While I love boardgames, I have a hard time spending $50+ on one and an even harder time spending 4+ hours playing a single session. This means that a few classic board games leave me cold, like the venerable and oh so enticing Twilight Imperium. Twilight Imperium is a “4X game“, promising players the joys of building a space empire by exploring, researching, and blowing up enemies. It sounds exactly like something I should love, right?
But Twilight Imperium isn’t fun. The mechanics don’t do a good job promoting the kind of exciting events that the words “space empire” conjure up and it’s tediously long. (The last game I played was cut short well before its conclusion at 5 hours.) There are fun tasks built into “gigantic monolithic space empires” and Twilight Imperium doesn’t provide those things. Thankfully, the clever board game Eclipse was created for those of us that want to explore space and have fun at the same time.
Empire Building for Fun and Profit
The game of Eclipse isn’t a simple one but the goals and mechanics are easily understandable. At the end of nine turns you want your space empire to have the most victory points. Victory points are gained by participating in combat (more for winning), controlling hexes of the game board, researching technology, and forging alliances with other players. The biggest triumph of Eclipse is that all of these routes to victory are equally valid to pursue and all interact with each other. The game I played had four players with completely different strategies, and we were all (mostly) neck-and-neck the entire game.
Each of these routes of victory are also well presented and exciting. The game keeps all eyes on the table by preventing the possibility of “picking a course and sticking to it”. The research that can be researched each turn is determined by tiles drawn out of a bag, the contents of hexes are revealed as they’re explored, and combat is as unpredictable as it should. Every turn of the game is something fresh and new and it successfully kept my attention for four extremely fast hours.
In short, Eclipse is a space game that encourages space antics with your friends.
Blocks and Battles
While Eclipse’s heart is in the right place, it wouldn’t mean anything if the game was cumbersome to play. When you and your friends sit down to play a game that will take the entirety of an evening, the game can’t be confusing or frustrating. The route to victory (whether or not you make it there) should be clear and creating those fun space antics should be effortless. I can say with confidence that Eclipse is the first intuitive and graceful 4X game.
The interface for your empire is a play mat that sits in front of you. It measures your resources, your income, your ships and their upgrades, your available technologies, and even the number of acts you can take during your turn. Absolutely all the information you need is at your fingertips, and you can see the other player’s information as well. Eclipse presents all of your options clearly and encourages you to take decisive action. I was blown away by how easy it was to track and even predict the income of resources.
The game also makes sure that the scale remains manageable, erring on the side of simple/claustrophobic. The hexes make sure that you bump into your friends, and fleets of ships never get larger than perhaps 8 or 9 plastic pieces. Even tracking resources, controlled territories, and taking actions are all controlled by the same circular chip. You have to see this game in action to see how smooth it functions.
In short, Eclipse is a space game that encourages space antis with your friends and makes it easy to do so.
While this review is relatively short, that’s to Eclipse’s credit. The game gives a complex space-conquest experience for you and your friends without creating the levels of complexity that would get in the way. I’ve played Eclipse once with the Rise of the Ancients expansion built in and I’m hungry for a second chance to sit down and dig in. I found that the learning curve was extremely friendly and even though I was in last place due to newbie mistakes I had fun the entire time we played.
Eclipse is an easy purchase to recommend!