- Designer: Scott Almes
- Artists: Roland MacDonald, Benjamin Shulman
- Publisher: Gamelyn Games
- Release Date: June 2019
Luke: Tiny Epic games have never really been my jam.
Phil: You know, me neither. I like the idea of a big box game in a compact, $25 package, but usually, the game doesn’t really deliver on that promise.
Luke: They do and they don’t. The product is there, and they can be fun, but many of them come out with issues that need to be patched later on, either through expansions or 2nd editions. Kingdoms, Defenders, Galaxy, and Quest all suffered from this.
Phil: Don’t forget about Western.
Luke: …We don’t talk about that game.
Phil: I don’t even think Gamelyn Games likes talking about that game.
Luke: So yes, when I play a new game from the series, I always treat it with some hesitancy, but I wanted to give this one the benefit of the doubt.
Phil: Why’s that?
Luke: More recent titles in the series, while not widely talked about anymore, have shown some strong progress for the company, with improved production quality and seemingly tighter mechanics.
Phil: And does Tiny Epic Mechs live up to that expectation?
Luke: Kind of?
Phil: Gee, how helpful.
Luke: In Tiny Epic Mechs, players are pit against each other in a gladiatorial battle royale. Scoring conditions resemble those of games like Team Fortress 2, rewarding you for kills and area control.
The M. Night Shyamalan twist of this entry to the series is 2-fold. Firstly, players have multiple forms that they can take, fighting as a human, in their mech, or in a mega-mech that introduces a king-of-the-hill element.
Phil: That sounds like a lot of plastic.
Luke: Ever since their ITEMeeple components were introduced in Tiny Epic Quest, the series has been drowned in a deluge of plastic components, and while they can make sense for some elements of the game, like the mechs that your meeples can sit inside, they can feel cumbersome when attaching the various unique weapons to their hands. I found myself relying on the cards to communicate the necessary info over pawing through various plastic pieces every few minutes.
Phil: And the other twist?
Luke: Oh, it’s a programming game.
Phil: … Huh.
Luke: Yeah, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it at first either. Programming games are notorious for its chaotic approach, popularized by Colt Express and Robo Rally, and while some may find this style of game fun, I’ve been hard-pressed to find titles that use this mechanic that doesn’t feel too random for my taste.
Phil: Mechs vs. Minions being the exception to the rule.
Luke: Yes, and that game is a huge outlier in that regard.
Regardless, Tiny Epic Mechs has some smart ideas up its sleeve. At the start of the game, each player chooses a unique hero with their own ability, adding some flavor to the experience.
Before the start of each round, players program out their movements, as well as what action they will be taking, such as placing booby traps, purchasing upgrades, or attempting to attack an opponent. Then, players reveal one movement card, fulfilling its criterium, before passing to the next player, continuing until all players have played out their 4-card system.
Phil: Rounds must go by pretty quickly.
Luke: If they do, they’re pretty boring, as it means no combats have occurred. Fighting is the most interesting element of the game, but going through the motions of it feels sluggish and automatic.
Phil: What’s the point of a round of play if you aren’t fighting stuff then?
Luke: Any space with your traps still on them are controlled by you, earning you points every other round. Plus, you might be avoiding a fight in order to buy more stuff, upgrade to your mech, or even unlock the mega-mech, located in the center of the battlefield.
Phil: Sure, but is that fun to do?
Luke: Not really, it almost feels like busy-work before the big showdown.
Phil: Alright, then tell me about the combat system.
Luke: Players can have up to 4 weapons equipped, but humans can only use 2 basic weapons, mechs can use 2 basic and 2 advanced weapons, and the mega-mech can only use advanced weapons. This means that, in order to be effective in a fight, you need to plan around which items you can legally use, given your current form.
Weapons also operate on a rock-paper-scissors wheel, where if you respond to an attack with an appropriate counter, you’ll get a bonus. In this way, fights are calculated plans of chaining your weapons against your opponent’s in hopes of getting the maximum pay-off.
Phil: Reminds me of the crazy complex battle system in the 2nd edition of Fury of Dracula.
Luke: It’s similar, but not nearly as complex, and most fights end up boiling down to playing whatever card you have that counters the last attack with little thought beyond that. And honestly, you can’t really plan for a fight beyond how many weapons you are able to use, even in a 2-player game.
Phil: So all in all, this is another so-so programming title?
Luke: Afraid so. It doesn’t help that the game doesn’t give big stakes to reach for. Since death is impermanent, the game runs until a set number of rounds are over, which can feel rather anticlimactic.
Verdict: Tiny Epic Mechs looks and feels gorgeous, as is customary with Gamelyn Games these days, but the gameplay doesn’t offer enough interesting choices to keep players engaged turn-to-turn, and the fiddliness of some of the mechanics can slow the game down to a crawl. This is a good option if you want an alright programming title on the go, but if you’re playing from home, there are better options out there.