Tiny Epic Quest
Published by Gamelyn Games - 2017
Designer: Scott Almes
Head Artist: Miguel Coimbra
2 - 4 players ~ 1 hour - 1 and ½ hours
Review written by Luke Muench
For me, it’s become nearly impossible to disassociate Tiny Epic Quest from the Legend of Zelda franchise. The art style and theme are obviously inspired by the Hyrulian realm, with faux Triforces appearing on occasion. The various items feel like they’re ripped straight from an N64 cartridge, including a fairy, boomerang, and rupee-shaped gem. The dungeons are often simply referred to as temples in passing conversation. And, most importantly, it retains the light-hearted, puzzley feel that the games have always maintained.
That being said, these two entities are wildly different. If Ocarina of Time is a operatic romp through a world-ending, time-turning adventure, Tiny Epic Quest is more of a cutthroat race to see who can be the best damn hero of them all. Ideally, that hero will be you, but more often than not, the decision isn’t really up to you.
By far the most polarizing aspect of this game is the learning curve. Tiny Epic Quest is not for the faint of heart, and I’ve seen fans of Zelda and Tiny Epic series alike walk away disappointed. The various minute details can feel overwhelming, and the press-your-luck aspect is the most finicky I’ve seen to date. It doesn’t make this a bad game by any stretch, but it makes it an acquired taste, one you’ll have to play at least two or three times to really appreciate.
At the start of each of the five rounds, the first player gets to select one of five movement patterns, each allowing you to move one of your three meeples across the board. No, you are not simply one hero, but a kingdom sending out a band of adventurers in your stead; hoping to stop the world from falling into chaos around you. So, after a player selects, each player will get to, in turn order, apply that movement type to one of their meeples, sending them running, flying, or sailing across the randomly generated map in hopes of reaching one of five destinations:
Castles act as your starting location and hub; healing those who stop there for one point of health or magic. Additionally, if you choose not to move on a given turn (idling), you may gain the same bonus if one of your meeples is standing on a castle.
Goblins are the bouncers of this fantasy world. At first, they appear green, unaggressive and content to sit unbothered. If they are not defeated in a given round, however, they become red with anger, forcing players who move past them to spend a magic in order to do so. Those who land here intend to fight them in the press-your-luck phase of each round, which occurs after all movement as concluded.
Magic obelisks allow you to learn spells on the spell track. A player can learn up to three spells in a round, but only if you survive long enough in the press-your-luck round and if you have a meeple on the appropriate icon. Each spell that you learn increases your max magic by one.
Grottos act as one-time buffs, giving the player who lands on it an immediate ability that will affect their board state in some manner, such as shifting around your other meeples, gaining resources, or providing buffs prior to the press-your-luck phase.
Lastly, you can delve into dungeons to obtain legendary items, each of which provide you four victory points. This is the only location at which there is a limit to meeples, as only two unique meeples can remain on these spots.
Ah yes, quests. Each round, three quests are shown face-up, either asking that you move your meeples in a certain way or complete certain dungeons. Upon completion, you will get a certain bonus. For dungeons, you will always get an item of a given type, whereas any other quest will get you health, magic, or some other useful ability.
Once four of the five movement cards have been selected, it’s time to delve into the various obstacles your characters will be facing, represented by dice, to see if they survive. When it’s your turn to roll, you may either choose to continue or pass. When passing, most of your meeples will return to your castle, depending on where they are located, healing you for one health or one magic each. Additionally, this is when most of your tasks are officially completed. Spells and dungeons are only completed once you pass, meaning you always have to remain on your toes.
But you’re not going to pass, are you? There are things do be done, and who cares if you die in the process?!? … Well, you do, honestly. Death nullifies most the hard work you’ve done that round (other than quests and killed goblins), reduces your spell level by one, and sends all your meeples back to your castle, restoring your health and magic to six and three respectively. This can be a huge loss, and will easily lose you the game if you aren’t careful.
In order to press your luck, you get to toss five dice into the box lid ONCE, and once only. Whatever results you get are what they are, which can give the game an air of, “Welp, I guess that’s that.”
Don’t lose all hope yet though, for this is a community press-your-luck game; the dice you roll will affect the others around the table. Due to this, there are a specific order in which symbols resolve:
Red goblin faces will do one, two, or three damage to players, depending on how high the community magic is. When rolling multiple, the player who rolled them gets the first, then passes the next to the following player in turn order, then so on. Luckily, players can spend two magic to block the full effects of a single die-face, providing mystic hoarders some longevity.
Magic symbols regenerate magic up to a point. Once the magic level has gotten too high, they become dead dice. Just like the red goblins, these are passed around the table, spreading the love along with the pain.
Mushrooms accelerate the spell level for that round, establishing how much damage red goblins do, if magic can be produced or not, and whether or not a spell can be learned when a player passes. The higher the level, the harder it becomes for everyone to survive, especially once mushrooms start doing one point of unblockable damage.
Finally, the last three faces resolve simultaneously, and are accessible to all players. Every player can use each icon once. Scrolls and torches are what enables players to progress through dungeons. Goblin punches allow you to deal a single damage to a goblin you’re fighting. Each defeated goblin increases your max health by one.
Once every player passes, meeples are returned to castles, a quest is removed depending if any weren’t completed that round, undefeated goblins are flipped to their red side, and the movement cards are reset.
Play continues like this for five rounds until scoring; points are the summary of your quests completed, goblins defeated, spells learned, and legendary items earned. Do none of a specific task and you’ll receive negative points, encouraging you to diversify. There are some interesting choices in what you go after, too: pound for pound, goblins give you the most points, though they are by far the most difficult to earn; contrast this with spells which are easy but ultimately less valuable.
If you haven’t already noticed, there is a ton of stuff going on here, meaning that teaching this tiny game a bit of an epic chore. This is summarized beautifully in the incredibly awkward way that movement works and the far too busy board. Since two locations are on a given card, it needs to be clarified that movement are from card to card, and then you can stop on one of the two sides of said card. Additionally, you cannot move from one side of the card to the other side, potentially locking a meeple out of a particular action. Couple that with the amount of symbols present, and it all gets to be a bit much.
The components of Tiny Epic Quest are a mixed bag. The card quality are solid across the board, the little attachable items are cool to look at, and all the art looks stellar. That being said, the itemeeples, a word I still cannot say with a straight face, look cheap when compared to their wooden brethren. Also, the items, while neat to look at, are incredibly irritating to use in practice. With so many little pieces and places to contend with on the board, even attaching tiny plastic items to meeples or keeping track of your health becomes a test of your dexterity, making what should be fun and fanciful fiddly and frustrating.
Yet the real nail in the coffin, for me, is the fact that, at the end of the day, there is a single, obvious strategy that works best, one that the very mechanics of the game practically forces on the player; spreading out your meeples so that each is working on a different icon type. Not only does this consistently allow you to complete every task you aim for, it ensures you don’t get any negative points end game. It can be tempting to try for getting three goblins every round, but the likelihood of getting the rolls you need before being forced to pass is very slim.
Unfortunately, this means that every game feels almost identical, barring a handful of moments when the rush of uncertainty hits you, begging the question of if you can roll well enough to get out with all your stuff intact. After having played this game seven or eight times, each game has left me with an uncertainty over how much fun I really had with the game.
At the end of the day, I feel similarly to this as I do to Five Tribes; both are casual, light-hearted games disguised behind confusing and visually dizzying mechanics that you can overthink with little to no payoff. It’s nice to look at, but I don’t have any deep desire to pull it off the shelf again any time soon.
Who Should Get This Game: Those who love the Zelda theming, press-your-luck, and can handle the amount of mechanics at play.
Who Shouldn’t Get This Game: Those who are expecting a short game out of a small box, are easily overwhelmed visually, and who look for variety game to game.
Luke Muench is a regular contributor to The Cardboard Herald and host of the Budget Board Gamer youtube channel.