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Subject: An in-depth review of Eclipse rss

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Antti Autio
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Gina, Escher gang leader (Necromunda). Don't mess with her or she'll kick your ass.. actually, she's gonna do it anyway!
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Review of Eclipse from a playtester's perspective



Warning: a wall of text to follow!

Background and first impression

I was involved in the playtesting of Eclipse and have played about 15 games so far. Many of them have been with the early prototype and most with some experimental rules, but all in all I like to think I have a good-enough idea of the gameplay and balance to review the game. So, after one play with the final prototype and seeing the final components (I still don't have a copy of my own) I feel it’s finally time to write that long-overdue review. I’m reusing some of my text from earlier posts in the forums, so I apologize if you feel like you’ve read this before..

Let's start with a Disclaimer: Some might call me biased since I’ve been involved in the development process. They might be right to do so too, but I’m really not one to judge games based on their genre or designer (whether I know them or not) - and for me, good games are good because they are fun to play and bad games are bad because they’re not. That, in its simplicity, is my main criterion. Eclipse impressed me already in its early prototype stage by being an extremely fun and solid game to play. That is the only reason I'm endorsing it and why I bothered to be involved with it in the first place. I'm not getting paid or anything. In any case, feel free to take my views with a grain of salt. Also, as I have been familiar with the game for quite some time, my perspective is not a first impression but an in-depth look.

I do remember my first impression well, though. In early May 2010 I met up with Touko and Sampo at Sampo’s house and they enthusiastically explained their at-the-time unnamed game to me. Sampo had already given me a general idea of the game in an email conversation so I knew a bit what kind of a game to expect and was very eager to try it out. What surprised me from the get-go was the ambitious scope of their undertaking. A full-blown epic civilization-building game with all the 4X elements, no compromises? Playable in a couple of hours? You can design your own spacecraft blueprints? Are you freaking serious? I was a bit sceptical whether such a thing was even possible.

The prototype was very basic still, but looked nice and very functional already (I would’ve expected nothing less from Sampo having played his designs before). The game experience was really smooth and enjoyable, surprisingly euro-ish. The mechanics felt intuitive and allowed you to play the game, not the system. Everything made sense and the game had the right kind of "pull" that really good games have: it made you want to play again and again. We played three games in a row on that first evening and I left feeling hungry for more. My first impression was very positive and I rated the prototype highly at 8.5/10.

The game has developed a lot since, but the core of the game has stayed essentially the same. There were refinements and additional mechanics like Colony Ships and Diplomacy and the graphic design kept getting better and better. Once the guys found a publisher the work for finalising the game really got underway. Like many other playtesters, I tried my darnest to exploit the rules and point out oddities to be fixed or clarified and countless little steps and calibrations that Touko and Sampo made during the meticulous development process took the game from a great prototype to an exceptional finished product.

Get on topic!

On to the review then..

Overview

Components

Eclipse has a huge number of pieces and might look pretty intimidating at first glance. Each of the up to six players has a home sector hex, 16 Influence Discs and 33 Population Cubes made of wood, 18 Ships in four types (2 Dreadnoughts, 4 Cruisers and 8 Interceptors are represented by plastic miniatures and 4 Starbases by cardboard tiles), cardboard tiles for Colony Ships, Ambassadors, and player aid as well as wooden Storage markers to track their stockpiled Resources.

In addition, the game has a bunch of plastic dice and wooden damage markers that are used for combat, two cloth bags for Technology tiles and Reputation (Combat VP) tiles, Discovery and Ancient Ship (NPC aliens) tiles used in Exploration, Ship Part tiles used by players to upgrade their ship designs, Structure tiles (Orbital/Monolith) that can be built to augment the hexes they control and finally, a common Supply Board to keep track of the game duration (round progress) and available Technologies (and to provide a place for the other commonly available parts during the game - although it seems best to find another organizing solution for them to reduce setup/tear down time). All in all, around 900 pieces!


Quite a pile of cardboard you have there, Captain!

The component quality is very good. The pieces have a very nice size and feel and the graphic design is both beautiful and very functional. The components are not cluttered by text (all text is purely thematic), all game-relevant information is presented by clear and informative symbols, so the design is practically language-independent (except for the rules of course). If only more game designers and publishers would watch and learn!

How does it work?


A player board at the start of a game.

The game is run on two types of boards: the individual Player Boards on which each player controls their civilization’s production, actions, technologies, reputation and ship blueprints, and a modular Galaxy Board that is built up differently during each game session as players Explore hexagonal sectors of space, and move their fleets around. The board is not completely open, but instead all hexes have a number of Wormholes (between 2 and 5) in them, through which the movement to adjacent hexes is possible. This ensures the layout of the Galaxy will be different in every game.


The Galaxy at the start of a game.

The game is divided into nine rounds, each of which consists of four phases: Action Phase, Combat Phase, Upkeep Phase and Cleanup Phase. During the Action Phase players take actions in turn one at a time, going around the table until all players have taken as many actions as they want (or rather, can afford) and have passed. The first player in a round to pass becomes the starting player for the next round. Then all combats are resolved in the Combat Phase, paying upkeep and resource production in the upkeep Phase and finally in the Cleanup Phase the players’ used Influence and Colony ships are refreshed and new Technologies become available in preparation for the next round.

Influence Discs serve a dual purpose of either selecting actions on the playerboard or controlling sectors on the galaxy board. Thus the larger your empire, the more expensive it is to run and you have to strike a balance between the two. What also limits the number of actions the players may take are their Resources that are produced by your Population once they are moved onto the hexes you control. You’ll need Money to pay your Upkeep (which goes higher the more sectors you control and the more actions you take), Materials for building Ships and Structures and Science for researching Technologies. The speed of colonization is kept in check by the limited number of Colony Ship counters (3 for most species) which you have to flip in order to move Population Cubes from your production tracks to the corresponding squares on the sector hexes.

The Technology tree has an innovative non-linear structure: new Tech tiles are randomly drawn from a bag at the end of each round. The number of tiles drawn depends on the number of players. There are more of the low-level techs than the high-level ones and they are divided into three categories, Military, Grid, and Nano. Having techs of one category gives you "discounts" for other Techs from the same track, so researching them in order is usually a good idea. You are not limited to a strict tree, however. I really like this solution, as the variation of available technologies during a session adds to the replay value of the game and forces players to employ different strategies from game to game.


The Tech tree (not exactly final version)

Another innovative element is the possibility for players to design their own ship blueprints, in the vein of Master of Orion or Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri computer games. Different Ship Parts become available to players as they research the corresponding Technologies. This allows you to tailor your ships to specific needs, to mitigate the effect of luck and adds a bit of a rock-paper-scissors-type mechanic into the simple and effective combat system that is based on dice rolling. Gaining Reputation (Victory Points) tiles from combat is a good way to encourage fighting (not necessarily PvP, since there are also neutral NPC aliens called Ancients around) already early on and make sure that simply turtling will not win you the game.


The Ship Parts available in the game.

Let’s go through the available Actions. They are:

EXPlore: pick an empty space on the galaxy board adjacent to your controlled hexes or ships and turn over a new hex tile from the hex stack that corresponds to its location in the galaxy. You decide which way to place it, so you may affect the wormhole network and may also take control of it by placing an Influence Disc. If you don’t want the hex, you may discard it.
INFluence is an empire management tool that allows you to manipulate your Influence Discs: to give up or take control of systems and tweak your production. You may move two Discs as well as refresh two of your Colony Ships, which allow you to move Population onto your controlled hexes, boosting your production.
RESearch allows you to take one of the available Technology tiles from the Supply Board by expending stockpiled Science. Half of the technologies give you access to new Ship Parts and the other half give you different benefits like extra Influence Discs or allow you to Build Starbases or Structures.
UPGrade is the "design your own ships" action. It allows you to take Ships Parts from the supply and place them on your ship blueprints. This costs nothing, but you must have researched the perquisite Technologies. You may also return any number of ship parts from you blueprints.
BUIld allows you to build Ships or Structures at hexes you control by expending stockpiled Materials.
MOVe allows you to move your Ships on the Galaxy board, for example to attack the Ancients or other players.

Each player may play as one of the six Terran factions, which have identical stats, or choose one of the unique alien species on the flipside of the playerboards. The variable player powers of the seven player Species usually involve being better in some action(s) and/or having some extra VP scoring routes or other benefits/limitations. For example, Terrans are flexible, having a better Move action (move three ships/ one ship three times with one MOV action, as opposed to two for most species) and better Trade rate (converting one Resource to another at the cost of 2 to 1 as opposed to 3 to 1 for most species).

As a true 4X game, Eclipse has several victory paths - you gain Victory Points in many ways during the game, by doing the very actions that the gameplay requires: making Discoveries (by exploring and also by conquering Ancient hexes), controlling Sectors (exploring and conquering hexes), researching Technologies, building (or conquering) Structures called Monoliths, fighting and forming diplomatic relations. Multiple paths to victory means just that.. and you are free to choose your own path, too - it is not dealt to you randomly on a card or anything.

How do I classify this thing..?

So, what kind of a game is Eclipse? People in general (or perhaps it’s just me..?) have a pressing need to classify everything and categorizing games is a good example of this. Finding the right niche in which to drop Eclipse is not entirely simple, though. It is certainly a 4X space opera as far as thematic setting goes, but there are many games fitting that description, including some that have almost nothing at all in common with Eclipse. We’ll have to dig a bit deeper.

This is not a role selection or worker placement game: all actions are available to all players and one may even take the same action multiple times during a round. This is all handled by an extremely clever system that balances the expansion of civilizations very nicely and is practically bookkeeping-free!

The elegant resource management and action system is the core of Eclipse and it works very much like a eurogame. People tend to notice and get fixated on the conflict aspect and the dice rolling and random draw mechanics and label the game ameritrash, but in addition to the randomized elements there are many other mechanics in Eclipse to consider: economic/resource optimization, tile placement, area control..

Granted, it's a bit tricky to classify Eclipse into the traditional niches.. it has the fast and streamlined euro mechanics that run very smoothly, but also a deeply engaging theme and the exciting elements of direct player interaction. I might be biased, but to me it feels like the best of both worlds. Some have suggested the term eurotrash to define the genre.

Though the ameri-euro definition might be hazy, Eclipse is definitely a strategy game - not so much a wargame or a tactical game. However, it does have a lot of tactical aspects that require you to constantly review and possibly adapt your plans. Some of the different player species are more tactical and some more strategic in nature, but you won't get far with any of them without a solid strategy and developing your civilization by playing to their strengths and countering their weaknesses (and exploiting the weaknesses of your rivals, of course!). What that strategy will be might not be entirely clear yet at the very beginning of the first round, but it'll have to be formed during the first stage of the game.

How does it play out, where the "epic" in this epic?


A game in progress.

The game narrative forms a strong story arc, which really feels like developing your civilization from humble beginnings into a powerful empire of epic proportions. The challenges and goals in each of the game stages are very different in scope. Let’s have a look at how the game plays out. I won’t make this a rules recap, but a description of the goals in the different stages of the game. Each game session is different, so this is a generalization, but normally the game narrative is formed of three stages which typically focus on the four different "X's" in the following fashion:

The early game stage is where you eXplore your surroundings, you need to build up your production by finding suitable sectors to colonize and also affect the wormhole network as much as you can, according to your initial strategy. Once the majority of exploration is done, you'll see how the Galaxy has taken shape and where your points of interest are. This is typically done in the first 2-3 rounds and it is the point when you can finally set your long-term strategy for the rest of the game (the game is played for 9 rounds). It might be along the lines you had though in the beginning, but sometimes - because of those ever-changing randomizing elements that ensure each game is different - you'll find that some other path might serve you better, now that you know what's "out there."

Because of the wormhole system, the galaxy in Eclipse is quite different from many other space games that have an open map. The way you are able to affect the "topography" of the galaxy as you Explore allows you to go for different kind of strategies.. Will you try to build defensive points, turtle up and isolate yourself or go for open connections for trade and/or expansion by conquest? You also have to decide how to approach your neighbours - will you propose peace and trade relations or will you seek to seize their territory for expanding your empire? (or first propose a treaty and then stab them in the back later, you traitorous wretch..? ). Diplomacy is mechanics-wise perhaps the most simplified Civ aspect in Eclipse, but it works surprisingly well.

The mid-game stage is typically all about eXpand and eXploit - you try to build up your empire and manage your resources as efficiently as possible, develop technologies, build and tweak your forces and grab as many good sectors as you can before others take them, eXterminating Ancients and sometimes even other players colonies in the process. This is where players try to build a good position and fortify it the best they can, securing the control of the Galactic Centre if they can/dare (it is not needed for victory by any means, but it is a valuable high-VP, high-production sector - but also open to all directions and controlling it is basically an invitation for all other players to attack you sooner or later.. and oh yeah, it's controlled by a nasty defence system!).

Carrying out your strategy successfully, defending your territory and/or conquering more of it by direct player conflict, ie. eXtermination, are typically the most important aspects in the endgame stage (the last (two) turn(s)). Total player elimination (almost) never happens, but the threat of conflict is there and it keeps players on their toes, forcing them to fortify their positions and balance the risks and rewards of expansion versus defensibility throughout the entire game. The diplomatic treaties and the Traitor penalty for breaking them is another aspect to consider. There might not always necessarily be a whole lot of fighting in a game session after all.. but often some players will calculate their chances and see that in the end the only way they'll have a chance is to steal a sector or two from someone else. Besides, it's a shame to build a big pile of those nice shiny ships and not use them, right?

Based on my experiences with the game, it’s really hard to say what a "typical session" is like and what is "the winning strategy" - I’d say such things don’t really exist at all. The beauty of the game is in its diversity. The different VP routes really make different strategies viable and the subtle randomized elements in Exploration, Technologies and Combat Reputation as well as the different player species with variable powers make Eclipse a game with practically unlimited replay value.



Review

Disclaimer: All reviews are by definition expressions of personal opinion, not statements of absolute fact. My "patented" 15-point Review system is highly subjective and mirrors my personal preferences as a serious long-time gamer, who prefers strategy games and euro mechanics, generally dislikes high-luck games, loves a strong theme and as a visual professional, has his own ideas and strong opinions on art and graphic design. YMMV. I will, however try to adjust the ratings for each game I review according to the genre and intended target audience of each game (ie. while I'm personally more into gamers' games, I'm not going to completely bash a kids' game or a family game for being "too simple" even if I might not rate very highly either out of personal preference). That is why I will include the game category and fact summary in the beginning of the review, and separate recommendation at the end of it and try to discuss who the game is meant for. My personal rating might also differ somewhat from the technical review score because of personal bias, but I will invariably report both.

Basic information

Review category: Gamers' games, Strategy games

Game Length: 30 min / player
Number of Players: 2-6
Game Weight: 4/5 - Medium Heavy
Rules Complexity: 3/5 - Medium
Strategic Depth: 4/5 - High
Luck Factor: 2/5 - Low
Information: Incomplete - partially hidden VP (Combat Reputation), although most of the information is open
Mechanics: Tile placement, engine building, area control, direct player conflict, dice rolling, random draw, modular board, variable player powers


Eclipse is truly an epic 4X civilization-building game, but it doesn't take all day to play. It is built upon very intuitive mechanics that allow you to play the game, not the system and enjoy the rich theme. It is in essence very much a eurogame with loads and loads of highly immersive theme seamlessly integrated into the package.

At first glance Eclipse might appear very complex, but despite its considerable strategic and thematic depth it is a very intuitive game, easy to learn and to play. It is not a light game by any means, but the rules are streamlined, easy to understand and you don’t really need to go back to the rulebook during play once you get them down. Things make sense and you don’t need "to labour to play the game": mechanics work smoothly, there are no fiddly bits, actions are straightforward, there is no metagaming. The game's not playing you, you're playing the game.

Eclipse seems to scale well and is great to play with any number of players. It plays very fast for a game of this type and there is very little downtime: while others are taking their actions you may plan your own - and it’s fun (and highly recommended if you want to play successfully!) to follow how the other players are developing their civilizations. The "work-to-fun-ratio" is definitely right on this one. Your time is not wasted on any unnecessary details or waiting.

While I don’t mind luck in certain games (e.g. short filler games, miniature games) I’ve never been a fan of high luck factor in long strategic games. Eclipse does this right, in my opinion. The gameplay is at times so exciting it keeps you at the edge of your seat, but the balance between strategy and luck feels good. Despite the many randomized elements in the design, the true impact of luck in winning the game is minimal - there’s just enough to create the tension and uncertainty that makes combat situations exciting, but luck is very manageable and skill and strategic planning will always prevail over blind luck. However, if you wish, the game allows you to gamble and take risks if you are willing to accept the consequences. So you may also push your luck a bit if you like that kind of thing.


5-star Criteria

- Fun Factor: How much fun is the overall game experience, "work-to-fun-ratio"
- Playability: How well/intuitively do the mechanics work, how understandable and clear is the game information/rules, is the game fiddly.. etc.
- Visual Appeal / Graphic Design: The visual look of the game components, art, readability, how well is important information conveyed..
- Theme: The appeal of the theme and its impact in the game

3-star Criteria

- Immersion: How well are the mechanics and theme integrated, does it "make sense"?
- Game Balance: Is the game balanced, is the luck element appropriate for this type of game?
- Replayability: Does the game have lasting replay value?
- Player Interaction: Is there an appropriate level of player interaction for this type of game?
- Scalability: How well does the game work with different player counts?
- Game Length: Is the game length appropriate for the type of game? ("time-to-fun-ratio")
- Component Quality
- Expandability
- Rules Clarity
- Value for Money


I know it sounds a bit too much, but Eclipse simply shines in all aspects. It is above all an extremely FUN game to play. In my (highly subjective) 15-point review this adds up to an amazing score of 9.6/10 - I have rated the game a perfect 10 anyway, since it’s hard for me to think how this kind of game really could be done any better. The package works so well and is so much more than the sum of its parts, if you’ll forgive me for using such a clichéd expression.


My Likes:

* overall the game feels great to play, at least I get just the right kind of 4X experience out of it.
- all the 4X elements are included
- truly multiple paths to victory
- virtually endless replayability and expandability
- scalability: works great with any player count (2-6)

* the mechanics and theme are very well integrated, everything makes sense
- you have to balance the economic management of your empire
- you can do as many actions as you can afford
- no metagaming like role-selection or command counter management, you do the things you want to do, not what's left for you
- you win the game by playing the game, ie. you collect VPs from all the aspects of the game by playing it, not through some obscure goals or the like.
- no random game changers that throw the whole game off balance

* innovative and fun new mechanics that make the game experience enjoyable
- a dynamic tech tree that forces you to find a new tech strategy for each game instead of a scripted path
- designing your own spacecraft blueprints is fun and makes planning for attack and defence really interesting
- exploration that is fun and exciting and also gives you a chance to impact the layout of the galaxy according to your strategy
- economic system that is as close to bookkeeping-free as possible

* reasonable playing time that makes even six-player games playable in 3-4 hours, without cutting down the number of meaningful decisions you make during the game
- 30 minutes per player seems to work quite well as a guideline (at least once all the players have played it at least once)
- very streamlined gameplay: runs very smoothly, almost no downtime

* gorgeous and informative graphic design that is based on a wonderfully simple and elegant system of symbols and shapes - that is very consistent, informative and highly aesthetic. While the usability of the design is indisputably great, visual appeal of a design is of course highly subjective. I'm personally not a fan of screaming saturated colours and unnecessary decoration found in many game designs, so the subtle limited palette and no-nonsense look of Eclipse appeals to me. YMMV.
- beautiful informative components, that are language-independent and free from the need to read descriptions and rules all the time
- all the information you need is available at a glance at all times, no calculations or rules check-ups necessary.


My Gripes:

I’ve tried really hard to find any, but it’s very difficult. Many little things that I found a bit problematic during playtesting were addressed already in further development before the game was published. That doesn’t mean everyone has the same idea about this kind of game as I do, but for me the game has very little to whine about. Also, almost all the things I find something to complain about are such that they might easily be addressed in later editions and expansions with optional rules and components. These include:

* The minis could be cooler. Ok, they quite nice, they do their job very well, they’re made of really nice material and it’s pretty easy to convert and paint them, but I’m not a big fan of their look - it would’ve been cool (although not financially viable for the first edition) to have designs that really convey how huge these ships are really supposed to be. And it would be nice to have minis for Starbases too.

* I like the streamlined gameplay experience, it’s very elegant.. but sometimes it might be nice to delve even deeper into some aspect of empire building. Eclipse does a great job in incorporating all aspects of 4X, but there’s definitely room for expanding the diplomacy/alliance/trading mechanics and adding more complex tactical possibilities, etc. These should be optional though, as players’ preferences vary a lot. Wargamers might want more ways to play the combat system, others prefer more possibilities for peaceful player interaction.. there's always room to strengthen the theme, add variation to technologies, species, etc. and expand the possibilities for player interaction, but that comes with the price of added complexity and longer playing time (and the fact that not all players are interested in all those aspects). In any case Eclipse provides a very functional core and I don't see any reason why such additions could not be implemented in an expansion(s) as optional elements for players to add to their games if they like.

* Like any game with lots of components, the game might take a while to set up straight out of the box. There are many ways you can speed it up, though (and Eclipse is by no means that bad, e.g. Agricola is much worse). I recommend using the provided Supply Board just for Techs and the round counter (or printing out the neat compact tech board) and simply pouring all the Ship parts on a plate or small tray - they’re easy enough to sort through to find the part you need. Or buy some organizer boxes for all the different parts. Once you find a system that works for you, the setup becomes surprisingly easy and fast for this kind of game.

* Also, the game takes quite a lot of space to set up! The components are very impressive and I like that they are big, but it also means you will need a quite a big table to comfortably play the game. This is hardly surprising for this type of game, but worth keeping in mind. The game’s totally worth buying a new table for, though!


Comparisons to other games?

This sadly is something I can’t really go into. The game’s resource management is said to have some similarities to Hansa Teutonica and Through the Ages. I haven’t played either one. The game’s theme of space empire building and the modular galaxy have been likened to other space-themed games like Twilight Imperium, Galactic Emperor and Space Empires: 4X. All of these games seem to me very different in both their focus and their gameplay, but I haven’t played any of those either. So I guess it’s best I don’t say much more on the subject.. making a comparative review will be a topic for another thread (and reviewer, most likely).

The closest comparisons I can make from personal experience are actually computer games: I get a similar feeling from Eclipse as I did from Master of Orion and Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, both of which are among my all-time favourite games. Definitely a plus in my book.


Verdict

thumbsup thumbsup thumbsup

Highly recommended! Not exactly a cheap game, but well worth the money. Especially a must for anyone who enjoys 4X and empire building and Civ-style games, but I imagine many others will enjoy this as well - even people who are more into eurogames and economic games and those who are not so much into the Sci-Fi theme. Definitely worth a try for any serious gamer. It might look like "just another ameritrash game" (not that I think there's anything wrong with those, mind you) but it has much more going for it than that.



EDITed to fix some typos and to clarify the layout and a few wordings.
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Dan Williams
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Could this be the grail we have been looking for in a Civ game that doesn't take all day? I hope so. Already pre-ordered. And as much as I'm starting to get a bit weary of base games that seem to need an expansion for completeness, I have to ask. Is it expandable?
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Antti Autio
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topdeckgames wrote:
Could this be the grail we have been looking for in a Civ game that doesn't take all day? I hope so.

I think it has all the makings of it, certainly..

topdeckgames wrote:
And as much as I'm starting to get a bit weary of base games that seem to need an expansion for completeness, I have to ask. Is it expandable?

I feel it's very much a complete game that really doesn't need anything more. At the same time I think it's easy to see how there are tons of possibilities to add different elements to such a functional core. So, yes - it's very expandable.
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Andy Andersen
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Well done review, sir. thumbsupthumbsup
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James Derbyshire
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That was a great insight and review. Thank you very much. I already have the game on pre-order, so was already excited and now even more so.
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Oliver Kiley
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Great review!

I have Eclipse near the top of my wishlist and hope to get it when I can.

As one designer to another designer, striving to create the 4x/space-civ grail game, I have a lot of admiration for Eclipse's design and its designers. Fantastically cool looking game with an ever-growing success story. Looks to be a winner for everyone!

I remember back before Eclipse picked up a publisher and the game first jumped to the top of the hotness. I was surprised/shocked at some of the similarities, on a casual inspection, between Eclipse and Hegemonic which had been in development for 6-months or so at that time. Both games have hex sector tiles, cubes and discs, and an eerily similar looking player boards!

(Apologies if I end up derailing the thread here)

Nonetheless, having read the rules to Eclipse I think the two games will feel quite a bit different. Eclipse appears (at least to me) to be a fairly literal embodiment of the 4X genre, which is a testament to the quality of the design that it’s playable in 2-3 hours! Hegemonic on the other hand is certainly more abstracted.

But I think there is a more profound difference too. I keep thinking that Eclipse is to Chess as Hegemonic is to Go. Eclipse progresses (in my observation of session reports) with a more sequential expansion of your empire, with players controlling fairly discrete and contiguous territories as they expand and establish "fronts" against other empires.

The board state in Hegemonic is in a much greater state of flux and players can quite literally jump to the other side of the galaxy at any point and start expanding (much like being able to place a stone nearly anywhere in go). There are very few "fronts" in the conflict, as each player essentially manages three separate facets of their empire (industrial, political, and martial), which inevitably become intertwined with those of other players. They are just different designs.

I hope when it is Hegemonic’s time for publication that it is able to achieve the kind of success Eclipse has had in such a short amount of time. Can’t wait to try it out and best of luck!
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Antti Autio
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Mezmorki wrote:
Great review!

Thanks!

Mezmorki wrote:
I remember back before Eclipse picked up a publisher and the game first jumped to the top of the hotness. I was surprised/shocked at some of the similarities, on a casual inspection, between Eclipse and Hegemonic which had been in development for 6-months or so at that time. Both games have hex sector tiles, cubes and discs, and an eerily similar looking player boards!

To be fair, there have always been many games that have maps composed of hexagonal tiles, for the simple reason of geometry: there just isn't any other way to make a modular map of identically-sized pieces (save for a simple rectangular grid of course, but that's boring and limiting, unless you allow diagonal movement.. I know Civ does this, but still).

Mezmorki wrote:
Nonetheless, having read the rules to Eclipse I think the two games will feel quite a bit different. Eclipse appears (at least to me) to be a fairly literal embodiment of the 4X genre, which is a testament to the quality of the design that it’s playable in 2-3 hours! Hegemonic on the other hand is certainly more abstracted.

But I think there is a more profound difference too. I keep thinking that Eclipse is to Chess as Hegemonic is to Go. Eclipse progresses (in my observation of session reports) with a more sequential expansion of your empire, with players controlling fairly discrete and contiguous territories as they expand and establish "fronts" against other empires.

The board state in Hegemonic is in a much greater state of flux and players can quite literally jump to the other side of the galaxy at any point and start expanding (much like being able to place a stone nearly anywhere in go). There are very few "fronts" in the conflict, as each player essentially manages three separate facets of their empire (industrial, political, and martial), which inevitably become intertwined with those of other players. They are just different designs.

I hope when it is Hegemonic’s time for publication that it is able to achieve the kind of success Eclipse has had in such a short amount of time. Can’t wait to try it out and best of luck!

I'm also quite sure that there's plenty of room for both games to succeed out there. Good luck with your game development!
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Eric Henson
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A superb review! Thanks for the awesome read. Now I'm going to go even more crazy for my copy to arrive!
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Sven J
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Very interesting review! thumbsup
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UA Darth
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Dice rolling and low luck? I don't think so...
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Jonathan Ramundi
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I would say the luck factor is "medium", myself. But that's not based on dice rolling alone; the drawing of hex tiles, discovery tiles, and technology tiles each play a small part.

And while the luck in combat can be mitigated by an individual, when it comes to player-versus-player combat, chances are the fleets are equipped such that they're forcing each other to roll sixes (or high numbers at least).

Not that any of this is a bad thing. I think the game has the perfect amount of luck, and I'm particularly fond of the combat system (and how it relates to ship customization).

EDIT: For clarity/additional info.
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Oliver Kiley
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shadow9d9 wrote:
Dice rolling and low luck? I don't think so...


I don't know how well Eclipse does or doesn't do this, but I think dice can work perfectly well and be a "low luck" mechanic provided one or more of the following occurs:

- Holistically, you can manage your risk and/or strategy such that you are never forced to roll dice in a situation where you can't afford to loose. Part of this is being able to ascertain the odds of a favorable outcome (or not) and plan around it.

- The die results yield different pathways and options rather than a definitive result. I.E., you end up doing something more with the dice than just "getting screwed" by whatever result you roll.

Anyway, just some thoughts!
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Petri Savola
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Jotora wrote:
I would say the luck factor is "medium", myself. But that's not based on dice rolling alone; the drawing of hex tiles, discovery tiles, and technology tiles each play a small part.

And while the luck in combat can be mitigated by an individual, when it comes to player-versus-player combat, chances are the fleets are equipped such that they're forcing each other to roll sixes (or high numbers at least).

Not that any of this is a bad thing. I think the game has the perfect amount of luck, and I'm particularly fond of the combat system (and how it relates to ship customization).

EDIT: For clarity/additional info.

Having played the game about 15 times I agree with Antti and think the luck factor in this game is "low". Yes, you do roll a lot of dice in combats, but usually the outcome of combat can be predicted quite accurately if you know how to calculate the probabilities. There's some luck in exploring, but in the published version there are no ridiculously good systems. If you face a lot of ancients during exploration, you'll just have to change your plan and deal with the ancients. It's possible to get even 10 points from discovery tiles and this can make up for the slower start.

Good players can game after game always accumulate 30-50 points (or even more) in those 9 rounds, while average players usually tend to get 20-30 points. If the game would be dominated by luck, you wouldn't see this happening.
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Jonathan Ramundi
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I agree with that, but never did I say that the luck was a determining factor. This game definitely favors skill above all.

Perhaps then, what we actually disagree on is the categorization of this amount of luck. I would have originally thought this was a '3' (on a scale of 5, as was used in the review), but now I see that perhaps you're right; that it is more of a '2', when considering how much of an impact it has on winning/losing.

I mistakenly lumped "luck" and "randomness" in the same category. My mistake.
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Chris B
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Thanks, very informative. I'm really looking forward to this one.
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Armando Gurrola
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This review officially pushed me to take off Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition from my list. Shorter time and sounds pretty epic are wins for me. (Edit:I also don't like that most people feel the expansion is necessary and just adds more time....I think it's just not for me).
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UA Darth
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I have yet to find a game that mitigates a majority of the luck in a dice roll. Any game that has dice to determine the outcome of battles pretty much is defined as a luck based game imo. The whole "it should average out" often repeated assertion just doesn't bear out enough, and if that were really the case, you might as well eliminate dice rolls and give each player an equal amount of success/fail cards.
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Antti Autio
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shadow9d9 wrote:
Dice rolling and low luck? I don't think so...

shadow9d9 wrote:
I have yet to find a game that mitigates a majority of the luck in a dice roll. Any game that has dice to determine the outcome of battles pretty much is defined as a luck based game imo. The whole "it should average out" often repeated assertion just doesn't bear out enough, and if that were really the case, you might as well eliminate dice rolls and give each player an equal amount of success/fail cards.

Nobody is claiming that the game is low-luck because the inherent randomness of dice rolls would somehow be eliminated (although it is quite possible for you to modify your ships so that you will succeed in your rolls 5 times out of 6 - that's 83,33 % of the time).

What I'm talking about is the effect that luck has on you winning or losing the game - and that's almost negligible (Sure, sometimes the final scoring might be really close and your opponent beats you by 1 point just because he was slightly luckier with his Reputation draws or something.. but hey, that's the nature of the game! It's 1 point out of 40+ so it's hardly "luck-based").

If you eliminate the uncertainty from combat you also eliminate all the tension and excitement from it and make the game a boring AP-prone calculation exercise. Like Petri pointed out above, you can approximate the combat odds pretty well. It's your decision if you choose to take them or not. If you start a fight with un-upgraded ships, roll badly and lose, don't blame luck, blame yourself. (and if you get attacked by a someone else.. well, that's your opponent either playing well or taking the risk). The game does give you the possibility to make it a high-stakes game and take risks if you want to, but it certainly doesn't force you into it!

There are several randomized elements in the game, including:
1) dice rolls in combat (mitigated by design of your ships)
2) What kind of hexes show up when exploring:
. a) rich production or poor/no production sectors (mitigated by Discovery tiles gained from poor systems)
. b) Ancient-controlled sectors that pose a military challenge and limit early expansion (mitigated by the fact that the systems they guard are better than most and grant you a Discovery tile as well)
3) What kind of Technologies become available (there is no one winnig tech strategy - you'll have to adapt to the situation)
4) Randomized value (1-4) of combat Reputation tiles (mitigated by the fact that the more you fight and the more successful you are at it the more tiles you get to draw and choose from)

I love these variable elements because they mean you'll have to adapt your strategy and provide a different game experience every time. With careful strategic planning you may minimize the effect that bad luck has on you and also try to capitalize on it when luck favours you.. this is in my opinion the only way to play the game successfully. The game is only as random as you let it be.

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Very nice and informative review. Thank you!

Now I only need my copy to arrive from finland (preordered it after the SPIEL and after hearing so many good things about it). Hopefully they will be sent out soon.

Bye
Thanee
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Peter Ferguson
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very interesting. How do people feel that combat is in this game?

I liked Twilight Imperium to a point, a found that usually the games fall into a cold war where people build up armies, but no one wants to attack, because defeat in a single battle can mean loosing the game.

If you loose a battle, your opponent will either press the attack, and if not, one of the other players will do so, weakening you further.

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Antti Autio
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Gatekeeper3000 wrote:
very interesting. How do people feel that combat is in this game?

I liked Twilight Imperium to a point, a found that usually the games fall into a cold war where people build up armies, but no one wants to attack, because defeat in a single battle can mean loosing the game.

If you loose a battle, your opponent will either press the attack, and if not, one of the other players will do so, weakening you further.

I think Touko said in one of his Designers' Notes that one of his starting points for the game design were the problems he had noticed in others games (like fiddliness and bookkeeping in Through the Ages, and the open map and fighting generally being bad for you in Twilight Imperium).

The way that you impact the layout of the Galaxy by Exploring allows you to create some defensive choke points and makes it easier to defend your territory (at least until somebody discovers the Wormhole Generator technology..). You don't need to build huge fleets simply as a deterrent and thereby the "bounce on the weak" effect is reduced.

Fighting is encouraged also by the fact that it's generally beneficial to you, since it is a way to gain Victory Points, not just territory. You gain Reputation even when losing fights. However, only the best legends of you deeds are remembered (the amount of combat VP you may hold is limited) so you can't rely on fighting alone as a VP source. The system also cleverly encourages early fighting with the higher expectation value for Reputation (as the game progresses the better tiles tend to get picked out of the bag).

(EDIT: typos and clarity.)
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Jonathan Ramundi
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Gatekeeper3000 wrote:
very interesting. How do people feel that combat is in this game?

I liked Twilight Imperium to a point, a found that usually the games fall into a cold war where people build up armies, but no one wants to attack, because defeat in a single battle can mean loosing the game.

If you loose a battle, your opponent will either press the attack, and if not, one of the other players will do so, weakening you further.

I noticed you're in the city. I plan on hosting a couple of games at TABSCon on the 19th, if you're interested. Otherwise, I'm usually free at least one day of the week and willing to play, so let me know if you want to give the game a try. If you have any buddies who would also be interested, please have them tag along as well. I'd love to form a dedicated Eclipse group within close proximity; one that meets and plays once a month (or more) maybe? Let me know.

PM sent.
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Ido Abelman
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100th thumb-up for you. I liked the review, my wallet... didn't like it so much shake ...
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Matt Olson
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My kind of review - great stuff. Of course, now you're responsible if it doesn't fulfill my wildest hopes and dreams
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Thomas Schwarz
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Great Review! Got my copy in Essen and get it on the table for the first time this saturday... Really looking forward to it!
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