One of the games from Spiel 2011 that I keep hearing great buzz about is:
Eclipse was designed by Touko Tahkokallio, a designer from Finland. The game is being published by Lautapelit.fi, and Asmodee will be releasing it in the US. The game is playable by 2-6 players aged 14 and up, and takes 30 minutes per player (so, 1-3 hours). As you can probably tell from the cover, this is a sci-fi game. As with many epic sci-fi titles, you’re in control of a civilization, trying to expand and become dominant. There are many paths to victory, so let’s take a look.
There can be six players in a game of Eclipse, so there are six colors. In each color, there are 14 spaceship miniatures, 4 starbase tiles, 33 population cubes, 16 influence discs, and 3 ambassador tiles. The game features a modular board, so there are 37 sector hexes, 8 inner hexes (101-108), 11 middle hexes (201-211), 18 outer hexes (301-318), a galactic center hex (001), and 6 starting sector hexes (221-226). Each player gets a player board, and there’s one supply board. Additionally, there are 96 technology tiles, 154 ship part tiles, 21 discovery tiles, 22 colony ship tiles, 21 ancient ship tiles, 1 galactic center defense system tile, 32 reputation tiles, 27 orbital/monolith tiles, 2 crowded hex tiles, 6 summary cards, 1 traitor card, 4 info cards, 18 d6 in three different colors, 18 storage marker octagons in three different colors, 12 purple damage cubes, a starting player marker, a round marker, and two cloth bags. That’s a lot of stuff, and it translates into a $100 price tag, which is huge, but seems to be more and more commonplace these days.
The Galactic Center is the central hex of the board. On top of that goes a face down discovery tile and the galactic center defense system tile. Each player puts a starting hex one of the predetermined places based on the number of players. Basically, there will be an imaginary hex between your starting tile and the Galactic Center. You’ll put one ship, three population cubes, and one influence disc on your tile. Other player bits go on your board – influence discs, population cubes, and storage markers. I like the start player mechanic here:
Give the Starting Player Marker to the player who has spent the least time on the planet Terra, in the Sol system.
Since, in this game, Terra is Earth, this is a fancy and thematic way of saying the youngest player goes first. Love it.
Eclipse is played over nine rounds. There are four phases in a round – actions, combat, upkeep, and cleanup.
ACTION PHASE: Beginning with the starting player and moving around the table clockwise, each player can take one action or pass. If you take an action, you’ll move one influence disc from your track to the action track. Each action you take will reveal a number. During the upkeep phase, you’ll have to pay as much money as is shown in the leftmost revealed space. If you don’t want to take an action, you can pass. The first person to pass gets the starting player marker in the next round. There are six possible actions:
- Explore – Pick a space next to one of your ships or influence discs, and draw a tile. Inner hexes (I) go in a concentric circle around the Galactic Center. Middle hexes (II) go in a concentric circle around that (this circle also contains your starting hexes). Outer hexes (III) may be built freely on the outer edges of the board. You can also discard a tile you draw, but this ends your turn. To place the tile, at least one wormhole must line up with a wormhole on one of the tiles where you have a ship or influence disc. If the tile has a discovery symbol, place a face down discovery tile on it. If it contains ancient symbols, put the indicated number of ancient ship tiles on it. You may then take control of the tile by placing an influence disc from your influence track. You take the discovery tile when placing your disc, which either gives you a bonus or points (you decide which). Ancient ships must be destroyed in the combat phase before claiming the tile. After placing an influence, you can activate colony ships to place population cubes.
- Influence – Here, you may move up to two influence discs. You can either move them from your influence track to an unoccupied hex next to a ship or influence of yours; you can move from one hex to another; or you can move from a hex back to your influence track. If you remove influence from a hex, you must also remove all cubes from that hex.
- Research – Choose an available technology tile, pay the science cost by adjusting your storage marker, then place the technology on your board in the proper category (military, grid, or nano). Each one you get gives you a discount on the next one, though each tech has a minimum cost. There are three types of techs: ship parts, which give the ability to upgrade a ship part; build, which gives the ability to build a ship or structure; and instant, which gives a one-time effect.
- Upgrade – With this action, you’ll be able to add new parts to a ship’s blueprints – specifically, up to two tiles from the supply board. This can include cannons, computers, shields, hull, drives, and energy sources. Most ship parts require a certain technology to build, and the total energy cost of your ship parts can’t exceed your energy production. Before taking tiles, you can discard some previous upgrades to make room.
- Build – You’ll get to construct up to two ships or structures by paying the material cost. Some of these require a technology to build. These ships go in any hex where you have an influence marker.
- Move – Move up to three ships the amount allowed by their movement values. You can only move through completed wormholes, and you can only move into explored hexes. If you enter a hex containing ancient or enemy ships, you have to stop and do combat in the next phase.
- Pass – If you pass, you’re not allowed to do any more actions. However, you are allowed to do one of three reactions, which are essentially weak actions: upgrade (take only one ship part), build (build only one ship or structure), and move (only one ship once). You take this action by moving an influence disc to your summary card.
COMBAT PHASE: After everyone has passed, you move on to the combat phase. If there are enemy ships sharing a hex, there will be a combat (beginning with the hex that has the highest number). The ship with the higher initiative goes first, rolling dice for each ship of that type as indicated by icons on the ship’s blueprint. Ties are broken by the player with influence in the hex, or (if no influence is present) by the first player to get there. You’ll choose which enemy ships to assign dice to. 6 is always a hit, 1 is always a miss. Other dice may be added together with your computers, and any result that is greater than or equal to 6 is a hit. If a ship collects enough damage, it’s destroyed – otherwise, it collects damage cubes. You can also retreat. After the battle, you draw reputation tiles based on the results.
UPKEEP PHASE: Following combat is the upkeep phase. First, you may activate any remaining colony ships to move population cubes to the board. You’ll then collect income and pay the upkeep cost, as indicated by the revealed influence circles. If you can’t pay, you have to lose influence from the hexes. If you don’t have enough influence to lose, your civilization collapses and you lose. After paying, you collect science and materials.
CLEANUP PHASE: New tech tiles go on the supply board according to the number of players, and influence used to activate actions go back to the track. Colony ships are made available again, and a new round begins. After the ninth round, the game is over. You get 1-4 points per reputation tile, 1 point per ambassador tile, 1-4 points per hex with influence, 2 points per discovery tiles used as points, 3 points for monoliths on their own hexes, 1-2-3-5 point for 4-5-6-7 techs on a track, -2 points for the Traitor card, and points from special bonuses. The player with the most points wins.
I’m not super familiar with the 4X games. In fact, I didn’t really know what that meant until I looked it up. Basically, it refers to four critical elements of gameplay – explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. The genre has famously been associated with sci-fi games (such as Twilight Imperium and Ascending Empires), but isn’t limited to them (Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game is considered to be a 4X game). It seems to be a heavy genre that is gaining some momentum recently. I haven’t played any of the 15 games identified as 4X in the BGG database, but Eclipse is the third one this year, so I’m guessing we’ll see more of it in the future. It may even turn out to be a genre that becomes as explored as the 18xx train games.
My opinion, though, is that I’m not extremely excited about the game. It looks cool, it sounds engaging, but there’s just something that doesn’t appeal to me. I can’t exactly put my finger on it – maybe it’s the combat, maybe it’s the nature of having to readjust and refer to the blueprints, maybe it’s something else. I don’t know. That’s not to say that I won’t try it if given the opportunity – once I get a chance to experience how the technologies affect the game, I may change my mind. We’ll see.
Thanks for reading!