Review: Tides of Time

When it comes to two player games, I’ve found that it’s tough to find consistency. There are great games for two which won’t make it to the table often because of play time, and absolute snoozefests that can be played in 30 minutes…but leave you feeling like you’ve wasted a half hour of your life. And sometimes you’ll find that middle ground, but it’s not a game that will stand up to repeated plays. So when I saw Tides of Time get released, I was a bit skeptical. Which side would this one fall on??

Tides of Time is played over three rounds, with scoring taking place at the end of each round. Each player is dealt five cards to start and they select one to play in front of them, keeping it facedown for now. Once both players have selected a card, they are revealed at the same time. Then the remaining cards are passed to the other player. This is repeated until the cards are gone. Oh, and those cards? Gorgeous.

IMG_3899Once scoring is completed at the end of the first round, the players have some choices to make. Of the five cards now in front of them they get to keep one for the rest of the game, placing a relic token on top of it, and then get to remove a card completely from the game. Then they draw two more cards, bringing their hands back up to five, and start over by playing and passing again. Lather, rinse, and repeat for the third round.

So, by the time the game ends, you’ll have seven cards in front of you, two of which are relics from previous rounds. Which is all well and good, but I should talk about the cards themselves so you’ll know how to decide what to keep and what to pass.

The 18 cards in Tides of Time consist of 15 suited cards (three each of five different suits) and three cards with no suit. Each card will have a scoring condition or an action on the top. So, for instance, you may have a card which says “Score three points for each Garden suit” and you would count your Gardens and multiply by three during scoring.

During the drafting portion of the round you will watch the suits and conditions, trying to maximize your points. Of course, as it IS a drafting game, you’ll also know exactly what you’re getting from the other player each turn after the first…so you can start to plan ahead.

The premise and gameplay are quite simple, but don’t be fooled into thinking that there isn’t a lot of game here.

After my first few plays, I started thinking about other two player games that I’ve played and how this compares to them. Oddly, the first one to come to mind was cribbage. No one is ever going to accuse cribbage of being a complex game, but learning how to play the game well can take a while. You’re playing the other player more than you’re playing the game.

IMG_3902The same is true here. While you’re looking at the tableau in front of you and trying to work out what cards will allow you to score a ton of points, you need to keep your eye on the other person. If you aren’t careful you’ll wind up tossing them cards they need to absolutely bury you once scoring rolls around. There was one game where I wound up with 57 points because my opponent handed me the worst possible card that she could have.

Once the round ends, evaluating what to keep and what to toss are just as important. You’ve now seen all the cards. What path do you want to take? Looking for a majority? Trying for 13 points with one of each suit? Hoping for certain combos of suits? It’s a balancing act to keep what you’re needing and tossing the thing that could hurt you the most. And sometimes it’s hard to tell those apart.

Tides of Time, as it turns out, is a game that hits the sweet spot. With a play time of 20 minutes and only 18 cards to think about, you’re able to play this game multiple times in one evening. And each one of those plays will shake out a little differently. You’ll find yourself playing cards just to keep them from your opponent, pondering which card to slap a relic token on, and sometimes completely missing the calculation on majority and winding up with six points for the round.

So if you’re looking for a two player game which will stand the test of time (har har), look no further!

Review: Tiny Epic Galaxies

A couple years ago, when I first heard of Tiny Epic Kingdoms, I was intrigued. The idea of a small box with big gameplay was one that I was willing to check out. And it came through for me and many others, as it’s a great game. Designer Scott Almes really has a knack for taking a game and distilling it down to make a small, yet potent package.

I’ve enjoyed the entire Tiny Epic series so much that when I saw Tiny Epic Galaxies go up on Kickstarter it was a no-brainer. I was jumping all over this game. The premise sounded cool, the art looked great, and his other games have been quite entertaining. Finally the long wait was over and this one arrived at my door. Did it live up to my expectations? Well, read on…

Tiny Epic Galaxies is a space exploration game for 1-5 players which will take around 30-45 minutes to complete. Each player receives a galaxy mat, ships, and tokens in the color of their choosing and two secret mission cards. After looking at those cards, each player will choose one and place it under their galaxy mat, discarding the other. The deck of planet cards is now shuffled and two more planets than there are players are dealt out in the middle of the table. If you are playing with five players, only use six cards. The dice, control mat, and planet deck are also placed in the middle.

The galaxy mat is going to be the center of your universe (pun intended) for this game, so let’s focus on those for a minute. Curving along the left side of the mat is the resource track. You will place your energy and culture tokens along this track, moving them up and down as your resources increase and decrease throughout the game. The resource track curves around the center of your galaxy, and this is where your available ships will live when they aren’t out colonizing a planet.

On the right side of the mat you will a large track which has three smaller tracks inset to the left. The large track is your empire track, and you’ll place your empire token on here to track your progress. The three other tracks are reference tracks which will tell you how many ships you should have in play, how many dice you can roll, and how many base victory points your empire is worth.

IMG_3797Gameplay proceeds as follows: on your turn, look at your empire track and take the number of dice shown on your dice track. Roll the dice and take the actions depicted one at a time. If you would like to reroll any number of your unspent dice, you may do so once for free. Additional rerolls are allowed, but will you cost you one energy per reroll. Once you’ve either used all of your dice or decided to not use the rest, play continues to the next player.

Each die has six faces which allow you to take one of four basic actions:

  • Move a ship – Move one of your ships to a planet, or from a planet back to your galaxy mat. When you move to a planet you can choose to either land on the planet and take the action listed, or orbit the planet in an attempt to colonize and claim it for your own. You may have two ships on the same planet as long as one is in orbit and the other is on the surface. When moving a ship which is already on a planet, it must move to a new planet…it’s can’t move from the surface to orbit or vice-versa.
  • Acquire resources – Each planet is capable of producing a resource (either energy or culture) and you can move up the resource track for each ship that is on a planet of that type. So if you rolled an energy symbol, and you’ve got two ships on planets with the energy icon, you would gain two energy. It’s worth noting that your galaxy mat has the energy icon, so you can gain energy while your ships are there as well.
  • Advance colonization – Along with a resource symbol, each planet has a symbol at the end of the orbital track signifying what it will take for you to successfully colonize the planet. Each symbol (either diplomacy or economy) allows you to move your orbiting ship one space closer to the end of the track. Once you hit the end, all ships are removed and returned to their home galaxies and the card is placed underneath the colony symbol on your galaxy mat.
  • Utilize a colony – This action will allow you to perform the empire upgrade found on your galaxy mat or any of the actions which are found on the planets you’ve successfully colonized. If performing the upgrade found on the mat, you may pay in either energy or culture, but not a combination of the two.

As you are taking your turn and activating each die, your opponents will have the opportunity to spend one culture to “follow” your action. This will allow, for example, your opponents to move ships when it isn’t their turn. If there are ever timing questions, you should evaluate each follow clockwise from the active player.

IMG_3798Each planet will have a number of victory points at the bottom, and as planets are colonized players will announce their new score. The end of the game is triggered once a player has 21 or more points, and play continues until every player has had the same number of turns. At this point the secret missions are evaluated, points are totaled, and a winner is decided!

You’re going to pick up the flow of this game in a heartbeat. Nothing’s overly complicated, and the basic premise behind most of the actions are ones that we’ve all seen before. But the package itself is nicely presented and makes everything flow nicely. From the follow mechanic to the dice activation, it’s just a complete package.

It’s pretty interesting that a simple thing like the follow mechanic can make such a huge difference in a game. Without that, this would have been a neat game that I would play once and forget about. But being able to follow someone’s action does quite a few things to improve gameplay.

First of all, it reduces downtime. Sure, there will be moments where you’re just out of culture and can’t follow someone even if you wanted…but careful planning will keep those from becoming frequent. For the most part, when it isn’t your turn you are still keeping on eye on what other players are rolling. You never know when your opponents will roll something that’ll set you up on your next turn.

Secondly, it makes activating your dice a little more challenging. Sure, I’d love to advance diplomacy because I’ve got a planet I’m working towards colonizing…but BOTH of my opponents do as well and they will get their colonies before I do at this rate. So is there another way to approach this turn?

IMG_3796Finally, it makes you choose to land on planets you normally wouldn’t. Because after that first time that you run out of culture and you really want to follow someone? Well, you won’t make that mistake twice. I’ve hopped onto planets I have no desire to get near just to have a chance at grabbing some culture.

There’s a lot to like here. You get some player interaction, lots of replayability, a compact footprint, and meaningful decisions. Basically everything that the Tiny Epic games are known for. And the components and art are top notch, which is fast becoming the hallmark of anything put out by Gamelyn Games. This is well deserving of a spot on any gamer’s shelf.

 

Review: Survive: Space Attack!

In my gaming group, there are a few titles which have become perennial favorites. These games are the ones we’ve played so many times that there’s no need for the rules and we can just sit and enjoy spending time with each other while we play. Or, in the case of Survive: Escape from Atlantis!, enjoy spending time with each other while we attempt to feed one another to sharks. That game has hit the table more times than I can count, and my abysmal performance time and time again has led to most people referring to it as “Dan Doesn’t Survive”.

So when I saw the news earlier this year that Stronghold Games was putting out a new version of Survive, I was interested. And then I saw that the changes weren’t just thematic, and I was VERY interested. The original Survive was created by Julian Courtland-Smith, and this new version was reimagined by Brian, Sydney, and Geoff Engelstein. We’ve moved from the “friendly” confines of the ocean into the deep reaches of outer space…this is Survive: Space Attack!

Survive Space AttackThe basic premise behind either game is the same: you have a group of meeples with numbers ranging from 1 to 6 on the bottom. Using three movement points per turn you are attempting to move them to safety by reaching the outer corners of the board. Meanwhile both your opponents and the board elements are conspiring against you, trying to eat or strand your meeples. A turn follows the progression of play a tile, use your movement points, pull a tile, and roll the creature die.

The original game is a classic, coming out over 30 years ago and still enjoying a large audience. So what, you might ask, makes Space Attack different? Is it worth owning? Well, let’s dive in to what’s new and different…

  1. The space theme is thick here. Instead of fleeing the sinking island of Atlantis while dodging sea serpents, sharks, and whales, you’re on the crumbling Space Station Atlantis trying to escape an alien attack by queens, spawn, and warriors. The aliens act exactly like their waterborne counterparts, so it’s easy to transition from one to another. And the lifeboats? Well, those are now escape pods. Where the original game had you heading for the safety of small islands, you’ll now be floating towards stargates which will allow you to jump to safety. It’s quite immersive.
  2. Station tiles now come in four sizes, which makes the board look even cooler as the new tiles, reactor tiles, are quite chunky. Oh, and not to mention that those reactor tiles are also home to…
  3. Laser turrets. On your turn, if you have a crew member on a tile with a turret, you can use a movement point to fire a laser. If the laser encounters a hex with aliens in it, you capture all the aliens in that space. There are a couple restrictions with them – they will only shoot along a row of hexes straight out from the turret, and they cannot shoot through other station tiles. They have no effect on crew or ships that are in the way.
  4. Fighters. Along with the escape pods, your crew members can also hitch a ride in a fighter. A fighter will, for one movement point, move as far as the controlling player wants in a straight line. So you can zoom all the way across the board if you so desire. But you can only use one movement point per fighter. Not only are they agile, but an occupied fighter moving into a hex with aliens in it will capture the aliens.
  5. Each player has a new action which they will can take as their first one: play captured aliens back onto the board. So all of those aliens you’ve captured with your turrets and fighters? This is the time to place them back on the board right by your opponent’s full escape pod.
  6. Finally the tiles have a lot of new interactions on the back of them. There’s your standard “place a warrior/fighter/spawn” etc. tiles, but most of the other tiles offer new ways to interact with each other. There’s also a new type of tile which gets played after the creature die is rolled which can give that creature extra movement or evolve them into a different alien.

I’m not going to mince words here – these additions are amazing. The Englesteins were able to look at a game which has stood the test of time, make some changes, and make it a totally different experience. Sure. The gameplay is very similar. But the strategy is, pardon the pun, light years apart.

SSAIn the original Survive you had one goal with all your meeples: save them. Now? Well, let’s take our low scoring crew and try to maneuver them towards turrets and fighters. They are going to provide cover fire for the rest of the crew as they make their way off. As an added benefit, once you start knocking out those aliens you can use them to thwart your opponents.

The changes made to the tiles make this even more interactive than it was before. You can switch crew members between ships (any player’s crew), move back on to the station from space, steal aliens that have just been captured…it’s really even more about interaction than ever before.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, the board is now double sided. One side is your basic setup and the other has only two jump points from which to escape, which work with new scenarios included within the rules. To be perfectly honest, the side with two jump points scares the hell out of me…I can barely get my crew to safety with four!

So now you know that Survive: Space Attack is well worth the investment. But this still leaves us with a question: if I own Survive: Escape from Atlantis, do I need this one? Do I perhaps pick Space Attack up and ditch the original? Well……………..I don’t know. It’s all going to come down to personal preference. If you play in a group that loves a sci-fi theme, this one’s going to be a hit. Have a lot of new gamers in your midst? Well, the original has fewer rules.

Of course, having both will allow you to have a Survive themed game night. You can play Escape from Atlantis and then say that those survivors moved on to the Space Station Atlantis and play Space Attack!

No matter what you choose, do yourself a favor and check this one out. Brian, Sydney, and Geoff have taken a fantastic game and made it even better.

Review: Codenames

The key to a good party game seems like a no brainer: you want everyone to have fun. It doesn’t hurt if the game doesn’t take a long time to play, and the rules should be short and straightforward. Most board game aficionados prefer a game that has a good deal of replayability as well. Today we look at Codenames, and you’ll find that it hits all those marks and then some.

Codenames, by Vlaada Chvatil, plays from two players up to…well, however many people you can fit around your table, and takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Players divide into two teams, and everyone will take turns as their team’s Spymaster. Setup only takes a minute. From the 200 codename cards, select 25 and make a 5×5 grid. Then the Spymasters select a key card and put in in the stand so only they can see it. Play will start with whichever team is indicated on the key card.

I’ve mentioned codename cards and key cards…so let’s talk for a minute about the cards in this game. The 200 codename cards each contain one word which is the “codename” for that secret agent. They are double-sided, so you’re getting 400 codenames to choose from. The words are all commonly known, like bat, beach, tree, Africa, kiwi, etc.

The 40 key cards are what provides the structure of each game. Each card will show the location of each team’s spies, along with the lone assassin. As the words are in a 5×5 grid, you can flip the orientation of the key card which will give four different placements for the various spies.

The object of the game is for the Spymaster to get their team to successfully guess the location of all their secret agents, while avoiding the other team’s spies as well as the assassin. The first team to reveal all of their secret agents wins!

Easy, right?

Not quite. See, the Spymaster is only allowed to say two things: a word, and a number. Nothing else. Ever. The word is a clue to get her team to point at the right word or words, and the number is how many codenames will relate to that word. So if my Spymaster says “country : 2” and I see “America” and “England”? I’m probably going to point at those as my guess.

IMG_3726Chances are that your clue might not have been as good as you thought it was…or you were too damn clever for your own good. After you give your clue, your team will confer and look at the available codenames trying to discern what you were getting at. Then they will point at a word which will have one of four outcomes (let’s pretend you’re on the red team):

  • If the codename pointed at belongs to your team, you’ll take one of the red spy cards and cover up that word. Your team may continue to guess codenames until they have guessed one more than the number you said after your clue.
  • If the codename belongs to the other team, you take one of the blue spy cards and cover up that card. Your turn is now over and the blue team has one less spy to uncover.
  • If it is a grey card, you place one of the innocent bystander cards on top of the codename. Your turn is over.
  • If it is the assassin, the game ends and you lose.

Since three out of those four outcomes aren’t exactly stellar, you’re going to do the best you can to avoid getting near the other words. I’ve seen games where “water” was the assassin and someone was trying to get their team to guess treasure and beach. So sometimes those codenames are kinda tough to work around.

So, while you’re trying to be careful, this is what usually happens in a typical round of Codenames:

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The Blue Spymaster looks around and sees that Kiwi and Bark are both blue codenames. That shouldn’t be too hard – “Brown: 2”

Blue team: “Okay, well, we can rule out ‘kiwi’ – those are green.” “What about ‘bat’?” “Bats are black.” “Not if they are BROWN BATS!” and so on…

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And that is what makes Codenames so much fun to play. There’s something so hilarious about spending a couple minutes thinking about a great clue to give and then having someone scuttle it in the first three seconds with a connection you didn’t even think of. The Spymasters try to keep a straight face, the rest of the team winds up getting silly over possible connections, and every really enjoys themselves. Isn’t that what a party game is all about?


I want to take a second to talk about an app you can download for your smartphone or tablet which makes playing this game even easier. The Codenames Gadget, which can be found on the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, will take the place of your key cards. Not only that, but it will provide you with different timers to help speed things along. While it’s not NEEDED, it’s a great addition to the game.

IMG_3725

 

iOS Review: Splendor

When it was announced that Space Cowboys was teaming up with Days of Wonder to release a digital version of Splendor, I knew it would be an instant purchase for me. The game, while having the most pasted on theme of any that I’ve played in years, is an excellent engine builder and I was very excited to see how it translated to a digital form.

SplendorSo let’s talk about the gorilla in the room right away – Splendor, as of now, does not feature online multiplayer. It has pass-and-play multiplayer, but that’s it. But, you know, it’s Days of Wonder. They aren’t going to let that one just slide by the wayside. The Ticket to Ride multiplayer is great, and I’m sure the Splendor one will be just as good.

Now that we’ve gotten the multiplayer bit out of the way, let’s chat about this app.

Splendor offers you three different styles of play: the aforementioned pass-and-play, a regular mode against up to three other AI opponents, and a solo campaign which will offer challenges which make each game a little different.

The app is well done, and the user interface is quite intuitive. You tap on the gem chips to select them, and can change your mind mid-draw if you’d like. The cards are selected the same way. One tap and you’ve got it in front of you, to reserve or purchase. And if you’re looking to reserve a card from the draw pile, the stacks are contained within slots in the tabletop.

Splendor

Your gem count is easy to read as well. There will be a number on top of a stack of chips to represent how many chips you have, and a card shaped indicator with a number in it to represent your tableau of cards. Any cards that you reserve go to the right of your gem count. It’s well thought out and very easy to get the hang of.

The pass-and-play and the regular game play…well…they play like a game of Splendor would if you were sitting with the actual game in front of you. That’s a pretty major compliment. With four different levels of AI to choose from, you can expect a different experience from game to game. The only downside I’ve seen is that you can’t seem to reserve a card if you have the gems available to purchase said card. I’m sure they’ll fix that, and it’s a minor issue.

SplendorBut where Splendor is really quite awesome is in the single-player challenges. There are currently three different regions that you can go to, each with six different challenges. Each challenge will change the basic rules of Splendor, turning the levels into a puzzle of sorts. Sometimes you’ll have no chip taking limits, and other times there are no chips at all but you start with a tableau of cards. The goals are different for each one and you’ll find that a few of them are quite difficult, requiring multiple tries before you can complete them.

All in all, Splendor is a marvelous app. This is a game that was really quite easy to take to a digital platform, and Days of Wonder knocked it out of the park. Yeah, yeah…there’s no online multiplayer yet. But it will come. And when it does this will be looked at as one of the best board game apps out there.

Splendor

 

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Splendor is available for $6.99 in the App Store. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/splendor/id971215921?mt=8

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iOS Review: Galaxy Trucker

It goes without saying that there are obvious differences between a physical board game and a digital version that you play on a tablet. I’ve often said that while they aren’t substitutes for in person gaming, apps allow you to play games when you normally would be unable. And, you know, it’s a LOT easier to set up. But you do miss out on the social aspect, there’s no doubt about that.

So when I heard that Czech Games was making Galaxy Trucker into an app, I was a little hesitant. If you’ve played the cardboard version of the game you know that the ship building phase of the game is chaotic and crazy, mostly because everyone is simultaneously pulling from the same pile. I wasn’t sure that you would wind up getting the same feeling from the app, and that’s a big part of the game. But I do enjoy Galaxy Trucker, so I made sure to pick this one up when it was released.

IMG_0096There are two main modes of play here – singleplayer and multiplayer, and you can choose several styles of play within those modes. If you choose singleplayer, you’ll have three options: Campaign, Custom Game, and the Tutorial. Since I’m fairly certain you’re all familiar with what a Tutorial is, I’ll skip to the other choices.

The Custom Game will allow you to play against three different levels of AI, and they’ve done a pretty good job with each one. You can also choose the number of flights that you’ll participate in, from one to three. But the best setting of all is choosing between a real-time or a turn-based game.

The real-time mode is just what it sounds like and plays much like the board game. You grab one piece at a time and choose whether or not to put it on your board. Once you drag another piece over the top of your spaceship, the previous one becomes “welded” there and is now permanent. Each player is doing this simultaneously, and when you’re finished you pick one of the turn order tiles.

The turn-based mode uses an action point system to drive gameplay, with each action having a cost associated with them:

  • Turning up a new component – 1 action
  • Add a component to your ship – 2 actions
  • Store a component for later – 1 action
  • Look at the card stack – 3 to 5 actions depending on flight level

Each turn you receive 10 action points (except for the first player on the first turn – that player receives 7 points) and may spend them as you see fit. Each player may also hold back no more than three action points for future rounds. As pieces are revealed the will move onto conveyor belts, and when it is your turn they will show you which ones you’ve revealed and which ones others have revealed.

It’s really quite slick.

If you’re looking for something that’s a little more story based, you can select Campaign mode. In this mode, you wind up going on missions with specific objectives which will lead you to bigger ships and better equipment. For example, you’ll have to escort a business man from one planet to another while arriving with a certain credit amount in cargo. They aren’t easy, and there are many hours of fun in the campaign mode as the paths are branching instead of linear.

IMG_0093Since I’ve already gone into detail about how the turn-based game operates, you should be able to guess how well the multiplayer mode works. This was the thing I was most concerned with, and Czech Games handled it brilliantly. Designing a new way to play the game that preserves the spirit of the original while allowing for asynchronous play was a huge undertaking and they crushed it. Of course, if you’re able to find willing opponents, you can still play real-time using the classic mode…or just do a pass & play with some friends in the same room.

The app also allows you to change which card deck you use…the standard one that comes with the game, a digital version that has more cards, or the Hardcore deck which will challenge even the best Galaxy Trucker players. This, along with settings for “autopilot flight”, number of flights in a game, and many others make this app one that you will play for many many moons before you find yourself bored.

Settings aside, the presentation is top notch here. The graphics are exactly what you would expect out of  a Galaxy Trucker game, and they’ve paid attention to little details like asteroids and slavers, making them really come to life. The ships animate when defending themselves or moving to the surface of a planet, and it really gives a whole new spin onto the flying phase of the game.

GTAppIMG_0101GTApp

 

Between the extremely robust single player campaign and the ability for asynchronous multiplayer, this app is one that will be hard to beat. CGE really did an excellent job preserving the fun of the board game while giving us so many options and styles of play that the game will be fresh for years to come.

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Galaxy Trucker is available for $7.99 in the App Store. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/galaxy-trucker/id904013027?mt=8

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Review: Tiny Epic Kingdoms Heroes’ Call

If you look at almost any board game, you will see that releasing an expansion can be a tricky business. With any expansion, you walk a fine line between enhancing the base game and flat out changing it to the point where it feels completely different from the original. And if you’ve got a game that was pretty damn good to begin with? Well, the task of expanding can be even more daunting.

When I heard that Gamelyn Games was releasing an expansion for Tiny Epic Kingdoms, I was cautiously optimistic. If you’ve read my review of the base game, you know that I really enjoyed how this little package delivered that “big game” feeling. And if you haven’t read it…well, it’s right over here. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Okay…so where were we? Oh, right. Tiny Epic Kingdom Heroes’ Call. When this title was announced, I thought we would see more of the same from the TEK universe – some new factions, new territory cards, and maybe a small tweak here and there. I would have been happy with that, but there’s a lot more inside this box.

Keep in mind that this was a print-and-play version of the expansion, but let’s take a look at what it comes with and the changes we’ll see:

  • Five new factions
  • Five new territories
  • Fifteen hero cards
  • Five hero meeples
  • Five hero tokens
  • Thirty war towers
  • Five silver cubes

New factions are a must in a game with variable player powers. With the expansion factions and the ones from the base game, there’s literally tens of thousands of combinations of factions that can occur for a five player game. Replayability anyone? The fantasy theme is great here with Pigfolk, Birdfolk, Draconian, Polarkin, and Lionfolk all joining the fray.

TEK Heroes' Call

The new territories are the “Frozen Territories” and feature two new region types: Peaks and Tundra. The Tundra is similar to the Ruins from the base game – you get to choose a resource of your choice when collecting resources – however, if a Patrol or Quest action is available you MUST move out of the Tundra, even if it causes war. One caveat on the Tundra is that only one meeple can be present there at a time…so alliances and wars cannot occur in the Tundra.

Peaks will provide you with a new resource type: Silver. Silver is essentially a wildcard resource, which may be used in place of any other resource when building, expanding, or researching. It has no value in war, and you cannot Trade for it, but it can be gained from the Tundra or Ruins.

War Towers come in each player color and are used when a player takes the Build action. Along with moving their token up on the Tower board, the player will now take a War Tower and place it in a territory they occupy. This becomes a physical manifestation of their progress on the Tower track, and will provide that player with a bonus during war. Of course, as they are actually on the territory cards now, they may also be destroyed, which will send the player back down the tower track.

And as the expansion is titled Heroes’ Call, there better be some heroes. Each player is dealt two hero cards at the start of the game and chooses one to start with. This becomes their initial hero and their large hero meeple is placed in their starting territory.

TEK Heroes' CallEach hero card will have two special abilities on it, and the hero markers will keep track of the level each hero has achieved, up to retirement. Heroes can be leveled up in one of four ways, and once they are retired you switch their large meeple out with a normal one and place the corresponding hero card off to the side. New heroes can be recruited when you take the Expand action after having retired (or having lost in battle) your previous hero.

Along with the physical changes, we have a couple of new rules as well. First, the game’s end can be triggered when a player retires their third hero. Second? Retreating. If you’ve lost a war you choose to pay food equal to the number of meeples you have in play to bug out into an adjacent region, as long as that wouldn’t trigger another war.

So now that you know what’s in the box, let’s talk about what this expansion means for the base game.

The heroes are a massive addition to the game, and I think they’ve been integrated masterfully. From the onset, each hero is going to add another layer to the game based on the powers that they possess. It’s all well and good to want to move in on an opponent, but if their hero is packing a war bonus you’ll think twice about attacking them. Perhaps a hero is netting your opponent resources when the action card is cleared…so you scrap your original plans and move to dispatch them.

Along with that, the heroes also change your decision tree when it comes to taking actions. Remember how I said that you can level up your hero? Well, there are four ways of doing so, and three of them are taken in place of the Expand, Research, and Build actions. This throws a third option into what was a binary decision. It’s another player’s turn, and you know you can’t Build, but do you take resources or advance your hero? Or maybe you CAN Build…which makes the choice even harder. Do you want to try to retire your hero to get a new one, or is the current one too valuable to retire? Are you willing to let go of the 3 victory points you’ll get for retiring them?

TEK Heroes' CallSpeaking of the Build action, the War Towers are a great addition. Since the towers give you a benefit when defending it makes locking down a specific region a little easier…so go ahead and pop a tower down to defend your hold on the Capital. Of course, it cuts both ways – if you’re light on resources and someone decides to attack you that tower might fall, which knocks you back down the tower track. At game end you’re going to get some bonus points if you outnumber other towers on territory cards (other than your own) so there’s a lot to fight for here.

Of course, the new region types are sure to mix things up as well. I was never eager to go into the Ruins when playing TEK, as spending two actions just to move one meeple out was a lot to sacrifice. I think the Tundra region is a way to provide the same benefit with a less harsh penalty – you’re choosing a resource, but you’ve got to leave when you are able. And those Peaks? Well, if you want to see a hotly contested area take a look at the Peaks…Silver is way too valuable to let someone hog it all.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the new territory cards is that mixing them in with the original set has the potential for some sweet setups. Imagine how a game would play out if there were only two Peaks regions in a five player game? Every player is going to be trying to hold onto one of them and it’s bound to turn into a blood bath. The changing dynamic of each game is something I’m really looking forward to with Heroes’ Call.

So have you figured out the biggest change yet? Have you read between the lines? No? Well, I’ll tell you what it is. In Tiny Epic Kingdoms Heroes’ Call…

War matters.

Look, I’m not saying war was totally glossed over in the base game, because it most certainly was not. If someone was tossing too many resources towards Research, it was time to take them down a meeple or two as a response. If someone was holding a Capital? At least one person was bound to take a shot at it eventually.

But I also saw the games where people avoided war altogether. The resource cost was perceived to be too great and the reward was often not worth the risk. Even the factions with war bonuses would be hesitant to get in the trenches and slug it out with the others.

Now? Well now you’re going to need to get in there and get your hands dirty. I’ve talked about three of the four ways that you can level up a hero – and the fourth is by winning a war. If you’ve got a hero that needs to win a battle to level up, you better get in there and hit someone so you can retire that hero. Those points are hard to pass up at the end of the game.

The heroes are going to push you towards war. The regions will push you towards war. The factions will push you towards war.

No wonder they’ve added rules for retreating.

And all of these new decisions you’ve got? The increased conflict? The region setup? It all makes the resources a hell of a lot tighter. So you better diversify…there’s almost no path to victory that will let you neglect one of the many ways to score points.

For all that it adds to the game, Heroes’ Call still maintains the feel of the original. It’s a fine balancing act to change things up and add things while still holding true to the base game, but this one is a smashing success. But remember: there will be war. Oh yes. There will be war. You have been warned.

In the pantheon of board games, there are certain expansions which have elevated themselves past the point where they are simply a nice addition to the base game. These few expansions are looked at as being so well done that people don’t want to play without them.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms Heroes’ Call will be joining that list.

[well]Tiny Epic Kingdoms Heroes’ Call is now on Kickstarter! Head on over there and get yourself in line for a copy today…or at least before July 14th! (link)[/well]