‘You helm a notorious pirate ship in the swashbuckling days of yore. Guide your ship and crew through the unforgiving seas in search of fame and fortune. Plunder settlements, trade booty on the black market, hire scurvy crew members and avoid the ever-vigilant Royal Navy. Be the first pirate to bury three treasures, and you can declare yourself the most nefarious Dread Pirate of the Seven Seas! 3 words to describe this game: Tiny, Epic and Pirates (I mean I don’t think you can get any closer than the way the designer has described it!
Theme: From the moment you take the shrink wrap off the outside of the box, you are transported to the world of pirates on the seven seas! It’s absolutely glorious to open the box and dive in taking all the miniatures and cards out and exploring them. There are tiny cannon, gold doubloons, dice that feel and look like cannonball, skull and cross bone legend tokens, pirate ships, merchant ships, captains, deckhands, treasure boxes – I mean every inch of this game fits with the theme and transports you into another world!! Gameplay: The ultimate goal in the game is to bury three treasure chests full of gold somewhere on the map. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You’d be wrong! Firstly you start the game with 1 gold doubloon. You will need 12/13 gold doubloons in each treasure chest! In order to gain gold, you need to rise in status from a sea dog to a dread pirate trading booty, plundering towns and attacking merchant ships. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? Wrong again! On any given turn, your captain gives an order to the crew of your pirate ship – these take the form of plunder, trade, crew up, search, attack and hide out. Which one you are able to execute is down to your ship’s wheel. You move clockwise one place per turn but you can use your deckhands to skip orders thus selecting one more advantageous for your strategy at the time. You are always trying to think a few steps ahead and where opponent boats might be and especially wanting to avoid the navy boat especially if you are about to cross the ship line – more on that later. You select your order, move your ship according to your legend mat and any deckhands you have on the rigging spot (of which there could be multiple) and then execute the captain’s order. N.B. If you move into a space with a storm, your boat is said to be jostled and one of your deckhands will need to be moved to the repair section of your helm mat. Below is a brief summary of each action:
plunder (take goods from a settlement either 1/2 indicated on the map card)
Trade (sell goods to markets according to the value on the market card)
Crew up (take a crew card from the 3 face-up crew)
Search (turn over a search token to reveal a bonus, either gold or extra movement or ability to move through storms)
Attack (fire cannons at another pirate ship or a merchant ship, rolling dice and trying to match the values of your crew cards – winning against a merchant ship means taking booty and gaining gold and moving your legend token up the track, attacking other pirate boats and winning means gaining legend status but you don’t receive gold or booty. Losing in a battle, means you act as if your boat got jostled and you gain a sure-fire token helping you win a subsequent battle.)
Hideout (a special action that appears in your ships wheel at 0. You can skip this order but as this action comes immediately after crossing the ships line, you may need to use this action to hide in a cove from the Navy ship and reset your deckhands.)
After executing your captains orders, you are allowed to complete any bonus actions from your captain or fellow crew. These activate if you match the symbol of the captain’s orders. These allow you to combo actions. The last thing you do on your turn is to check if you crossed the ship line that turn. This is a line drawn onto your helm mat. When this triggers, you gain 1 gold for each deckhand in the extort section of your play mat and then the opposing player or the next person, in turn order moves the merchant ships one space closer to their ports and the navy ship moves towards the in-play player according to the movement prescribed on the market mat – this depends on how much treasure you have buried. Then your turn is over, and the next person has a go. Play continues back and forth until someone has buried 3 treasure thus ending the game. Although play is allowed to continue until everyone has had an equal amount of turns.
Components: First of all, I think you can see from the component list that it’s pretty epic given that all of this is contained within a small box. This is not a light game as the box might indicate but more of a medium type game and I just love the level of strategy and enjoyment contained within such a small compact box – ideal for taking to games nights or packing up for a holiday. Map cards: The 16 map cards form to make your game board – setup of which is random so no two games are ever going to be the same. I love the artwork on all the cards in this game and the map cards are no different. There are multiple symbols on each card and once you have familiarised yourself with these, it is easy enough to spot where you need to go, etc. Because the map is made up of different cards, you have to be careful not to knock the table as you play, but we didn’t have a problem with this at all and were able to sail our boats across the seven seas with no problem at all! Helm mats, Legend mats, Market mat: The Helm mat is your go-to playing mat during the game along with the legend mat. The helm mat contains all your deckhands and captains’ orders along with storing your sure-fire tokens. You manipulate your deckhands to either earn bonuses or chain orders in advantageous ways for your pirate crew. These are easy to understand and use and the artwork is fab – being a ship’s wheel! Attention to detail is clear in this game for sure! The legend mat allows you to track your gold and the level of your pirate unlocking enhancements during gameplay. The Market map is used to record the current value of booty crates, which changes due to supply and demand – a great mechanic meaning 3 crates of gunpowder can suddenly go from scoring you 15 points to 6 points because your opponent just sold a crate of gunpowder to the neighboring village and they no longer want to pay full price for it anymore. Yes this happened to me and it’s a bummer but I love that these kind of options are available to you and is just another level of strategy you need to consider. Captain cards, Merchant cards, Crew cards: The artwork for these cards is of a similar quality to the helm, market map, and the map cards. There are 24 different crew members you could have available to you, three at a time. Each one works in a slightly different way with different bonus actions. It gives you a wide range of options for which strategy to employ and like I said the artwork is top-notch! Order tokens, Search tokens, and Port tokens: What struck me is the quality of the components in this game given the tiny size of everything. It would be easy to scrimp on tokens etc but these are a good thickness and a great quality. Pirate ships, Merchant ships, Navy ship – plastic boats that you add little plastic sails too (space-saving I think), they look cool on the map and hold the cargo which your transport around the map and trade at certain settlements. I love the level of detail on these plastic boats and that there is a difference between the pirate boats, merchant boats, and navy boat. It might be a bit fiddly to add the sails each time but definitely worth it to have neat miniatures to move about on your turn. Captain meeples, Deckhand meeples, Legend tokens, and Treasure tokens: Tiny wooden meeples and tokens which again add to the aesthetics of this game. The captains are wearing their tricornes and the deckhands are sporting bandanas which is such a lovely touch to an already jam-packed game. Booty bag and Booty crates: These take the form of tiny cubes in four colours denoting the different items for trade – gunpowder, rum, coffee and sugarcane. They fit neatly into the boxes and are perfect for what they are used for in the game. There is a small drawstring bag provided to place these in during the game allowing you to draw random cubes for the merchant boats and your own. The bag is high quality and super tiny just like all the other bits and pieces in this game but super handy for storing the booty crates. Gold doubloons: These are metal coins to move around your legend mat to score the gold in your hold. I really like this feature as it allows you to keep track of your loot but only requires you to have one token to represent it. So rather than several cardboard tokens, one metal coins much more satisfying and in keeping with the theme. Dice: Personally I love these dice. They have a really nice colour finish to them and you use them for rolling attack values so the finish on them for me reminds me of the colour of cannonballs and just is a really nice extra touch which allows for total immersion in the game and the world of these epic pirates. Surefire tokens – mini wooden cannon that allow for rerolling attack dice, again super neat. I mean who doesn’t love teeny tiny cannon to add to their helm mat.
Overall thoughts: This was my first experience of a tiny epic game! I wasn’t sure what to expect but let’s say I’d heard some hype about it but never ventured into the world of tiny epic. I was not disappointed and I feel so lucky to have been able to explore this world and have my eyes opened to it. I think that with Tiny Epic there is a theme for everyone and having played Tiny Epic Pirates we did some research of our own and there are so many choices that whilst even if Tiny Epic Pirates isn’t for you then I’m sure you can find one with a theme more to your liking. However, I would say Tiny Epic Pirates is amazing! There is so much in such a small box and every detail has been thought about from the resources to the artwork to the lid of the box. Whilst it might seem complicated at first, on set up and following the instruction booklet, all became clear and after a few turns, we were managing our pirate crew and plundering, attacking, and burying treasure till our heart’s content. Frankly, I’m amazed at how much game is contained within the box, and long after we packed it away, I was still thinking about how I could have played it better and what to do next time. I can’t wait to play it again and to try out more in the series! Definitely one not to miss! Thank you so much to Gamelyn Games for kindly gifting me this copy of Tiny Epic Pirates for review.