Tiny Epic Quest is an adventure-puzzle game for 1-4 players, designed by Scott Almes and published by Gamelyn Games.
The first question most people ask about Tiny Epic Quest, before anything else, is: “how does it compare to other Tiny Epic games?” The whole Tiny Epic series of games represent different attempts at the same experiment – how much “game” can a designer fit into one little box? So, I think it’s natural to want to compare TEQ to other games in the line.
I also think of TEQ as another in a family of “adventure-puzzle” games – that is, games whose theme evokes some kind of fantasy world (in this case, Hyrule from Zelda) while presenting a very tight, analysis-inducing puzzle with its mechanisms. So, I think TEQ belongs in the same category as Kosmos’s Legends of Andor or Haba’s Adventureland. Does it compare favorably to those games?
(Yes, I will compare it to other Tiny Epic games as well. Don’t you worry!)
How to Play Tiny Epic Quest
In Tiny Epic Quest, players control a band of three adventurers as they travel throughout a fantasy land in search of victory points… err, I mean, in pursuit of powerful magics, fantastical quests, wondrous items, and dangerous goblin invaders. The publisher actually calls TEQ a “sandbox adventure” game (blatantly misusing the term – more on that later).
The game proceeds in two main phases – day and night. During every turn of the day phase, each player will draft a movement card that will allow all players to move one of their adventurers around the board in some way. Hearkening back to the 8-bit thematic pedigree of TEQ, movement cards enable geometric movement across the world grid – horse cards allow adventurers to move horizontally, raft cards allow them to move vertically, etc.
Players will spend most of their analytical energy during this movement phase. Adventuring activities – actually defeating goblins, exploring temples, etc. – occur during the night phase. You want to use the day phase to set up your pawns in the right adventuring spots so they can do their thing in the night phase. In addition, aside from the adventuring spots, you can also move to grottoes that enable one-use powers such as getting health back, or triggering extra movement.
During the night phase, you trade in your analytical brain for a handful of custom dice and prayers to your favorite dice deity. Each player will take turns rolling the five dice and resolving their effects in turn. Once again, although one player rolls, their effects are shared commonly among everyone.
The dice will allow players to increase their personal power level (which you can turn around and spend on some dice mitigation), attack goblins, move further along any temple track they are on, etc. As players push their luck and roll more and more often, magic in the realm will build up along a track to where players will start to suffer increased damage.
Players obtain victory points in three main ways – stacking goblin bodies, learning spells, and completing quests. The quests usually involve either finishing a temple track or satisfying some kind of positional requirement on the board – e.g., two pawns in the center tile. The movement quest rewards aren’t very exciting – usually a one-time bump to a stat or resource.
Finishing the temple quests, though, unlock the game’s main thematic feature – ITEMeeples! Each ITEMeeple give that adventurer pawn a special power. You can also get items from completing personal quests on your player mat, which also entails exploring temples. The lesson is: exploring temples is ALWAYS a good idea. Nothing bad could possibly happen!
Multiplayer TEQ contains very little direct player interaction, so solo players will basically play a regular game of TEQ with a couple of very minor rules wrinkles. Just to make Anthony and I mad, solo mode relies on ye old Peasant-Squire-Hero high score track.
If you want more interaction, you will want to buy the Deluxe version (now available on the Gamelyn Games website) for the Golden Mushrooms mini-expansion. Players will compete for golden mushroom tokens which they will store in their castles. However, other players can steal mushrooms from absent-minded guardians.
What I liked about Tiny Epic Quest
From an immersion perspective, and also from the sheer toy factor of it all, the ITEMeeples score a home run. Full stop. Gamelyn smartly put the ITEMeeples all over the kickstarter page and anywhere else they advertised the game. Not only are they really cute, both on the meeples and on the item rack, the ITEMeeples inspire creative players like myself to imagine themselves playing out a story. It’s amazing how little pieces of plastic can turn a bland little meeple into a nerdy wizard in search of dark secrets, or a buffed tank engine of goblin stomping.
Mechanically, the TEQ day phase presents a tight puzzle with a surprising amount of depth. While I wouldn’t call this game a brain burner, each movement phase challenges the players to choose the best from among multiple decent scoring points. In Legends of Andor, the choices feel very constrained. One wrong calculation might sink your whole game. The same thing can happen in TEQ, but it doesn’t feel as punishing because even suboptimal choices can net you something decent.
I also thought that they integrated the various paths to victory – goblin killer, quest doer, magic learner – in effective and balanced ways. You should specialize in one path, but you also need to at least pay lip service to the other paths as well.
I also liked that the movement phase isn’t ONLY for positioning to complete quests later. The one-time effects of the grottoes introduce just enough of an immediate tactical element to make the phase more dynamic.
I loved how players share dice during the night phase. Like in Tiny Epic Galaxies (the best game in the line, IMHO), TEQ integrates player dice rolling in a way that minimizes downtime and keeps players engaged when it’s not their turn. Players will have to wait for AP-prone opponents in the day phase, but at least things flow nicely for all involved at the table during the night phase.
What I didn’t like about Tiny Epic Quest
Thank goodness for the ITEMeeples. Without the ITEMeeples, TEQ presents a mechanical, puzzly experience that many players might find too dry. It might sound funny to contend that one game element would make such a huge difference. However, I feel that’s exactly what happened to Tiny Epic Western. TEW has a similar, rock solid, yet dry worker placement engine at its core. The poker asthetic and mechanical integration was meant to liven that up. However, I feel many players just didn’t resonate with it. TEQ managed to get the get that part right this time around.
I also did not like that Gamelyn advertised TEQ as a “sandbox” game. Honestly, I love true sandbox games, video games, RPGs, you name it. That’s part of why I backed the kickstarter. However, just because you could choose to go straight or diagonally across a board doesn’t make a game “sandbox”. If I could choose how I interacted with the goblins (fight! bribe! negotiate!), or if I could choose to raze any completed temple to the ground, or make it my new castle, THAT would be sandbox! I am disappointed that Gamelyn would pursue a strategy that, if not false advertising, is definitely misleading.
I liked the TEQ solo mode and look forward to more plays of it. However, I don’t love it. The core game is strong enough, and has little enough interaction among players, to warrant a high score approach. However, I always find myself wanting to face more active opposition in my solo experiences. In mulitplayer, other players might beat you to a quest you wanted to do, for example.
In addition, in three separate solo plays, I managed to get over 55; 60 is the top score. The game has mechanisms to increase difficulty which I will try, but I don’t think it’s hard to discover core principles that will guide decision making in all of your games.
Ok, ok, so you all want to know – how does this compare to the other Tiny Epic games? Personally, after only a few plays, I would rank it second behind Tiny Epic Galaxies, with a chance to surpass after more plays. The puzzle is mechanically tight, tactical, and interesting. The ITEMeeples deliver, both in terms of pure aesthetic appeal and helping players get into the mindspace of the game.
I will reserve final judgment of the game, again, after multiple plays (I liked Tiny Epic Western after a few plays, but it quickly fell off). However, I think this game stands proudly with some other other notable and acclaimed “puzzle adventure” games out there, which I mentioned above. In all, I am very impressed.