Tiny Epic Mechs is the latest game in the Tiny Epic series to be fulfilled from its Kickstarter and head out to retail. If you’re unfamiliar, Gamelyn’s Tiny Epic games pack away into a box about the size of three DVD cases stacked together, yet the modular components often fill a table and offer medium-length, fairly weighty play experiences. Every game in the series is a completely different theme and play style, although — a bit like the Final Fantasy series — there is common DNA throughout many of the titles.
Tiny Epic Mechs is a one to four-player arena combat game. Players score in two ways: the ‘television audience’ awards points for various elements of combat, such as damage dealt, initiating a duel and winning the duel. The other (much more impactful) way of scoring is by controlling spaces of varying value around the arena at the end of three scoring rounds. Four actions are programmed at the start of each round using direction cards with unique actions, such as ‘collect resources’ or ‘buy weapons’. Players take it in turns to execute their programme one action at a time. If two units meet on a space, they duel until one is forced to retreat, either because they have expended all available weaponry or have suffered a knockout.
Tiny Epic Mechs looks great on the table. The arena is colourful and futuristically sharp, with a Tron vibe. The miniatures have incredible table presence, as this is the latest Tiny Epic game to feature ‘ItemMeeples,’ custom playing pieces in the shape of a figure which has slots to carry plastic items (mainly weapons). Tiny Epic Mechs goes one further and now Meeples can now be placed inside a ‘power suit’ (providing additional hit points and mounts for advanced weapons) or the Mighty Mech, a towering robot which provides bonus points and a kind of ‘king of the hill’-style scoring opportunity.
At first, Mechs seems like an odd game. Pitched as a game of arena combat, duels occur randomly and, in the early stages of the game, it is common for the victor and loser to score the same points. The loser, having been forced to retreat and therefore having negated their programmed moves, now enters an ‘ad-hoc’ mode in which they can play whatever card they like on their turn. Similarly, while an impressive attack scores for each point of damage inflicted, finally knocking out an opponent only scores one point. Knocked out players either retreat or respawn, hugely diminishing the pain of losing a duel.
The biggest points are for controlling spaces using an array of Turrets and Mines, which can be placed by the player. Having control of spaces using these provides a huge score between rounds and a large element of the game is having enough hit points to wade into these booby-trapped spaces, trigger the trap and remove the controlling piece, to deny the other players their score.
This is where Tiny Epic Mechs reveals its true nature. While presented as a combat game, it’s actually a tactical game of area control. It is also a game of careful timing, with scoring taking place only at the end of every other round — so planning is required.
Being totally honest, Tiny Epic Mechs isn’t a game which impresses greatly from a first play. The figures are wonderful and the first game is largely carried by the job of kitting out your little plastic robot with a multitude of deadly-looking weapons. If anything, the initial feeling is that continually swapping your pilot between the different suits is a bit of a faff.
However, take on board the game’s theme and Mechs truly shines. It wants to simulate a futuristic sport and has done so brilliantly. After your first few games, you learn to read the arena and guess which spaces each gladiator will try to control. This introduces bluff and risk, potentially allowing a player to unleash a powerful ambush. The duels themselves have a three-way paper-scissors-stone relationship of basic attacks versus powerful counters, and sizing up an opponent’s load-out can lead to some explosive battles. Like any sport, it is at its best when played between two practised experts, so I have no qualms at all recommending this game if you are able to play with a semi-regular crowd.
Mechs is primarily a two to four-player game, with the arena scaling well for different player counts. However, as with other Gamelyn titles, there is a solo mode included. This simulates a three-player set-up, with two AI robots singling out the lone human player, controlled via random cards from the programming deck. As a solo experience, it works pretty well and can be a challenge to beat, but it’s not as satisfying a solo game as many of Gamelyn’s other titles. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody as a purely solo purchase, but it’s a fun bonus if you’re in the mood.
Many argue that Tiny Epic Mechs isn’t as deep an arena battling experience as others, but where I think it scores highly is in its simplicity, portability and value for money. This is a £20 game in a small box which can be thrown in a bag as a ‘just in case’ option, which compares to large box experiences costing well over £40 rather than, say, One Night Ultimate Werewolf or Coup. As such, and for its elegance, ease to learn, lovely toys and convenient length, Tiny Epic Mechs definitely punches above its weight. Probably using a warhammer or railgun.