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Is that a world in your pocket? – Tiny Epic Quest Review

Western, Defenders, Galaxies or Kingdoms?  Which Tiny Epic game is your squeeze of choice at the moment?  Well, make (a little) space at the end of your Tiny Epic Shelf, because the latest addition to the series is now here, Tiny Epic Quest.  If you have been here before then you will know what to expect – something with the punch of a big box game but tucked up into a box you could, at a push, fit into a slightly larger than average pocket.

Bold bright and colourful!  From Adventure to Zelda!

The first thing to notice about Tiny Epic Quest is that it is colourful, as in seriously colourful, as in – let’s get the ‘Z’ word out of the way here – Zelda colourful.  Bright, bold and vibrant is the order of the day here, with none of the faraway washed out haziness of some other recent games.  Here instead is seriously in-your-face colour, from the outside of the box to the insert and then through to the components as well

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

Bright, bold, colourful. Try not to think of Zelda.

These components are very, very tightly packed into the box, despite being tiny, so it is fair to say that Tiny Epic Quest is crammed full of gaming goodness.  There are large cards to represent the world players will explore, individual player mats, round and spell cards.  Then there are many very, very small tokens to track niceties such as power, magic and health, goblin markers, and meeples.

Evolved Meeples?  Evo-Meeples?

These are not your standard meeples, however, for these are – drum roll… – IteMeeples.  Or ItemMeeples.  Or Item-Meeples.  Whichever way you slice it, these meeples have evolved to have vestigial armpits that allow them to – another drum roll – pick things up!  There is also an Item Rack that needs to be assembled and which will hold the small plastic goodies that the meeples will collect.  It is completely surplus to requirements, fiddly beyond all measure, but certainly looks the part when it is up and assembled and ready to dole out its goodies.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

The item rack and IteMeeples. Fiddly beyond measure.

Looking for help?  Tiny Detailed Icons!

In fact, Tiny Epic Quest, even at this early stage, could happily be called Tiny Fiddly Quest, because the necessities of trying to fit everything into a Tiny Epic box mean that many of the components are on the small side.  The quality is all good enough, even if the top layer of cardboard on my tokens has developed a tendency to peel upwards, but it is all susceptible to the slightest change of wind direction, so careful as you quest.  Unfortunately, not only are the tokens tiny, but the iconography on the player aids and magic tracker is so desperately small that you might need an eagle on hand to decipher those symbols in anything less than perfect light.  Everything a player needs is on Tiny Epic Quest’s cards, but the emphasis is on the tiny and the quest as far as this matter is concerned.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

All the information is here, somewhere…

The flip side of this particular coin is that there is detail everywhere in this game, and really gorgeous detail too.  The map is bursting with deft touches and helpful text, while the interior of one half of the box also doubles as the “dice grotto”, complete with illustration and reminder of the order in which symbols are activated.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves – first we need to discover our world for this particular Tiny Epic Quest.

Travel the land!  Complete the quests!

The land is set out according to a procedure that lays out the players’ castles around a central junction and then adds coastal cards around the edges of the map.  Unless you play Tiny Epic Quest intently you are highly unlikely ever to encounter the same map twice.  Each player’s meeples begin the game in their home castle, and a player gains health and power to begin the game, but no magic at this stage.  Goblins are placed in portals, three Quest cards are dealt to the centre of the table, and then the Tiny Epic Quest is pretty much ready to go.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

Quest away!

The game takes place over five rounds, each of which is divided into two phases, Day and Night.  Exploration is done in the daytime, effected through the use of shared movement cards, while resolution tends to be a nighttime affair, achieved through rolling and resolving dice.  At the beginning of a round there are five movement cards available, and players take turns to choose one of these, each player then being able to use the selected type of movement.  Travelling by gryphon is diagonal, for example, while going on your Tiny Epic foot is a simple one-card move in any direction.  Travelling past an aggressive goblin will cost power, and the place your meeple ends its journey can earn it an instant bonus or set it up for some nocturnal adventures.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

A moving experience.

Make your way by day!  Fight by night!

A player may always decline to move, called “idling”, and once four of the five movement cards have been selected and used the day part of the round is over.  Night then falls over the Tiny Epic Quest and each player rolls dice to see how their adventurous meeples fare.  Damage can be taken, goblins attacked, spells learned, and temples conquered.  When all players have either become exhausted (a bad thing) or decide to rest (a good thing), the night is over, some goblins become aggressive while others spawn from empty portals, and off we go again.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

Nightfall brings the dice rolling.

While spells and defeated goblins are all well and good, and will earn points at the end of the game, Tiny Epic Quest provides its sense of adventure via the conquering of temples and the placement of meeples.  Getting your adventurers into a certain formation might net you a quest, while exploring a temple could secure you an item or even, if done in the right order, a legendary item.  These plastic possessions become literally attached to your meeples and give them special abilities – behold, levelling up, in a way.  Quests and legendary items also grant points at the end of the game, but the normal items are also important, pushing individual meeples down different adventuring routes.

Want abilities?  Equip your meeples!

The Tiny Epic Quest bow and arrow, for an example, allows a meeple to attack a goblin from any adjacent card, while the fairy aids movement.  These items can all be swapped around between meeples at your home castle as well, so you can unequip and reequip if you like, although this process is – yes, you’ve guessed it – fiddly, and done against the backdrop of “I-might-just-snap-this” fear.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

Explore the locations, fight the goblins…

In effect, a player’s heroes need to work as a team and, should you wish, you could end up with the standard fantasy tropes of wizard, warrior and so on represented by your meeples, but Tiny Epic Quest’s five-round limit is almost punishingly tight, and intriguingly different from the game’s original and open-ended description.  I suspect that the round limit may have been introduced to stop the game dragging on for ever, but, even so, at the maximum player count it can go on much longer than is comfortable.  Much of this is due to the delicate slow-motion dance between meeples and different types of movement, and the desire to trigger bonuses and complete quests.  Tiny Epic Quest is certainly on the larger side when it comes to its decision space.

Tiny Epic Quest also desperately needs player aids to stop constant back and forthing between rulebook and table.  What each portal, temple, castle and obelisk does is fairly clear, but how many of whose meeples can go on each one, how the dice resolve, and what happens to various meeples at the end of the night is all information that could have gone onto a card, and I would have happily done without the item rack instead.

Tactics and randomness?  A game of two halves!

Tiny Epic Quest also feels distinctly like a game of two halves, and players will need to love both to get the most out of the game.  The Day phase is strongly analytical, a game of snatching small advantages and hidden corners to maximise points, almost abstract in some ways, while the Night phase is effectively push-your-luck dice rolling.  As meeples’ abilities become stronger through Tiny Epic Quest a player will have more options available to them, but being unable to defeat a goblin because the appropriate symbol on the dice just…won’t…show…up is a frustrating pain, especially as becoming exhausted (by overpushing your luck) loses you any progress you might have made.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

Push your luck in the dice grotto.

Tiny Epic Quest also comes with a solo version which is largely the same as the full version, though with slight differences to travel, goblins and dice rolls, and I have to say that I prefer it to the congested and drawn out multiplayer affair.  It can be played within an hour and provides a meaty and gnarly experience, and there is less likelihood of “accidentally” spilling another player’s health markers.  It seems tough to do well, but at least Tiny Epic Quest presents a challenge, even if it all starts to feel a little samey after a while.

Want a bigger challenge?  Just add Gloom!

Even so, flip the map cards over and there is the formerly hidden begloomed world of Tiny Epic Quest.  What is it with gloom these days?  Gloomhaven, Gloom Of Kilforth, Tiny Epic Quest’s Gloomfall version – these fantasy guys need to get onto some kind of Clean Air Act.  This Tiny Gloomy Quest is a tougher proposition all around – goblins arrive onto the map already annoyed and the temples are tougher to explore.  There is certainly variability of a sort in this box, that is for sure.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

Goblins – literally passive aggressive…

In fact, Tiny Epic Quest is a big box game in all but name.  With slightly bigger aspirations this would have been a happier production with meatier components and far less of that annoying fiddly stuff going on.  Yes, I accept that it would not then have been Tiny and Epic, only Quest, but it is bursting out of the box as it is and feels as though it needs a bigger home.

All things considered, though, Tiny Epic Quest is an impressive design, giving plenty of decision-based punch for a low number of components.  It will need more space on the table than one might expect, thanks to the map, but the experience is solid and meaty, satisfying and challenging.  It does drag with four players, and the odd juxtaposition of tactical play and push-your-luck dice rolling that will undo all that tactical stuff might well put some gamers off, but if you feel that you can put up with the dice gods in your quest for glory, then this may well be right for you.

Epic in intent – but feels samey quickly!

I am tempted to mark Tiny Epic Quest down a little for the tiny iconography, the swear-out-loud fiddlyness of some of its components and the lack of decent player aids, but the game more than outweighs that in terms of challenge and the inclusion of a satisfying solo game.  It is also bright, colourful and inviting, and those little meeples will become characters, however briefly and fleetingly, as they pick up items in this world.  Even so, and despite the promise of extreme variability in the different setup options, it does all end up feeling very samey very quickly – even as few as five games in it will feel very much as if players are retreading the same ground over and over again, just in a slightly different order.

Tiny Epic Quest Board Game

The point(s) of it all.

Some of the elements in the game feel decidedly abstract, such as the movement quests, and spells sadly do nothing but earn you points, but this is still a solid and fun piece of design for a while.  With the other two Glooms already on my shelf, I am not sure how much longevity I shall get out of Tiny Epic Quest, and maybe this is designed more for Tiny Epic fans than fantasy adventurers, but if you are in the target area for this game then it should not disappoint.  Despite its positives, though, it is hard to get too excited about what this game has to offer, and I fear that its shelf life is limited, so Tiny Epic Quest gets 7 out of 10 from me.  Now, where did I drop that health token..?

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Nick O'Neill

I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.