We got our first taste of Epic Tavern, a “reverse-RPG” and management sim by Hyperkinetic Studios, at PAX West 2019. Originally, I expected something like Tapper or Overcooked mixed with Battle Chef Brigade, but what I got was something more akin to a full tabletop game experience.
In Epic Tavern, you control a party of up to four characters and accept quests that will take said party on an adventure. The prologue does an excellent job introducing you to how mechanics work while also telling us the main narrative of the game.When your party encounters something, such as an enemy, you must decide the best course of action for each characters. Characters have the option to be balanced, aggressive, defensive, cautious, or precise, and different characters have different chances of performing those types of actions successfully. Once you’ve selected an action for each character, the dice will roll and a story will be told for what happened during that encounter.
The basic dice roll results are “Success” and “Fail”, which are exactly what they sound like. The two other results are “Excellent” and “Heroic”. An Excellent dice roll is even better than a successful one gives a 1.5 times performance bonus, while a Heroic dice roll is one that rarely happens, gives double the performance bonus, and is likely the best case scenario. If you’re lucky enough, Heroic dice rolls will happen more often than you expect.
Contrary to what I had assumed, the tavern part of Epic Tavern serves as a hub and mini-game rather than the core gameplay. You inherit the tavern from your parents, and can name it whatever you want, whether it be a randomly generated name or your own original idea. When at the tavern, you can accept quests, recruit characters, and serve them. If characters are satisfied with their service, then they will tell you about new quests and you can ask them to join you.
After you finish a quest, return to the tavern and serve some patrons, a new quest may be available that’s connected to the quest you had just completed. One of the first quests you go on after finishing the tutorial is exterminating rats in the basement. You would think that once the rats are dealt with that the rodent infested adventure is over, right? But a quest after has the rats inexplicably coming back from the dead, so you have to get rid of them again and from there the adventure expands even more.
Once characters have gained enough experience through quests, they can level up and will gain a number of skill points. These skill points can be distributed however you want and once increased will yield better chances of success when those characters perform certain actions during an encounter.
I knew Epic Tavern would be inspired by older RPGs, but I had no idea just how deep the Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop game influence went. I was really impressed by how the game could create a narrative based on who in my party succeeded and who failed. The outcome never seem quite as consequential as I thought it would be, but maybe that changes as the game continues. I would hope that in the full game this is expanded on in a way that prevents these adventures from becoming too repetitive. I could even see Dungeon Masters using Epic Tavern in the future to help them write their campaigns, and otherwise it’s a good way for players to have an alternative when they may not have the option to play an actual tabletop game.