Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose: I fucked up. I bought a really, truly, intolerably bad game. Not just bad, but worse, boring. Tiny Epic Kingdoms, from the Undisputed King of Untested Games, and published by Gamelyn Games, is simply not a fun game. What it is, however, is a testament to the effect of smartphones in our lives. We are so used to having instant gratification in short bursts, like Candy Crush levels that provide you a small shot of adrenaline when you finally beat a level (read: 20 minutes, tops) and then can just put it away until next time. It’s a sort of new philosophy where brevity and small, incremental rewards trumps long-term strategy and a huge risk-reward mentality. It’s fucking sad, mates, because it universally teaches reinforces the idea that short-term, low risk behavior is better than long-term thinking. In short, it’s making us all dumber.
This game was marketed as a 30 to 45 minute “dudes on a map” style 4X conquest game, but what it really delivers is a short worker placement, area control game. It also sucks hairy, unclean, funky scrotum meat. The whole idea of conquest games is that you are rewarded handsomely for your greater time investment through a wide array of strategic and tactical decisions which ultimately pay off with a much richer experience and more satisfying accomplishment. This trend toward smaller, lighter, simpler games is a testament to the sad ADD culture of forgettable selfies and disposable experiences. In short, Tiny Epic Kingdoms is the Smart Car of “dudes on a map” games. Sure, it’s a game, but it’s one that your friends will make fun of you for owning and you’re never going to feel satisfied with.
I can say that is it pretty much all bad, on an existential level, primarily because it takes the good stuff from the genre, like variable player powers, and finds a way to fuck it up. The object is to accomplish one of several goals first: build a seventh army, master the five schools of magic, or build a tower. Now, of the three end-game conditions, only the building of armies has any in-game effect, because the tower doesn’t do shit, and there’s not actually any magic spells in the schools of magic. Essentially, it’s just you spending resources in a sinkhole that bears no returns whatsoever. I think the idea was to be like my beloved Cyclades where there are different ways to win, but for fuck’s sake, at least when you build temples in that game the temples actually do something!
Another homage to Cyclades, and in a roundabout way Puerto Rico, is that there’s an action system that lets the current player decide which action is available that turn. If you don’t want to do that action, you can just collect resources instead, unless you’re the current player, who must take the action or get nothing at all. On top of that, if an action has been taken in a round, nobody else can choose it until next round, meaning that if you’re the last player, you get stuck with the dregs. So, it’s really almost entirely about resource management and action management, not conquest or 4X in any meaningful way. The thing is, if I wanted a worker placement, resource management game, I’d play a better game, like Stone Age. If I wanted a short conquest game where conquest really is the goal, I’d play Eight Minute Empire. What this game manages to do is take the least interesting parts of all the aforementioned games, make a portmanteau of them, and ruin all of it.
Its most egregious sin, I believe, is that even the combat is completely boring. If you “attack” another player, which is pretty much just sharing a space, you simply choose how many resources you wish to spend on the war, and secretly manipulate your combat die so that its value matches your bid. You reveal, and the winner is the guy who spent the most. That’s right, the game has dice, but you don’t actually roll them. What a total clusterfuck. Worse still, if you both set your die to the little flag icon, you declare an “alliance” which costs you nothing, and you share the resource allowed by the terrain type. It’s like the “Friendship” fatality in Mortal Kombat, which the lamest shit ever invented. No, this is not a 4X conquest game, this is a steaming, creamy behemoth that requires a double flush.
Seriously, this game is just plain boring, uninteresting, and the only tension provided is in the last two or three rounds, which amount to being a “beat up on the leader” experience. Worse, if you play it with three, it becomes a matter of “kingmaking”, where the odd man out basically just spends their time denying other players actions. What baffles me is that Cyclades takes perhaps another half hour or so to play, assuming four players, and is infinitely better. I actually feel guilty even mentioning it in this review because it might be mired by the comparisons.
On the brighter side, though, the components are really nice, and the art is pretty good as well, although I’m not keen on the map boards’ look at all. I really like that the varying factions play very differently, and that the small expansion that is sold on Board Game Geek “Geek Store” adds meaningful changes to the game that make it slightly more interesting, as well as three new factions that are also interesting. All that said, I still wouldn’t recommend it, even with the expansion stuff, unless you really like worker placement games with the aforementioned Agricola-style action denial system, and you just want something simple, fast, and not all that interesting. I would always choose Eight Minute Empire over this game, 100 of 100 times, because it’s objectively a better, more fun, and more tense game.
The long and short is that we had one Circus Freak really enjoy it, and that person rated it much higher than anyone else, skewing the score slightly, and also proving that there is, in fact, a market for this game. It’s inexplicable to me that the game has such a high aggregate score on Board Game Geek, unless you attribute it to the self-validating effect caused by people rating it before they got it, then never changing the score to its actual earned score to hide the fact that they feel pretty dumb for buying it. Or, alternatively, it’s like I started out saying: people are getting dumber, and they are far more interested in the Candy Crush style of gaming, where you don’t put much into it, and are rewarded only with a very small adrenaline bump that is fractionally proportional to the effort you put in to win.
Why Gamelyn Is Both Epic And Kingly:
– The art and bits are really very nice, and even the boards are OK
– It’s very fast playing, with little downtime
– The factions do play differently than one another in meaningful ways
– It takes 5 minutes to set up and learn, even with fresh players
– It’s cheap to purchase, and has a small form-factor, making it portable
Why Tiny Epic Kingdoms Is A Massive Epic Failure:
– It’s boring, plain and simple
– It took ideas from better games, mashed them up, and made them shitty
– Its marketing is absolutely deceiving, it’s not a 4X conquest game by any means
– Even as a worker placement, resource management game, it isn’t great
– There’s almost no tension, and there’s no potential for memorable moments
– It has the worst combat system of all time
The fact is that one of the Circus Freaks really likes it, and one thinks it’s middling, but the rest of us are kind of aghast that this game has been so successful. I guess we’ve not been indoctrinated into the ADD, low investment/low reward mind set, because I just don’t like this game much. It’s main merits are its portability and accessibility, but in the end, pretty much every game it tries to emulate is far better in meaningful ways. Try before you buy, if you’re interested, but really, just go play a better game.
Learn more about this game here:
The rules can be had here, if you’re interested: