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Eclipse

Posted by admin On March - 16 - 2012

by Scott Linde

Eclipse is a game that is incredibly hot right now.  Sold out everywhere and waiting for reprint, this $70 game is selling for $180 online right now.  So, what is driving this demand, you ask?  Let me explain…

One genre of games that has always been popular in the computer strategy community is the classic 4X game:  explore, expand, exploit, exterminate.   Galactic Civilizations (2003), Master of Orion (1993), and Reach for the Stars (1985) are the games that I remember setting the standard for me.  To capture the essence of such a titanic struggle in a board game is difficult.  I previously praised Twilight Imperium third edition in succeeding at this magnificently. It’s main fault is the amount of time required to finish a game – in excess of nine hours for the 3 player games I have played.  This, in turn, limits the number of people willing to learn to play the game.

Eclipse cuts playtime dramatically.  With 6 players, our group was finishing in under 3 hours.  That means more games played and more potential players. If you are losing, shorter games are always welcome.

Ok, so we know the game represents a popular genre and is shorter than TI3.  That still doesn’t explain the overwhelming demand for this game.  Eclipse offers the players many choices to make each turn, with your income being the only limit to your number of actions.  As you expand your empire, you encounter three types of planets to exploit that provide income, research, or minerals for production.  The well designed player boards allow you to track the total capacity of your empire as well as it’s technological developments, ship designs, and resource storage.

Another interesting concept is how the game board grows through exploration.  There are a limited number of hexes available for exploration.  The players get to place them on the board as they take   explore actions and orient their facing to suit their needs.  Hexes have a different number and positioning of wormholes on their sides.  These wormholes need to match a corresponding hole on an adjacent hex to allow movement between the hexes.  This is an important strategy element of the game as it allows the strategic walling off of entire sections of space until late in the game.

An odd feature of the game, and one I personally do not favor, is how technology is made available to the players.  Each turn a random assortment of technologies is made available for purchase by any player taking a research action.  This differs from the technology trees many of us are used to and prefer.  In two of the three games I have played, the first ship armor upgrade was unavailable almost the entire game.  I find this unacceptable, but that is just my opinion.

Certain unique and powerful ship upgrades are only accessible by defeating ancient automated space ships you discovered in some of the most desirable system hexes.  This is another point of contention among some players as the upgrades are superior to those you can purchase and are made available through a random mechanic.  I know there is a tension between wanting to ensure multiple games develop differently and having a balanced game between the players, but I am not sure this is the best way to provide that experience.  There is already a strong reason to explore so one can expand.  Awarding those who explore the fastest with more than just territory and control over the wormhole connections seems to be overkill.

Ship modification is reminiscent of GalCiv to me.  Upgrading your ships provides an interesting set of choices.  If you have previously purchased the corresponding technologies, guns, armor, generators, and engines can be modified.  Certain mods seem more important than others, and one, plasma missiles, seems completely overpowered.  Our group decided to gimp them by making them require power after several games.

Another random element in the game is how victory point tiles are awarded for combat.  A bag of tiles with values varying from 1 to 4 vp is used, with higher level point tiles being rarer.  Depending on the ships you defeat in combat, you get a number of tiles up to a maximum of five.  You choose one of them and return the rest to the bag.  The victor of a combat can potentially get fewer victory points than the loser, which is fine but not really what I would favor.  The total number of combat victory points you can achieve is dependent on your race.

Victory points are achieved in many ways.  High levels of technology research, systems you inhabit, combat, as well as monuments to your greatness (monoliths) all award varying numbers of victory points.  In all of the games I was involved in, the monolith building races always seemed to win.  Those races also tended to have larger fleets, more hexes settles, and more technology developed, so this is not so surprising.

I really like this game overall, and I wish our local owner had not sold his copy online.  My friends will probably buy a copy when it is reprinted, so I won’t be denied access forever.  Besides, I already own Twilight Imperium 3 and it’s expansions, so I do not really need another 4X game.

Final Thoughts

Overall: Between 7 & 8 (Recommended, but not played often)

heavy learning curve and makes you think

 

Quality
Fun
Replayability