Reviewed by: Dave
Approx. 3 hours
(Note: This review is based on Eclipse with the Rise of the Ancients expansion.)
The great vastness of the galaxy awaits you! Which, oddly enough, can only be explored via wormholes that spit you out in specific areas that are frequently inhabited by rivals. The joys of travel, right?
Eclipse is a game based around (mostly) economics and (somewhat less) combat. It takes place over nine rounds, during which you take your chosen species and attempt to ramp up your economic engine to run roughshod over the interests of the other players. One of the more interesting facets of the game is that your economic power is entirely turned towards building and improving your fleet, but player vs. player combat is often of the pick-your-spot variety. Players can make the game wild and hectic if they like, but often the first several turns are required to clear out aliens that infest the planets you find- by board game NPC standards, even the low-end ones require a relatively decent effort to remove them.
The game begins with players building the galaxy by pulling hex tiles and placing them alongside the ones that start on the board. This continues until all the hexes have been played; new players are advised that this can happen very quickly in a large game, and that taking some economic risks to make sure you can place more hexes near your starting area may be a good idea. However, this part of the game requires some thought: do you build away from other players and attempt to limit their ability to invade your territory, or do you open up somewhat and make contact to form alliances? (New players are also advised that alliances, of which you can have up to three, are critical to getting your economy in gear.)
From there the game becomes about choosing how to spend your resources. Do you build ships, purchase new technology for your fleet, or upgrade your fleet with that technology? Are you powerful enough to take on the tougher alien menaces, or even other players? Or can you race to victory on the power of your vast explorations and insurmountable defenses?
Rating this game is interesting, because it is by no means for everyone. Even amongst its target audience, it must be made clear that there is a learning curve involved- the new player advice in this review may lessen the curve, but it will not eliminate it. And that can be frustrating for new players, especially those up against experienced foes, because this is very much a snowball type of game. Those who get rolling early continue to amass power, while those who fall behind (due to, for example, not forming early alliances due to ignorance of their importance) have very little chance to catch up. This can result in playing a game for three to four hours and needing to treat the last half to three-quarters as a learning experience because you realize early on you already have almost no chance to win.
But if you can deal with that, Eclipse is a tremendous game. Its design promises that both the galaxy you explore and the way you build your fleet will change from game to game to a degree few other games can match. As long as you know the base strategies to get started, it is not difficult to remain in contention until at least the last couple of turns, largely eliminating the potential newbie frustration. And the power you attain for your ships by the endgame borders on the insane; there's a certain visceral satisfaction to watching your fleet evolve from peashooters that require rolls of six to hit anything to monstrous dreadnoughts that fire an armory's worth of missiles at a shot.
8.5/10 (anywhere from 6-11 depending on how this type of game suits you)