Review: ‘Tiny Epic Western’ Packs A Lot Into A Little Box … Almost Too Much

“Tiny Epic Western” certainly delivers on the promise of its title.

Even if it strains a bit to fulfill the “epic” part, gorgeous art and components (with more than a few thoughtful touches) immerse you in a world where you can smell the gunsmoke and hear the clink of spurs, and it all fits in the palm of your hand.

“Tiny Epic Western” is primarily a worker placement game. If you’re unfamiliar with that term (or its analogue, “action drafting”), worker placement is a mechanic whereby players select actions from a variety of options available to all players, effectively closing off that option for future turns. Here, the workers are your “posse,” and you send them to places like the Sheriff’s Office, the Army Outpost or the Appraiser to get some of the game’s three types of currency (“influence”) or other boosts.

The board setup for ‘Tiny Epic Western.’

But there’s a sly wrinkle. Each of those moves–and your potential benefit from it–is weighed against a card dealt to you at the beginning of each round. Each building in the setup sits between two cards from the same custom four-suit, five-rank deck. If your card, along with those two cards, makes the best three-card poker hand, you’ll receive extra benefits when that building is resolved.

That poker element adds a layer of intrigue to each posse move you make, as does the possibility of a duel with another player, which any player can trigger by moving into a space already occupied. The shootout takes place using a pair of snazzy custom bullet-shaped dice.

Those dice tho.

And that’s where the game starts to unravel a bit. Worker placement games succeed by forcing players to determine an optimal route to victory, an economy of effort that allows you to more efficiently leverage your candidate moves in a way that leaves you better off than your opponents.

Where “Tiny Epic Western” misses that mark is in the preponderance of information needed to process those choices, with much of it hidden or (in the case of the buildings up for sale–a large factor in determining victory) at the whims of randomness. When placing a worker, you need to consider the benefits of the action it grants you, the possibility of a duel with another player, the building it will allow you the option to buy, the viability of your poker hand, and the possibility of your poker hand allowing you to decide the point allowance for an end-game kicker AND where you will be in building-buying order … there might be a few other considerations I’m missing.

Character card (w/meeples), dealer chip and a card from the custom poker deck.

In other words, too much is weighed upon that choice to make it feel like it’s making any difference, like the game is tilted in favor of itself rather than the choices you make.

Despite the wordiness of describing it, this shortcoming shouldn’t deter you from “Tiny Epic Western.” It’s probably best for those without any other experience with that mechanic, since it pretty much squeezes about everything into it that you could expect from worker placement. The poker element, the art and the components, along with its tiny-ness, make it worth considering for any collection, but if you want the same depth with a little bit more breathing room, maybe go for “Lords of Waterdeep,” “Agricola” or my personal favorite, “Le Havre.”

Close up of building cards.

Details:

  • Published by Gamelyn Games, who’ve created their own niche with their line of heady games in a small package. They include “Tiny Epic Kingdoms” and “Tiny Epic Galaxies.” (I’ve tried the latter and enjoyed it, btw.) Considering one of the biggest issues of a serious board game collection is the space they take up, Gamelyn should be applauded for making them. Bravo.
  • Audience: Gamelyn recommends the game for 13+. It’s designed for 2-4 players with a solitaire variant (which I can’t speak to). If you have no other worker placement games in your collection, this would be a good representative. Expect to put in at least 90 minutes on your first game; the learning curve is steep and the rulebook isn’t always helpful.
  • Artwork/Theme/Components: As mentioned above, this game is surprisingly well put together and has a number of beautiful touches. The “dealer” chip for marking first player is a good quality poker chip. The bullet dice are super cool. And a custom poker deck? Get outta here. Also, I love how the game, when set up, resembles the revolving cylinder of a six shooter from above.
Yet another cool touch: The underside of the box top doubles as the “Dice Corral.” Neat.