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]

Kickstarter Update – 6/19/15

It’s a busy week on the Kickstarter front, with a few projects that have already launched and another coming on Monday…so let’s get to it!

First up we have one that I’ve been waiting quite a while for – Vital Lacerda’s new game The Gallerist. I love Lacerda’s work and when I heard that Eagle-Gryphon was publishing this one I figured it would be on Kickstarter. Sure enough, this one launched on the 18th and will most certainly become funded.

As for the game? Read on:

[well]

The GalleristThe Age of Art and capitalism has created the need for a new occupation — The Gallerist. Blending the talents of an Art dealer, museum curator, and Artists’ manager, you are about to take on that job! You will promote and nurture Artists; buy, display, and sell their Art; and build and exert your international Influence. As a result, you will achieve the respect needed to draw visitors to your Gallery from all over the world. There’s a lot of work to be done, but don’t worry, you can hire assistants to help you. There’s a long queue of unemployed Art aficionados lined up, hoping to work with someone of your stature. Build your fortune by running the most lucrative Gallery ever, and thus win the game by:

  • having visitors in your gallery;
  • exhibiting and selling works of art;
  • investing in artists’ promotion to increase art value;
  • achieving trends and notoriety as well as curator and dealer goals.

[/well]

This is a shorter campaign, ending on July 5th, so be sure to check it out! (link)


Next up we have another Queen Games project, Kingdom Builder: Marshlands. This expansion follows in the footsteps of the previous ones by adding changes that enhance the gameplay without having it drastically change.

[well]

kbmarshKingdom Builder: Marshlands the third boxed expansion for Kingdom Builder designed by Donald X. Vaccarino builds on this already exciting world of skill acquisition and land dominance.

What makes the Marshes expansion unique from the standard game of Kingdom Builder is the opportunity to double your abilities and gain a third. There are 24 location tiles with 8 new abilities and 12 summary cards for the edges of the board. Collecting 2 of the same location tile gets you that ability x2 and earns you a 3rd. This could really change the game up.

There are 4 new board quadrants with the Marshes land type on them. Castles have been replaced with Forts adding a different scoring possibility. To go along with this new land type 5 Marsh terrain cards are added to the terrain deck.

There are also 6 new Kingdom Builder cards with some exciting new gold earning conditions.

[/well]

We’ve got an even shorter time frame here, with this one running until June 30th. (link)


If you’re looking for a fun little filler game that will play up to six, you should check out Dark Dealings from Nevermore games and designer Michael D. Kelly. You give me a game that will play in 20 minutes that has a memory element and blind bidding? I’m in. Add art from Rob Lundy? Sign me up again!

[well]

ddealIf you enjoy drafting, bidding, and surviving end-game tension – all in 20 minutes – Dark Dealings is right up your alley. Whether you play alone or with up to five friends, Dark Dealings is a fast-paced game of strategy that will leave you ready to play again immediately!

In Dark Dealings, players take on the roles of Dark Lords. You’ve managed to annoy the locals just enough for them to muster heroes bent on evicting you from your dark tower. Now you must impress your Dark Masters, beings not meant to be known by ordinary man, by taking on the most fiercest of heroes. Doing so will get you mighty defenses you’ll use to hopefully evade eviction. Last longer than your fellow Dark Lords (other players) and you will win Dark Dealings.

[/well]

Dark Dealings will be on Kickstarter until July 12th and has already funded, so it’s time to work on those stretch goals! (link)


And last, but certainly not least, we have a campaign that hasn’t even started yet. On Monday Gamelyn Games will launch their Kickstarter for Tiny Epic Kingdoms Heroes’ Call, the first expansion in the Tiny Epic Universe from designer Scott Almes.

This campaign will feature not only the new expansion, but also a revised edition of the base game. The changes are mostly aesthetic, but fear not! You’ll have the chance to upgrade your first edition copy of Tiny Epic Kingdoms as an add-on or flat out purchase the second edition.

I love Tiny Epic Kingdoms, and I’ll have a review of the expansion coming in my next post…suffice it to say that I recommend you hopping on this one when it drops!

Once again, Tiny Epic Kingdoms Heroes’ Call will launch on Monday, June 22nd.

tekhc_cover

 

Reprints Abound in 2015

Much to the chagrin of resellers everywhere, a couple of much sought after games are getting reprints later this year.

Ora & LaboraFirst up we have a reprint of Ora & Labora, by Uwe Rosenberg. This one has been out of print for a few years now, which is surprising given how well it was received. Printing will handled by Lookout Games, with Z-Man Games taking care of the English version. This news came straight from Uwe Rosenberg himself, and it looks like the flimsy think cardstock boards will be getting upgrades in this new version. Look for this one sometime in the third quarter of this year.

Another heavyweight title seeing the light of day once more is Luna by Stefan Feld. Since the explosion of Castles of Burgundy, Feld’s older catalog has been in high demand with several of his games falling out of print. Rumors have been swirling about Tasty Minstrel Games picking this one up, and finally this tweet confirmed it all:

Looks like a third quarter release for this one as well, with a confirmed MSRP of $60.

 

Mission: Red PlanetFantasy Flight Games, who could probably just churn out LCG content and ignore the cardboard, also gets in on the reprint game in 2015. They recently released a reprint of Tigris & Euphrates and will also bring forth a reprint of Mission: Red Planet by Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti. Apart from the usual Fantasy Flight treatment where the components get a massive upgrade, it looks like the gameplay is getting tweaked as well:

[well]In Mission: Red Planet, two to six players compete to control as much of Mars and its priceless natural resources as they possibly can. This edition maintains the core mechanics of this fast-paced game while incorporating updates by the original designers. Astronauts can land in a new zone, the moon Phobos, and the Soldier can convey astronauts from Phobos to anywhere on Mars. Missions and Discoveries have been fine-tuned, and new Action Cards join the Event deck. The game can now handle six players, with rules for a two-player variant also included. What’s more, the Victorian steampunk aesthetic has been refreshed with all-new graphic design for a more contemporary look.[/well]

Tiny Epic KingdomsFinally we’ve got a comparatively new game getting a reprint and a new version in Tiny Epic Kingdoms. Gamelyn Games announced that the Scott Almes title will see a reprint with a few minor tweaks to the ruleset and some component changes as well. Nothing but good news for a great game! No firm date on this one yet, but with a Kickstarter for the expansion launching in June I would guess no sooner than the end of this year.

Review: Tiny Epic Kingdoms

When I was growing up it was hard to turn on the television and not see at least one Miller Lite commercial. At some point in the 1970’s, the “Tastes Great – Less Filling” ad campaign started and it ran for the better part of 30 years. While these commercials were entertaining, the message behind them was clear: while most people think that you can have either a great tasting beer or a less filling one, Miller Lite actually gives you both of these things.

Now, while they are dead wrong about their beer (Miller Lite is far from great tasting), the spirit of that ad campaign is an interesting one. Sometimes you will have two things that seem to be opposed to one another, but can end up coming together in the same product. In board games, for example, you might think that there are games that will play quickly, and those that will provide you with a fulfilling gaming experience…but not one that does both.

Tiny Epic KingdomsWell friends, prepare for the “Tastes Great – Less Filling” of the board game world. Tiny Epic Kingdoms is designed by Scott Almes, published by Gamelyn Games, and plays from 2 to 5 players. The average game will take about 30 minutes to complete, which is amazing – for this is a 4x game. What’s that? You aren’t familiar with the 4x genre? Well…

A 4x game will consist of four categories of gameplay: exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating. Players are going to use their turns to discover new areas, claim those territories, harvest resources from them, and eliminate their rivals. Why are these called “4x” games and not “4e” games? Because, phonetics. Most 4x games are going to swallow most of your table and take hours upon hours to play.

But not this one. The “Tiny” in the title? Well, the box only measures 4″x6″, and the table footprint is quite small, even with a full contingent of five players. Each player has a faction board and a territory card in front of them, and then there’s the action selection card and the tower card. So there’s not a lot on the table…is there a lot of game here?

Most certainly.

Tiny Epic KingdomsThe game is played over a series of turns. During each turn the active player will look at the action card and choose one of the available actions to perform: patrol, quest, build, research, expand, or trade. Then each subsequent player will either take the same action or collect resources from areas they control until it gets back to the active player. Then the start player token moves to the left and the next player will select one of the remaining actions on the action card. Once the action card is filled, it gets cleared and all of the actions are available to choose from once more.

Play proceeds as normal until one of the victory conditions are met: a player has all 7 of their meeples in play, a player builds the 6th level of the tower, or a player has mastered all 5 levels of magic. At that point, the endgame has been triggered and play continues until all actions on the action card have been taken. Scoring will happen in a number of ways, and some factions will score bonus points based on their magic. It’s a fairly simple concept, but the game will surprise you with its depth.

From a variability standpoint, you’ve got a ton to go through here. Each territory has slightly different terrain types and placement, and there are 16 to choose from. Well…sorta. I mean, there are 16 unique territories, but the cards are double sided. So there are certain combinations that just can’t occur. But that’s just splitting hairs. Point is that there’s enough here to keep things fresh for a while. These territories, and their placement on the table, are really going to drive your strategy in many ways. Most of the territories will produce resources, so what you’re easily able to claim will help determine your path…at least in the early stages.

Along with the territories, Tiny Epic Kingdoms will change based on which factions you choose. Each faction card has an area to track your three resources, mana, food, and ore, as well as a magic track. While the resource tracks are the same,each faction will have a different type of magic available to them. Magic will provide various benefits which range from bonuses while occupying certain terrain to offering you bonuses when you go to war. Much like the territories, your strategy will change depending on which faction you play. Magic bonuses are going to lead you in a certain direction, and this makes each play quite unique.

Tiny Epic KingdomsThe variable factions and territories are just a part of the depth you’ll find here. Because there are three ways to trigger the end of the game, you’ll have to keep on eye on your opponents to prevent them from taking that last step. If they have a lot of meeples out? Time for war to reduce their population. Someone jumping out to a lead on the tower or on their magic? Take away the meeples that provide their ore and mana supply so this becomes out of the question. There’s a very Newtonian action and reaction feel to the game.

You can’t just hide in the shadows and expect to sneak to victory. These games aren’t called “2-or-3-of-4x games”. If you don’t take advantage of all the available actions at one point or another, you will fall behind, and you will lose. That’s not to say that you need to be taking each one every time it comes up…that’s just not possible as you will run out of resources. But unlike some games where victory can be achieved in one of a few ways, you need to use all of them effectively at one point or another to hit any of the endgame goals.

Player interaction is the name of the game here. Your resources will help you go to war with other factions and seize the land you need…or simply take it away from someone who has started to pull away. Or maybe you form an alliance with someone to help stave off the advance of a third party, or simply because you both see the need for a mutual occupation of a territory. Which is great, until they decide you’re no longer useful. The wars themselves are simple and decided by how many resources you’re willing to commit to the fight. It’s brutal, but war tends to be that way.

Last, but certainly not least, the production value of this game is stellar. The art is top notch. The territory cards are vibrant and unique, and each faction is a gorgeous representation of that race. There’s even a full size art piece on the back of each faction. And the pieces are well crafted, tiny little meeples and towers. Little ears of corn. It’s cute and awesome all at the same time. Physical components aside, this game was available for print-and-play long before it ever saw retail production, which is perhaps the best thing that can happen to a game. The kinks have been ironed out and the Tiny Epic Kingdoms community is very active.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “good things come in small packages” before, and in this case it is more than just an idiom for the vertically challenged. Scott Almes seems to have a knack for packing quite a punch into a small box. I took a look at Harbor a while back and said that it scratched an itch that would normally take a large box game to scratch. The same can easily be said about Tiny Epic Kingdoms. If you want that 4x experience in an eighth of the time, this one is for you.

Tiny Epic-er Kingdoms

TEK Heroes CallGamelyn Games released some news this week that world of Tiny Epic Kingdoms was about to get a little less tiny. Larger. Still small, but…more. I don’t know. These size adjectives trip me up every time.

Set to hit Kickstarter this summer, Tiny Epic Kingdoms Heroes’ Call will include new factions, new regions, and rumor has it that there will be new rules to help enhance the two-player experience, among other things. Designer Scott Almes will most assuredly have more to pack into this as the Kickstarter campaign takes off.

I expect this to be a monster hit as the Tiny Epic franchise has delivered nothing but quality games since coming onto the scene a couple years ago.  I guess I really should review this one…