Tiny Epic Defenders is a cooperative, “tower defense”-style game for 1-4 players, designed by Scott Almes and published by Gamelyn Games. It was originally released in 2015.
A new edition of the game will launch, along with its expansion – The Dark War – on Oct. 5th, 2017. All photos are from a prototype.
I am going to do this review in three parts, the first two of which I will present in this blog entry. First, I will cover my basic impressions of TED, 2015 edition. Then I will compare the first edition with the second edition, both in terms of gameplay changes and art updates. In a separate entry, I will give a full review of TED: The Dark War expansion.
That’s a lot. I hope it all makes sense in the end!
My (brief) review of Tiny Epic Defenders, 2015 edition
On release, Tiny Epic Defenders earned a mixed reaction from critics and other gamers. Radho really liked the game, Tom Vasel really disliked the game, and you had a whole bunch of other reactions in between – go look up those reviews on the TED BGG page, if you are curious. I liked my plays of TED, rating it a 7 for the following reasons:
- Big Fun in Small Package: It packed about 85% of what made Pandemic fun, while adding some unique twists to cover the difference, into a very small package (bias alert: I will hand out a slight ratings bump to any meatier-than-filler game I can bring to a game night without issue).
- Character and epic foe variety: Plays of TED felt different with each unique combination of characters, which was even better if you had the extra KS stuff (purchasable through the BBG store!)
- Good Sense of Progression: My plays often had nice arc to them, feeling easy at the beginning and ramping up in tension and difficulty until the main boss came out.
- Too much luck in the turn order deck: The turn order deck helped generate tension. However, it also created situations where players sometimes had boring turns with not much to do, followed by a long, uninterrupted, and crippling string of enemy attacks.
- No long term goals to add an extra layer of tension to turn-by-turn decisions: Unlike Pandemic, which forced players to consider short term goals (preventing outbreaks) and long term goals (curing diseases) on every turn, TED only presented the short term goal of defending the regions. Many turn-by-turn decisions ended up feeling obvious and slightly boring as a result – just go, heal the land most under siege, and be done.
- Generic art and theme: The Capital City’s real name is… The Capital City! Zzzzzz…..
Comparison of Tiny Epic Defenders, 2015 Edition vs. 2017 Edition
Understandably, some gamers felt a bit cheated by Gamelyn’s decision to completely overhaul a game released only two years ago. We spoke with Michael Coe about the relaunch decision on the Every Night is Game Night podcast, which you could listen to here.
Before I get into the changes and whether I think they are worth it, I’d like to point out some things that haven’t changed.
- Basic Gameplay: Aside from the rules tweaks which I discuss below, the new edition of TED feels like the old one. The turn order deck, threat management in the outer regions/ capital city, and other basic elements of the game will feel familiar to those who’ve played before.
- Dire Enemies: These were directly ported from the 2015 edition, for the most part.
So, what has changed? Check out some differences in the rulebook:
- One really major rules tweak: You remember up above, when I gave my Cons for the game, how I didn’t like when the enemy deck would spit out streaks of enemy cards, especially in the later rounds? In TED 2E, when an enemy card destroys a region, you use that card to mark it as destroyed. Yes, that means you remove it from the enemy deck for later rounds.
- This makes the mid-game a bit easier. However, I think it’s balanced by the redesigned and somewhat more difficult Epic Foes (more on those below). It also makes the game less random! In my plays, I really felt the difference.
- I have one minor quibble with this new rule – if a Dire Enemy destroyed a land and had their card removed, that meant fewer chances at artifacts. Boo!
- Other minor rules tweaks: The devil is in the details! Make sure to read the rulebook for further subtle changes (for example, every Outer Region started with one threat in games of the 2015 edition, but they all start with zero threat in games of the new edition).
Here are some more changes, evident on the game materials themselves:
- Characters: Some character powers have made it through, but others have undergone a thorough overhaul. They took a nerf bat to my beloved Warrior! He used to fly around with extra movement and reduce threat everywhere! Now he only gets to reduce one threat where he’s at for free at the start of his turn. Womp womp.
- Outer Regions: Similar to some of the characters, some of the Outer Regions received overhauls as well. For the most part, the new Outer Region powers give players more control of the game. You can now, for example, scry the enemy deck from the plains, or use the desert to remove pesky enemy cards from the discard pile.
- Epic Foes: HUGE changes with these dudes! In the 2015 edition, while I found the endgame in TED very tense and satisfying, the actual Epic Foes themselves weren’t very interesting. They were basically big bags of HP with a simple power. The fun part was going after them while dealing with the continuing waves of hordes. In the new edition, though, Epic Foes trigger special abilities as the heroes chip away at their health. For example, heroes have to “climb” on the Giant to hurt him. When he hits the thresholds marked on his HP tracker, he throws the heroes off and moves away. Very cool!
- Art and Graphic Design: I don’t know many gamers who were captivated by the art in the old Tiny Epic Defenders. The characters and monsters looked a little cartoony and bland. The Outer Region images felt like standard clip art pieces. The new art, however, has much more of a distinct style. You can judge what style you like better from the pictures below.
- As far as graphic design changes, the new characters cards have player aids printed on them. Honestly, though, I like the new character art. It doesn’t need to share space with a list of actions that are very easy to remember.
Wait, hold on…
- Until now, I haven’t mentioned how items worked in the 2015 version. That’s on purpose. They used to be slightly boring, one-time use little bits of whatever. Now, though… Let’s just say that when I ran this at my game store and players started to earn items, a few of them squealed with joy. Squealed, I tell you. People loved the toy factor, and the new versions of items (permanent now, btw) worked much, much better. If I had any criticism of the new items, it’s that you didn’t get enough of them through the course of the game. The players wanted to fill all of their slots! I hear the expansion addresses that issue, though… [segue alert!]
2015 TED pictured to the left, 2017 TED (prototype) pictured to the right
Final Verdict – Should you back this game if you own the old version?
Put very simply, the 2017 version of Tiny Epic Defenders makes many desirable changes to the 2015 version. I think the cosmetic changes in this new version are all welcome. If TED was an app and you only had to pay a buck or two to for an upgrade, this would be a no-brainer! Since it’s a whole new copy of the game, though, you need to make the decision for yourself whether the cosmetic upgrades are worth it to you.
As far as gameplay changes, I like the overall direction: mitigating the randomness and bending difficulty just a bit towards the Epic Foes. That’s how it should be! If you had a bad time with the 2015 edition, maybe the new rules will do enough to bring you back on board. If you liked the older version, though, and you can find room in your gaming budget, then you won’t be disappointed.