Tiny Epic Western Kickstarter Preview

Tiny Epic Western, the latest installment in the Tiny Epic series by Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games, joins the impressive ranks of Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Tiny Epic Defenders, and Tiny Epic Galaxies.  Coming to Kickstarter on January 11th (we will provide links as soon as it’s up), Tiny Epic Western is undoubtedly the most ambitious Tiny Epic game to date, striving to combine worker placement, area control, gambling, dice-driven shootouts, variable player powers, and high theme penetration into a cohesive whole.  How well does it work and, much more importantly, is it any fun?

**The KS is now live and well overfunded!**

andysmAndrew:  Look, I know it sort of ruins the momentum of a review to slap our opinions down right at the top, but go back this one.  Just do it.  If you’re reading this before the 11th, go to your calendar, make a note for yourself, and then come back and read the rest of my review.  If you’re reading this after the 11th, I want you to go to the Kickstarter page, back it, and then come back and finish reading my review.  No, I don’t just want double the page hits, that’s a preposterous accusation.

jessmJess:  I’m constantly amazed at how much game they pack into these boxes.  Scott Almes really designs his games to have a lot of punch despite their size.  These are the Ant Man of board games!

The 'wagon wheel' setup immediately suggests something unique and awesome is happening
The ‘wagon wheel’ setup immediately suggests something unique and awesome is happening

We first got to play Tiny Epic Western at BGGcon this past fall, and we were so immediately taken with it that I mounted a systematic campaign of harassment against Gamelyn Games until they threw a preview copy at my head in exchange for my silence.  And by that, I mean this is a Kickstarter prototype.  Some of the final components are already different than they are in this version, and may still change during the campaign.  Y’all have been warned!

I’ll happily go into exhaustive detail as to why I am so excited about Tiny Epic Western, but here’s the bottom line: I am simply astonished at how much ‘western’ Scott Almes manages to pack into this game.  The game is absolutely stuffed with theme; the only way it could feel more authentic is if it rode in on horseback, wore a Stetson, and had a warrant on its head for cattle-rustling.  Some stretch goals, maybe?

An example of a Boss. The Rancher can always pay to have his 3rd worker, which is incredibly useful
An example of a Boss. The Rancher can always pay to have his 3rd worker, which is incredibly useful.  Also, could that mustache be any more Western?  That thing probably rode in on its *own* horse

The basics:  2-4 players take on the roles of Bosses, would-be big shots in a growing western town.  Each boss’ posse will go up against the rest, grabbing up resources (cash, force, and law), holding down control of different areas, and building valuable structures, all in the name of controlling the lion’s share of buildings and industry in this rough-and-tumble frontier town. The bosses themselves each have a unique ability (there were a whopping 12 in our prototype version of the game), encouraging different strategies and enhancing replayability.

A few more bosses, some without art (for now)
A few more bosses, some without art (for now)

Adding serious thematic richness to the standard worker placement formula are two cleverly uncomplicated systems, dueling (which is a polite way of saying ‘I have a gun, so get gone before I shoot you’) and poker (which is a polite way of saying ‘my straight flush beats your 3-of-a-kind, so get gone before I shoot you’).  These mechanics augment the worker placement core of TEW, adding a lot of exciting little exchanges to what might otherwise be just another meeple relocation simulator.

The Sheriff's Office shows off a unique aspect of TEW - Spaces that do 2 things, and you need to pick which you are using when you place
The Sheriff’s Office shows off a unique aspect of TEW – Spaces that do 2 things, and you need to pick which you are using when you place

Dueling, which is mostly dice-driven, let’s you potentially place a posse member where someone has already set up shop.  Someone camping a spot you want?  Well, with some good luck and enough gun, maybe you can just knock that fella down, leaving his space open for you to claim.  But be careful; it’s the west, and everyone has a gun, and those spaces are going to be hotly contested.

The poker system is highly thematic; while it’s definitely simplified and easy to understand, it really brings in the feeling of being hardass movers and shakers, grinning at each other from behind our cards (well, card) while our hombres knock around town, snagging loot and shooting up rival gangs.

To determine who wins control over the Town Hall, for example, players with posse there compare the poker hands they make using their pocket card and the cards to the left and right of that location. In this case, since Hats are the high suit, the player on the right wins.
To determine who wins control over the Town Hall, for example, players with posse there compare the poker hands they make using their pocket card and the cards to the left and right of that location. In this case, since Hats are the high suit, the player on the right wins.

andysmAndrew:  The poker system is probably my favorite part of Tiny Epic Western.  At the beginning of each of the game’s 6 rounds, every player gets a card which they keep hidden from view.  Once all the placements are over, the poker cards around town and in each player’s hand are revealed, and players will essentially play a simplified game of poker against one another (or an automated player; no space is ever uncontested) to determine control of all the locations in town.  These 3-hand card comparisons are delightfully reminiscent of actual poker (while still being smoothly integrated), and for each location a player wins, they can get bonus resources as well as have more potential structures to build.

Building cards. Costs on the bottom, ability in the text, victory points and stocks on top
Building cards. Costs on the bottom, ability in the text, victory points and stocks on top

Once the round’s victories have been determined, winners will have the opportunity to add a building to their lot, each of which becomes a new, unique placement space with varied powers.  And every time a new building gets built, its power replaces the old ones, so there is a constant churn of options for players to take advantage of in this tiny game.

As you build, more buildings will stack off your player board, with the most recently built structure acting as a placement space
As you build, more buildings will stack off your player board, with the most recently built structure acting as a placement space

And Tiny is starting to be a less and less significant descriptor of Gamelyn’s signature series – with each iteration, Almes’ designs are getting more and more robust, and Tiny Epic Western is certainly the highest pinnacle achieved so far.  Tiny Epic Kingdoms gave us a streamlined area control experience, while Tiny Epic Defenders was a fun take on co-op action-point allocation.  Tiny Epic Galaxies won my heart with awesome design and rock-solid ‘everyone’s always involved’ gameplay philosophy.  What makes Tiny Epic Western truly stand out is that it doesn’t feel Tiny at all – the game is neither truncated nor exhausting, delivering a fresh take on a well-loved genre and well-worn core mechanics.

Lots of useful information is right there on the Town Hall card
Lots of useful information is right there on the Town Hall card

andysmAndrew:  Look, you had me at Tiny Epic and you sold me at Western, but the fact is that Scott Almes and Gamelyn have done it again.  Tiny Epic Western is a solid contender as my favorite Tiny Epic game (rivaling Galaxies wasn’t an easy, feat, I assure you), and that makes it a contender as one of the best games in my collection.

The Kickstarter is live and weeeeeell past funded!  And while we can’t wait to see what stretch goals the folks at Gamelyn Games come up with, we are confident that Tiny Epic Western is a rock-solid little game that will fill way more space in your collection than just the space it takes on your shelf.

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