Cardboard Children: Eclipse

By Robert Florence on March 18th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Hello youse.

Last week I promised that today we’d be looking at Kemet, a new Egyptian-themed conquest board game from the mob that released the amazing Cyclades. Sadly, the game’s been like gold dust, its first print vanishing before I managed to lay my hands on it. I even ordered it on a website, then was emailed the next day and told that they were out of stock. I was distraught, feeling like those archaeologists who discovered a pyramid, only to find that grave robbers had already been in there stealing all the daft statues and shagging all the mummies.

So where do you go when you can’t go to Ancient Egypt? To the Ancient Egypt in the sky, of course. To space.

ECLIPSE

Eclipse is a space empire-building game. It promises the feel of building a grand empire in space, and everything within the game is tuned towards delivering that. You can build colonies on new planets, spread your influence through regions of space, research new technologies and build spaceships of your own design. The core elements of GRAND SPACE OPERA are here, but the theme never really comes through in a “story” sense. You never really feel like you’re in space, commanding an empire. But wait, that’s not a negative. While you don’t really feel like you’re in space, you certainly feel like you’re playing a fucking FANTASTIC game.

Let me quickly lay out how the game works. I can’t go over everything, because there are quite a few moving parts here, but you’ll at least have an idea of how the strongest elements tick along.
Eclipse is a very clean and simple design. The rulebook is beautifully written, and one read will have you up to speed. (I’ve read some board game rulebooks that are so poorly written you feel like you’ve retained none of the information by the time you reach the end.) The whole game spins on an elegant economic management system. Each player has a certain number of Influence tokens, and you spend these to take actions. Each time you spend an Influence, you’ll be expected to pay more money at the end of your turn. There are three tracks that detail your income from science planets, mining planets and economic planets. As you settle these planets, your income will rise.

THE CUBES – I need to talk about the cubes here. These little tracks – Money, Science, Materials – are obscured by little cubes of your colour. As you settle planets, you move one of the cubes from your track onto the appropriate planet. This reveals another number on your track, and that number is your new income total of that type. It’s a really elegant way of tracking everything, and sums up the elegance of the whole package.

So, every player takes an action each, spending influence to do so. You might spend an influence to Explore, turning over a new space sector hex. New sectors might contain new planets, Discoveries and even NPC Baddies. You can take control of a new sector hex by moving another Influence token onto it. That’s MORE money you need to turn in at the end of each turn. You follow? As you expand, you need to keep your whole economy balanced. You can spend Influence to take a Research action. Oh, Research is cool. Listen.

RESEARCH – There’s a Research board, and at the start of the game, some tiles are drawn from a bag and placed onto it. As the game progresses, more technologies will come out of the bag, but you’ll never see all the available technologies in one game. (Last night I played a game where no powerful Plasma Missile technologies hit the board, and so our ships were committed to risky knife fights. The random tech draw can make for very different flavours of games.) These tiles are limited too. Whenever you research something, you take the tile, and could deny other players the opportunity to research it. That’s always fun. The Research tiles also provide you with tech for new upgrades for your ships. Oh god, the ships.

THE SHIPS – This is my favourite part of the game. Each player board has four ship blueprints on it. They display four different types of ships, with starting loadouts. As you research tech, you’re able to spend Influence on Upgrade actions that let you change the ship blueprints. You can improve hulls, install targeting computers, power up the weaponry – some of you PC gaming freaks will go crazy with this part of Eclipse. It’s almost like a little game in itself, as you balance the power cost of your new ship tech with the power generated by your ship’s core. And then, do you focus on a fleet of fast small ships? Little glass cannons? Or do you tool up your big slow ships and crawl towards your enemies? Do you focus on building high-powered Starbases, and go defensive?

ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK – This is probably the only economy game that encourages players to attack each other all the time. Get this – even for LOSING a fight you can gain Victory Points in Eclipse. That’s cool, right? It gets everyone going. Last night I could see that I was losing, but there was an outside chance I could take control of another player’s hex. The game, by promising me some VP for just getting into a scrap, nudged me towards going on all-out attack in the second last turn of the game. That’s a great thing. That makes for drama. And it was certainly dramatic when all my effing ships got blasted out of the sky. (Combat uses dice, thank the heavens. But DON’T WORRY TOO MUCH dice-haters, your ship upgrades can lessen the effects of luck, if you hate excitement.)

So yeah, for the whole game you’re deciding how much Influence to spend, and how far you want to stretch your economy. You can never do all the stuff you want to do in any one round. You might have to research tech and upgrade ship blueprints this round, build the ships that carry those new technologies next round, and finally make the move that sends those ships down an opponent’s throat a round later. It’s a game for forward planners and thinkers. Most Victory Points at the end wins.

FINAL THOUGHTS – When Eclipse released, all the talk was about how it compared to Twilight Imperium III. I can’t get into that particular debate, because I’ve never managed to get the epic Twilight Imperium III onto the table. It takes, like, a MILLION HOURS to play. But I seriously doubt Eclipse even comes close to being a similar game. You know what Eclipse reminds me of? The great fashion design game Pret-A-Porter. Both games are about expanding your empire (spaceships/clothes) while researching new ways of doing that (Ion Cannon/Designers School) and keeping all your cash-flow in control. Both games also have a weird thing happening with theme. The theme works. It certainly helps as a framework to hang the game on. But the mechanics are so brilliant that you don’t really care much about it. I love theme-rich games, but with Eclipse I was more into trying to make all the mechanics work for me. It’s a game so beautifully designed and tested that it invites you to play with the systems, tweaking and teasing them, to try to find optimal tactics for every event in the game. I loved the ship-building stuff, but to properly play that part of the game, I had to keep an eye on everything else too. It’s all so smart, and it makes YOU feel smart too, even when you’re losing. And I’ve never won.

Eclipse has a lot more going on than I’ve explained. I’ll leave it to you to discover it all when you inevitably buy it. It plays with six players as well as it plays with two. It looks enormous and complex, but it’s actually tight, straight-forward to learn, and very deep. When you play it once, you just want to play it again and again, to try to play it smarter. Don’t play it because you want to play a space game. Play it because you want to know what an amazing game design feels like.

NEXT WEEK – Will I manage to get onto my new boardgamers thing next week? Maybe if I stop playing good games! Wait, what? Relic’s out this week? Warhammer40K-themed Talisman? Oh. Oh.

May your VP totals keep on climbing!

, , .

21 Comments »

  1. Phendron says:

    I think everyone likes the idea of Twilight Imperium but no one actually plays it.

    This looks like a space game for people who like to both own and play board games.

    • jpvg says:

      We may very well be the only group in the entire world but once every month we load up the dices and play TI3+Expansions. Feel free to drop by if you’re near Copenhagen, Denmark (Yes we fill out every spot usually a couple of observers as well).

      • Greycloak says:

        We also get a game of TI3 going about once every month or so. Eclipse is not TI3, but this is a good thing. I love TI3 but it’s not a game for everyone. It’s so theme and chrome heavy that it doesn’t work for everyone regardless of the time involved (although that certainly doesn’t help).

        Eclipse doesn’t have that issue, it’s a great game based on the mechanics rather than the theme or meta gaming involved. I think having a heavier theme would actually detract from the game.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      I’ve managed to play two full games so far and I love it, I wish was more time to play it. Everyday.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I’ve played Eclipse three times so far, and I enjoyed it every time. It’s an awesome game.

  3. cwoac says:

    Eclipse is great.
    Two things to bear in mind:
    1. Your first game will take ages unless most of the people are pro’s. Expect 1hr/player for your first couple of games. Once people know what they are doing, this rapidly drops to the box’s claimed 30m/player
    2. Missiles. Missiles are a git because they draw no power so you can load cheap ships full of racks *and* fire before lasers so you don’t need armour / shields. They only get one shot, but that is only an issue if you can’t throw enough missiles in the first volley. It’s really hard to defend against someone loaded up with missiles (check the BGG forums for pages of house rules). The expansion included more tech, including anti-missile stuff, but I’ve not played with it.
    [edit:] Oh, and because of the otherwise funky research system, it’s entirely possible that only one or two players will ever have access to missile tech.

    • Premium User Badge

      DeVadder says:

      I do understand that a lot of people like the game. But i would like to add my own problems with the game to your list of things to keep in mind.

      3. Personally i really dislike the idea of all the little cubes on the faction sheet. For clumsy players who might touch the table throughout the game it might be a good idea to only use one cube, indicating your income and moving that one around. Because if you ever move the table or sheet while the full 50 or so tiny cubes are on it, they will end up everywhere.

      4. The combat. Personally i hate it and it is the sole reason i can never play the game again. You spend two hours carefully planning and outfitting your ships. You maneuver them in a favourable position and then you attack. And assuming you and your opponent have bought some defenses, the resulting combat basically comes down to: You and your opponent role 6 dice per combat round, if you role a six three times before he roles a six five times, you win. Otherwise all your planning and building have been for nothing. And while those numbers i just used obviously are simplified to hell and back, against a careful and observant opponent, you will hardly ever get a higher advantage because countering your ship design is so easy.
      And i just hate to play such beautiful and complicated game for so long, only to have the final outcome to be determined by a slightly modified coinflip. Just not what i call fun.

      I do not oppose dice in games in general. For example i have played years and years of Warhammer 40K. But in W40K you role so many dice and the actual playing can easily give you a much higher advantage in those roles that it feels so much fairer.

      • Premium User Badge

        Erithtotl says:

        I own Eclipse but can’t get my friends to play it again because of this very problem. You have all these really clever technologies and ship mods, but the combat is so reliant on wild luck. You have very few ships at any given time so luck doesn’t really have time to ‘even out’ in most battles. In both games I have played they have basically been decided because one player rolled well and one didn’t in one battle.

  4. Premium User Badge

    JB says:

    Between this write-up and SU&SD’s coverage of Eclipse, I may have to add YET ANOTHER game to my ever-expanding wishlist.

    Also, my good friend (and fellow RPSer) The Innocent beat Rab to the punch on the Kemet review. It’s sounding pretty amazing. http://thurot.com/2013/03/15/kemet/

    Oh good, ANOTHER BLOODY ADDITION TO THE WISHLIST. Thanks, The Innocent. Thinnocent.

  5. SpaceAkers says:

    I’ve played Twilight Empire (2 i think?) twice and Eclipse around 6 or 7 times.

    Eclipse is much better imo.

    There is little-to-no “clutter” in the game. You explore and populate tiles, build ships and attack enemies (be they player characters or NPC aliens.) There’s very little, if any, esoteric rules or mechanics.

    The different races add nice play-style variety (even if some are totally better than others) and the expansion is worthy.

    There is definitely a bit of randomness in whether or not you explore good tiles around your start, but that’s sort of the price you pay for a 4X game in any format.

    And it is fairly combat-focused (although passive turtle strats are viable if you let some1 get away with it.) However, isn’t that ultimately what you’d want in this type of game? To build some baller ass ships and blow the frak out of your friends? IMO the more spreadsheety, beard-stroking style games are better left to single player PC joints. Eclipse let’s you get in the action very early and doesn’t bog you down with any of the weirdness that Twilight Imperium did me.

    Overall it’s exactly what I’d want out of a 4X space board game. Streamlined (but strategic and meaningful) economy decisions, VERY customizeable ships and fun non-linear tech trees full of all sorts of goodies and choices.

    So get out into The Black and vaporize your buddies!

    (or sit back and build a bunch of monoliths, cackling to yourself as you rack up victory points and your friends all scream at each other in their meaningless, petty squabbles. ya know…if you’re a jackass)

  6. MayhemMike says:

    Could we get a “Report” button pls

  7. Premium User Badge

    Makariel says:

    Played it two times so far and really like it. It’s MUCH faster to play than Twilight Imperium. The first game was just two of us in order to try out the rules before going to a 5 player game which we managed in about 3 hours (ended in all out war). The only problem is that the wooden cubes slide around a bit too easy around the board. Paying not enough attention when reaching for your drink and you spend 10 minutes trying to figure out how far you were…

    • Prime says:

      Oh god the cubes! It really is too easy to knock them about. If you don’t have OCD when you start Eclipse, you will have after a game or two continually having to sort out those blasted cubes!

      That said, it’s still a great game that my partner and I don’t get to play enough.

  8. Kittim says:

    I just got an HTTP 503 error and got to play a mini text adventure. Great fun!
    John and the Asda rum had me laughing :)

  9. zacharygordon703 says:

    before I looked at the check four $6664, I didnt believe …that…my brothers friend woz like realy earning money part-time from there computar.. there great aunt has been doing this for only thirteen months and by now repayed the loans on their condo and got Mercedes. go to, http://www.fly38.com

  10. ulix says:

    Only played this once, and while I liked it it plays (apart from the theme) nothing like TI (which I’ve played maybe 4 times over the years).

    This is mainly a game of exploration and building (with a bit of diplomacy and war), while TI is mainly a game of diplomacy and war (with a bit of building).

    At least that was my first impression.

    I’d really like to try out the new game Exodus, which is aparrently a lot more like TI, but plays in 2-3 hours (instead of 5-6) and has a neat modular ship-upgrade mechanic similar to Eclipse.

    Apart from that:

    Played the Troyes addon for the first time yesterday, and while it doesn’t really change a lot it definitely adds to the game.

  11. b0rsuk says:

    This is truly a 4X game: later turns take exponentially more time.

  12. Ubik2000 says:

    I have Eclipse, but have only played twice so far. I’ve had a total blast both times. The first was with four players, the second with six, although one guy had to leave early. The next day he wrote our email list to say it was awesome and ask if I ended up winning (I was ahead when he left). I re[lied summing up the last few turns. I’ll paste it here, maybe it will give you the flavor:

    I ended up winning, yeah. Not sure what time you left – did you see Dexter’s heroic but doomed attempt on the Galactic Center? After he was repulsed, I moved in the next turn and took over the center successfully. That was right around the time Sean decided violate our treaty, stab me in the back and take over the system I just vacated. A very nice system, I might add, that I had rightfully claimed in honorable battle! He cowardly neutron bombed my defenseless population and took over.

    I wanted to unleash the righteous fury, but everyone else was massing on the borders, and I couldn’t afford to weaken my fleet. Also around that time, Robinson and Kelsi’s cold war went hot, at Robinson’s instigation (netting him the Traitor card, which meant Sean didn’t even have to suffer the penalty for betraying me! Galactic society has a short memory).

    Unfortunately for Robinson, his ships weren’t remotely a match for Kelsi’s and he got kicked around fairly thoroughly. Meanwhile, Dexter was building up a good sized fleet of his own, and Sean started cranking out new ships and sending them merrily rampaging through my systems. I built a few emergency star bases in an attempt to blunt his invasion, but after some dramatic battles, the results were mixed – I had stopped him in a couple places, but he successfully took over my home system! And then again with the neutron bombs! I still couldn’t move my main fleet out to squash him, because Dexter was looking at the Galactic Center with hungry eyes, his fleet was getting bigger and better all the time and if Kelsi managed to mop up Robinson and decided to make a play for the center herself, her ships were strong enough to be a serious problem.

    The last turn or two turned into a series of huge battles. Kelsi wiped our Robinson’s fleet, I drove Sean out of my territory with missile interceptors (although I never reclaimed that first system he stole!) and Dexter and I had a massive climactic battle for control of the middle, with my more advanced weapons up against his super powerful shields. Ultimately, my dreadnoughts carried the day.

  13. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    I… Don’t think that’s what grave robbers do, Rab. Thank Christ there’s no pyramids in Glasgow…

  14. Prime says:

    I love the dice. Little clusters of red, orange and yellow (white spots on all). They look like fruit candies. Nom!

  15. Skabooga says:

    Rab, must you forever tease us with the promise of coverage on introducing board gaming to a new group of people? Although, because you are not just dealing with your schedule but those of several semi-interested parties, I’m sure logistics can lead to significant delays.