Family #Boardgame Friday – The towering Spirit of Tiny Epic Samurai Defenders working together (@Funforge @Gamelyn_Games #cardgame #cooperative)

As a forever wargamer, I often find myself removed from the whole Eurogame-Ameritrash conflicts and instead find the fault-lines of my gaming collection falling along that of boardgame versus wargame. I mean, I understand the whole mechanism versus theme arguments, I just don’t really care. That is, until I see it up close and personal in my game collection.

I recently scored several new family boardgames. I wasn’t actively seeking out any of these games but they came along as a great bargain with the game I really wanted ( that one being Space Empires 4x by Jim Krohn from GMT Games, 2011). The seller offered a bargain on a handful of smaller family games so, thinking they might be useful as lighter filler or vacation-suitable travel games, I took them in. As I looked over and taught myself the games, I found two of them, Tiny Epic Defenders (Gamelyn Games, 2014) and Samurai Spirit (Funforge, 2014) actually quite similar in game mechanisms but themed much differently from each other.

Tiny Epic Defenders is another entry in the Tiny Epic series of games designed by Scott Almes. These game traditionally come in small boxes (7″x4.5″x1.5″) and are known for their small footprint but deep play. Tiny Epic Defenders is a cooperative game set in the world of a previous Tiny Epic game, Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn Games, 2014 – and also part of the package deal). In Tiny Epic Defenders, 1-4 players must work together in a card-based game to defend the capital city against hordes of enemy attackers. Along the way you can use allies and ancient artifacts to help.

Tiny Epic Defenders set up

Samurai Spirit is also a cooperative game where between 1-7 players are samurai that must defend the village against raiders. In this card-based game, the samurai must choose between confronting raiders or defending against them while managing the barricades of the village and protecting the villagers. If you can’t already tell, Samurai Spirit is based on the movie Seven Samurai with the major difference being that in the game the samurai unleash a “beast mode” when wounded enough.

Samurai Spirit – note “beast mode” characters

Both Tiny Epic Defenders and Samurai Spirit are variants of a tower defense game. In both games the players are defending a territory against invaders. Another tower defense game, Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009), is a family favorite.

A game where the goal is to defend a player’s territories or possessions by obstructing the enemy attackers, usually achieved by placing defensive structures on or along their path of attack. This typically means building a variety of different structures that serve to automatically block, impede, attack or destroy enemies.

Source: BGG paraphrasing Wikipedia on Tower Defense video games

Both Tiny Epic Defenders and Samurai Spirit play loose with the definition of a “defensive structure.” In both of these games “defensive structures” are characters which, through game actions, act to block, impede, attack, or destroy enemies. That said, though both Samurai Spirit and Tiny Epic Defenders are tower defense games and both even use cards, they are not identical in the game mechanisms used in gameplay.

Given how closely related Tiny Epic Defenders and Samurai Spirit are mechanically, how do I separate them? That is where theme come in. This is a pure matter of personal preference. For me, the theme of Samurai Spirit, derived as it is from the movie Seven Samurai, is the hands-down winner. I realize that there are some players out there that love everything Scott Almes touches and therefore will faithfully play anything related to Tiny Epic, but I am not one of them.

While Samurai Spirit leans hard into the theme of Seven Samurai, it does so with a nice family twist. That twist is the beast mode which unlocks not only a nicely illustrated side of the character board, but also provides a game mechanism that simultaneously is used to “refresh” a player for later rounds as well as pace the game to face the major foe. I also realize the theme of Samurai Spirit is far more likely to appeal to the RockyMountainNavy Boys who, taking after their wargamer Dad, often use the theme of a boardgame to help them assess if a game should be played. This is not to say Tiny Epic Defenders will be left to collect dust in the collection or be sold off quickly. The small footprint and portability of a Tiny Epic game makes it a good choice to pack when going on vacation.

Here to Slay (@UnstbleUnicrns) – The strategic RPG card game that’s beautifully illustrated & quick-to-play but difficult to read

I DON’T EXACTLY REMEMBER WHY I ORDERED HERE TO SLAY. I think I saw a review around the time the Kickstarter campaign started. I pledged for the $39 Kickstater Exclusive + Expansions level. I’m glad I did because this quick-play RPG-based card game is fun to play and makes a good addition to the family game collection even while it can be challenging on the eyes.

Here to Slay is a “strategic RPG card game” for 1-6 players. Basically, each player has a Party Leader with a special power. On your turn, you can play up to three Action Points to Draw cards, play a Hero, Item, or Magic card, Attack a Monster, or Discard your hand. The quick game (30-60 minutes) ends when one player has either slayed three monsters or has built a party with at least six different Classes of Heroes.

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Courtesy Here to Slay Kickstarter

By far the most appealing aspect of Here to Slay is the artwork on the cards. Fun and whimsical but also dark and foreboding when necessary. The artwork keeps Here to Slay from devolving into a depressing game as the key features of play are plenty of ‘take that” between players and slaying monsters (which aren’t slayed as much as they are recruited into your party to use their special power). The other strength of the game is the quick play; rules are very light and uncomplicated. Our first game of three players took, with rules explanation, just under one hour. We all agreed that future games will surely go much faster, maybe as short as 30 minutes even for three players.

Here to Slay is not a perfect game. First, you need to make sure you play this game understanding that ‘take that’ is the rule, not the exception. Here to Slay is built upon Challenging other players and stealing or destroying Heroes or Items. In a three-player game it’s very easy for one player to feel beat upon by the others. This is not to say the ‘take that’ element of Here to Slay is necessarily a negative; instead it must be recognized for what is is – an essential element of the game design that not all may enjoy.

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My second quibble with Here to Slay may be more from my age but I don’t think even the youngsters these days would disagree. While the artwork in Here to Slay is incredible, the layout of the cards creates challenges in play. Specifically, the size and font used of the cards. It appears to me that in their quest to show off the art, Unstable Unicorns reduced text size to the point the thin font used is difficult to read unless you have the card literally in front of you. Reading a card across the table becomes challenging if not outright impossible. Although there is some graphical symbology used, it too is smaller in size and helpful, but not helpful at the same time.

Here to Slay will take its place in the RockyMountainNavy Family Game Collection alongside where Quarriors (WizKids) sits. Both games are light fantasy with cards and plenty of ‘take that.’ Both are relatively quick playing (less than 60 minutes) and can be ‘long fillers’ or part of a multi-play game night. Of the two, Here to Slay is far more portable so maybe it will be a travel game too.


Feature image courtesy Here to Slay Kickstarter campaign