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.
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.
Each 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?
Speaking 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…
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.