Like many in the series before it, Tiny Epic Pirates packs a lot of game in a little box.
I’ve long admired the Tiny Epic series from afar, but have never tried one of them. Tiny Epic Galaxies looked right up my street, and Tiny Epic Dinosaurs had plenty of things that I would have enjoyed. For whatever reason though, they passed me by. I’ve been lucky enough to have a go with Tiny Epic Pirates recently though, and I’m pleased to say there’s plenty of “Arrrr!” and very little “Agggh!” in this little box of fun.
Designed by, surprisingly, Scott Almes, Tiny Epic Pirates is a game for one to four players aged 14+ and takes around an hour to play. It’s hard to narrow this down to a single main gameplay style, but you’ll mostly be working on action selection and pick-up and deliver mechanics. Over the course of a game, you’ll sail around the board, accruing gold to then bury on one of the map spaces, with the aim of being the first pirate to bury three treasure chests. You’ll need to pillage, rob, and trade your way to victory, engaging in a little player-vs-player combat, all whilst avoiding the navy who seek to stop your pursuit of treasure.
The board is made up of 16 cards which are randomly distributed across the square play area. Each card has a variety of features on it, from trading posts to sell your ill-gotten goods stolen from merchants or pillaged from other tiles, to coves for hiding from the navy, as well as spots to bury that gold. Players receive a legend tracker to monitor their notoriety as a pirate and a wheel to keep track of their actions and deckhands. The wheel is particularly neat, as you randomly assign your actions to each part of the wheel at the beginning of the game, meaning each captain will take their actions in a different order. This keeps things fresh and avoids every player doing the same thing one after the other.
Your actions are searching, which allows you to take a quick bonus on a space if no one else has already taken it, trading, to sell the merchandise you have on board your ship, pillaging, if you want to grab some random merchandise, crew up, allowing you to add crew for bonus actions and combat boosts, and fighting, for fighting shockingly. There’s also a rest space for if you want to hide in special spaces to avoid the navy. Depending on which action you are doing, you may get to take additional ones based on symbols on your captain and crew cards. For example, if you take a search action, your captain will also allow you to bury treasure if you meet the criteria to do so. Each crew member you acquire has this feature too, so getting a few crewmates will give you access to a lot of actions in a single turn.
At the bottom of the wheel card you have space to put your deckhands, beginning with three but with a way to acquire a fourth. Depending on where you place them, you gain bonuses such as additional hits in combat, or greater movement range. These crew members become especially important as you can use them to skip actions on your wheel if you need to get to a specific ability quickly. You sacrifice your bonuses to do so, but this is often worth it if you want to make a quick trade to reach the threshold to bury some treasure. If you get damaged in combat or by a storm, you’re forced to move these to the repair space, losing those bonuses too. Resting in a cove allows you to reset these bonuses, so it’s often a good idea to take some time out every few turns to recover.
I really liked how the action selection element of Tiny Epic Pirates worked, as you always had plenty of choices to make and a variety of ways to earn money. Moving quickly around the wheel allows you to do exactly what you want if you’re willing to sacrifice those bonuses, but moving all the way around it makes the navy come after you more quickly, which could result in more of your deckhands being forced into repair. If all your deckhands are on repair, then you can’t enter storm spaces, severely limiting your options, so it behoves you to think carefully rather than rushing straight to a combat space.
Combat has its benefits if you’re able to win an encounter. If you use your fight ability on a space with a merchant ship, you have a chance to steal their cargo to sell. Combat is resolved with dice rolls. Your captain and crew cards have numbers on the top which count for hits if you roll those numbers on the two dice. If you have the same number appear on more than one card then you count those hits multiple times. This leads to an interesting approach to selecting your crew cards, as you could specialise and have lots of crew with the same number, or spread yourself thin but guarantee a couple of hits. Regardless of your approach, if you roll higher than the merchant’s hit count — shown on the corresponding card — then you defeat them, taking their cargo, and moving up your legend track. Fail, and you have to move a deckhand to repair, and you earn a Sure Fire token, which allows you to change a roll to whatever face you want in a future combat as a little catch-up mechanic.
Moving up the legend track makes your pirate better, by allowing you a greater movement range, more dice to roll, or other benefits. You’re also able to attack other players by rolling off against each other, although this only allows you to move up the legend track and force them into repairs. After a couple of games, we felt it would have been fun to steal each other’s goods as well, especially as the value of the goods you have change as the game goes on. This would make the game a bit more, appropriately, cutthroat. Even so, there are plenty of ways to earn money, and most of our games have been quite close with four players.
Tiny Epic Pirates has been a lot of fun, with most of those I’ve played with picking up the rules and being able to make good headway within a couple of turns. It initially seems quite intimidating with so many different actions and little rules, but each one isn’t too complicated on its own. There’s enough depth and decision making for more experienced gamers to enjoy, but the choices are simple enough for a novice to put up a good fight.
Not everything is great though. The components, whilst fine enough, are a bit flimsy. The ships would have the sails come off quite easily, and the cubes that represent the goods you steal and sell either don’t sit in the ships well at all, or get stuck on the sails. I found it easier to just keep the cubes on my player mat instead, even if it didn’t look as interesting on the game board. The cards themselves are very nice to look at, and convey their information fairly clearly at least. There’s a single player variant if that’s something that interests you, but I didn’t find it especially enjoyable. Pirating your way across the seas is clearly something that’s more enjoyable with others, and this felt somewhat tacked on, even though it comes with solo-specific components.
Tiny Epic Pirates is a fun, easy to learn tabletop game with plenty of competitiveness for the nautically minded. Whilst I’d have liked a bit more player interaction, what’s there is solid enough. Those components could do with a little work, and the solo version is quite weak, but the meat of the game is enjoyable thanks to a number of choices every turn, and each game changing with the action wheel and map set up. A worthy choice at a reasonable price.
Tiny Epic Pirates is available on Amazon.