Finally my inaugural review for Games Quest, purveyors of the most distracting pieces of enjoyment since I first discovered why girls’ tops stick out in funny ways, has arrived. The Ed kindly sent me a copy of Tiny Epic Western, the freshest Tiny Epic game to come out of Scott Almes’ massive brain and said “All you need to do is play the game and write some words about it. In return, we’ll let you have your shoes back.”
Well, the sun is out and I want to leave the house so enough procrastinating. Here we go.
Unlike so many other reviewers, I will restrain myself to only a single, cowboy pun in this whole review
Firstly I need to comment on the heft of this little elongated cuboid. Partly because it’s noticeable but mainly because we should all be using the word “heft” more often.
Measuring less than 18cm along its longest edge, yet in the hand the box has a pleasing weight of around a dozen chubby hamsters. The external artwork is lovely and the box cardstock is thick enough to use as an improvised weapon should you find yourself in a “Bourne Identity” moment without a magazine to hand. TL:DR – the Tiny Epic Western box is thick and I’m paid by the word
What’s in the box? WHAT’S IN THE BOX!
90’s references guaranteed 100% recycled
In Tiny Epic Western, you get 8 player boards, each with a different Wild West archetype (Banker, Cowgirl, Bill S Preston*, Outlaw etc.) and a player aid on the reverse. Each character has a minor power that helps with some aspect of the game but generally speaking, doesn’t give a ridiculous advantage.
*sadly, this is a lie.
You also get 6 double sided location boards that are set out to create the town of… Funnily enough, the theme is generic western so it’s not a specific location. For the sake of clarity we shall call it “Slough”.
There’s a poker chip for the dealer each turn to smugly flash and 2 decks of cards. One is the buildings for you to purchase, the other is a mini deck of standard playing cards valued up to 5 and with a (slightly unnecessary, Tiny Epic Western specific) different set of suits. Not collecting diamonds/spades here, no. You’re collecting hats and steer skulls… meh.
There’s a set of 3 cowboy meeples for each player and some small, shaped wooden tokens for tracking Justice, Violence and Money resources.
Also, bullet dice!
Never has simulated murder been so much fun
Box contents overall
Most components in Tiny Epic Western are lovely. Bullet dice are a nice touch and roll (or spin) cleanly unlike some custom dice out there. Cards are all of a decent quality and although I really see no point in the special “Tiny Epic Western Only” suits, they’re absolutely fine. Wooden components are all well produced and clearly marked. Generally it all feels high quality, though necessarily dinky.
The mats and boards feel a little flimsy but totally appreciate that space is limited (or else it just becomes “Epic Western”) but they do feel noticeably slender. Possibly open to creases if your group includes ham-fingered oafs.
Certainly there is nothing about the production quality to put you off and lots to recommend Tiny Epic Western
How does it play?
You can find the rules for Tiny Epic Western here but more than most I think this game really benefits from just having a go rather than trying to explain every nuance of the game in advance. Your decisions have more subtlety than initially apparent so just crack the box open, skim the rules and start playing.
Before starting, ask your players if they know the rules for poker. If not, leave the board set up and take them, the poker cards and the player aids somewhere quiet and teach them basic poker hands. I’ve taught this game on three occasions to players who turned out not to know what a straight or a flush was and it’s much easier to get that out of the way right now.
As advertised, Tiny Epic Western is a worker placement game with poker at its core for resolving much of the resource accrual and land-grabs. Each turn you’ll place 2 of your workers at various locations to secure resources, purchase rights to prime building cards and occasionally gun down your foes.
And that 3rd meeple? Well, they spend most of the game kipping on your player board. Initially this felt weak but it ends up just making the game tighter. You only have two actions each round and 6 rounds to play so every decision needs to be spot on.
“Get up you wastrel, there’s violence to be spent!”
“Shoot ‘em up?
Player interaction is limited in Tiny Epic Western to the occasional shootout over a highly valued board spot. Should successfully gun down your opponent, the recently deceased worker still joins in later rounds of the game and returns to the players hand at the end of the turn.
Potentially we’re in Westworld or we’re playing the Western version of Bugsy Malone… I may have just come up with the best movie ever, does anyone know if Scott Baio is still cute? Gonna go google him… Idea. Dead.
There is a VP benefit to attacking your opponent but it’s not overwhelming and duels don’t tend to crop up every turn. This may differ in a 4 player game but at the 2-3 players I’ve tested out, you can focus on resource management and VP gathering without it turning into a wargame. This may be a turn off for some but Tiny Epic Western is worker placement and not the Gunfight at the OK Corral so it worked for me.
After 6 turns you count up victory points from purchased building cards, industry shares and the Wanted Card bonus to establish bragging rights and tea-bagging privileges. Simple…
Well not really. Here’s how every teaching games I’ve run has played:
Turn 1 – “I don’t really know what I’m doing so I’m just playing randomly”
Turn 2 – “I now get why I care which poker card to keep and am no longer just keeping the highest”
Turn 3 – “I’ve got this now. I understand the game and can play”
Turn 4 – “Now I know how to play the decisions are actually really hard”
Turn 5 – “I want to buy that building and I also want to get this resource, and the building on my porch gives me a power that would be really useful but I can’t do everything I want so whatever decision I make is sub-optimal”
Turn 6 – *furious calculations * “So if I shoot your meeple, grab the wanted card, swing by the saloon for some Justice, buy this building and then as long as my opponent doesn’t have the 5 of horseshoes I can make my mining monopoly worth 3 victory points for the win!” *rolls bullet dice* “Well, damn”
“Tiny Epic Western was far harder than I thought. Can we play it again because I get it now?”
Tiny Epic Western is a surprisingly deep little strategy game. Considering the diminutive size, it’s a real challenge to play well and I think that’s why I keep being drawn back to it. There’s rarely a simple decision and you’ll need to rustle up (there’s the cowboy pun for those looking for it) every ounce of your intellectual powers from the moment you’re handed the poker cards and told “CHOOSE WISELY”.
Each turn requires careful planning of which boards to contest based on the resources you’ll get AND the building cards they let you buy AND your potential of actually winning the board. Tiny Epic Western is my first Tiny Epic game and I expected some simple filler and instead it’s an intriguing mental puzzle with a bit of luck to keep it spicy. Epic indeed.
Tiny Epic Western is also a solid game with decent mechanics and generally great quality. You’re not playing in a bubble, but the other players can’t completely derail your plans either. It plays to the theme well and when you’ve laid Slough out on the table it looks really good (although the claim that it doesn’t take up much table real-estate is questionable. We’re not talking Star Wars Rebellion here but it’s a good sized “board”).
I tried out the solo mode as well and it’s excellent. Slightly regret trying it on Hard though as it handed me my rear-end on a platter and when you flip the table on a solo game, you’re just making work for yourself.
“Yeehaw” and all that, old chap.
Too Long: Didn’t Read. Give me the summary and my cowboy pun
If you’re the kind of player who wants a challenging solo game which wraps up in under an hour, Tiny Epic Western is worth a shout. If your group runs at 2-4 calculating players who enjoy strategy games then it’s a good buy. If you live on a narrow boat but have a reasonably sized fold-out table, the game will fit snugly on your shelf and the box could conceivably be used as a life raft for a small pet.
It can suffer from analysis paralysis at the beginning of each round as the players choose which poker card to keep, but then the actual turns play quickly so it never felt like a problem. I don’t think it’s a game that can be “solved” and with so many building cards it should have decent replayability. That beautifully constructed box is even small enough to take away on (Doc) Holliday… boom-tish.
The Cherub (teenage daughter) thought it was ok but cowboys as a theme doesn’t seem to appeal. We are now scheduled to watch Tombstone on repeat until she understands that guns + horses + steam trains + spittoons are cool.
The Destroyer (7 year old son) loved it but only because he could gun his dad down every turn. You can throw one young / slow player into the mix and it just adds an interesting element of chaos, but Tiny Epic Western earns its 14+ age guide and they won’t ever, ever win.
Scores on the boards?
Tiny Epic Western is a solid 7/10 for me. Interesting challenge with a great solo variant. Solid mechanics and lovely art but I’m unsure where this will fit into a games night. Too short to be the centrepiece, too meaty to be filler, too heavy for the kids. I don’t think it will be in anyone’s top ten, but it is a well made, interesting little game. Buy Tiny Epic Western here.
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The failed genetic combination betwixt a wooden cube and a rage infected monkey, Sane must seek out the perfect board, card or digital distraction to control the raging spirit that dwells within him. Or beat Pandemic in heroic mode, whatever.
His most regular games group consists almost exclusively of his spawn; The Cherub, The Heir, The Destroyer, The Bounce and his shiny pink mascot, The Star. These diminutive devils delight in Dad's disastrous duels, dicing with death as they defiantly defeat him... doo-doo, doooo. Meh