23 Sep 2013

First Time Playing: Eclipse

Another week with my table top group, another game to dive into. This week there were a couple of options that I hadn't played before, but this one was without a doubt the game that looked and sounded the most interesting (when your options are either a sports theme or a space theme, it's pretty easy to decide). In Eclipse you have the options to play as either humans or an alien race of some kind (some which look and sound pretty cool, others which, well... look like shrubbery... no, I mean actual shrubbery) and you're exploring space, earning resources, building and upgrading ships, and fighting over territory.

Right off the bat I just need to say that while the box claims the game takes roughly 30 minutes per player - it's nowhere near accurate. We were four players and only one of us had never played this game before. If we include setting up and explaining the rules, the game lasted roughly 4 hours. So, don't engage in this game unless you have significant time to spend on a game.

Now, my first impression of this game was that it reminded me a lot of Terra Mystica (which you might remember I wrote about a couple of weeks back). It's not a complete carbon copy, but it uses a lot of the same game mechanics (but with some variation). At the start of the game we are given (or we choose) a colour, and each colour have two character options, printed on each side of a player board. Like Terra Mystica you have a bunch of pieces (here cubes and circular pieces) that you will put on the main board (or in this case; tiles) to occupy spaces.


But unlike Terra Mystica you place cubes to earn things, and the circular pieces to take actions or to occupy tiles. The more cubes you have placed, the exponentially higher the your income will be (which are divided into money, technology and resources). The more circular pieces you've placed, the exponentially higher the (money) cost will be (so you depend on balancing your budget and planning ahead for upcoming rounds). The number of actions you can take is only limited to much you can pay for and the number of pieces you can place (but you only take one action at a time) - the first player who passes gets to be the first player in the next round (there are only nine rounds in the game in total).

There are different types of actions you can do, like exploring, where you draw a tile and (if you want) place it on the board adjacent to one of your own areas (there are some rules on what tiles can be placed in what region), if it is a tile void of enemies, you may choose to claim it as part of your region by placing one of your circular pieces at its centre. If it comes with enemies you have to later try to invade it with your own ships. You may also buy a research tiles that you place on your board to make ship upgrades (or other game benefits) available to you. You may upgrade the features on your different ship types (unless you choose one of the basic upgrades, you will need research tiles to get the parts you want). And you may choose to build ships (and in a later turn you could choose to move them  in attempts to conquer more space).

Once all players have chosen to pass, any players who are in enemy territory or have enemies invading their space will engage in battle (different coloured dices represent the different types of weaponry available and will cause different amounts of damage if rolling a successful number). The battle ends when either one side loses their ships or a player chooses to retreat. You then draw victory tiles according to how well you did in the battle and add one of them to your player board (there are limited spaces, so you will probably exchange some of them for tiles worth more points later on in the game). Then players will pay and collect their income. More technology will be made available and a new game round starts.

When we played, I ended up in last place for three very specific reasons:

1) I was the only player who wasn't already familiar with this game (which will always put you at a disadvantage, because it takes you a couple of rounds before you learn to utilize your resources the best possible way).

2) I really didn't luck out with the alien race I played (since the other three players went with their alien race, I felt I should do the same). Yes, I had an advantage in terms of scoring points on the areas I conquered, but at the same time my ships were crap (no matter how I upgraded them, my options were limited), and I always got to shoot last, which meant sometimes my ships were totalled before I could fire a single weapon (side-note: this isn't a game to play if you get angry easily).

3) The dices really, really hated me this game. My opponents kept rolling double-sixes, and I had to spend a lot of resources to try again a couple of times before finally conquering a new land.

It's a fun and interesting game, but you definitely should be used to resource management type games before taking on this one. I actually would say that Terra Mystica is an easier game to get into, and I benefitted from having played that when I played this game. It helped me understand the basic mechanics pretty quickly, and my experience with playing certain worker placement games (The Manhattan Project comes specifically to mind) has taught me the valuable lesson of utilizing my options before ending a turn.

There's also a mechanic in the game where you upgrade your ships by picking energy sources, weaponry, shields, etc. I wouldn't necessarily say you need to have previous experience with this, but if you have played games like Galaxy Trucker where you put together different components in order to make your ships the strongest possible, then you'll have a slight advantage when upgrading your ships in this game. I say slight because you have a very limited number of spaces to place the components and you have to reserve certain spaces for certain type of components that must always be part of the ship (while in Galaxy Trucker you are more free to build what you want where you want).

The interesting thing with Eclipse that I so far haven't encountered in another game (remember, I'm very much a newcomer to table top gaming) is the ability to still do actions after passing (they are just a bit limited, compared to the options you have before passing). This really made the whole concept of finding the right moment to pass much more interesting, because depending on what you needed to complete in your turn you could manage to both do what you needed and still run away with the first player position.

So, to quickly sum things up. Don't engage in this game unless you have hours to spend, and get some experience with resource management (and maybe a little worker placement as well) before choosing this one. And be prepared to be steamrolled by the dice rolls - holy crap those dices hated me!

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