Starting with Tiny Epic Kingdoms in 2014, Gamelyn Games have published an ever expanding series of 'tiny epic' games. Some are more epic than others but each of the games in the series has been designed to fit into a small box (roughly 7 x 5 inches). This certainly scores for efficiency: open up Tiny Epic Tactics and you'll find tightly packed inside more components than in many much bigger box games.
Of course, this game is far from tiny if you decide to add the 26 inch square neoprene mat. At Board's Eye View we're usually fans of neoprene mats. They are especially helpful in games where you are frequently picking up and putting down cards. That's not something you'll be doing tho' in Tiny Epic Tactics so this neoprene mat is purely decorative and it does not of course fit into the Tiny Epic box. You'll actually be playing the game on a 3D map made up of a printed cloth on which are placed inverted box inserts; and these do fit neatly back into the game box when you're done.
The game itself is remarkably versatile. It can be played as a solo or co-operative game and it can be played as a 2–4 player competitive free-for-all or a game involving competing teams. Everyone has four characters; variants on the usual dungeon-crawler archetypes: a fighter, a wizard, a rogue and a beast. Cards are taken for each character type and these show each individual character's health and ammunition (for characters with ranged weapons) or mana (for spell casters) as well as that unit's unique abilities. The game comes with eight different cards for each character type, so there's a huge number of different combinations, which of course adds to the game's replayability.
You have meeples representing each of your characters and on your turn you get to take three actions. Usually that means each unit will take at most one action per turn but you can elect to give a unit a second (different) action (for example, move and then attack) but this comes at the cost of 'weakening' the unit. A weakened unit either takes no action on your next turn or it takes damage of 2 health.
In the competitive game, you are competing for points which you score by reducing the health of an opponent's unit to zero and by achieving area control (securing and holding a majority in one of the six-square locations marked on the map). The area control flags also act as an end-game trigger.
Melee attacks are always successful but the attacker can also elect to roll dice to see if the defender is 'knocked back' (the result on 3 sides of the custom six-sided dice). Ranged attacks always cost 1 ammo but the attacker must also roll for misses (2/6 sides) and must pay an additional 1 ammo for any misses rolled. Provided you have the ammo, you always hit. Wizards' spells (which differ quite widely across the 8 different wizard cards) cost 1 mana plus 1–3 mana to power up the spell. For each mana you spend on powering the spell, you roll a die and you're trying to roll a power up symbol on the dice (1/6).
There are special terrain effects on movement and combat, including those effects relating to the different levels on the 3D play area. The cave entrances are all treated as interconnected portals so movement is remarkably fluid. The upshot is a clever tactical game where you are juggling your units' special abilities and making judicious use of second actions at the cost of weakening in order to score points and/or block an opponent's passage. Squares depicting a village restore some health and replenish ammunition and mana; they are also worth victory points if occupied at the end of the game. You learn, for example, that it can often be a useful tactic to keep your wizard within movement range of a village so you can readily top up their mana and health...
There's a lot to like about Tiny Epic Tactics. It's another successful design from Scott Almes: a light, tactical war game with a tower defence feel. It plays quickly (the 30-60 minutes indication on the box is about right, depending on the number of players) and it is satisfying because the dice don't dominate: there's a high skill:luck ratio. We liked the artwork by Nikoletta Vaszi, Naomi Robinson and Benjamin Shulman. What we didn't like was the fiddly tracking of health, ammunition and mana stats by moving tokens on the character card. This literally involves laying the tiny wooden tokens on the flat surface of the card. That means if anyone jogs the table you can easily lose all of the stats. It would've been better to have supplied a clip that could slide up and down on the card. You might even consider substituting an ordinary paper clip to avoid mishaps when playing. The other omission is player reference cards: there's a summary of the various terrain effects on the back page of the rules but it would've been helpful to have a reference card for each player. Those who buy the neoprene mat as an add on will be disappointed to find that it doesn't use any of its ample spare space to reproduce the terrain key.
Rather than the mat, we'd recommend the Tiny Epic Tactics Maps Expansion. This offers two new cloth maps and 3D terrain boxes to create two alternative settings: the Winter Highlands and the Savage Wastelands. These don't offer merely cosmetic changes: the layouts differ significantly from the core game so call for different strategy and tactics...