16 July 2016

Board Game Review: Eclipse

Longtime readers of this blog may notice that I've already written an entry entitled 'Board Game Review: Eclipse.' That entry was not about Asmodee's space conquest game.

This one is.

The two games are very very different. This one (the Asmodee version) is a very heavy game. It usually takes around two hours or more, and has a lot to keep track of.

Speaking of keeping track, let's look at the stats, shall we?

Strategy: 5
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 5
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 2 hours

An Overview of Eclipse

First things first: players represent different species populating a galaxy. They vie for control of that galaxy through military conquest, economic expansion, renown from great feats, and technological advances. The winner is the player with the most victory points. Victory points come from a number of different sources: tech advances, controlling galactic sectors, battling enemy fleets, and several other sources besides.

As mentioned, it is a heavy game. It's not as bad as, say, Twilight Imperium, which can last for the better part of a day. But it has a lot of things to keep in mind. 

To start off, players choose which race they want to play. Each race has a different set of advantages and disadvantages. For example, the Hydran Progress gets advantages to researching new technology, but starts off less combat- and economy-capable as other species. The Eridani Empire, on the other hand, is more bellicose than other species, starting with slightly more advanced weapons and shielding technology than most. However, they start with fewer influence tokens than the other species as well.

New players can make things easier on themselves by choosing to play humans. The back side of each species's mat has a different faction of the humans, and all human factions have identical starting traits.

After you've chosen a species, you take that species's mat and arrange all the pieces on it. There are a lot of pieces. There are population cubes, influence tokens, resource markers, colony ships, combat ships, trade markers, and starbases. Most of these can be arranged fairly easily on the player mat. But there are a lot of them.
A view of the Eridani Empire play mat, with tokens on it representing being partway through a turn. The partially-constructed galactic map with player pieces on it can be seen beyond the player mat.

A look at the player mats

Along the right edge and continuing across the bottom is a track. You have three resource markers: influence, science, and mining. The track indicates where each one starts at the beginning of the game for that race. Across the top, there are representations of each type of ship and starbase. Interceptors have four slots, three of which are pre-filled with a power source, an engine, and a weapon (some races vary the specific details of each different class of ship slightly). The Cruisers have six slots, five of which are pre-filled (in addition to power source, engine, and weapon, it usually has a stronger hull and a targeting computer). The Dreadnoughts have eight slots (usually pre-filled with power source, engine, targeting computer, two weapons, and two levels of stronger hull). The starbase has only five slots, but cannot move, so has no use for engines.

Below that, it has a space to place all the technology you've researched. Each time your species learns a new technology, you place the token for that tech on the appropriate track of your tech space.
Next is a space for your population cubes. As you populate more worlds, it makes further resources available to you. If you look in the photo above, you can see that the closer track (the brown one, representing mining) has a single cube removed, showing the number 3. The furthest track (the orange one, which represents the economy) has two cubes removed, showing a 4. The middle track (pink, for science) has three cubes removed. You can't see the number that's shown, but it's a 6. As you explore the galaxy and control more worlds, you are allowed to move population cubes from your tracks to those worlds, which grants you more points in those areas to spend on subsequent turns.

Beside the population cubes, there are action spaces. This shows you what actions you can take. They will be described in greater detail shortly.

The last space I'm going to describe on these mats is the influence track. This is where you keep your influence tokens until you need them. You move influence tokens to an action space each time you take that action, and you also place influence tokens on a sector to indicate that you control it. As you take tokens from this track, it reveals greater numbers, which indicate how much influence you must spend during the Upkeep phase (more on this in a moment). Thus, you must carefully balance how many actions you take and how many sectors you control (both of which are crucial to earning victory points) with how much influence income you have.

The rest of the game components

The game board is made up of hexagonal tiles representing galactic sectors. Most of these sectors contain planets. If you control a sector, you can use a colony ship to move one of your population cubes to that planet. Planets are colour-coded as to whether you get to move a cube from your economy track, your science track, or your mining track. 

Some sectors give you a bonus for exploring it (or for defeating any ancient alien ships that may appear there). Some sectors have an ancient alien ship (or two or sometimes even three) that must be defeated before you can control it. There are a few that have other special features.

There is also the tech board. Available technology is represented by tiles, drawn from a bag and placed on the tech board. Players may spend science resource points to purchase a tile from this board (once a tile is purchased, no other players may learn that tech until an identical tile is drawn).

There are also tokens that represent ship upgrades. Once you've acquired the technology tile that allows you to install a certain upgrade, you're allowed to install that upgrade on your ships. For example, once you've purchased a 'Plasma Cannon' technology token from the tech board, you may then place a Plasma Cannon ship upgrade token on one or more of your ship schematics. Upgrading a ship class affects all ships of that class, both those currently extant and those built on later turns.

Finally, there are dice to be rolled in combat.

Game play

The game takes place over nine rounds. Each round has several phases. The first is the action phase. In this phase, players take turns moving influence tokens from the influence track to the action space to indicate which action they are taking. Actions include:
  • Explore: Draw a new sector tile and place it adjacent to one you already control. If it doesn't contain any ancient alien ships, you may place an influence token on it to claim it, and having done so, may use colony ships to move population cubes onto the planets in that sector.
  • Influence: Move two influence tokens to or from available sectors.
  • Research: Spend science resource points to purchase one of the tech tokens available on the technology board. Place it on the appropriate tech track on your player mat. Notice that as you purchase more tech, subsequent tech purchases on that same track become eligible for a discount.
  • Upgrade: take two ship upgrade tokens from the supply and place each on one of the spaces on your ship schematics at the top of your player mat. Notice that you are only allowed to take an upgrade that corresponds to a tech tile that you already possess. Also, some ship upgrades require more power; you cannot install an upgrade that would exceed the available power supply for that ship. Of course, some of the ship upgrades available increase the amount of power you have.
  • Build: Spend mining resource points to build up to two ships and/or starbases (the cost for each is listed next to the schematic for that ship). Place the ships so purchased in a sector you control.
  • Move: Move two ships one space each, or one ship two spaces. Note that some ship upgrades increase the distance that a ship may be moved, so that a single move action on a ship that has upgraded engines will allow that ship to move up to two sectors (or more, for further upgrades).
Players continue taking turns taking actions, until they decide they are finished. Note also that different races may have slight differences in the actions they may take. For example, the science-y Hydran Progress species is allowed to purchase up to two tech tokens in a single Research action. Humans get to make three points of Move instead of just two. The Mechanema can Build three ships or purchase three Upgrade tokens instead of just two. And so forth.

When a player has finished taking actions, he can pass. He no longer gets to take actions, but he can take one of three reactions (Build, Move, or Upgrade) in response to the actions of players that haven't yet passed. This allows a player to move to defend himself if another player attacks him after he's passed. Reactions still require the use of an influence token, and aren't as efficient (for example, instead of getting to Build two ships, reactions only allow you to build one).

The first player to pass will be the first player to take actions on the next round.

After everyone has passed, the round moves on to the combat phase. Each ship has an initiative rating, which determines who fires first. The fastest ships fire their weapons first. Normally, ships are equipped with ion cannons, which roll yellow dice. Each hit with an ion cannon does one point of damage. Weapons hit on a roll of 6. However, if a ship has a stronger weapon installed (such as a Plasma Cannon, which rolls orange dice and does two points of damage on a hit, or the antimatter cannons, which roll red dice and do four points of damage per hit), or a targeting computer (which reduces the number to hit, so that for example, a ship with an Electron Computer gets a +1 to hit, and thus scores a hit on a roll of 5 or more), or shields (which increase the number required to be hit; for example, if a ship has a Gauss Shield, it subtracts 1 from the dice results of any ship firing at it; thus a ship with a Gauss Shield cannot be hit at all unless the attacking ship has a targeting computer to add to his own dice rolls), these numbers are subject to change.

Once all combat is resolved, players enter the upkeep phase. They receive a number of resource points equal to the highest number shown on their population cube track. They must also spend economic points equal to the number shown on their influence track. For example, in the photo above, the player would receive four economic points, six science points, and three mining points. The player would then have to spend seven economic points because the influence track (the one with round tokens) shows a -7. You are allowed to trade points of one type for another type, usually at a three-to-one ratio. If you don't have enough economic points to afford your influence track, you must bankrupt a sector by retrieving the influence token and any population cubes from it. Continue doing this until your economic expenditures are affordable.

Finally, the cleanup phase occurs. Players move influence tokens from the action spaces back to the influence track. Colony ships are reset. New tech tokens are drawn and placed on the tech board. The turn marker is moved to the next turn. Then the next turn begins with the player who passed first on the last turn.

Final thoughts on Eclipse

As mentioned, this game has a lot to keep track of. You must balance your economy by making sure you're not using more influence tokens than you can afford, but not taking so few actions that your inaction grants you no chance of winning. You must balance your military so that you are capable of defending yourself if necessary, attacking if it's in your best interest, but not putting so many resources into it that you can't take other actions. You must balance your research so that you can still take other actions but not get left behind when other players get advances that grant them advantages with which you cannot compete. You must explore, but carefully so that you don't overextend your empire and grow beyond your ability to control or afford.

There is a lot of seeming randomness in this game, with dice rolls for combat and token draws for tech and sector exploration. However, the game is expansive enough that in most cases, the randomness works out to a fairly even balance. By calculating the probability of dice rolls and token draws, it's actually fairly easy (once you know what you're doing) to plan accordingly and mitigate the effects of randomness.

Of course, I say that, and in two out of the three games I've played so far, the tiles I drew for exploration were just plain against me. When I played the science-y race, I couldn't draw any tiles that didn't have enemy ships on them, limiting my ability to expand until I'd spent considerable resources on upgrading my ships. When I played the fight-y race, expecting to need to combat hostiles early on, I drew no tiles with enemy ships at all. While that normally may seem like a good deal, the sectors without enemy ships also have fewer resource available, making my expansion less profitable than it normally would be.

The game does have a steep learning curve, due to the sheer number of things you have to keep track of. But the iconography on the parts (the tech tokens, player mats, etc) makes it easier to learn, and once you've played the game once or twice, it's much easier to remember how everything works. Unlike many other games, it doesn't take five or six times playing to learn. Once through is usually enough.

Also, the wide variety of races available to play makes the game feel quite different each time through. This gives the game a lot of replay value.

I did enjoy this game. It's a bit heavier than I normally like, but every once in a while, when I want something really hefty, this game delivers in style. Since it limits the game to nine rounds, that means it doesn't take forever, and leave me wanting to just quit so the game will end, like some other heavy games do.

So I will leave you with that for now. I will see you here again next week. Until then, remember to

Game on!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'll be along soon to make sure your comment isn't spam. Until then, just sit tight! Unless your comment IS spam, in which case, bugger off.