Sunday, July 15, 2012

Eclipse- less filling, but the taste?

I have an abiding love for Twilight Imperium. This is an epic science fiction boardgame that takes a full day and many players to get through and comes in a box big enough for a small goat to fit in.

Hey, how do you know you live in New Hampshire? Goats and livestock are handy measuring devices.

Of course the awesomeness of Twilight is decreased slightly by the need for a full day of play and many players who can manage lots of rules and esoteric components. For that reason I'm seeing a lot of games appearing that try and capture the Twilight spirit but without the effort and time required. One example is Eclipse. In a game of Eclipse players take turns exploring the galaxy and developing their economies, their military, or their scientific infrastructure. New areas appear as hexagon shaped tiles with random assortments of planets on them. Players can take the roles of alien races and get benefits or drawbacks specific to those races. There's a strong role of alliances between players and knowing when to break an alliance and when not to. All of this has a feel very similar to Twilight.

In its favor you can learn Eclipse quickly and finish in an evening. The components are of nice quality but are far from intimidating. The economic system is challenging but not excessively complex and the technological developments are easy to learn. In our last game we had several players who were very excited by the game and felt it really scratched an itch.

Space Battle in Eclipse
I personally don't like Eclipse very much. For one, I feel like it functions primarily as a war game. There is little chance of winning without a powerful fleet and engaging in lots of battles. Obviously I'm pretty happy with war games but I like Twilight because of the multitude of victory conditions. Eclipse is about building up a fleet and then blasting your neighbors.

Now assuming you're in the mood for a space fleet game you will at least want a somewhat balanced game. This is Eclipse's other major drawback. The map of the galaxy is developed randomly. For this reason players may discover very valuable planets nearby or they may discover junk. Further, some areas may have alien artifacts which give huge ongoing bonuses. In our last game one player discovered vast tracts of empty space while another lucked into one after another system filled with resources. It's very challenging to develop resource-poor areas so your only option is to go on the offensive and at that point you're Space Greenland taking on Space Germany.

Finally, Eclipse retails for around a hundred dollars. In contrast Twilight Imperium sells for ninety. It's hard to justify spending More on a "lighter" version of a game, or to justify spending a hundred dollars on any game that isn't really amazing. But, if you're hankering for space empires and money is no object then certainly Eclipse has its share of fans.

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