Board Game Review: Eclipse

The galaxy has been a peaceful place for many years. After the ruthless Terran–Hegemony War (30.027–33.364), much effort has been employed by all major spacefaring species to prevent the terrifying events from repeating themselves. The Galactic Council was formed to enforce precious peace, and it has taken many courageous efforts to prevent the escalation of malicious acts. Nevertheless, tension and discord are growing among the seven major species and in the Council itself. Old alliances are shattering, and hasty diplomatic treaties are made in secrecy. A confrontation of the superpowers seems inevitable – only the outcome of the galactic conflict remains to be seen. Which faction will emerge victorious and lead the galaxy under its rule?

A game of Eclipse places you in control of a vast interstellar civilization, competing for success with its rivals.  Players explore new star systems, research technologies, and build spaceships to wage war.  For anyone who’s played Twilight Imperium before, this game owes much to it.  Each player starts out in a home system—an octagonal hex in a largely unexplored galaxy of yet unplaced hexes.  Players, each representing factions of a galactic council, take turns exploring (placing down new tiles), researching technologies, upgrading the blueprints for ships, building new ships, or moving ships.  When a new planetary system is explored a player may also spend an influence tile to take control of it, and then use colony ships to take control of planets in the newly influenced system.

What makes Eclipse particularly clever is the game’s system of resource management.  Each action taken using influence tiles reveals the debt of a growing empire.  When colonizing planets, players remove small wooden cubes from a similar tracker, revealing increased income.  In a style similar to Ticket to Ride, these resources are tracked on the edge of each player’s race-mat.  Because players rarely have to take manual tally of income or expenses, game play is considerably faster than other games of the same scope.

Good, Bad, Ugly, Planta?

Each race in the game comes with a handful unique advantage, from rapidly expanding plant people to wealthy oligarchs.  For a simpler starting experience, every player has the option of flipping over the race-mat and playing as a faction of the splintered Terran forces (humans).  Terran races have advantages of their own, but are a little more straightforward.

During the course of the game, it is likely you will encounter each other.  While ship combat takes place using D6s at the end of each round, you’re always welcome to offer a potential opponent a trade agreement.  Trade agreements grant both players an ambassador token, worth a victory point at the end of the game and a resource during the game.  Later in the game if either trade partner wants to break the agreement that player may; that player gains the traitor card (worth minus 2 victory points), and both players lose ambassador tokens.  This creates an interesting sort of subtle diplomacy.  I’ve seen players get wiped almost off the board for refusing a trade agreement, and I’ve watched a player assume a trade agreement kept them safe, only for a sudden (but inevitable?) betrayal.

Upgrading ships is another fun mini-game within Eclipse.  Adding extra hull points to ships will let them take more hits, adding stronger weapons will either let you roll more dice, or let your hits inflict more damage, and adding targeting computers will let those hits inflict more damage, but you must always ensure you stay within the power limitations of your ships’ generator.  Some of these upgrades are available to all players, some must be researched first.  Some races even come with differently configured ships.

Tim plays games. Rawr!At the end of the game victory points are tallied up.  Players gain points for colonized systems, certain advancements, major military victories, or focused technological development.  Eclipse plays in roughly two hours with an experienced group, although your first game can take longer.  I’d recommend it for anyone over the age of 14, and for 2 – 6 players.

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