Review – Tiny Epic Dungeons

TED cover

 

Designer Scott Almes

Artist Nikoletta Vaszi, Ian Rosenthaler

Publisher Gamelyn Games

Category Dungeon-Crawler

Length 45-75 min

Release Date 2021

Player Count 1-4

Tiny Epic Dungeons is the latest from Gamelyn Games, but can tabletop dungeon-crawling be both tiny AND epic? Let’s find out. 

Review

In Tiny Epic Dungeons, players will explore the dungeon as they try to discover the entrance to the boss’s lair. Along the way, they will gather items and spells, defeat enemies, dodge (or not) traps, and teleport, all so that when they meet the unknown boss, they will be equipped and ready to take it on. However, if a 5th goblin is spawned, or if players run out of time, they lose the game. 

On players’ turns, they will, in any order, move up to their speed, perform a heroic action (usually attacking an enemy, disarming a trap, casting a spell, or searching the room for an item or spell), and perform as many free actions as they desire. The currency of the game comes in the form of focus, which players spend to perform free actions and cast spells. 

All players will start in the center of the dungeon on a single square card. The dungeon is a 7×7 grid, and players will move to unknown locations to explore. Sometimes locations have traps, in which case players must roll a skill check to dodge; other times locations will spawn goblins or nemeses, which the players will need to defeat in order to unlock the boss’s lair. 

The boss mat in action.

The torch track acts as the game timer; the torch gets advanced after each player’s turn, often triggering a goblin spawn or enemy movement and attacks. While Tiny Epic Dungeons is a dungeon-crawler, searching for items is somewhat discouraged because often players will need to use their heroic actions to perform attacks on enemies. Fortunately, you can often draw an item or spell after defeating enemies, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling like some rooms’ heroic action is a waste because why would I ever search a room to draw an item when I could slay a goblin and draw an item? 

Once all nemeses are defeated and the boss lair entrance card is revealed, players can enter the lair. This triggers act 2, during which players will almost exclusively fight the boss. They will need to lure the boss out of its lair and into the dungeon towards runes that weaken it so they can defeat it. 

Dice drive the combat and skill checks in Tiny Epic Dungeons, but it’s an excellent mix of simplicity, luck, and maximization. For skill checks, you’ll roll the number of dice listed on your character card (up to 3) for that skill. You’re trying to get 1 of your dice to meet or exceed the skill check, and you can use focus to add +1 or -1 to a die face. What I like about these dice is that the 1 and 2 are actually +1 and +2 that you can add to whatever other number you choose, so you’re almost guaranteed at least a 3 with the potential for more. For combat checks, you’ll do the same thing with the addition of a red dice that acts as the enemy’s counter-attack. A cool touch is that some enemies are weaker to certain attacks, so choosing which party member to use to attack each enemy is essential.

A game in progress.

The characters in Dungeons are, for the most part, interesting and varied. You have your standard archers, rogues, tanks, warriors, and wizards, but you also have some fun mixes. Something I would have liked to see is more asymmetric heroes (they have more asymmetry in the Tiny Epic Dungeons Stories Expansion, but there’s still room for improvement even there). All heroes have 6 points spread across 3 skills and a couple of unique free and heroic actions. That’s fine, but Dungeons includes 8 heroes, and some of them are almost identical (especially the wizard and the sorceress). Why not have a hero with less skill points and additional bonus actions? Or have a hero with extra skill points but no bonus actions?  

The items and spells in Dungeons are fun and as varied as they can be in a game of this nature (the Stories expansion adds potions too). Items often come in sets, which grant bonuses, and it’s fun collaborating on how to get everyone the best items for their characters. However, only having 2 spell slots seems unfair for the magic-based characters. I can sort of understand why because some of the spells are very powerful, but it seems like non-spell users have a slight advantage. 

The goblins in Dungeons are simple, but that’s a good thing because they come up so often. No need to memorize complex goblin cards. The nemeses are varied, and you’ll need different strategies to properly engage each one. Same idea for the bosses, only on a larger scale. What’s unfortunate though is that the bosses all share the same boss token, which wouldn’t be a huge deal, but the fact that everything else on the board looks so good (player minis, wooden look-alike enemy tokens), the boss token is kind of an eyesore and reminds me of the Ender Dragon towers in Minecraft. Tiny, yes, but not so epic. Gamelyn should consider releasing a small expansion pack that adds larger boss minis to the game. The extra $10 or so would likely be worth it to many players.

The game components are very good, and the boss token remains the only complaint. The wooden goblin and nemeses tokens are befitting of the tiny epic name, and the health and focus trackers and disarm tokens look and work great. The player minis are small but retain some nice detail. The square cards work great as well. 

Dungeons is best with 3 players because then everyone in the party can specialize in 1 of the 3 skill traits, which is important because in order to defeat the boss you’ll need to have a few people with very strong attacks. But Dungeons is by no means easy with 3 players, which I like because the feeling you get when you win is all the more precious and rare. 

A lot of games are trying to use more icons and symbols instead of text in order to be more language-independent, and Dungeons falls into this category. However, there’s too much going on here to rely completely on symbols. We frequently had to interrupt gameplay to look up what a non-intuitive symbol meant. Sure, by your 4th and 5th time playing, you’ll know 95% of the symbols, but for a game that’s supposed to be pick-up-and-play, the abundance of icons hurts its entry point for new players. 

Dungeons is tight, compact, and tiny without being too small.

My first game lasted longer than I liked. If I’m going to soak 1.5-2 hours into a dungeon-crawler, I’d much rather play Jaws of the Lion or Imperial Assault. However, after a few games and icon deciphering, Dungeons becomes a satisfying dungeon-crawler that you can play in under an hour, and that’s right where it should be. 

Despite its icon flaws and an underwhelming boss token, I’d recommend Dungeons to anyone interested in jumping into the dungeon-crawling genre. The game starts pretty simple, so it’s easy to get new players into it, and if someone’s there to decipher all the icons, Dungeons is an ideal pick-up-and-play dungeon crawler. Sure, it may not be the best, but it’s very good, and at such a low price point, how can you not give it a try? 

A review copy was kindly provided by Gamelyn Games.

The Bottom Line

Despite it's icon overload, TED is a great place to jump into the dungeon-crawling genre because of its low price point and manageable learning curve.

 

7.5

spencer
Author: Spencer Patterson

I'm a resident director, writer, and board game reviewer. My wife is my favorite gaming partner, and our daughters are my favorite reading partners. X: @unstuffedwhale