Tabletop Review: Tiny Epic Dungeons
By: Chad Christian (TapRackBang)
I won’t lie - when Tiny Epic Dungeons went live on Kickstarter back in 2021, I had only played one other Tiny Epic game (Galaxies) and mainly backed it for the minis. Gamelyn Games has built quite the catalogue of Tiny Epic games, with main selling points being true to the name; they are quite portable with a small footprint, yet they typically retain robust gameplay. They also keep the cost quite low, so with all that in mind, it wasn’t a tough decision to make. Tiny Epic Dungeons is the most recently released title in the Tiny Epic franchise. It’s a quite challenging dungeon crawler for 1-4 players, where the heroes attempt to find and defeat the dungeon’s boss before their torch goes out. There’s a decent amount of narrative behind the game to give you a reason for being in the dungeon, and a Stories expansion to boot, with a solid selection of heroes and villains for replayability. As usual, it’s all contained in a box small enough for us geeks to fit in our zip-off cargo shorts (they’re comfy and practical - I regret nothing).
As mentioned above, the driving mechanic behind the game is the torch carried by the heroes. There are two acts to the game, the first act being the search for the boss, and the second act is all about taking the boss down. The game has several cards that make up the dungeon, goblins and minions, loot, and more, and the torch comes with its own two-sided card with a track for each act. The dungeon is modular, and while the dungeon deck is constructed similarly each game, the order of cards is never the same, keeping it a fresh experience each time. There is a bit of luck involved there, but we’ll get into that later. Again, the goal is to find and defeat the boss, whose card is always near the bottom of the deck, ensuring an enjoyable, lengthy, nail-biting dungeon crawl on your way down.
The game honestly feels about 50:50 strategy to luck. Each hero has different stats and abilities, and almost every dungeon card has a challenge to overcome. A room could hide a hazard, requiring an ability check, or it could hold a goblin or minion waiting to impede your progress. You have to be careful not to let those goblins get out of hand; if there are already 4 in the dungeon and you are required to place a 5th, you immediately lose the game. However, you still need to explore enough to find the boss’ lair and take down the required amount of minions before the torch goes out. The saving grace here is that, for each minion you eliminate, the torch replenishes six spaces on the track, giving you more precious time to complete your mission. So far, I’ve found it rather difficult to balance exploration and containing the goblin threat. We’ve tried splitting the party, and just like the RPG trope dictates: that rarely has gone well. However, staying together in solidarity means you may not have enough turns on the torch track to find the boss. The torch track is also the driving force behind enemies as well, as almost every space has enemies either spawn or take action against you. Of course, the luck of the draw can greatly affect this, depending on which cards you uncover in your dungeon.
Additionally, just like almost any game involving dice, you could roll extremely well and wipe the floor with those pesky goblins, or you could get your ass handed to you no matter how overpowered that loot you found is. I don’t mind games that involve a certain amount of luck, but again, I found that aspect to sometimes be a bit tedious when trying to employ your strategies for navigating the dungeon. The torch track keeps things moving, but it leaves very little wiggle room. If you’re not planning ahead and thinking about those spaces in terms of the number of turns before the torch goes out, you’re probably not going to make it. I wouldn’t want the game to hand the win over to me, but I honestly think the torch track could use a little work, either in length or the amount of hazards that exist on it.
One of the greatest difficulties of the game for me wasn’t necessarily the game itself but all the symbols you need to learn to play. Once you get familiar with them, the game starts to move along and gets more enjoyable, but those first 3-5 play-throughs were rough. I can see where they were going with the system, and it does somewhat make sense once you get the hang of it, but to me, it just felt like it could’ve been a bit more intuitive and straightforward. With all the different options and avenues the game can take, I’m not entirely sure how it could be better, but those first few play-throughs took much longer than they should have I found myself constantly flipping through the rulebook to see what exactly was supposed to happen. While the symbols are meant to be very specific, there are some scenarios where we still found ourselves making a judgment call, as we were unable to fully parse out what the intention was. In one sense, there is a level of depth to that system that’s somewhat enjoyable, but it started as quite the tedious process.
Overall, the game still is fun for me. Don’t let its size fool you, though; it’s a lengthy, in-depth game despite its small stature. It’s highly thematic, the art style is fun, and the narrative is whimsically foreboding. If you’re into painting miniatures, you have some options of pleasantly detailed hero miniatures to work with. However, with the learning curve being a bit steep due to the symbols and (in my experience) the level of difficulty in time management, I have to give Tiny Epic Dungeons a 6/10.