I am a fan of science fiction and have been looking for a good sci-fi themed, conquer the galaxy board game for some time. The obvious first choice was Twilight Imperium (3rd edition). Typical game length for TI is 1+ hour per player. In our first game of TI it took us three hours to get through 3 turns. Getting the time and the players together for such a long game was a chore. Twilight Imperium is not a cheap game, so I held off purchasing it as I really wanted to be sure it was something I would get a lot of use out of before I bought it.
Then last year along came Eclipse. I missed the first order (they ran out of copies) and had to wait for the second printing which came out around May, to get my copy. Although approximately the same price as TI, the reviews for Eclipse were very good and it maintains a high rating on Board Game Geek. The group I regularly game with has been running a Warhammer tournament for the last few months, but last week I finally got a chance to try out a short 2 player game. We did a test game, reading the rules as we played, getting a feel for the game before introducing it to a full 6 players.
My first impression Eclipse was mixed. Although the game is of good quality with lots of plastic bits, a first read through of the rules left me confused. I spent some of my professional career rewriting the work of others, so I have little patience with poorly worded or non logically laid out information. Perhaps during my first read my brain was off, but I found them confusing. I am happy to report that my first impression was wrong. Our test play through went very well and I found the rules very simple and logical. I think part of the problem is the seeming complexity and the number of bits. Reading through the rules and coming across numerous references to various tokens that you have no idea what they are can put you off.
For our test game we set up the board and then read through the rules as we went through a turn. Done this way, the game is logical and elegant in its simplicity.There are four parts to the turn, the first being the action phase, the most important. Players go around the table and each player in turn takes an action. This continues until all players have passed. Once you pass you cannot take any more actions (although there are a few actions you can take, called reactions, which are cut down versions of actions). Of course, taking an action costs you resources, so you have to balance actions with what you can afford. Again, once you get the hang of it, it is very obvious.
Being a space conquest game (4x), Eclipse includes technology upgrades. I am always concerned with this portion of a game, as it can easily be done poorly or in a way that is frustrating. That one tech that you really need, yet every turn someone steals it from you. By having players draw a certain number of tiles to determine what can be researched, the game allows a lot of flexibility. In our test game, the planets I explored were mostly ones that had labs. As a result, I had lots of research points at the beginning. Due to a few high level picks from the tech bag, I was able to research the higher power shields (Phase Shields) skipping the lower ones completely and giving me a combat advantage. However, my noticeable tech advantage came at the cost of less money each turn, something that greatly impacted my ability to take actions.My point being that the game seems well balanced. While able to dominate in the tech area early, this had significant effects on other areas.
The combat system is straightforward, using 6 sided die. Plasma Cannons, Plasma Missiles, Ion Cannons and Antimatter Cannons all have different amounts of damage they deal, while Computers can enhance your chance to hit, Shields can lower the enemy's chances, and Hulls can be improved to give them more hit points. Initiative order based on the ship type and engine determines who goes first. Straightforward yet flexible enough, the combat system fits in well with the rest of the game.
Anyone playing this game for the first time, I highly recommend you set the board up and run through a turn as you read the rules. While I was initially daunted by what I thought was illogically written rules, once I set up the board and went through a turn I was struck by how simple and logical, yet flexible, the game system was. I cannot wait to give this a try at our next game day.
30 Oct Update: We tried a full six player game on Saturday. I was the only one with any experience with the game.
I started out by giving a quick overview of the game, explained all the various parts and what they meant, and how a turn worked. This took about 15 minutes. By then everyone was keen to get going, so we decided to just explain each action (explore, research, etc) as a person picked it. Everyone usually picks explore the first round, so it is an easy way to introduce the actions. Overall, the game went fairly smoothly, although with six players some people were getting bored before their next turn to go. As a result, some were not ready and time was wasted. The box says 30 minutes per player, we were more in the area of 1 hour per player. Also, I don't think we moved the turn marker at the end of every turn, so I think we played 11-12 turns.
The game was enjoyed by all and most agreed that, once you got into it, it was logical and straightforward.
We will be adding this to our rotation and may even try again, this time with aliens, at our next game session.