Learning what enemies are in the turn deck is a key to success. After the first turn, you know exactly which enemies will appear. The standard enemy cards will increase the threat level on two different realms, and this threat is tracked by adorable little fire tokens. Players use their actions to move from realm to realm, reduce threat levels from the realm they are in, or use special abilities. A player can defend against enemies as well; if giant scorpions attack the desert, for example, a player located there can sacrifice a life point to avoid the threat level increase for that realm. Once life points are gone, though, players cannot defend or use abilities, and must travel back to the capital city to heal.
Dire enemies are even more difficult to defend against. Like standard enemies, dire enemies show up in the same location each round, which is helpful for planning. Unfortunately, it takes two health points to defend against a dire foe. Additionally, dire foes have unique abilities that make things harder on the players if they are not defended against. The sea serpent, for example, causes a tidal wave which sends players to adjacent regions. These terrible events make things even harder for the players, and can throw a wrench in the works of even the best conceived plans.
But the worst of all are the Epic foes, which signal the end of the game. The abilities of each of these nasty creatures are brutal. The fire elemental is one of the most difficult; it raises the threat level of the realm it is in each time it is attacked. This makes it roughly twice as hard to kill as it would otherwise be! The Epic giant uses a stomp which knocks players down, effectively stealing an action from them each turn. The beholder-like Epic Overlord rotates from realm to realm, making it harder to deal with. Often, the Epic goes will appear and nearly immediately end the game. They are certainly worthy of the Epic name, but that just makes it all the sweeter when you finally manage to defeat them!
The theme in Tiny Epic Defenders is rich. While it draws upon the standard fantasy archetypes in many ways, there are plenty of unique components. There is a large set of heroes available, and the abilities that each one has are interesting and make sense thematically. The oracle can look at the turn deck in order to see the future, the barbarian can trade life for actions, and the ranger is effective at range. The enemies act as you would expect they would, too; monstrous fish creatures attack the coast, while skeletal legions arise to threaten the ruins. The artwork on the cards is evocative of early Dungeons & Dragons illustrations, which adds to the feel of a fantastic realm under the threat of evil and the varied heroes willing to defend it.
As with most such games, Tiny Epic Defenders is highly cooperative. Players must talk about plans to meet all the various challenges, managing threat levels, using special powers and artifacts effectively, and more. Several heroes have abilities that directly aid others, like the commander and the cleric. Group action cards, which provide three actions that can be split among the players as they like, provide an opportunity to team up every turn. The fact that the player action cards can come up in any order keeps everyone interested and engaged, which only adds to the sense of cooperation.
Tiny Epic Defenders is hitting your local game store shelves as of the time of this writing. The game is a great value, with a very modest retail price and great components. The short play time makes it an excellent filler in between longer games, but there is no lack of depth or engagement due to the game’s length. The box may be tiny, but the game is epic, and defending the kingdom with your friends is a great experience. Tiny Epic Defenders absolutely lives up to its name.