Quick Look: TINY EPIC PIRATES
Designer: Scott Almes
Publisher: Gamelyn Games
Tiny Epic Pirates is a 45 minute, 1-4 player game of high-seas adventure, utilizing a variable rondel action system and action combo-ing!. In Tiny Epic Pirates you take control of a Pirate ship with the goal of burying vast amounts of wealth on secret island hideaways.
Each turn, you move your Captain Token around your ship’s action wheel (rondel), selecting which action to perform… Plunder, Trade, Crew Up, Attack, or Search. Each player has a randomized and unique arrangement of these actions on their rondel. Sailing your Pirate Ship is something every player can do every time they take an action. Plundering allows you to acquire booty from settlements at a very reasonable rate. It’s amazing how negotiating changes when your blunderbuss is at the ready. A crate of gunpowder for a promise of no harm? Fair exchange. Trading allows you to sell your ill-gotten goods to the Black Market for gold. Each Market is only interested in a specific good, so make sure you are sailing in the right direction. Timing is everything, sell your good at the wrong time and it’s worth a pittance. Crew Up adds a new crew member to your growing Pirate Ship. Crew increases your ship’s combat advantage and unlocks new abilities for each spoke of your ship’s action wheel, making that action more powerful every time you take it! Attacking Merchant Ships and other Pirates will grow your reputation. It also happens to be a great way to score some gold and more booty to sell. Be enough of a menace and you may just become a Legend of the Sea!
Search the high-seas for treasures left behind by the unfortunate souls that preceded you. Salvage old ship parts for temporary aid or get lucky and find something worth selling.
The end of the game is triggered once a player has buried three treasures. To do this, a player must first acquire the amount of gold required to bury at the various bury spots on the map. After all players have had an equal number of turns. The player who has buried three treasures wins the game. Ties are decided by the player who has the highest legendary status, followed by which player has the most gold.
I must admit I had rather been looking forward to reviewing Tiny Epic Dungeons. I have heard of (though never experienced) the Tiny Epic series, and was initially going to be covering the new Tiny Epic Vikings entry, but alas, there were no more prototypes available and as such, I was told I could try out Tiny Epic Dungeons. Which made me happy, because as many of my readers know, Dungeon Crawls are one of my two favorite genres (the other being 4X games).
So when I opened the parcel received from Gamelyn a few weeks ago, I was a little disappointed to find Tiny Epic Pirates (not Dungeons) staring back at me. Not only due to the fact that I had been expecting something else, but also due to the fact that sometimes I find Seafaring games to be a bit placid.
And, as always, I have to question whether something that came in such a small package could actually be good. Because there is a grand tendency for small games to be overly simplistic in my experience, offering very little depth. I do own the occasional dice chucker in such a small form factor (I do for example love the prototype of Instant Warfare, for example, whose Kickstarter is relaunching later this year…).
And while simple fun may be called for in many occasions, sometimes we wish we could have taken our Big Boxes while out on vacation since they most times offer a bit more complexity.
So exactly what category does Tiny Epic Pirates fall into?
I would say…lean, mean, gaming machine.
For my first run-in with the Tiny Epic series, I was pleased with the way the game lays out. Though the box size is a mere 2” x 5” x 7”, the use of cards instead of a game board makes for some great, randomized setups that make for a different map configuration every time, and spreads out nicely to a size that is roughly what one might expect from a more traditional board game. Easily playable on a decent sized table with multiple players, but not so small as to be awkward.
The tokens are cute, little mini-meeples in the shape of a Captain or Deck pirates, and there are a few other cards each player will receive to mark their status (The Legend Tracker, and the Wheel, more on these later).
You also get a two sided “Legend” marker (which is a face on one side, and a bloodied one on the other) , a “gold” dabloon to mark your treasure and three treasure token meeples for each player.
Players on the board will be represented by plastic ships that can easy hold 3 wooden cubes representing goods. There is also a white Navy ship and two Merchant ships that also hold a wooden cube that can be plundered if you are seaworthy enough.
In addition, there is a nice deck of mini cards that represent various Pirate Captains and Crews players may come to acquire. And each player will also receive some tokens that neatly align on their Wheel card to represent various actions that they may take.
The game manual is pretty straightforward, again a sort of miniature sized nature, but it is not too small to handle and read—just right in other words. The instructions comprise some 20 pages that also include a solo variant, but I was able to play this game with my family.
The game itself is a breeze to set up, though right off the bat there were some features that struck me as unique.
For example, I loved the way that the aforementioned Wheel Tokens are randomly selected and placed around your Wheel. Since this represents the order of actions you can take when it is your turn, it essentially means that each player may be doing something entirely different when it comes time for them to take an action.
Each turn you may take one action (the next depicted sequentially on the Wheel) and move your Pirate Captain marker on the wheel 1 space (but you can skip ahead on the wheel if it is to your advantage, too, by taking crew member meeples off of their other “default” duties that normally grant you bonuses to moving, cannon damage, and plundering gold).
The actions on the wheel are (in no particular order, since it is randomized for each player!)
Search : Each Map card has a looking glass cardboard token during setup. If a player searches there, they may take that token for a special surprise…
Plunder : If your pirate ship is on a space that contains two swords, you may plunder that area to receive one or two goods from a bag that contains 4 different types of such booty and swag. The value of each good type is (again) neatly randomized at the beginning of each game.
Crew Up! : Take one of 3 available new crew members from a deck with unique abilities for each crew member
Attack : Attack another pirate or merchant ship if you are on the same space.
Trade : If you happen to be on a map space that has the trade icon, you may trade the items of the same color that are of the same color as depicted on the map space for gold (if you happen to have the items required at hand).
The last action available is not randomized, as it represents the Last action slot before completing a cycle on the Wheel before a player’s next round starts. (Though players may start their rounds with different timing since not all players will opt to skip certain actions).
This last Action is Hide : If you happen to be on a map card with an Anchor icon (representing a cove), you go into hiding. You cannot be attacked by other players (or the Navy), and may essentially “reset” workers if you choose, putting them back into duties that grant bonuses if they were forced into repair duties after a battle, or utilized to “skip” unwanted actions on your pirate Wheel.
Crossing this line into the “Hide” portion of the wheel when you take a turn will trigger movement by both the merchant ships and navy. Merchant ships will move in a fixed pattern between opposite corners of the game board for their predictable (and exploitable!) trade routes, while the navy will immediately sail towards the active player and attack them if it manages to reach their space with its limited movement points available.
Delving a bit more into the gameplay, the ultimate goal in Tiny Epic Pirates is to be the first pirate to bury three treasures on the map. But in order to bury a chest, that first means you need to fill it with gold, usually 12-13 pieces per chest.
Gold is generally obtained by attacking merchant ships, plundering villages, and trading booty, though it may also be obtained periodically by “leveling up” your Legend level (usually via combat with another player or merchant ship).
One thing that is nice about the gameplay is that it is “generally” (though not always) possible to move each turn no matter what Action you opt to take. The way that a players’ turn is staged is actually quite fun giving your captain the following procedure :
-Declare an Action
-Sail towards the destination of your choice where you would like to perform your action of choice
-Complete the Action
-Bonus Actions (which trigger based on whether you have a Captain or Crew member who has an icon that matches the icon of the action you took).
Now it is possible to sail into a storm and lose movement, and have movement reduced to the point of being completely stationary during your turn (becoming “jostled”), but this condition is never permanent.
Combat with other players and merchant ships uses dice, and while this can be off putting to some, we found that the use of dice was employed in a manner that kept it from being the same ol’ boring dice chucking. You basically get “hits” against another ship as many times as the number you rolled matches the dice depicted on your Captain and Crew cards , meaning that just one die roll can trigger many hits if you happen to choose the Crew that have the right numbers on their card. Additionally, there are some good methods of acquiring ways to bolster your chances of scoring hits (Surefire Shots), which enable to you change any misses to a die side of your choosing, which is , again, which satisfying and gives a good sense of control over ill fates.
Once per game each player may also “mutiny” to gain a different captain with (perhaps) more advantageous dice and abilities.
Another thing that is positive in our experience is the scaling difficulty. Though never overpowering, it is nice the way merchant ships get progressively stronger as the game goes on, and the Navy gets more movement during its activation for players that have buried more treasure than the others. These are some pretty nice touches. And it is also nice that players get a chance to bolster their ships and get another deckhand and some nice bonuses as the game progresses. And all-in-all, this is a nice accomplishment given how quickly the game can play (30-60 minutes), because it can be hard to have a sense of making a milestone during the shorter game experiences.
The bottom line for us is that we ended up being surprised with Tiny Epic Pirates.
My wife is normally adverse to competitive games, and felt that the way the rules handle in-game confrontations makes it such that even if you lose an individual battle, it does not feel so catastrophic that it ruins the game due to one player getting a huge advantage as a result of their win or loss in battle.
Moreover, the gameplay itself though not what I would call “groundbreaking” is fun and offers a nice middle ground between beginner/casual gamers and those who like games that are a little more rule heavy. Though Tiny Epic Pirates does not lean directly towards one end of the spectrum, it does present itself nicely in a peaceful area of tranquility between the two dichotomous poles. Which does lend itself rather nicely to taking a box of fun out of nowhere.
Because this is one game that thankfully lives up to its reputation. Though (as mentioned previously) we had heard of the Tiny Epic series before, we were not quite sure if playing the game would prove fruitful for us. Thankfully, Tiny Epic Pirates ends up being something that we will gladly take with us on our vacations from here on out, as we will gladly throw some of our larger game boxes overboard in favor of a more travel-friendly offering. It really does offer a “full” gaming experience in a tiny box, and in this sense we are sincerely grateful that it manages to live up to both its name, size and reputation!
Score : 8
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer
Jazz Paladin is an eccentric at heart — When he is not learning to make exotic new foods at home, such as Queso Fresco cheese and Oaxacan molé, he is busy collecting vintage saxophones, harps, and other music-related paraphernalia. An avid music enthusiast, when he is not pining over the latest board games that are yet-to-be-released, his is probably hard at work making jazzy renditions of classic/retro video game music tunes as Jazz Paladin on Spotify and other digital music services. CD’s are also available here!
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