[Review published on Summer 2012 Gamers Alliance Report Issue]
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …”, gamers were looking for a perfect science fiction 4X game (that is, a game of “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate”. It was a time when Avalon Hill releases were eagerly awaited, Stellar Conquest by Metagaming was a hit for fans of the genre and Task Force Games, with Star Fire, shocked the believer (I still have all the released manuals and I’m also been a fan of the PC translation of the game). At the same time, Amarillo Design Bureau released Star Fleet Battles and fans began to design campaign rules.
But the real “big bang” for the genre was in 1997 with a game from an almost unknown designer, Christian T. Petersen, for a small new company, Fantasy Flight Games: Twilight Imperium! It was the rise of a new era. Since 199,7 every 4X game was compared to this “Giant” and it was not easy. Twilight Imperium, in the second and, above all, third edition, has all a science fiction gamer looking for a full and deep experience could want provided, of course, that the player has at least having something close to 6-7 hours of play time available and enough players to join him for that. So, as with Civilization, there was a chase for the perfect game playable in less than 3 hours. Race for the Galaxy, Galactic Emperor, The Phantom League, Ascending Empires and Space Empires: 4X have all gone in this direction, each with some degree of success. But the game that really seems to be able to approach this “ideal” of the perfect 4X game has been Eclipse, currently rising in the Olympus of BoardGameGeek’s top 10 (actually, right now, it’s 6) in something close to one year from its release. Now let’s see what Eclipse is all about.
Eclipse is a 2-6 player game designed by Touko Tahkokallio that places you in control of a vast interstellar civilization, competing for success with its rivals. You explore new star systems, research technologies and build spaceships. There are many potential paths to victory so you need to plan your strategy according to the strengths and weaknesses of your species while paying attention to the other civilizations’ endeavors. The game mixes well the theme and sense of a typical American game with solidity and the mechanics of the best Euro, starting from a non-monolithic turn sequence, with quick actions and reactions.
A game round is split into 4 phases: action, combat, upkeep and cleanup with the action phase actually being the part where most of the game takes place.
During the action phase, each player, in turn order, can take an action moving a disc from the influence track to the action task. As actions are taken, the influence track becomes less populated, resulting in an increasing upkeep cost. Influence disks are also used to mark stellar systems under empire control: this is an excellent idea for simulating the increasing costs of an expanding and active empire. At some point, costs will become so high that a player will decide to pass: the first player to pass will be the first player in the next turn, the last one to pass will end the action phase.
There is also the possibility to “react”, using influence disks after having passed. These sort of “half actions” could prevent other players from taking too much advantage from an earlier passing empire. It is evident, and I like, that an Empire without economic resources will have to slow down activities and expansions.
Now we can quickly go through the different actions.
Read the full review on Summer 2012 Gamers Alliance Report Issue