The deep, dark blackness of space is calling your name. Out there, in the vast, starlit expanse, lie the worlds that will encompass your future empire. The galaxy is calling your name, and it is up to you to explore its untamed horizons, but you are not alone in your endeavor. Other civilizations, some human, some alien, also contend for supremacy over the wide regions of space, and not only that, but the bygone remnant of an ancient alien civilization lies in wait, ready to oppose anybody who stumbles across their scattered remains. How will you ensure your victory over the galaxy? Will you research advanced technology and crush other civilizations with your scientific prowess, or will you create an indomitable military, customizing your fleet of ships to be as deadly and efficient as possible? Will you vow for peaceful isolation, and stay far away where other life can’t reach you, or will you engage in diplomacy, teaming up with allies and stomping your enemies together? All these choices and more are yours to make in Eclipse.
Eclipse, 2012’s epic, spacefaring 4X game, is no joke. Designed by Touko Tahkokallio and published by Asmodee/Lautapelit.fi, Eclipse is the game that tries to do everything at once, and, unbelievably, succeeds. Eclipse has you forging your own path as you build your space empire. Players will gather resources, manage an economy, explore the deep reaches of space, research technology, build a military, and take part in diplomatic relations with other players in their quest to rule the galaxy. Eclipse is a big game, and although I will try, it’s hard for me to believe that even a 7,000+ word review could begin to cover its massive depth. But, here goes…
How do you play the game? Is it a fun experience? How much interaction is there between the players? Is there very much luck involved? Will it take forever to to learn and teach?
Ah, but if only it were that easy, right? The devil is in the details with Eclipse, and there are a lot of details in this game. It’s not that bad though; ultimately, all you’re doing on every turn is choosing one of those six actions, so once you’ve got those down, the game actually isn’t too hard to understand.
But before we get to that, let’s just start out with the board. The starting board consists with one central hex, surrounded by player hexes, one per player. These hexes, however, are not joined together; the empty space between must be explored for more of the board to reveal itself (but more on that later). Each player starts out with their own hex, with three wooden blocks, a disc, and a spaceship on top. Each of these represents something important, and you’ll want to get as many of them on to as many hexes as possible.
The wooden blocks represent populations, and you’ll notice that each cube sits on top of a different planet, over three different colors; this represents people from your empire settling on these respective planets. Every planet yields different resources (represented by those three colors), and the greater population you have spread out across hexes, the more you’ll produce.
The ship is exactly what it looks like, a spaceship that can move around or attack enemies. The little guy you start out with is child’s play compared to the other ships you can build later. Should you choose to spend more resources, you can build Cruisers, and should you choose to spend even more, you’ll end up with a mighty Dreadnought, a ship that’s a bit slower, but loaded to the brim with firepower, armor, or whatever customizations you might wish upon it.
The wooden circle every player starts out with is an influence disc. These discs are used for two things—taking actions and claiming hexes. See, you can’t actually put populations on a hex unless you control that hex, which requires a disc. Since you need population to produce more resources, it’s quite essential to put those discs down on the board, but every single one you place reduces the amount you have left. This is important to understand, because the more discs you have on the board, the more expensive your actions become. Running an empire isn’t cheap, and you’ll have to pay the price should you decide to overextend yourself. This is all part of Eclipse’s sophisticated economy system, which I’ll get into later.
So, what do you do in Eclipse? Like I mentioned before, it all comes down to those six actions. Each one makes up an essential part of your action catalogue, and you’ll likely use all of them to most effectively meet your goals. To play an action, you’ll take a disc from your disc track, and place it on the corresponding spot on your player board.
The first thing everyone always wants to do is Explore. Exploring is just what it sounds like; you choose a direction to go, and see what surprises are lying in wait for you. Every hex has little half circles on certain edges, which represent wormholes; these are the paths through which you can travel. When travelling between hexes, you must always go through a wormhole. Playing an explore action allows you to draw a tile, and connect it via wormhole to whatever tile you’re exploring from. This means you to choose the configuration of how your tile is placed, effectively allowing you to blaze your own path. When a tile is revealed, it can be immediately claimed (with one exception) by the player, permitting them to put another disc down from their board. If the planet has planets, the player may choose to move population cubes onto the hex, and claim a discovery tile if the hex came with one. Discovery tiles grant you special bonuses and abilities; players may either choose to claim its respective ability, or cash it in for two VPs instead.
Influence is the next action, and it allows you to move around your influence discs. You can place two more on the board, move two around that are already up there, or do a combination. Unfortunately, removing influence from a disc also means you lose your populations, so you’ll have to say bye-bye to your production, unless the new hex has room for them. It’s important to know that population cubes can only be placed thrice per round, using “capital ships” that thematically function as transports. At any point during your turns, you can flip one of these over to place a cube. Once they’re flipped, they can’t be used again. Fortunately, there is an exception to this, and that’s the other thing that an influence does for you; it allows you to re-use two capital ships. If you need to rearrange your dominion, influence is the action you’ll be using.
Research is your third choice, and it allows you to spend resources on sweet abilities that differ all across the board. Research has its own monetary unit, represented by your pink population. The more pink planets you settle on, the more research points you’ll produce each round. The majority of research upgrades consist of blueprints for superior ship upgrades, which we’ll be discussing next, but there are some nifty things that stand out on their own. One upgrade, for instance, allows you to travel through partial wormholes, opening up twice as many movement options through the board, while another allows you to gain more discs, lightening up your action cost and granting you better action economy. Research upgrades can be a boon to your game, and regardless of your strategy, you’ll probably find yourself buying at least a few of them. It’s also worth noting that the research tracks grant a cumulative discount; the more you research in one category, the cheaper the other parts will become.
If you’ve got some cool ship parts, then you might want to Upgrade, which is our next action. Upgrading allows you to choose any two ship parts that you have access to, and place them onto your ship blueprints, which will grant your ships whatever power is contained in the part. There are six different types of ship parts, and your ship can host any combination of them.
Your ship’s “blueprints” are at the top of your board, and they’re a map for whatever abilities your ships currently possess. If player one (we’ll call him Biggs), for example, had three Interceptors on the board, the Interceptor blueprint shows what all of them are capable of doing. If Biggs were to suddenly swap one of the parts with another, all three of his ships would immediately lose the former and gain the latter ability, and any new ships would be the same. Although the ships come with pre-listed abilities, these can be overwritten. Don’t think your medium ship needs that extra armor? Ditch it and replace it with a cannon! See someone approaching with lethal firepower? Toss everything you’ve got and load up on shields! There are endless combinations to be had here, and using the Upgrade action is your key to their potential.
Build is the fifth action, and is rather self-explanatory. Build, just like Research, has its own economy, and brown resources are used to pay. With the Build action, a player can up to two things. By default, players can build ships and starbases (which are essentially non-mobile ships, think of them as defense posts). There are two other structures that players can build, should they research the ability to do so—these are monoliths and orbitals. Monoliths can be placed on any hex to bump their victory point value up by three, and orbitals allow you to place an additional population cube (pink or orange) of your choice. This is handy if you’re lacking hexes with planets and need to grind out some higher production.
Movement is the sixth and final action, and allows you to, wait for it, move. This movement applies to your ships, and they can take up to three “moves” with one Movement action. A “move” is defined by their blueprint, which dictates how many hexes a “move” consists of. For default ships, the number is one, meaning that with one Movement action, a single ship could move across three hexes. Should their drive afford them three hexes, one Movement action could allow them to travel across nine hexes, three per “move.” Moves can also be divided across multiple ships, for instance, three ships could each move once and so on. Moving your ships either allows you to engage an enemy in combat, or to have a presence on another hex. A ship on an empty hex will allow a player to claim it with an influence action (if they’re not already connected to it), while a ship on an enemy hex will automatically engage them in battle at the end of the round.
Speaking of battle, it deserves a section of its own. Battling plays a large role in Eclipse, whether it be against other players, or NPC ships. That’s right, there are NPC ships in this game, and there’s a chance of them popping out every time a new hex is revealed. These are the Ancients, and if a hex is revealed on which they make their home, the hex cannot be claimed until they’ve been defeated. This means that, even if you wish to be conflict free with your other players, you’ll have to fight eventually if you want to get rid of those pesky ancients. It is possible to go a whole game without needing to fight one, but let’s just say it’s never happened to me.
So, back to battle. If two players (or a player and an ancient) share a presence on a hex at any point, they must go into battle at the end of the round, no matter what, period. This means that moving into an opposing hex is always a declaration of war, no matter what. If you simply wish to “pass through” an enemy hex, the rules dictate that you must leave at least one ship per enemy. If there are three enemies and you want to move five ships through, only two of them will make it to the destination hex.
Battles are initiated at the end of the round, and continue until one side is completely eliminated from the hex. As far as the combat goes, the ship blueprints determine everything here. The general rule is that players take turns rolling dice, and score hits if sixes are rolled, but the blueprints add all kinds of stipulations into this. Initiative marks on ship parts determine the order in which ships attack each other, while cannons determine how many dice are rolled per ship, and how much damage they do should they hit. Hulls absorb attacks, and essentially represent the amount of hit points the ship has; a ship with no hulls will go down with one hit. Computers increase the efficiency of weapons, adding modifiers to your dice rolls to increase your odds of reaching a 6, while shields do the exact opposite, subtracting their respective number from an enemy roll. These are all powered by your energy source, which is basically the battery power of your ship. You can only use as many upgrades as your ship’s source can provide; using more powerful tools will require a more powerful source.
As far as the dice go, sixes always hit and ones always miss. This is made relevant by the computers and shields. If, for instance, a 5 is rolled with a +1 computer, it will turn into a 6 and be considered a hit. However, should the enemy have a -2 shield, that 6 will turn down to a 4 and turn into a miss. Logic dictates, then, that rolling a 6 would also be a mix, because the final result between computers and shields would be a 5. This is not the case; natural sixes hit no matter what, and natural ones miss no matter what. This means that not even a +5 computer or shield could save those rolls.
After combat, participants in the battle draw tiles from a drawstring bag; the efficacy of their combat determines how many tiles they can draw. Whatever amount that ends up being, they can only keep one. These tiles represent victory points, meaning that the better you do in combat, the higher your odds are of getting good VP tiles.
Finally, once combat is said and done, resource reconciliation occurs. Players must pay for their actions used that round, and they also produce. This is where Eclipse’s resource tracking mechanism shows its elegance; every cube on your board covers up a number, and as you pull cubes off, the number gets bigger, which number is the amount you produce each round for that given resource track. This allows you, as well as everybody else, to have a quick reference of how well each player is doing with their economy.
Anyway, remember that action cost I talked about? This must be paid at the end of the round; whatever number is uncovered on your disc track must be paid for by your orange resource count. The resources you have available to spend aren’t represented by the numbers under your blocks; those ones indicate how much you produce each round. The amount you have to spend is indicated by markers on a number track on the perimeters of your player board. Essentially, you have to make sure that the number you spend is offset enough by the number you produce as to not send you into the negatives. If your orange economy goes below zero, you’ll either have to trade pink and brown resources (2:1) to bring you back up, or remove influence discs from the board to reduce the amount of action debt you have. After you reconcile your action economy, you move your pink and brown markers up by however much they produce, and the round begins anew.
This repeats itself nine times over, at which the game will end, and the player with the most victory points will be declared the winner. Huzzah!
What I like about Eclipse is that it’s one of those games where you can do everything. Assuming your group is willing to play something a little heavier, it can appeal to most any type of gamer. It’s got a ridiculous multitude of difficult choices for the thinking-man eurogamers, it’s got exploration and area control for the visual board-gamers, it’s got combat, diplomacy, and manipulation for the aggressive gamers who reminisce about fond memories of backstabbing their friends in Risk, and it’s got economy, abilities, and progression for the engine-building gamers. Eclipse has got it all, and the amazing thing is that all of these things work; it doesn’t feel like some desperate cacophony of mashed-together mechanics, it’s more akin to an orchestra, where its mechanics come together in a melodious harmony.
What really sold me on Eclipse, though, is its ability to become the game that your group needs it to be. It’s not uncommon for people with similar tastes to come together, and although everyone has their own opinions, I’m sure that every board gaming group has their own tastes and preferences; some like aggressive games with high interaction, while others would rather see who can build the best economic engine while keeping to themselves. When your group plays Eclipse, you’ll find that, together, you’ll morph it into the game that you want to play. Don’t like fighting, or being “mean?” Watch as each player closes up their area, fighting only Ancients and declaring peace with neighboring players. Want to be a megalomaniacal conqueror who strikes fear into the hearts of his enemies? Watch your opponent uncomfortably adjust himself in his seat as you suddenly move two Dreadnoughts adjacent to his space, knowing that with one action, you’ve broken the unspoken truce that has reigned up until that point.
This of course, can cause problems. Due to its versatility, Eclipse can either be a really good game of whatever you want it to be, or a game that ends up being a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-none. This identity crisis can occur when your group isn’t on the same page, and that’s why I must emphasize: if you play Eclipse, make sure everyone’s on the same page. For example, if one player decides to just keep on their own and see what they can do with exploration and resource production, they might not take kindly if you build a massive fleet and crush them under the heel of your bloodstained boots. The player might not have been prepared for such an aggressive experience, and it might just dampen their enjoyment of the game. How do you avoid this? Communication. Eclipse can get extremely competitive, and if you make a sort-of pact beforehand where everyone agrees that it’s fair game to get points any way possible, then you can go into the game expecting foul play to come up eventually—better start building those armies early.
On the other hand, your group might want to do things a little more softly. Maybe your group puts more value on having fun than on getting points through whatever means possible. If this is your agreement, then it doesn’t necessarily mean that no aggression is allowed, but it’s implied that it will only be used practically. If somebody hasn’t built anything but is going to wipe the floor with exploration points, then a logical move would be to take some of her real estate away; if someone is building ships and planning for aggression, maybe it makes sense to fight against another player who wants to fight. Basically, it’s just implied that you won’t stomp into the losing player’s space and steal of his hexes just because it’s the easiest way for you to win. Some groups love dirty, zero-sum aggression games, while others like to be civil. Eclipse affords the opportunity to be both, just make sure that that’s understood by the players. If so, the game will be a blast.
Eclipse’s length is a fiddly thing. It depends on so much—how many players are participating, how well they know the game, how well they’re able to make decisions without overthinking, and so on. Eclipse’s advertised playtime is 30 minutes per player, but so far I’ve only found this to be true with two players, and that’s after they both know the game well. It almost seems like the playtime increases exponentially per player added. I don’t want to use the word exponential, because that might sound a little too scary, but it definitely does increase substantially with each added player. Most of our games have been three or four players, and it’s been hard to finish a game in under three hours. Most of them don’t go over four hours (though a few of them have), but three to three and a half hours seems like the average. Every group will vary with their play time, but there’s one thing I can say for sure about Eclipse: don’t play it if you’re on a time constraint. This is a game that should be played when everybody’s got time, and they’re ready to play board games until the fat lady sings. You just never know how long it’s going to go on for.
Setup is also pretty brutal with Eclipse. The components! Goodness, those components. Eclipse eats other games’ components for lunch. Eclipse is loaded with hexes and dice and chits and blocks and pieces and boards and ships and you-name-it. Setting up will take a while, usually at least fifteen to twenty minutes for me (though I also tend to get distracted). The economy system that uses blocks and discs to unveil numbers is elegant, but admittedly a pain to set up. Every player must individually place each block on each number, and you’d better not be nearby when something bumps somebody’s board and displaces all of them.
Speaking of setup, investing in some of these block organizers from The Broken Token would probably save you a ton of grief during both set-up and playtime. I haven’t actually bought them myself, but every time I play I end up thinking to myself, “hmm, those would have been nice to have.”
The bottom line here is that, between setting up, playing, and taking down, this is not a game to play if you’ve got a flight to catch any time soon.
There is, of course, loads of little details to memorize—you have to know what all of the ship parts do, what the research upgrades do, which resource track corresponds to what, and so on, but these things aren’t a total pain to memorize. The ship parts come down to six different categories, so despite the fact that there’s a lot of them, most of them are just upgraded versions of the base parts. Research upgrades are accessible in a finite capacity, so it’s really only important to explain the ones that happen to come out during the round you’re on, and the other stuff just kind of falls into place.
In most of my sessions where new players have joined (which have been many), Eclipse takes twenty or thirty minutes to fully explain, but from then on the players have a pretty solid grasp over everything. Overall, the game isn’t difficult to teach and learn, but it might take a little while.
Every player has a lot going on. Everyone’s producing resources at different rates, everyone has different amounts of action debt to reconcile, everyone has different ships with different blueprints, and everyone builds the map around them in their own, specific way. If a player starts to become too much of a threat, the onus is on other players to intervene. If you’re ignorant of your fellow players, don’t come crying to me when your next door neighbor suddenly builds eight ships in the neighboring hex nearby.
Up to this point, I haven’t talked much about the diplomacy of Eclipse, which is, in fact, built into the rulebook. See, space conquest doesn’t have to end in plasma cannon bloodbaths, people can hold hands and be happy together and have peace. If you explore a hex that happens to connect to an opponent’s, you may choose to engage in diplomacy; a diplomatic relationship means that players aren’t allowed to attack each other. There is even incentive to do this, as two diplomatically engaged players can each send each other a population cube, which frees up more production on any track of your choice. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be Space Benedict Arnold if you don’t want to. Should you decide to break your truce by attacking your partner, you’ll gain the sleazy “traitor” card which is a -2 Victory Point penalty at the end of the game…unless, of course, somebody else plays the traitor, in which case the card passes to them.
This means that Eclipse has interaction in two ways – the interaction that’s built into the game rules, and the meta interaction that will inevitably occur when players start to form alliances, formulate betrayals, and scheme ways to manipulate their opponents into serving their own ends. This is definitely something you’ll want to play if you love this kind of tension between players.
How much strategy is involved? Is there a sense of variety and balance? Does the game play well no matter how many players there are? How long does it take to play?
To examine the strategy of Eclipse, it’s important to remember one thing: The game is about getting victory points. There are so many things to do in this game that it’s often easy to just focus on what feels good instead of actually analyzing the best way to gain points.
The bulk of anyone’s points will come from two sources—exploration, and combat. Holding a hex allows you to retain the point value of that hex, so the bigger your empire is in the end of the game, the more points it’s worth. Combat, on the other hand, allows you to draw tiles randomly from a bag that grants you victory points; the better you do in battle, the more tiles you’re able to draw. You’re only ever able to keep one, but superior military prowess increases your odds of getting good points.
Of course, it’s not as simple as it sounds; exploration gives you points, yes, but claiming loads of hexes spreads you thin. Combat may be effective, but you’re going to use a lot of actions to build your ships up enough to make them a potent threat against other players. Is it worth it? The strategy in Eclipse, then, is to find the right balance between the game’s elements and maximize your point potential between them. In every game I’ve played, each player has tapped into just about every mechanic of the game. While there is of course specialization that occurs, it’s hard to completely ignore any major aspect of gameplay.
That, to me, is what makes Eclipse interesting; it allows you to focus on a specific strategy if you want, but makes it very difficult to win if you don’t give at least some attention to the other important things. This helps to keep the game balanced, as it’s hard to find a single tried-and-true cookie-cutter strategy that always wins; there isn’t really one that exists because you have to dabble in all of them a little bit.
Let’s imagine two hypothetical players: Biggs and Wedge. Biggs decides that he wants to play the game non-aggressively, and he wants to expand to as much territory as possible to stack up on resource production and endgame points. Wedge, on the other hand, goes the aggressive route. He’s going to build a fleet that divides and conquers. Should either of them want their plan to work, they’re going to have to make some compromises.
Biggs, for example, will spread himself thin if he expands too quickly, and he’ll easily leave himself open for attack, should Wedge decide to move in. Biggs decides that the best route will be to explore outward, and lay his hexes in such a way that doesn’t allow anyone to enter his area unless they go through the center hex. He chooses to voluntarily block himself off. This means that, instead of having to defend his area on multiple fronts, he could heavily fortify his “entry hex” with all manner of defense. This is risky, for a couple of reasons: first of all, a Wormhole Generator could pop up at any second, allowing opponents to move into his blocked off hexes, and second, having too many tiles on the board will spread his action economy thin; even if he has no more need to explore, having only two turns a round makes it very difficult to build up defense.
Wedge, on the other hand, wants to go offensive. Sure, he could just start building ships from the get-go, but it wouldn’t be efficient. Without exploring a little bit or taking hexes, he produces next to nothing, meaning his action economy is low, and his resources are useless. Wedge will have to explore to gain the production he needs to start building efficiently. This puts Wedge into a position where he needs to be able to discern at what point it’s best for him to shift his priorities to ship-building. The temptation of exploration is always alluring, as the next hex might just be the one that frees up two more resources. Should it be a less useful hex, he’s just wasted an action that may have been better spent building his fleet.
This is another thing that’s so important in Eclipse, and it might fly over newer players’ heads: efficiency. There’s almost always a way to do something more efficiently than you currently are, and the savvy players who take advantage of these opportunities are the ones that run away with the win. Both Biggs and Wedge have options that will allow them to get more out of their current setup or planned strategy.
Biggs might look at the board and realize that, despite his large collection of hexes, most of them aren’t worth much. In fact, some of them aren’t even producing anything for him; maybe they just gave him a discovery tile when he found them. Why waste your discs, which give you precious actions, on hexes that neither produce nor grant substantial points? In this case, Biggs could tactically bankrupt himself to change his situation. If a player uses so many actions that it puts them into debt on the economy track, they’re forced to take discs off the board to decrease the amount owed. If Biggs were clever, he would look at the amount of discs he needs back, and play that amount of actions in excess, giving him more actions that round than he would have had otherwise. He’ll take his discs back, which will give him even more room next round. Selectively choosing which parts of your space empire to retain goes a long way in Eclipse.
Wedge, too, has efficiency options with his ships. He should only ever build if he can build two ships, and he should have a vision of what he wants his ships to look like. If he were to buy a +1 computer to quickly make his Interceptors more capable, he’d regret it later if he realized that he wanted to add a +3 computer to his bigger ships. Researching that first computer would require resources, a research action, and then an upgrade action to add it to the ship. Waiting to get the superior part would cost both time and money.
Ultimately, of course, a confrontation would most likely occur. Wedge would likely have to move into Biggs to get the points needed to win, and Biggs would need to be prepared for Wedge. Did Wedge build his ships well enough to get past Biggs’s ridiculous defense, or did he buy Wormhole Generators to bypass the chokepoint completely? Did Biggs leave enough resources unspent to prepare for a surprise onslaught? Will Wedge even need to invade, or would he surpass his opponent’s points by picking off all the Ancients that were left neglected? Should Wedge surpass Biggs in points, is Biggs prepared to expand into unanticipated territory?
There are plenty of other options to consider. The Galactic Center, for example, is protected by a base with strong firepower and eight points worth of armor, but taking the hex it’s on gives you high VPs, and FOUR planets to put population cubes on, which can surge your production forward pretty far. I’ve seen many games end in a climactic battle over the Galactic Center.
Furthermore, Biggs and Wedge’s game might be much different should they consider the actions of their neighbors; Wedge’s neighbor (Porkins?) might be wary of Wedge’s growing fleet, and scramble over himself to establish diplomacy. If Biggs’s neighbor, on the other hand, saw weakness in his expansion strategy, Biggs might have more to worry about than Wedge. Good thing he blocked off his area. Nonetheless, it’s always important to keep an eye on everyone, and this is a strategy unto itself.
I could go on and on and on, but the bottom line is that every game of Eclipse tells a different story. There are about a billion strategic options, and every game will provide its own context as to what the best path is. Every single game opens up doors that you might not have taken the game before, and part of what makes Eclipse so much fun is just throwing yourself into sea of strategic variability and seeing what happens.
There are five elements of randomness I can think of off the top of my head: Hexes, Discovery Tiles, Research Availability, Combat, and Combat VPs.
The hexes are drawn at random when you choose to explore. You never know what you’re going to get. Some tiles give you mad production, while others might be host to not one, but two Ancient Ships that have to be defeated to claim the hex. While I’ve seen many complaints about the randomness of hexes, I don’t take much issue with it. I actually think this kind of adds to the game, as it forces you to make decisions about your long-term strategy. If, for example, you only draw ancients, you could either whine and complain about it, or decide to build some ships to wipe them out. It doesn’t take long to construct a ship that can make bug squash out of the ancients, and once you do, you’ll have three tiles that are better than the ones your opponents have been finding. You’ll have to make decisions based on your hexes, so I kind of like the way that the randomness challenges you.
I wish I felt the same way about Discovery Tiles. These are nifty tiles that you earn for killing Ancients, but they also tend to appear on random hexes and can be claimed for free. Some of these aren’t worth much, while others are stupid powerful. For every category of ship part, there is an “Ancient Ship Part” equivalent in the discovery tiles, which are powered up versions of the best ship parts in the game. Should a player discover one, they can immediately add it to any ship of their choice for free. Whereas Biggs might have to save up for three rounds, and then research and upgrade to obtain a triple movement drive, Wedge might find one on the first turn and have it for the rest of the game. It’s also infuriating when the discovery tiles that you actually earn from conflict turn out to be worthless. I recall a game that culminated into a massive battle for the center of the galaxy. It was a tight battle, and I barely survived after wiping out both him and the Galactic Center Base, only to be rewarded with a tile that granted me the lowest possible research upgrade of my choice for free; all of them were useless at that point.
The research abilities you’re able to research come out onto the board at random as well. This is fine when you’re just trying to do your own thing, but it can be a pain when somebody else adopts a certain strategy, and then none of the important countermeasures end up becoming available. Plasma missiles, for example, are insanely powerful, and need to be countered by strong hulls and computers. Although unlikely, if one of the good computers or improved hull never comes out, then sucks for you, because you’re now destined to be cannon fodder. Getting shafted by the randomness of research spawns isn’t a frequent occurrence, but it can happen.
Combat, of course, has its own degree of luck, because it’s done with dice. Eclipse, fortunately, allows you to mitigate the luck of the dice by allowing you to increase your odds of hitting. That being said, dice will never be completely fair, and there will be times where they betray you. Overall, the dice system is handled pretty well, but don’t expect absolute perfection.
Finally, Combat VPs are drawn at random. You get to pull a certain amount out of a black bag whenever you participate in battle—participants of the battle can draw one, but the victor can draw more depending on the amount of damage that was done. Theoretically, this means that those who engage in battle frequently and effectively will have the lion’s share of good points, as the contents in the bag become more and more diluted. There are two tiles worth 4 points, a few worth 3, and a lot worth 2 and 1. Generally, the aggressive players do get the good ones, but there are flukes. There’s a player in our group that’s drawn the two 4s almost every single time, despite being the military champ only once. It really sucks being the dominant military player, only to see that the player who lost all of their battles was the one to draw the best points.
Overall, Eclipse has a weird balance of depth and luck. In almost every situation where luck or randomness occurs, the game gives you a means to react to it. The luck can be mitigated, and I’m not sure if it’s ever been the difference between a win and a loss, but I’d be lying if I said that the amount of luck isn’t downright frustrating from time to time.
Plasma missiles are an attack upgrade that allow you to fire on your enemy at the beginning of combat, and then never again. Essentially, you get one superpowered attack that you get to use once (per battle), and then you must rely on conventional means for the rest of the fight. This is good in theory, but many contend that they’re just too easy to abuse.
For each plasma missile upgrade on your ship, you get to roll two dice, which do two damage each if they hit, and putting the missiles on your ship requires no energy. Compare this to the plasma cannon, which fires with one die of equal power, and requires 2 energy. The only increased cost the missiles incur is the research cost, which is a one-time deal. They are significantly more expensive to research, but it’s not that hard to get the funds, and once you do, it’s a one-time charge, and then you can slap as many cannons on your ships as you want.
If we imagine a hypothetical scenario where two dreadnoughts each have five plasma cannons each, that’s twenty dice that can be rolled for attack. Furthermore, that still leaves room on a large ship for a computer, so the player could even increase their odds of hitting with each one. Let’s not even imagine what it would look like if more ships joined in.
The thing is, you can defend against missiles, only it usually requires an enormous amount of hull points and computers. It’s not a problem the amount of work it takes to counter against missiles is not proportional to the amount it takes to use them. And that’s the problem with the missiles—it’s totally within the scope of the rules to make missile boats, but it just feels like cheese. They’re easy to build, and take a lot of resources to counter against. I think missiles would be wonderful with a slight nerf; make them cost energy, reduce their damage, or roll only one die each. In the games we’ve played, we got a lot more out of the ship customization aspect of the game, and the whole game just felt more interesting. Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Other than that…I feel like the game is well balanced. Of particular significance in this category is the fact that there are multiple alien races you can play with. Each player board has humans on one side, and aliens on the other. All of the human boards are the same, but every alien race has their own unique abilities to make for asymmetrical play. One alien race starts out with an enormous amount of money and strong ships, but has a reduced action count; another one is built for expansion, profiting greatly if they can stay out of conflict. Another is research based, being able to take advantage of technology in a much greater capacity than other races. If you feel like playing a more concrete, specific strategy, the aliens are a fun choice. We have found, and the general consensus seems to be that some aliens are slightly better than others, but overall, there are no significant balancing issues with them. Admittedly, I haven’t played aliens near as much as I’ve played humans, so again, I’d love to hear your comments if you feel differently!
Two players is more of a focused experience, and some will like it, some won’t, it honestly just depends on how aggressive you’re both willing to be. You can both play it with no aggression, in which the game will function like any other engine-building economy game. This is fine, but you may as well just play another game at that point. With aggression, the game plays out like a game of 1v1 Starcraft—the quickest and most efficient player will win. It’s up to you to decide whether the game appeals to you or not at two players, but in any case, Eclipse plays well at every player count.
Look and Feel
Is the game aesthetically pleasing? Are the components made out of quality material, or do they feel cheap? Is the rulebook well-designed and easy to read? How well is theme integrated into the game?
I love the way Eclipse looks. It’s just a beautiful game, and I love every inch of it, save for one—those little ship minis. What galaxy are we in, here, the one in Andy’s room? The ships look so silly, and it’s very, very obvious that they’re stock pieces that weren’t made for the game. The art, mechanics, and atmosphere evoke a feeling of abstract, deep-space behemoth ships warring with each other, and then you look at the board and it feels like you’re playing with toy ships from the 25 cent vending machine. The developers must have noticed this soon after the game came out, eventually releasing a ship pack expansion that gives every race their own unique ships. These ships adhere well to the visual design, and I myself would like to pick them up someday.
Other than that, I just love Eclipse’s aesthetics. The game looks like something straight out of a 70s space b-movie. This is apparent in the character artwork, which is, in my opinion, a bit cheesy. I don’t dislike it though, because every character and race feels like something you’d see made out of props and practical effects in an old movie. It’s my understanding that the artist was trying to hearken back to the older, more abstract space aesthetics, a la Dune. In this regard, I think Eclipse did well. And there’s not much to say about the space hexes except that they’re stupid gorgous.
Again, aside from those stupid little ships, Eclipse gets top marks in component quality in my book. All of the cardboard feels solid. It’s not textured like the stuff you’ll find in Fantasy Flight games, but that usually indicates inferior quality. Not the case here; all of Eclipse’s cardboard components have this smooth, matte consistency that feel premium grade. Aside from that, there are wooden blocks and discs which I can’t complain about, and a huge assortment of dice. Furthermore, Eclipse was kind enough to include two drawstring bags, one for research parts, and one for combat VP tokens. Given that most games don’t even include Ziplocs, this was a nice addition. Oh, and speaking of ziplocs? The game is absolutely loaded with them, self-aware about its billion components; it’s almost as if the publishers were like, “you paid a lot for this game! You deserve this.”
And then there’s those ships, which just feel like cheap plastic. I mean, they do the job, but they definitely feel like they’re out of their league given how the rest of the pieces look.
One thing I enjoyed about this rulebook is its visual format—the rules are contained inside of columns on the edge of each page, leaving the middle section as a space that’s used to cite specific examples of whatever rule is being explained. While this surely elongates the rulebook, I found that having the text compressed into a column made it more readable and easier to digest. It’s easy to get lost in a rulebook that pastes its text all over every page, leaving you to have to dig through a jungle of words to find any rule you may have forgotten. Not so with Eclipse—its columned format made for a very pleasant reading experience.
For all of those things, there are other mechanics that work exceptionally well. I love the ship customization, for example; I love that you can make your ships do whatever you want, but you can’t make them do everything. It’s not hard to imagine that ships would either specialize on a certain strength, or be all-arounders.
The alien races also help provide thematic strength, both mechanically and in terms of the game’s lore. Yes, the game has lore—every alien race has its own biography in the rulebook explaining their role in the galaxy, which also helps to justify their own unique gameplay quirks. Remember the alien race I mentioned with enormous starting wealth, but lesser action economy? This is the Eridani Empire, a civilization that once ruled the entire galaxy, now resting on the laurels of its former glory, a race ripe with old money, but lacking in all other resources. Every race has its own unique story, and even all of the humans (referred to in-game as Terrans) have their own biography despite being mechanically identical.
Overall, playing Eclipse feels like a game of galactic conquest, and thematically, it hits the right notes.
Is it a game you can play over and over? Are there expansions available for the game, and if so, are they necessary? Does the amount of the content in the box justify the price?
With a different map every game, different resources, and different aliens (should you choose to play with them), Eclipse could definitely qualify as a desert island game.
The other add-on, which I touched on a tiny bit earlier, is the ship pack. Mechanically, the ship pack doesn’t add much. As I understand it, it adds a revised turn order mechanic, and two new alien races. The novelty of the ship pack is definitely in its pieces, which provides unique ships for each of the six races, so that everyone will have a different looking army. This also includes pieces to represent starbases, which were nothing more than cardboard chits in the base game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any official pictures of the ships. If you want to check them out, plenty of folks on BoardGameGeek have theirs to show off.
Finally, Shadows of the Rift is the newest offering, is set to hit the shelves at any moment now. While currently unreleased, this one has a lot of hype surrounding it, given that fans were quite pleased with Rise of the Ancients. This one will be adding even more aliens, as well as mechanics referred to as time distortion, evolution, and anomalies. While Rise of the Ancients focused a lot on the mysterious ancient aliens, this one looks to play with a lot of that fun stuff that we saw in Interstellar.
Eclipse quickly became a superstar among boardgames shortly after its release, and it still commands a loyal following. Given the success of the current releases, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a few more expansions yet down the line.
It took a behemoth of a review to cover the behemoth of a game that is Eclipse. Eclipse attempts to do it all, and in just about every case, it succeeds. It introduces varied, complex mechanics and simplifies them enough to make the game playable in a (relatively) modest amount of time, while being easily teachable to newcomers.
The game is ripe with strategic possibility, and is designed in such a way that will challenge you to take a new approach every game; you’ll truly feel like you’re leading a galactic civilization as you make choices that vary between exploring, invading, researching, building, or engaging in diplomacy. The game is mostly well balanced, save for a controversial upgrade part which even today inspires heated debates. The game will be won by player skill, despite the fact that luck plays a larger role than what would be expected in a game with this weight. The luck of the draw that’s connected to several mechanics might be a turn-off to players who aren’t savvy enough to retool their strategies should something unexpected occur.
Aesthetically, Eclipse hits all the right notes, if not for the small exception of the plastic ships, which leave something to be desired. Nonetheless, the artwork, components, and overall feel of Eclipse feels like something that’s premium grade, fitting for a title that’s on the more expensive end of the spectrum. In this case, the game is worth the money. With nearly endless replay potential, thanks to both mechanics and depth of strategy, the game has potential of maintaining a very long shelf life for most gamers, and will be enhanced even more by its plethora of expansionary content.
Overall, there is a reason that Eclipse ranks among the top ten highest rated board games—it’s just well-made in nearly every aspect, and condenses something that should be more complex into a package that’s accessible even to newcomers of the hobby. Eclipse is not without its flaws, but in the end of the day, it’s such a good game that I find myself dismissing them. This one, for all intents and purposes, is a winner.
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You enjoy 4X games
- You like games where you have a strong “presence” on the board
- You like diplomacy, negotiations, and backstabbing
- Your dream job is a spaceship customizer
- You enjoy games that can be played both aggressively and non-aggressively
- You like 70s space movies
- You like games that tell a different story every time you play them
- You’re looking for a good space game
- You like resource management/economic engine building
YOU WON’T LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You have a small table
- You like games that focus tightly on one specific mechanic or style
- You don’t like aggression
- You find yourself easily frustrated by the luck of the draw
- You’re looking for a combat system that doesn’t use dice
- You don’t like dealing with a million components
- You don’t like committing to games that could potentially be very long