Sunday, January 8, 2012

Eclipse Board Game Review

Saturday board gaming and playoff football constitute a good weekend. I was excited to tell a friend I finished a four hour space game, Eclipse. She was happy I wasn't playing the Eclipse Twilight: The Movie game. Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy, released by Asmodee in the U.S., is filled with space exploration, aliens, wormholes, space bases, and epic space battles.

While playing Eclipse I thought of how Star Trek Deep Space Nine (DS9) shares parallels with Eclipse. DS9 is located near the planet of Bajor and travels sometimes require use of a wormhole. What made DS9 unique was it was the first Star Trek Show to focus plots character development and story arcs due its stationary setting. This key feature allowed producers and writers to introduce a fantastic string of prominent  reoccurring characters, my favorite character: Elim Garak, a "plain and simple tailor”, exiled Obsidian Order spy who plotted to murder a Romulan Senator to force the Romulans to ally with the Federation against the Dominion was key to the Federation winning the war. 

Secondly, DS9 transformed the Ferengi people from slithering, bungling fools with S&M energy whips in Star Trek: TNG to a respectful race with culture and customs. No longer were the Ferengi comedic rough shot. ThoughQuark and Odo interactions remain some of the most comical scenes among all of Trek.

As such, I will utilize my review of Eclipse using a Ferengi’s most trusted and sacred source of economic theory and practice: the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.

Rule of Acquisition 34: Peace is good for business and Rule of Acquisition 35: War is good for business

Eclipse is 2-6 player game played over a series of nine rounds. In the game during peaceful conditions or by avoiding fighting, victory points can be gained by upgrading one of your three technology tracks,  opening diplomatic relations with other players and by controlling space hexes via influence tokens or discs. Under war conditions victory points are earned by entering into battle, killing opponent’s ships, and by destroying ancient ships. The victory points are earned by drawing from the reputation tile bag for entering into battle or by taking over a space hex. The space hexes score victory points at the end of the game when a player controls them.

Rule Acquisition 141: Never Pay Retail:
Eclipse is an expensive game weighing 2,680 or almost 6 pounds, but there is value with the price tag. My gaming group likes buying board games by the pound. The heavier the better! If you like heavy board games this game is for you. Agricola, Le Havre, Railways of the World are all fun games and quite heavy. Upon opening the box, I thought the player mat sheet was actually a punch out sheet! The two-sided ginormous player mats do appear confusing with a lot going on, but after going over the rules and playing a few rounds the player mats become intuitive. 

Rule of Acquisition 22: A wise man can hear profit in the wind and Rule of Acquisition 45: Expand or Die
I am not going to explain the rules in entirety; however, I will briefly highlight the different actions to share the favor of the game. On the player mat there are three tracks: Money, Science and Materials. Player's can take the following actions on their turn and expends one token from their available actions:

1. Explore: New space hexes are placed on table to create a modular board. Exploring is a way to expand production of money, science, or materials through conquering a planet. Occasionally, "ancient ships" will be discovered. Upon destroying the ancient ships a player can view a secret tile and either take 2 victory points or a special benefit. It appears, from my experience, early game the benefits are more advantageous and late game the victory points may be a better deal. Following the ancient ship battle a player may place population cubes on the planet of a corresponding color to increase production. Exploring and Conquering a planet in effect requires use of two action tokens (also known as influence discs). 
2. Influence: Move influence discs on the board to hexes without an opponent present or remove influence discs from the board to place back on your player mat. The latter options is a way to reduce upkeep costs at the end of a round the number of actions taken has an associated cost. However, keeping the influence tokens on the board has two distinct benefits: required to increase resource production and controlled space hexes are worth victory points at the end of the game.  Additionally, influence allows you to place additional cubes on the board after you have placed your maximum of three.
3. Research: This action is important! Research allows players to gain technology to increase the effectiveness of their ships in battle, research reduces the cost of future technological upgrades and completing research tracks can be worth victory points. In addition, research allows for players to upgrade production capacity and to produce victory points through use of the build action. What is interesting is each round new technologies become available by random draw and they may also disappear when players purchase them.
4. Upgrade: Players have access to simple ship upgrades: shields, weapons, targeting, etc. After players have researched technology they may perform better upgrades to their ships. 
5. Build: Construct ships for defensive or offensive purposes, space docks to increase defense, orbitals to increase production, and monoliths to score additional victory points.
6. Move: Move through wormholes to other hexes. To engage in battle move ships into other player's controlled hexes. Battle engagements result drawing reputation tiles or victory points. Destroying ships increases the probability of drawing a higher victory point; however, players may only keep one victory point.

Rule of Acquisition 85: Never let the competition know what you're thinking and Rule of Acquisition 236: You can't buy fate
The basic flow of the game takes place during three phases: Actions, Battle, Upkeep and Clean-up Phases. The ingenious of Eclipse is players may take one any of the available actions on their turn and play continues to each player has passed. Even after a player has passed, weaker versions of actions may be taken as a reaction to another player's action. The tension in Eclipse results from wondering when the opponents will strike and how many actions to take on your turn. Increasing your number of actions increases the upkeep costs. Is there enough cash-flow to support the number of actions taken? 

Yes, players can buy fate in this game. Research and Technology Upgrades are key to your ships performing better in battle. These upgrades are vital because during battle ships have a better capability of destroying other players ships and/or ancient ships resulting in better reputation tile draws and expanding your empire. Battles take place with rolling D6: 1 are always a miss and 6 is always a hit. The upgrades affect the dice rolls by altering hit points and damage.

Rule of Acquisition 218: Always know what you're buying
A debate has circled our table during research purchases: Is it better to buy smaller cost technologies to receive discounted prices on future technologies or is a better to spend your entire tech budget for a expensive upgrade, but with kick-ass benefits. Our last game a player was able to mop the table by having strong ship upgrades early in the game. More playtime should resolve this question.

Rule of Acquisition 76: Every once in a while, declare peace, It confuses the hell out of your enemies
Entering into diplomatic relations with another player is a way to declare peace and open trade relations in a loose sense. By this agreement a player take one of their population cubes and diplomat and hands it to another player. It is only worth one victory point, but it immediately increases production of money, technology, or building resources. Last game I declared peace with a neighboring opponent, but was still pinned between two players. It reminded me of the Princess Bride, "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." There were too many fronts to defend! 

Rule of Acquisition 16: A deal is a deal....until a better one comes along 
Players may break diplomatic relations and attack previously allied players. Better find a good deal because this action comes with a hefty price tag: The traitor card worth negative two victory points. That player holds this card until another table at the table commits the same treacherous act.

Rule of Acquisition: More is Good....all is better
As previously stated, the game ends after nine rounds and the player with the most victory points wins. Players by default have room for up to four reputation tiles or less depending on whether diplomatic relations were entered. Diplomats occupy the same space as a reputation tile. This game has multiple tracks to victory and equals depends on what your fellow players are working on. 

The introductory game of Eclipse can be played with all human races and the beginning game stats are exactly the same. Meaning players start with the same amount of resources. In our second game, we played on the reverse side of the player mat to play with the aliens. Each alien race has a specific competitive advantage. Examples include starting with more money, being able to research two technologies with one action, being allowed to place influence tokens and population cubes on hexes with ancient ships, etc.

Our group enjoyed the alien side due to the asymmetrical start conditions. However, the random fashion of exploring new space hexes poses a larger problem on the alien side. A bad space hex draw may trap your production of money, technology, or building resources at a low production level. In one recent game I could not make enough money to take additional action. I am diverging once from the Ferengi references to make room for another epic quote.  While playing Eclipse, I started to think of the classic Space Balls dessert scene:

Skroob: Tell him to comb the desert. Do you hear me? Comb the desert.
Col Sandurz: Are we being too literal?
Dark Helmet: No, you fool. We're following orders. We were told to comb the desert, so we're combing it.
Dark Helmet:  Found anything yet?
Trooper with Afro Pic: We ain't found shit.

There are times while exploring new space hexes I felt like, "We ain't found shit!" There were times I when I really when a planet which produces more money. Eclipse forces players to exploit currently what a empire is good at doing. Instead of focusing on a futile attempt to increase production of money, technology upgrades or battle become an option.

Also, worth mentioning is the rules on exploration. Exploring a new space hex allows player to select one the following: inner, middle, or outer ring hex to explore. There are limited amounts of outer ring hexes, which prevents players from becoming too isolated and promotes player conflict. Wormhole technology allows players to bend the rules to allow players to move more freely on the game board.

Finally, Rule of Acquisition 19: Satisfaction is not guaranteed.
I'm competitive and not happy when I lose. No worries it's not my fault that I lost. Luckily, I don't dwell on losses very long. 

Some complaints at the gaming table: "Everyone spent the entire game building up forces and only one massive battle during round 9" In the next game forces were built up and battle never took place. In the third game, forces were built and quickly utilized. With such a small sample size, there is inherit variability in game play; however, some players are left unhappy because their plans were interrupted during the game.

Thumbs Up:
Quality Game Production with epic sized game board and loads of plastic ships
Action Phase is filled with vital decision options 
Second guessing: Is defense or offense a mistake or the right strategy at a given time.
Fun exploring and deciding your empire's fate

Thumbs Down:
Down time during between actions and games have lasted between 3-4.5 Hours.
Players building fleets and not battling

Post thoughts: After playing Eclipse I want to break out my copy of TI3 I have not played in a while. It has been sitting in the hall closet for two years at least. And I leave you with, "Mr. Sulu, set course to GeekBoardis, War Factor Nerd"

Eclipse is currently available for purchase.

Eclipse English Rule Book

No comments:

Post a Comment