I hang my head in shame as I tell you that I, in fact, got completely sidetracked this week/weekend with planning for the NOBCChE national conference, and thus did not have my intended Channel A post prepared for this week. I’ll put it up next week, I promise!
Instead, I’m going to introduce yet another post type (bringing us up to five) – Review All The Things! In this, I’ll be reviewing whatever I have had the opportunity to experience recently – this could be (and will usually be) a board/card/video game, but it could also be a book, a movie, a music CD, or anything else that can be reviewable! This week, I’ll be putting up a review I did a while back for a Kickstarter board game called Tiny Epic Kingdoms (the original post can be found here) In addition, you can find more info about the game from Gamelyn Games here:
Edges (+): Condenses 4X gameplay into a bite-sized (literally) package. The game design keeps the game close and exciting (with one exception) all the way through. Despite its simplicity, there are several layers of strategy present
Bogies (-): Peace is never a viable option due to the ease of backstabbing. Breaking of Alliances appears to be too costly. Dwarves are jerks. (no, really.)
Overview: TEK is a highly portable, simplified 4X strategy game for 2-4 players, where the goal is to develop your kingdom along one of three routes while disrupting your opponent’s ability to do the same. With several territories and several factions with unique strategies to win, TEK has the potential to be an exciting game that can be played in 30-90 minutes (depending on number of players).
The Game: TEK is highly portable, at least in the prerelease version. The pieces can easily fit into a pocket or purse and be taken from place to place. Even with additional factions and territories, the game could pretty easily take up about the same space as a deck of cards. Tiny indeed!
The design of the game is fairly simple as well – each player has a territory card (five territories, each color-coded to match one of three resources), a faction card, a city card, and colored villager cubes. There are also two common cards, the Tower and the Actions. Colored resource cubes round out the set. The cubes are tiny, and have the potential to be easily lost, but their simplicity means that they can probably be easily replaced with color-coded cardstock if need be.
Winning the Game: In TEK, your goal is to accumulate the most victory points (VP). This is achieved by developing your kingdom in one of three ways, each attached to a specific resource – building the tower (ore, red), researching magic (magic, green), or creating villagers (food, yellow). At the same time, you want to do what you can to undermine the other players by either taking necessary territories or making war on the other factions to prevent them from gathering resources. Each method of VP accumulation has its own benefits:
Tower: The Tower doesn’t give benefits to any other portion of gameplay – as a result, it is worth more VP than the other methods.
Magic: Magic is faction specific, and developing magic will give the different races special abilities. Also, when Magic is fully developed, the player has the potential to earn additional VP if certain conditions are met.
Villagers: Each villager is worth VP, and you need villagers to gather resources to develop further. Very important, but they are also able to be attacked at any time!
In our group, we found that, in order to be successful, you have to try and develop in all three directions. Just focusing on one method won’t nearly get enough VP to win!
Playing the Game/Strategy: In TEK, you can choose one of four factions. Each faction has a different magic tree, geared towards a particular playstyle (note, more factions included with the final game):
Humans (resource gathering and expansion)
Elves (all magic, all the time)
Dwarves (Tower building)
Orcs (beating everyone else up)
As a result, researching magic ASAP is essential to successful play. Our group had pretty fierce early game battles around the magic territories almost every game.
One of the major strategic elements in the game is proper usage of the available Actions. There are six actions that can be chosen each turn, but the catch is this – you can only pick an action once in a five round cycle. If choosing the action, you have to be able to perform it, but other players can choose to collect resources instead. A savvy player will keep track of their opponent’s resources and choose actions that other opponents can’t do, slowing their growth for several turns.
The final major strategic element is in making war with other factions. Several actions allow for you to move your units, and you can use this to wage war on other players. War comes at the cost of resources, with the person being willing to wager the most winning. Some factions have enhancements to war if Magic is developed. You can’t get VP from making war, but you can deny other players both Villager VP and resources that they would need to develop further. There are ways to protect your villagers, but it comes at a cost. You have to decide whether to expand and gather more resources at the risk of losing villagers, or consolidate and limit how many resources you can gather. There’s also the ability to make peace, but it’s never really worked out in our group due to the ease of backstabbing when committing resources to war.
The two-player variant adds in a neutral faction, which is defended by the other player in war. To encourage the player to dedicate resources to war, territories in this area are worth VP if occupied. This simple change encouraged war considerably more than the 3- or 4- player rounds that we played. The matches were quick and tense – perfect for a lunch break.
For the most part, the game appeared to be balanced, with one exception – the Dwarves. Although they are worse at combat compared to other races, their magic tree is very synergistic towards one thing – building the Tower. Between building at a lower cost, being able to use multiple resource types to build, and being able to build as a replacement for any other action, the Dwarves can quickly pull ahead in VP unless the other players specifically target them. When our group tried the 2- and 3-player matches (banning Dwarves), the game became significantly more balanced and exciting. Since this is a pre-release, there’s bound to be some kinks, and there’s plenty of time to think of a way to bring the Dwarves down (up?) to the other faction’s level.
Overall opinion: TEK is a fun little game, good for a quick 4X fix if you don’t have hours/days to dedicate to a game like Civilization. Although simple, the game has several layers of strategy than can be exploited to keep the matches exciting and original. Definitely worth a purchase!