Type: Co-Op / Push Your Luck / Expansion

Time to play: 45-60 minutes (Teaching: 10-15 minutes)

Best played with: 3 Player (1 – 4 Players)

I don’t normally write about expansions, but coming off the back of a kickstarter Tiny Epic Defenders was a very interesting light game, and The Dark War expansion promises to expand this into a more full / medium weight game. So in my view this is a new game, and therefore merited a separate review.

So then, what should we focus on. Well I am going to assume you are familiar withe base game (or have had a quick look at my review). This review therefore will focus on the changes and my view on how these create a new game.

Starting at the beginning, this is a game that builds on the defense of your capital and it’s surrounding regions. The first big change is that the scenery has changed… in fact it’s much more hostile. The land has changed since the base game and you will find that you have bigger pro’s and bigger con’s to survive from just the terrain. It could be sandstorms whipped up from the dessert or a manticore lurking in the mountains, these terrain cards will spit out dangers when damaged compounding the challenge you face during the game.

These new dangers are interesting, the best focus on mobility around the board which provides unique challenges. All of these scenery tiles make a meaningful impact on the way the game is played and this impact will change the way you play the game without completely changing the core game.

As you get stronger you watch for the building danger of the enemy army and the damaged surroundings. In the base game, you get stronger by collecting items but here in the expansion they add skills and experience points. Unlike the scenery changes though, these alterations are like compounding items – i.e. getting more items per player. They increase the overhead for that player and make it easier to forget your options. They also, for me at least, don’t add to the fun of the game. I liked the purity of trying to get one or two powerful items (synonymous with the heroes of a fairy tale) and then to chase down the villain. Now the game is lasting longer put you can’t carry more items and so another mechanic was required.

This fix, of adding skills, plays into the point that this is a longer and bigger game. You are playing through a campaign potentially – a campaign that is equivalent to three times the length of the original game. The scenery changes, the building of experience (which is the mechanic that allows new skills), and the addition of more villains and sub-villains, all allow this game to expand and fill a longer session. However, I would caution that the best changes here are the scenery and the new cards. The worst changes here, is to make a simple decision space stay at the table too long.

Okay, there’s one other new mechanic that needs a quick mention – the caravans. Perhaps I am missing something here but this is a game of moving the caravans to the centre. That’s a mini game where you are moving other pieces around a map as you are moving anywhere. It’s a painful distraction just required to win the game but it doesn’t feel like a caravan. It’s not in danger. It’s a rock that you found and you move to the middle. I find it tricky to rate this addition as I think you can take it out of the game and get the same (if not more enjoyment).

Oh and the cards. New heroes, new items and new villains. These are excellent! There are great content ideas in these alone that make this expansion really valuable. I really enjoy the base game and I have to say that these additions give it vastly more playability and a lot of new fun challenges.

What of the campaign? I think this is a clever idea, but the repetition of the game cycle is quite simple and the choices that you make each turn are relatively limited. The game already cycles a lot in each round, and this macro cycle of the games into a campaign for me is one too many loop within a loop.

So, what I would want – the new cards and the new scenery. What I wouldn’t – the extra game length and the caravans. The good news, there is nothing in this pack that ruins the game and it is fairly inexpensive. If you love the base game this is worth adding to your collection, but if you’re on the fence about buying them together then this is probably only 20%-30% of the content that truly matters. Please see that, though, as a complement to the base game and what was included!

Last notes,

  • If you enjoy thematic short games, this continues to add a lot to the base game
  • If you don’t like random card draws, this is still a big feature
  • If you win, keep switching characters and villains