26th May 2022
It's a Thursday evening and I'm in Aldershot with friends for some gaming goodness that's been a long time coming!
Is it tiny? Yeah pretty much. Is it in a dungeon? Definitely. Is it epic?... Well, you'll just have to see!
Tiny Epic dungeons is a cooperative tile laying (Or card laying really.) dungeon crawler with players taking on the roles of various heroes who will spend much of their time managing a goblin epidemic before being chased around by the big bad before hopefully defeating it.
What's in a game?
Tiny Epic Dungeons packs a lot into a small box.
The cards feel a little flimsy and the dice are plastic and feel a bit average but other than that, the components are all good quality.
The character figures are sizable and a pretty cool touch for a game of this proportion, while for the most part the tokens are small (Other than the disarm tokens.), they're still solid and well made.
But for me, the standout components are the meeples, not only are they nicely shaped wooden tokens, they also illustrated. It shows some thought and care has gone into the production.
The use of art is also good throughout the game, portraits of heroes, minions and bosses are all chunky and colourful, utilising a cartoony style that's used in a lot of modern fantasy games, it's a style I like
Artwork used on the dungeons cards is also pretty good, there's a nice contrast between somewhat grey looking rooms and the colourful dressing and scenery that inhabit them and even the box lid features some evocative art.
This brings me to iconography. It's rare that I'm critical of a game's iconography and this is one of those occasions.
It's just that there's so much of it. A good proportion of it is instantly comprehensible, but a smaller proportion of it is not and a smaller proportion of a lot is still quite a lot!
I know that this is the result of game that is trying to emulate a D&D RPG style dungeon-crawl experience without a dungeon but even so: we played the game several times and I still did not recognised some icons. Between the fairly extensive rules and the extensive iconography, it gives the game a bit of steep learning curve.
Additionally; not only are so many icons, some of them are quite small, icons in the corner of the dungeons cards and the first time we tried to play I didn't notice them!
How's it play?
On to play
In Tiny Epic Dungeons, the players must explore and reveal the dungeon, fighting goblins and acquiring loot and magic until they defeat enough minions in order get into the boss' lair and defeat them.
The dungeon in Tiny Epic Dungeons is always a 7x7 grid in size, with the entrance always being the exact centre of the dungeon.
When it comes to the active player's turn, they can broadly speaking: move, perform exactly 1 'heroic' action and any number of free actions.
There are also some other rules that need covering.
In the first act, if a 5th goblin comes into play before any of the 4 adjacent to the torch mat are defeated, then the players collectively lose.
If at any time the torch token reaches the end of the track on either side of the torch mat, then the players lose.
If the players get to act 2 and reduce all the boss's health tracks to 0, they collectively win!
So, Tiny Epic Dungeons has quite a lot rules, I feel it's not particularly complicated but there's certainly a lot going on and that means that there's a lot to remember in this fairly ambitious attempt to recreate the D&D style dungeon-crawling experience. The question is, does it succeed? Well... sort of.
The thing is, Tiny Epic Dungeons can't hide it's cooperative board game DNA. it utilises a commonplace cooperative mechanic of making the players choose between working towards their objectives (In this case exploring the dungeon, finding and defeating minions and finding the boss lair.) with managing an ongoing, constantly expanding threat (In this case preventing 5 goblins spawning in the game.). Players will be faced with choosing between the two. Furthermore, the constant ticking countdown of the torch track will encourage players not to dawdle and cooperate as much as possible.
Another challenge facing players is placement of dungeon tiles all current passageways must be honoured and the game has a strict 7x7 size. If player don't think a step ahead, there's a risk that a pathway may lead to a dead-end too early, leaving a portion of the 7x7 grid inaccessible.
Mechanically, these are all good, they put players in the position of having to make meaningful decisions. However, they do feel a little un-RPG-ish.
During this early stage of the game we did encounter a noteworthy quirk; one character could not leave the entrance for about a quarter of the game! At the start of their turn, there was always a goblin on the entrance card thanks to spawning from the torch track. Once they defeated the goblin, they could no longer move and by the time of their next turn, there was another goblin on the entrance!
One thing I like is how the game clearly differentiates between the early and late game. When the boss is revealed, everything changes and priorities shift somewhat. Exploration and goblin management become less important and dealing with the boss more so which thanks to the altar tokens requires more than just dealing damage to the big bad.
All of this should serve to make Tiny Epic Dungeons a good game but truth be told - it's all a little unremarkable.
Combat feels unexciting, particularly when dealing with goblins again and again, it felt repetitive and frustrating. They're not a threat because they're tough (They're not tough!), they're a threat because the rules say that you lose if you don't defeat them quick enough.
The dice mechanic used is pretty cool though. I like that the unused dice can give a benefit, e.g., not using a 6 as the result of a skill check because as it provides a point of health gives players a meaningful decision to make when choosing which die to use for a skill check.
The dungeon exploration experience it provides is pretty standard and OK but the lengthy rules and having to interpret fiddly icons mires the game in slowness and interfere with the pacing. Even after several play throughs, I look at the icons and think, 'Wait, what does that do?'.
After more play throughs I'm sure that the rules will provide no obstacle but I feel little compulsion to play it again, which is a bit of shame as it looks really nice.
While there's nothing wrong with Tiny Epic Dungeons and I can't find any fault with it, I also can't find a reason to like it.
I play, I paint.