In Eight Epics you (or you and up to seven friends) take on the roles of eight Avatars of Hope trying to defeat the Avatars of Woe and save the world from destruction. The game is a dice-rolling game where you roll, re-roll and manipulate the faces of the dice to meet certain conditions (eight of the same number, straights, lower than 10 total with six dice and so on). Eight Epics was designed by Seiji Kanai, well known for the compact and clever card game Love Letter. My copy was released by AEG in 2015.
Tiny but sturdy box and quality components. All games I’ve bought from AEG have been well manufactured so this is just like expected. On the box it says 30 minutes play time. That and the compact package make it rather surprising to discover that the game comes with a 52 page rule book. After leafing through the book it feels like AEG really are pushing the theme of this game on us. There are several pages of background history and each Avatar has a dedicated backstory section. The actual rules text is very accessible and clear, however. My only complaint regarding the rules is a contradiction between the turn summary on the back of the book and the text inside.
The publisher has gone with a juvenile bikers-and-babes look when it comes to most of the heroes, the Avatars of Hope. Stereotyping illustrations of this kind are common in games but I point it out since I’m pretty tired of it.
Apart from the 16 Avatars of good and evil there’s a bunch of dice and some extra cards for the optional variants of play called Scenario and Event.
Playing the Game
No matter how many players you are all eight Avatars of Hope will be used. If you’re playing solo you control all eight of them and use their powers in succession. If you play multiplayer you have your own Avatar whose powers only you can use but the powers of any leftover Avatars are available for all players to use. These powers that I’m referring to are powers of dice manipulation – dice rolling and manipulation is all this game is about.
When setting up the solo game you line up the Avatars of Hope in the order you wish to use their abilities each round. Deciding that is a strategical challenge and the only part of setup that isn’t super quick. But since you devise your strategy this way you can think of it as a part of playing the game. Then you put the red dice on the numerals in top of the Avatar cards denoting their respective starting life points, shuffle the Threat cards, remove two at random and form a Threat Deck of six cards. Finally you reveal the top Threat and start fighting.
A game of Eight Epics consists of five rounds. One Threat has to be handled per round except on the final round when two Threats have to be taken care of. Each round consists of a number of turns, usually one per Avatar.
When the first Threat is revealed your Avatars have to deal with a number of challenges, between two and eight depending on the card. The first might say “8D: 10-” which means that you get a pool of eight dice and the sum of their values has to be 10 or less. You roll eight dice and start taking turns with the Avatars in succession from left to right re-rolling dice, manipulating them, adding or subtracting dice and so on. All of the challenges on the Threat card have to be resolved before the Last Avatar’s turn is over or you lose the game. Once all challenges are resolved the round is over and the next Threat is revealed.
That’s it, more or less. If you manage to defeat the two Threats that appear on the last round with at least one Avatar still alive you win the game.
Since the Avatars have unique powers and some of these powers bend the rules to some extent, and since they may only be used in the order they’re placed, setting them up is important and requires some thought. Other than that the game is easy to pick up and plays quickly. Most of my games have taken about 35 to 40 minutes including setup. That it’s an easy game to learn doesn’t mean it’s not challenging, though. It’s actually rather tough.
- The challenge is tougher than you’d expect from a cheap game in a small box with few components that takes a little over half an hour to play. This means that you get a sense of accomplishment from winning.
- The rule book is well laid out and clear apart from the one inconsistency I mentioned above.
- Despite involving lots of dice-rolling you definitely get to make many tough strategical and tactical decisions. Eight Epics does not feel like a game of chance despite the significant element of chance.
- The game comes with variant cards that can be added to make it even more challenging once you’ve got the hang of it. These significantly raise the difficulty level and also make gameplay more variable.
- The variable setup order of the Avatars of Hope is an opportunity for strategical experimentation and exploration.
- When playing solo the game feels balanced and well designed.
- Although I’ve only played the solo variant of the game I have some serious concerns about how it plays with more players. In a multiplayer game each player has their own Avatar that only they get to use, but a round still consists of eight turns, one per avatar. On your turn you chose whether to use your Avatar or one of the unused ones that don’t belong to a particular player. This is done clockwise until the Threat is defeated or you’re out of avatars to use an lose. This means that the eight player game would be just like the solo game since all Avatars would belong to one player and they would have to be used in order (clockwise). Each player would just be able to use their Avatar as best as they could. In a four player game, on the other hand, players would get to chose between their own Avatar and one of the four common ones. A two player game would allow each player to make lots of decisions and in effect this would be the least challenging way of playing the game. In the solo variant you’re stuck with the order of your Avatars, just like when you’re eight people. Six or seven player games don’t leave you with much choice either. On the first turn of a two-player game you can use either your own Avatar or any of the six common ones. This game must be wildly different at different player counts.
- The theme that AEG tries so hard to convey in the rule book feels very distant while playing. The game feels like a dry puzzle with somewhat interesting and often hard choices, but it sure doesn’t feel epic. And I’m usually pretty good at seeing the theme and the story where others don’t. There’s no story at all, but there is a slight dramatic climax towards the end which I appreciate, since it really tends to get hard at the start of the fifth round.
- After a while gameplay can start feeling rather repetitive. To some extent this is remedied with the variant cards.
- Just like when AEG picked up Seiji Kanai’s game Love Letter they replaced the original artwork with something glossy and glamorous. Love Letter got Renaissance barbie dolls and Eight Epics got what I referred to above as “bikers and babes”. Then they released limited editions with the original artwork. I’m sure AEG know what they’re doing here. They know how to sell games. They’ve made many great games, in fact. I just happen to like the original artwork so much more.
I’m divided about this game. It offers a good challenge and it feels like a game that takes at least a while to master. But even though there are things to explore in this game, going through the motions of rolling and manipulating the dice can get pretty monotonous after a while.
Eight Epics does a lot with little, but it’s also trying to do some things that it doesn’t quite succeed at. All the effort with background story and Avatar biographies and still the game turns out to be like a strategically deeper Yahtzee blinged out with glamour girls and brutes flexing their muscles. Also, I’m concerned about how this game would scale with different numbers of players – the difficulty level would probably vary a lot. I’m so much on the fence here that if there was only a tiny bit more theme to it, or if it looked just a bit less juvenile, less stereotypical, or if the mechanisms of play just felt a wee bit more interesting or varied it would have been easier. I don’t know if I’ll keep this game or not. We’ll see. I’ll let it rest for a while. Who knows, perhaps I just need to replace it with the Kanai Factory Limited Edition…
If you’re looking for a portable, affordable solo game that offers quite a challenge despite the short playing time this game might be worth trying. I have no experience with cooperative play of this game so I’ve provided links to reviews that are less focused on solo play below.
Other People’s Opinions (and Reviews of the Cooperative Experience)
This review of the Kanai Factory Limited Edition by Tristan Brunet is very positive concerning the solo part but the reviewer doesn’t like the game as a cooperative experience.
Zee Garcia of the Dice Tower has made a somewhat lukewarm video review of the game. His main concern is replayablility. He’s mainly looking at the game from a co-op perspective.
This thorough review by Jonathan H. Liu also takes a look at cooperative gameplay and I highly recommend it if that’s what you’re interested in.
Thank you for reading. I hope this review is of use to you. The cats send their regards.