguous because their features are hidden).
How to Play Tiny Epic Tactics
You can download a copy of the rulebook on the Kickstarter page, along with a print and play in case you’d like to give it a shot before you back it. Since my prototype only covered the competitive game, that’s what I’ll focus on here; visit the campaign page for more about the other play modes.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by capturing enemy units and control points, controlling villages, and keeping your own units alive.
Set up the terrain as indicated—the map scroll and boxes have spaces marked for where the boxes will sit. Shuffle each of the unit types and deal each player a fighter, a wizard, a rogue, and a beast. Give players tracking tokens for health, ammo, and mana (which all start at full on the characters). Also shuffle the tactic cards and deal 2 to each player; everyone chooses 1 tactic card to keep and shuffles the other back into the deck.
Players will choose their starting locations in the corners of the map. Usually you’ll set up all of your units in one corner, but in a 2-player game you’ll have two units in one corner and two units in the opposite corner. Place the weakened tokens and dice nearby.
On your turn, you will get 3 actions, which may be spent to move your units, attack (melee or missile), and cast spells. You may not take more than 2 actions with the same unit, and you may not take the same action twice with any unit. Also, any unit that takes two actions in a single turn becomes weakened (marked with a token), and cannot take any more actions until the token is removed. To remove the weakened state, you must either lose 2 health or take a full turn without using that unit.
Movement is fairly simple: each unit has a “boot” icon representing their speed—you may move up to that many spaces (counting spaces orthogonally, not diagonally). There are various portals on the map showing caves and doorways—if you enter one you can come out from any other portal. If you go up to a higher level, it costs you one additional boot. (Dropping down to a lower level just costs the regular movement.) You may walk through your own units, but not enemy units, and you must end your movement on an empty space. Some terrain types will have additional effects for movement, but I’ll get to those later.
Every unit has a melee attack. You may attack an enemy unit that is directly adjacent to you, on the same level. They lose health equal to your attack’s strength, and then you get to roll dice to try to knock them back. The unit card shows how many dice you roll; for each knockback icon you roll, you move that unit away from you one space. If the unit can’t move because it runs into another unit, or the side of a box, or the edge of the map, then it takes 1 more damage (no matter how much additional knockback there was).
Your fighter and your rogue have missile attacks, and the card indicates the strength and the range. If you’re higher than your target, then you add 1 to your range. If you’re lower than your target, you subtract 1 from your range. Either way, range is counted orthogonally, and there are no line-of-sight rules. You can just shoot anything that is within range. You must spend 1 ammo, and then you roll the number of dice indicated on your missile attack. For each broken arrow icon that you roll, you must spend an additional ammo (until you are out of ammo). If you have enough ammo to pay for the attack, then you hit and the target loses health. Otherwise, you missed (but still spent an action and the ammo).
Your wizard can cast spells—each spell shows its range, with an explanation of the effect on the card. Range is calculated just like missile attacks. You must spend 1 mana to cast the spell. You may also spend up to 3 additional mana to roll up to 3 dice: if you roll the magic icon, then your spell will have additional effects.
If your unit takes damage from an attack or spell but hasn’t run out of health, that unit gets a counterattack after the attacker finishes resolving things like knockbacks or spell effects. Your unit can attack back with its own abilities (melee, missile, or spell) as long as it’s within range, and you must target the unit that attacked you. If your unit is weakened, you may only counterattack if you spend the 2 health to remove the weakened state first.
Whenever a unit is reduced to 0 health, it is captured; give the unit card to the player who captured it and remove the meeple from the board.
As you lose units, you do get some small reprieves: at two units, you no longer get weakened for taking two actions with the same unit (though any given unit may still not take the same action twice in a turn). When you’re down to a single unit, it may use all three actions, and you may repeat actions. Of course, you’re probably not doing so hot at that point.
At the end of each round (after everyone has had a turn), everyone gets a new tactic card. You may only have 2 in your hand at any time, so if you have more, you must choose one to discard. Tactic cards have an “if” section and a “then” section—if the “if” part happens, then you get the “then” part! (And then discard the card.) Most are triggered by your own actions, but there are some (like “Honor the Fallen,” seen above) that trigger based on something another player does to you.
There are various terrain types and special features on the board that have different effects.
- Forest: While in a forest, you take 1 less damage from attacks.
- Water: Costs 1 extra boot to enter a water space, and you take 1 more damage from attacks.
- Peak: Costs 1 extra boot to enter. From a peak, you may target any unit with a missile attack or spell.
- Ballista: Costs 1 extra boot to enter. You may use an action to do a missile attack with range 4 that does 1 damage, and then move the target 1 space in any direction.
- Village: When you enter or pass through, that unit gains 4 health and refills its ammo/mana.
There are three control points on the map, each of which has six spaces. One space in each control point is marked as a trigger space. If you start your turn with a unit on the trigger space and you have more units on the control point than any other player, you advance the corresponding control marker from its start space. Once a control marker has been moved off the start space, any player will advance the marker if they have majority control at the start of their turn (even if they’re not on the trigger space). If you move the control marker onto the third space on your turn, you take the control marker, which is worth 5 points.
There are two things that trigger the end of the game: if a player loses all of their units, or the requisite number of control points has been captured (1 for a 2-player game, 2 for a 3-player game, and 3 for a 4-player game). All other players (not including the player who triggered the game end) will get one more turn, and then the game ends.
Then you add up your score:
- 5 points per control token
- 2 points per unit card (your own or an opponent’s)
- 1 point per unit that is in a village
The highest score wins. Ties go to the most surviving units, then most captured units, then most control tokens, then most total remaining health.
Tiny Epic Tactics is GeekDad Approved!
Why You Should Play Tiny Epic Tactics
Tiny Epic Tactics shows once again why so many fans consider the Tiny Epic line an insta-back on Kickstarter. It’s a tiny package, but the gameplay is as rich as many games that come in bigger boxes and cost twice as much. The sheer variety of games in the series, and the amount of content packed into each one, is a marvel every time. Tiny Epic Tactics is a fairly streamlined tactical combat game: you just get three actions every turn, and you have to figure out how best to maneuver your team, either to capture enemy units or play King of the Hill on a control point.
The mix of characters is great: everyone has one unit in each class, so they have access to the same types of actions, but the specific abilities vary significantly. For instance, Rakhwinder the elephant cannot be knocked back, so it’s great for staking a claim on a control point, but Safiri the monkey can give other units a piggyback ride, moving two units for a single action. Some units have healing powers, like Laelithar the paladin or Uvelin Goldborn the priestess. Others can weaken units when they attack, which turns them into sitting ducks: do you lose 2 more health so you can counterattack, or just let the attacker get away with it?
A lot of the strategy comes in looking for the way to use your team effectively: is there some synergy in their abilities? Some units move quickly, some have more health, some can damage more than one enemy at a time. Figuring out how to get your four units to work as a team is key to victory.
At the time of this writing, the stretch goals hadn’t been revealed yet, but I do know at least some of them are component upgrades: replacing the wooden cubes and cylinders with the custom shapes you see in my photos, screen-printing the meeples, and making the map fabric instead of a tear-proof paper. But there will certainly also be stretch goals that add more unit cards, as well as new tactic cards. I’m excited to see who else may show up in the game.
Tactic cards may not seem like a big deal at first, especially if you feel the trigger condition is unlikely to happen. But each one, used at the right time, can be quite powerful, almost like an extra action. Although they don’t award points, tactic cards can point you in a particular direction because of the bonus you’ll get when the conditions are met. And, of course, there are always groans of regret when you realize halfway through the round that you discarded the wrong one earlier.
I suppose it’s possible to play a tactical combat game on a flat map, with elevation marked with contour lines, but I really like the way the boxes form plateaus and mountain ranges and buildings. It’s just more immersive, and lets you see at a glance when you have the advantage for a ranged attack or are positioned to knock somebody down to a lower level.
Deciding when to go for the control points is a tricky decision. The trigger point only matters the first time the control token is moved, but once that happens, there is a lot of jockeying for position. Because the control token only moves if you have the majority at the beginning of your turn, everyone else has a chance to attack you before that happens—or at the very least, move enough units there to tie you. Getting all four of your units onto the same control point might give you a firm lead (since there are only six spaces per control point), but it’s a bit like putting all your eggs in one basket. Some units have area effects that can really do a number on you when you’re packed in tight. Plus, if you’re camped out in one place, you’re not preventing anyone else from capturing control points elsewhere.
And, of course, it’s quite possible that you’ll do the work of triggering a control token and moving it again … only to have somebody else swoop in and take over control for the last space. When that happens, you did most of the work and they score the points. It’s a tough balance, and I’ll admit I haven’t quite figured it out myself yet.
I did learn, the hard way, that you really can’t underestimate the importance of capturing enemy units. In one game I played, I attacked enemies several times, enough to weaken them so they’d run off looking for a village to heal, but then didn’t chase them down because I was after a control point. Meanwhile, another player picked off several weak units over the course of the game, scoring a lot of points thanks to my help. A single control point is worth 5 points, but landing the last blow on two enemies is only 1 point less. Which one is easier?
I do have some in my gaming group who aren’t a huge fan of the Tiny Epic games simply because they prefer larger components: they don’t like the tiny resource trackers and just prefer their games to take up more space on the table, with more room to move around and larger tokens to manipulate. And that’s fine: if you’re in that group, the gameplay might not be enough to make up for things getting a little crowded on the map. For me, though, I like the way that the games conserve space on my shelves, and I haven’t found the tiny resource tokens to be an issue.
Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about the solo, cooperative, or team play modes, but you’ll be able to find more about that on the Kickstarter page when it’s introduced. Suffice to say that there’s even more gameplay in Tiny Epic Tactics than I’ve shown you here!
If you’re already a fan of the Tiny Epic series, you probably stopped reading this a while ago and went to back the campaign already. But if you’re new to the series, Tiny Epic Tactics is not a bad place to start! Each of the games uses different mechanics, even though some may overlap in theme or setting. There’s a cooperative game, a 4X game, a dice game, a zombie game, and even a programming game. Just be warned: if you get hooked, you’ll want to collect them all! (The nice thing is that you’ll easily find room for them.)
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Tiny Epic Tactics Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.