Buzzworthiness: Eggs & Empires

Today’s review is of a small game that has a bidding element:

image by BGG user riddlen
image by BGG user riddlen

Eggs & Empires was designed by Benjamin Pinchback and Matt Riddle, and was published in 2014 by Eagle-Gryphon Games.  This is the first game in their so-called EGG series, which consists entirely of small box games.  This one is for 2-6 players and takes about 25 minutes to play.  The theme behind the game is that you are trying to collect the most valuable dragon eggs while trying to avoid those that explode in your hands.

This game comes with 60 player cards, 42 egg cards, a tie-breaker marker, and 13 egg tokens.  Each player has an identical deck of ten numbered cards (1-10).  Each number has a specific power, which I’ll go through later.  At the start of each round, you draw three cards from your deck.  A tiebreaker marker is given to one of the players at random.

There are nine turns in each round.  At the beginning of each turn, you will reveal 2-4 eggs from the egg deck (depending on the number of players).  These could be positive points or negative (exploding eggs).  Each player selects one card from their hand and plays it face down.  When all have selected a card, you reveal.  The player with the highest card gets first choice of eggs, then the second highest, and so on until all eggs have been taken.  Ties are broken clockwise from the player with the tie-breaker marker, and then the tie-breaker is passed to the left.  It’s only passed if there’s a tie to be broken.  The turn ends with a new card being drawn from your deck, and a new set of eggs is revealed.

Here are the 10 abilities in your deck:

  1. Bard: No ability.
  2. Scout: After eggs have been collected, look at the top card of the deck, then put it face down as an egg to be collected on the next turn.
  3. Shepherd: You collect before the Blacksmith.
  4. Courier: If you collect an egg, you may give that egg to another player.
  5. Merchant: If you did NOT collect an egg, you get 6 VP at the end of the round.
  6. Priest: If you collect an egg, you may discard any collected egg from your score pile.
  7. Mage: You never collect face up exploding eggs.  You can choose whether or not to take a face down card, but if you take it, you must keep it.
  8. Blacksmith: If you did NOT collect an egg, you lose 4 VP at the end of the round.
  9. Dark Priestess: If multiple Dark Priestesses are played, they cancel each other out and none collect eggs.
  10. Hero: No ability.

After the ninth turn, the round ends.  This means you’ll play all but one card from your deck.  You’ll then total up your points and give the tie-breaker to the player with the lowest VP.  After three rounds, the game is over and the player with the most points wins.  The egg tokens included in the game are for pub scoring – the player with the most points at the end of the round gains a token, and then the first one to 2-3 tokens wins the game.

image by BGG user riddlen
image by BGG user riddlen

COMPONENTS: The main component in this game is the cards.  They’re of pretty good quality, though since they get shuffled together a lot, you may want to sleeve them.  The art is quite nice, as done by Cristian Chihaia.  The tiebreaker marker is an egg with a little stand and there are some smaller egg tokens to be used with pub scoring.  There’s no way to keep track of scoring if you’re tallying VPs, so you’ll either need a pen and paper or some kind of app on your phone to keep up with that.  But overall, the components are very nice.

THEME: The theme of collecting dragon eggs is unique, I guess, but it’s not super apparent here.  The game really boils down to a numbers game – my 10 beats your 6, my 3 beats your 8, my 1 doesn’t beat anything but that’s OK because there are only negative points available.  The eggs and characters help add some flavor to the game, but I wouldn’t call it a strong theme.

MECHANICS: This game combines one of my favorite mechanisms (role selection) with a mechanism that doesn’t excite me very much (bidding).  The secret selection of the card you want to use serves two purposes – you want a higher number so you can get the better egg, but you also may want to play a card to use its ability.  It’s a pretty natural pairing, and I think that this is an instance where the blind bidding aspect actually works for me.  You know how many points everything is worth, and you know what your opponents have already played.  So you can try to deduce what they’re going to try and plan accordingly.

The tiebreaker system in play here is pretty crucial.  With the same ten cards in everyone’s deck, ties will have to be resolved frequently.  The solution the designers came up with is to have a rotating tiebreaker marker.  Now, full disclosure, I have never played with the actual tiebreaker rules.  When I was taught, the person who had the tiebreaker kept it for the entire round, then it went to the player with the lowest VP total.  So that’s the way I played it when I taught it a few weeks later.  When I got the tiebreaker in the final round of my second game, I was able to use it to my advantage and win egg I tried for.  That seemed to me to be a significant advantage for whomever got it, and was one of the things that I wasn’t crazy about in the game.  And I was all set to write about that problem in this review until I actually read the rules and saw that it’s supposed to pass after every tie.  I can’t speak to how well that works, but I do think that probably fixes my issue.  The tiebreaker IS important when selecting your card for the round – if you’re the last one in turn order for a 15-14-13 VP egg array, and no one has played a 10 yet, you might be in trouble if you go high.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There’s a lot of luck pushing in this game, but a lot of it is trying to outthink your opponent.  I think you’re going to play an 8 this round, so I’m going to play a 3.  I played a 2 last round and saw that there’s a face down exploding egg, but I’ll play high-ish now to make you think that it’s better than it is.  You’re at the mercy of the cards in your hand and the cards that come out of the egg deck, but the abilities do help to mitigate things somewhat.

ACCESSIBILITY: I would put this as a solid gateway game.  It’s pretty easy to understand (see those high valued eggs?  You want to play numbers high enough that you can get those) with enough nuance in the variable powers to make it more than just War.  It’s a game I think anyone can pick up.

REPLAYABILITY: This falls into the same category as a game like Love Letter or Coup to me – not a whole lot of variance within the game components, but still lots of replay in the way the roles can be used to accomplish your goals.  Plus, it’s a quick game, which means you can play it several times without too much effort.

SCALABILITY: Simultaneous play means that it works well with all numbers.  There is a two-player variant in which you shuffle together two player decks and play two roles at a time.  I haven’t tried it, but it seems like that would work OK.  BGG thinks the game is best with 4, and I can get behind that, but I also like the chaos of having more players too.

INTERACTION: Because everyone is playing from an identical deck and trying to get the same cards, there’s lots of interaction in just trying to outguess everyone.  And when a plan works out, it’s a great feeling.  This game does have a high interactivity value.

FOOTPRINT: This is a pretty small game that could be played in some pretty small spaces.  All you really need room for is the egg array.  So just about any size table will do.  You could even play this on an airplane tray, though I’d caution you against talking about exploding eggs if you do.

LEGACY: I invoked Love Letter and Coup earlier.  I do not consider Eggs & Empires to be a microgame – there’s 102 cards, that’s way too many – but it does play in that style.  It’s got that minimalist feel in the role selection that does make it feel like Love Letter and Coup, even though it uses a lot more cards to accomplish that.  Still, I’d say it is in the same overall category, just not in physical size.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I like this game a lot.  It’s fast, there’s a significant amount of chaos involved, and my wife likes it (which is definitely a plus for me).  On my Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale, I have to give it a

Yeah

Thanks for reading!

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