Tiny Epic Kingdoms occupies an all-too-small niche of games that are short, but not dumb, not utterly random, or not thinly themed. It’s modest and ultimately lite, a palate-cleanser ideal before the main game of the evening, while you’re waiting for that guy who’s always late, or after the main game of the evening, to unwind after a brain burner. It’s portable enough and modest enough for lunch hour gaming that doesn’t sprawl across too much of the table or too much of the lunch hour. Calling it tiny is a slightly precious exaggeration, but it’s certainly small.
After the jump, how small is it?
The beauty of Tiny Epic Kingdoms is that although it’s trying to be small and simple, it doesn’t take the easy way out by being simplistic. Instead, there’s an almost Euro elegance to the rules. Euromeister Reiner Knizia could have made this game. The three resources, all earned from occupying the map, each feed directly into one of the scoring conditions, each of which is also a trigger to end the game. Each resource is important and unique. Magic levels up your race, ore builds a scoring tower, and food puts your meeples on the board. Combat emphasizes the resources differently. When it comes time to fight, Tiny Epic Kingdoms resorts to dice, but you don’t roll them! You and your opponent secretly position your die to show how many resources you’re each spending. An aggressive race will mainly need magic from the forest, but ore from the mountains will be a helpful back-up. You already used your food getting your armies on the board. It’s all very well thought out. You can teach this game in less than ten minutes, not just because it’s simple, but because it makes so much sense.
And yet for all its simplicity, Tiny Epic Kingdoms wrings variety from its various races. This being a fantasy kingdom, it is populated by asymmetry. The usual suspects include orcs, elves, halflings, and humans. But there are also less common folk such as valkyries, shapeshifters, merfolk, and centaurs. They start out identical to each other, but as races level up, they acquire unique abilities. Gameplay becomes adjectives which become gameplay. The peace-loving halflings, the insidious lizardfolk with their sneaky tunnels, the hungry undead, the insular dark elves, and the rampaging centaurs are all expressed with simple but effective gameplay concepts.
The game board isn’t a game board at all, but a collection of postcards, one for each player, each a patchwork of a few territories. Before the game begins, you choose which side of your postcard you’ll play. Features like water, ruins, and cities add just enough to keep the postcards from being meaningless quilts. It’s inevitable that players will expand onto each other’s postcards, not necessarily because there’s a shortage of space, but because there are completely separate actions for moving within one postcard and moving to another postcard. So when you need to grab a farmland, it’s not always up to you whether you grab the one on your postcard or someone else’s.
Turns play out like Puerto Rico in that the active player chooses a type of action, and everyone else can either perform that action, or do a secondary action (which is always collecting resources). This means it’s never not your turn to make a decision. If there’s anything epic about Tiny Epic Kingdoms, it’s the pacing.
But because it’s so simple, and because it’s got no surprises in the form of die rolls or flipping cards, because it’s brief and elegant, it’s going to reveal itself entirely after a few plays. A typical game quickly gets through the first several turns, and now everyone’s got about 12 points, and it’s time for someone to make a break for the win, or for everyone to gang up on the guy ahead by a point or two. Small games have small margins for victory. But it’ll all be over soon and it will have felt similar to the last time you played it. I appreciate elegance, but when you combine elegance and smallness, there’s only so far you can get. The epic in the title is ironic, after all. This is a pocket game, more of a stick of chewing gum than even a snack. Just don’t expect it to hold its flavor for too long.
Tiny Epic Kingdoms
You are a tiny kingdom with big ambition. You want to expand your population throughout the realms, learn powerful magic, build grand towers, and have your neighbors quiver at the mention of your name. The conflict? All of the other kingdoms want the same thing and there's not enough room for everyone to succeed. In Tiny Epic Kingdoms, a 4x fantasy game in a pocket-size package, each player starts with a unique faction (which has a unique technology tree [which -- let's be honest here -- isn't a tree so much as a stubby stick]) and a small territory. Throughout the game, players collect resources, explore other territories, battle each other, research magic, and work to build a great tower to protect their realm.