• Number of Players: 1 – 4
  • Game Length: 30 – 60 minutes
  • Mechanics: Push your luck, Dice Rolling, Area Movement
  • Release Year: 2017
  • Designer: Scott Almes
  • Artist: Miguel Coimbra, Adam P. McIver

Intro – In where I try to not talk about The Legend of Zelda

If you walk around my living space, one thing will become apparent very quickly. I love video games. I have knick-knacks and memorabilia adorning my shelves, giving brief glimpses into my nerdiness. The franchise represented most prominently is The Legend of Zelda, as the Zelda games are amongst my most favourite video games ever. Most games I wait to pick up on a sale or second hand as the price of buying new is a pill that I have a hard time swallowing. The exception to that rule is a new Legend of Zelda game. If you doubt me, ask me about the time my wife woke at 6am with me frantically hitting the refresh page on Best Buys website the day the Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild were launching their pre-orders (spoilers – she wasn’t pleased).

I can hardly be blamed for my obsession however. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of my most played video games. Back in 1995 when I could barely hold a controller, my mother and I explored Hyrule together. I vividly recall running through the green fields, sword thrust forth to parry any foes, getting the guards called on me in Kakariko village, and my tiny mind being blown wide open when the Dark World was introduced.

When Gamelyn Games launched their Tiny Epic Quest kickstarter in November of 2016, I was immediately enthralled with the aesthetic of the game. While the art assets were vaguely generic fantasy, the items looked like they were ripped straight out of The Legend of Zelda. I backed that project immediately without a further thought. Come Summer of 2017 when the game was delivered, I delighted in the ITEMeeples and the tiny items arranged on the item rack. Aesthetically, I was already in love.

Nostalgia always knows how to get me to open my wallet

Components and Play Space – Hope your table is epic, not tiny

Like all of the Tiny Epic games, they boast a large game experience, crammed down into a tiny box. Foolishly, at the time I also thought that meant the play space would be small, perhaps I could play this game on my coffee table. Not the case here, as the components sprawl out, demanding nearly as much space as you’re willing to give to it.

Setup for a solo game

The art on the cards is bright and colourful, full of the promise of adventures to come. The ITEMeeples are cute too, made of plastic and slightly larger than your standard meeple. I never thought of myself as a meeple connoisseur, but I found myself wishing they were made of wood instead of the cheaper feeling plastic (not that your wooden meeples is a ‘deluxe’ component).

The items that go into the ITEMeeple’s ‘hands’ are absolutely tiny, making some of the more delicate ones difficult to manipulate (I’m looking at you, Bow and Arrow). Luckily you won’t need to manipulate them too often, as once they’re acquired, you stick em in someone’s hand and then there’s rarely a reason to move it.

My wife tells me size doesn’t matter.

Gameplay – A Gamblers Journey

A game of Tiny Epic Quest is played over 5 rounds. In each round players are trying to accomplish tasks to accrue the most victory points. It’s all the normal, heroic acts you accomplish during the dead of night that get you victory points (sounds sketchy). How many spells you can master, how many quests you can accomplish, and how many goblins you can smack into the ground will all affect your heroic rating and win you the game (also bonus points for pillaging the Legendary Items).

During the day phase, one player you will choose a method of travel, then move one of your meeples according to the card. A raft lets you sail up the perfectly vertical and parallel rivers, a Horse can take you as far east or west as you’d like (you all know of horses natural aversion to north and south movement), the griffon can take you diagonal, and the travel by boot option can take you one step in any direction. Once you’ve made your move then everyone else gets to make a movement of their own, following the same card. No matter how many players are at the table, this phase of the game has 4 turns, meaning one of the movement types will go unused.

And no, you can’t put your horse on the raft. We tried that once, it didn’t go well.

Once the Day phase ends, night descends. During the night each player decides if they want to adventure, or rest. Every player who chooses adventure is IN. The lead player rolls the 5 custom die, and then the die results are resolved.

First, the goblin heads represent the total damage inflicted. Each player takes 1 damage each clockwise around the table until all the hits have been distributed. If there are more goblin heads than players, it overlaps, hitting the lead player again and continuing on.

Then power is gained based on any power symbols, and where the mushroom marker is. Then the mushroom marker moves down its track based on the number of mushrooms that have been rolled. If the mushroom is at the end of its track, it just deals damage in the same way as the goblins.

Once those are out of the way, all players can use the torches, scrolls, or punches to complete their objectives. Torches and scrolls advance your adventurers along their track, inching them closer to acquiring their treasure, while the punch symbol lets you pummel into the sleeping goblin who had the misfortune of being on your space

The one time you didn’t need any more goblin punches…

After all the die have been used, the active player passes the die to the next player who now has to choose to adventure, or to rest. Should they choose adventure, all players are dragged along, like lackeys in a gang.

The dice rolling is the crux of the push your luck mechanic that is the core of Tiny Epic Quests gameplay. Sometimes you’ll find your meeple on a dungeon that requires torches and all you roll are scrolls. You’ll sit in anguish as your friends march up their tracks, pilfering the treasures, equipping their new items that bestow special abilities to the meeple that holds it, while you grumble that yet another torch has been rolled. There is a bit of mitigation in the form of Power. You can always spend 2 power to gain an extra Scroll or Torch for a meeple, or to block a hit from a goblin.

Two of my adventurers finished their quest. The third one had to sleep in a cave.

As the players turns go on, health will begin to dwindle and the risk of death will loom ever closer. The Mushroom track I mentioned earlier will pass thresholds that will make the game riskier, like increasing the amount of damage goblins do, or removing the ability to recover power via die rolls, eventually causing extra damage if there is no space left on the mushroom track. The benefits of the mushroom track going up is the higher it is, the more potent the magic is in the night and allows you to learn even greater dark magics (with only 5 turns and 10 levels of magic to learn, you’re expected to skip a couple lessons).

Should you fail in your quest of murder, thievery, or sorcery and become exhausted, all of your meeples are returned home, health and power restored, but empty handed. You only get to keep the spoils of your exploits if you choose to stop during the night phase, returning to camp before your metaphorical parents catch you out on a school night.

Crafting the legendary weapons requires finished two specific dungeons in order. Hopefully you’ll have some overlap with the other quests

Tiny Epic Quest bills itself as a push your luck game, and it absolutely is. Some bad dice rolls can throw the entire experience for you. In my plays, I’ve found the luck factor is much lower in lower player counts. You may be taking more damage, there are more opportunities to rest. In a 4 player game you may find yourself with only 2 health left, your goblin punching meeple has won their combat, the spell learning meeple has finished studying, but your dungeon crawling meeple is only two torches away from grabbing that precious loot. If you choose to roll, you may be committing to 4 rounds of die rolls, and should you accomplish what you needed during your rounds, you’ll sit in terror as the other three chuck those misery cubes and flinch as somehow the player before you rolled a full round of goblins, pummeling you right back to the start.

I understand that is the draw of push your luck games, trying to get as far as you can and if you go bust then you’re kicked back to the beginning. I love Can’t Stop, but the salient difference is Can’t Stop takes 10 minutes to play, while this goes on for an hour or more! And the cascading failure of missing out on a whole round of adventure, when your friends may now have gear that makes their subsequent heists easier is a rough feeling.

Final Thoughts – Are we the Baddies?

Is it wrong to complain about luck in a push your luck game? Maybe. While I did enjoy my play of Tiny Epic Quest, most of that enjoyment came from the aesthetics. Seeing my ITEMeeple run around the map with a bomb and a rupee filled my heart with joy. I recently gave the solo mode a try, and barely managed to achieve the lowest score acceptable, 40 points to be a peasant. Because you only have 3 meeples and 5 rounds, you’re expected to complete a quest with 2 of your meeples, if not all 3. The scores ramp up the more you achieve of each objective (beating 3 goblins is 3 pts, while beating 10 is 30). Achieving 15 tasks is about the best you can hope for, and it’s not THAT hard to accomplish, but if you fail early quests it can leave you feeling like it’s impossible to catch up. Looking at amigoodat.games, the average winning score is in the low 30’s. With no catch up mechanic to speak of, The winner will more often be the player who got the best loot the earliest.

All that said, I am keeping this game, and would pull it out of I knew someone was a huge fan of The Legend of Zelda. The aesthetic is strong enough to keep the box on my shelf (and it helps that the box is tiny, getting rid of it wouldn’t free up much space on my overflowing shelves). Also, I don’t have very many push your luck games, so it’s a small niche that’s being filled.

I begun this review with the fresh innocence of a Kokri boy waking up to the cries of a fairy, ready to go on a quest to save the Kingdom. I’ve come to realize that while this is indeed a epic quest, we just might be the bad guys. After all, we’re tearing across the kingdom by day, and wreaking havoc over the night, punching sleeping goblins, casting demonic spells, and stealing treasures. At the end of the game, we’re not coming home to a waiting princess, we’re going to face trial for the crimes we’ve committed! If the authorities found me with standing in a magic circle with a sword in one hand and a bomb in the other, I don’t think they’ll give me the benefit of the doubt.