Solo Impressions: Tiny Epic Tactics
I have a slight addiction with the Tiny Epic series and their fantastic small boxes and wonderfully conceived components and gameplay found within. Outside of a few unfortunate inclusions in the series, the moniker of “Tiny” and “Epic” perfectly describes these games. I currently own five of their games, most of which offer excitement, strategy, quality, and gameplay enjoyment similar to that found in board games with much larger boxes and price tags. Ever since Tiny Epic Galaxies, I have religiously picked up each new iteration that Gamelyn Games releases. My current collection consists of Galaxies, Quest, Zombies, and Mechs, having only skipped Western, as the gameplay immediately seemed uninteresting to me.
Last week I made an anticipated visit to my FLGS, to shower Gamelyn Games with my blessings and praise, giving my tithes and offerings to pick up their newest game in this series, Tiny Epic Tactics.
I want to preface this by saying, this will not be a review. I have only played this game once, and that was only the solo mode. Therefore, I don’t have enough experience with the game to offer up a suitable and honest review. This, however, will be an initial impression and will hopefully begin a bi-weekly article I plan on writing to discuss solo board games and solo modes within multiplayer games. This series will be more informal, providing shorter impressions, reviews and thoughts.
Now, back to the regularly scheduled program…
After buying Ting Epic Tactics last week, I was finally able to get it to my table today. Similar to many of the games I own, I decided to play through its solo mode. I usually find this method to be a better and easier way to learn a game before trying it with other players. I have no interruptions from the other players, I can take my time, set my own pace, and stop for breaks when I need to, and most importantly, when I make a mistake, I don’t look inexperienced in front of anyone but myself. This way I don’t waste anyone’s time while I search through the rules book for the solution to whatever problem I have run into. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this was the easiest method to learn Tiny Epic Tactics, this time around.
Most competitive games have a tacked-on solo mode that feels like it was an afterthought by the developers, trying to appease the growing fan-base for solo gaming. A games solo mode is usually explained in a few paragraphs near the back of the manual, with an enemy AI deck occasionally thrown in to loosely mimic a flesh and bones player. You read a few sentences explaining how to play solo, while you spend the rest of the game referring to the rules for a multiplayer game. This is not true for Tiny Epic Tactics.
It seems like Gamelyn Games went into the development of this game making the solo mode a major focal point of their planning, and I count this as a huge plus in favor of the game. It’s definitely not tacked-on, being a well thought out and robust mode, with the manuals solo section being nearly as long as the main games rules. Because of its depth, this not the best kind of game to utilize its solo mode to learn the game in general. You’ll be flipping from the main rules to the solo rules frequently in the first couple of plays if you haven’t first learned and played through a multiplayer game; my manual saw more wear in its first use than any other game I’ve played. I don’t regret this first outing with Tiny Epic Tactics, having very much enjoyed the experience, but I do wish I had initially learned it through a regular 2-4 player game.
Flipping from the front of the manual to the back, and vice versa, trying to figure out which section had the rules that were eluding or confusing me, resulted in a few rules being messed up, probably leading to the victory I had in the game. Fortunately, even with the mistakes that were made, the game still proved challenging and extremely enjoyable, giving me a lot to think about. The game and its mechanics reminded me of the puzzle-solving I enjoyed in Final Fantasy Tactics from my childhood. I bought the game because of the “Tactics” moniker, but I was afraid that it would only mimic the video games in name and appearance. Fortunately, the homage really shone through. Like most dungeon crawlers and tactics style video games, this game felt like a puzzle that had to be solved. It was fun moving my characters out of range, exhausting characters for an immediate advantage that resulted in a disadvantage in the next round, and choosing to keep some enemies alive because I would benefit from their deaths at a later time. The only disappointment I encountered in my first game was a fiddliness in enemy AI actions coming from the solo deck, but I’m confident this will be remedied with more plays, and unlikely to appear in multiplayer games.
Unfortunately, I feel frequent plays may be the main, big issue with Tiny Epic Tactics. Once you’ve beat a map, I don’t see any reason to play it again, and out of the box, there is only one map. The dungeon locations and layouts remain the same from play to play, as do the win goals and bare-bones story. Player and enemy AI characters do change however, with each having unique abilities and strengths. And with the additional purchase of the map expansion, you will have two new terrain layouts, but I’m not sure this will be enough content for more than three or four engaging solo games. This is an initial impression only, to be clear. I have only played the game once, so these opinions are based entirely on my limited experience with the game and may prove to be moot points after future plays, but I really don’t see how.
Ultimately, the solo mode was a blast and I loved it. But I don’t know how often it will get back to the table. The lack of variation in goals, terrain and dungeon locations and layouts limits it’s replayability and shelf life when looking at its solo mode separately. Gamelyn Games do have a good track record of releasing fantastic expansions, making their great games even better, and I hope for one that rectifies these issues with the game’s solo mode. But, until then, if you were hoping to buy this game primarily for the solo mode, I’d have to recommend against it.
Fortunately, I bought this game for skirmish gameplay between my wife and me, and after this first game, I think this mode will be much more enjoyable.