Sunday, 4 November 2012

So I got to try Eclipse last night

Last night, thanks to a friend and fellow local gamer, I got to try out Eclipse. Eclipse is currently ranked as the #5 game in the world on and is also the #5 Strategy game of all time.  It's been listed on The Hotness since being announced and I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype.

Start of the game, I was playing the Yellow Humans
Eclipse is a space exploration game along the same lines as long time favourite Twilight Imperium or Galactic Emperor and has quite a bit in common with both games. Each player takes on a race and starts in their own region of space. The galaxy is formed with hex tiles that include victory points for control, planets providing up to three different resources (Money, Technology and Resources) and worm holes along some but not all edges.  Unlike the other games mentioned, the galaxy isn't set up before hand but discovered through play. Each player gets a starting system and a play board that varies by race. When we played we took the suggestion to all be humans. I apologize now for the quality of pictures my iPod touch takes, it's what I had at hand during the game.

Gameplay sounds complicated but is rather simple once you pick it up. Each turn players in sequence get to choose to do an action or pass. Each time they do an action they move a disc to the appropriate area on their player board. As discs are moved a cost is uncovered, this the money you will need to spend at the end of the round to pay for your actions. Discs are also used to assert influence over a star system so the number of systems you can control and the number of actions you can complete are dictated by your income. You get income and resources by building colonies on planets, these are the cubes. As you remove cubes from your play board larger numbers are uncovered giving you more income each turn. It's a rather elegant system. Actions include exploring, researching technology, using researched technology to upgrade your ships, changing how your influence is spread, building things and moving.

Initial Exploration
Exploring is what you do to spread out from your initial colony and also what builds the board. When you choose the explore action you pick a wormhole on the edge of a tile you control and draw a new hex tile from a pile based on how far it is from galactic center. Tiles closer to the center tend to be better tiles but are often guided by the Ancient Race. When the new tile is placed a wormhole must be placed adjacent to the one explored through. Note not all edges have wormholes which really makes things interesting. Due tot this mechanic tiles that are right next to each other on the table could actually be multiple hexes away. We all really enjoyed how the map got built as we played and how players we expected to be neighbors were actually so far apart that they barely interacted.

My Interceptors loaded up with Alien Tech
Research and upgrading I think are worth talking about as I thought this was one of the best parts of the game. One of the actions you can take is Research. When you take this action you can buy new technologies of a central technology board. What is available changes as the game goes on (with tiles drawn out of a bag). There are three different tech trees you can work on and specializing gives you not only a discount on each future tech but victory points if you buy enough of each type of tech. Some new technologies give you instant bonuses like being able to settle more planets, or being able to build orbital space stations or Monoliths (there's stars in there). Most though are equipment upgrades for your fleet. When you buy these you don't get anything right away, you need to use the upgrade action. When you do this you get to add two components to your ship diagrams located at the top of your player sheet. You have three types of ships and a space station that can all be upgraded with new weapons, more power, faster engines and more.

The big fight for galactic center.
Combat is quick and brutal and happens whenever, at the end of a turn, there are pieces of two different colours (players) on a sector tile. Initiative is determined by ship speed based on upgrades and weapon type. Missiles fire first and then other weapons. All attacks are done using d6.  The basic rule is that you roll 1d6 per weapon and rolls of 6 cause a hit. One hit does one damage and destroys a point of hull. If there is no hull the ship is destroyed.  This is all modified greatly by the technological upgrades players have applied to their ships. By the end of the game we had ships rolling four orange, two damage, missile attacks the first round against ships with five hull and two sets of red, four damage, lasers that had +4 to hit. Combat goes back and forth until one side is wiped out or retreats. Colonies need to be attacked before the sector swapped control and we all found that the Neutron Bomb tech really helped with this. Overall combat plays out very fast and furious and is hugely based on the technologies that each player chooses to research and then equip on their ships. Participants in combat each will get to draw victory point tokens from a bag. Each player gets one token for being in a battle and players who destroy enemy ships get extra tokens. The tokens are numbers 1-4 and you only get to keep one toke out of all of the ones you pull.

The other phases include building which lets you build new ships, starbases and orbital stations or monuments if you have the right technology developed. Movement lets you move your ships around hex by hex with speed set by the drive unit equipped on each ship. Influence lets you abandon sectors and take over new ones. The first player who passes on their action becomes the start player for next round. In an interesting twist even passing doesn't necessarily take you out of the game for the round. There are three reactionary actions you can take even though you've passed. These are reduced versions of move, build and upgrade.

How the board looked at the end of the game
Eclipse is played for a total of nine rounds and it's the player with the most victory points at the end of those nine rounds that wins. Players get victory points for each sector they control, technologies they have developed far enough down each of the three trees, trade agreements and victory tokens collected through conquest. In the game we played victory was determined by two points.

Obviously there's a lot more to the game than this, but I figured I've already typed enough already. There's alien ships that guard some territories, some sectors give a bonus to the first player who settles there, the galactic center is guarded by a big space station and more. If you have any questions about anything in particular please feel free to ask in the comments.

Overall I had a great time trying this well regarded game. Eclipse seemed like it took the best concepts of Twilight Imperium and Galactic Emperor and combined them into a very quick, very refined and balanced game. Rules explanation took a long time and it looked like there was far too much to figure out but by turn three we all had it figured out and the game flowed great. While Eclipse is shorter than it's predecessors it's still not what I would call a short game. Our game went over 4 hours, almost five with rules set up and explanation. I fully expect we could cut that down to three easily now that everyone knows what they are doing. We also had a couple players who are known for analysis paralysis so I would expect the game to be quicker for other groups.

I think the best thing that can be set about how much we all enjoyed the game last night is that we are all trying to figure out a way to play again today. Also we are all still talking about it. We've been on Facebook saying "you know when I attacked Green, I should have waited one turn to..." and "Why the heck didn't I set up that treaty earlier, I knew ..." To me going to bed thinking about what could have been is a good sign of a great game.


  1. Good rules write up. Sorry the rules explaination took so long I was trying to be thorough. :P

    I think we could get this game down to the 30mins per player by maybe the 3rd play... provided there are no new players each time and none of them are Clayton :). I too went to bed thinking about this game and what I could have done here and there differently (after I looked up info on the upcoming expansion).

    I think this game most of the same beats that TI3 hits and will likely Jones' Theory TI3 out of my collection. A 3 hour game doesn't have to be an EVENT game which means it can come down of the shelf a lot more often. Also I think the time to fun ratio for this game would be higher. Which is to say I could play this game 2-3 times in the time it would take to play TI3 once, and it you added the fun up in those 2-3 game it would be more than the fun in the 1 game of TI3. If one were to quantify fun.

    It could have been called Master of Orion: The Boardgame as it conjured up a lot of MoO to me with the empire management and ship customization, which I think might be my favourite aspect of this game. The graphic design is superb, as the iconography all really "makes sense" and is very easy to understand. The turns are fast which leaves you engaged the entire game, so while it was 4 hours it didn't drag in the way TI3 games can when people are taking 10-15 mins with their turns.

  2. I still can't quite call it MOO because you don't customize your colonies at all. None of these games really let you do that yet, and that's the one thing I've found missing in re-creating the MOO experience.

    I think this does what TI tries to do and does it better, but I still think TI has some merit for a more epic longer game, especially using at least the first expansion (haven't tried the new one). The one beat that this misses is the whole political angle of TI. I loved having lots of worlds with lots of influence and taking the political action to literally change the rules of play in my favour, that's not something you get from Eclipse. For me I think both games will scratch slightly different itch. When I want a great space exploration game this will become my go to game. When I want something more epic with more detailed tech trees and a ton more politics, I'll still reach for TI. I'm certain the first itch is going to happen more often though.