Eight Minute Empire Legends Review
Every gamer, at some point in their life, has that itch to conquer the world. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the tension of armies arrayed on the battlefield, the hours-long struggle for control of a contested resource, the groan from a defeated general, and the proud pleasure of placing your flag atop your opponent’s capital?
However, getting your friends to join you for a game (read: succumb to your regime) isn’t always easy. Many war games take a long time to play, and many gamers have had bad experiences as they adapted to life under my iron fist, so it’s not uncommon to hear them suggest other, less conflict-filled titles.
That’s where Eight Minute Empire: Legends comes in. As the title suggests, it’s a short game. Really short. However, what’s more important about it: I can get my friends to play it with me!
“Wait!” you say, “You mean to tell me that there’s a $20 game out there that promises the “Conquer the World” experience in mere minutes? Why did I just spend $70 for Eclipse? Why did I spend last Saturday morning, afternoon, and evening playing an immense game of Twilight Imperium? Will Civilization never touch my table again? Will this be the game that topples Risk from its throne of accessible, perennial empire builders?”
Let’s find out together!
Setting up the Board
The game is area control at its simplest. The four double-sided boards are arranged as shown, creating a conflict-filled central island with fringe kingdoms on either side. A starting city tile is placed somewhere on that central board, determining where the players begin. The map tiles are somewhat random (and double-sided!), and demand different playstyles on each one, since some might have a single island with many regions, while other might have three islands, each counting as their own region (meaning you get 2 points for each of those regions). Once the map is set up, each player then takes their 18 army cubes, their city markers, and their starting coins, and places 4 cubes on the starting region, as well as 1 cube on a different island.
The end goal is this: you’ll get one point for each space on the board you control (having more cubes there than any one opponent), and one point for each island you control (controlling more regions on the island than any opponent). There are a few other ways to get points, but those region points are critical.
Once the map is set up, each player then takes their 18 army cubes, their city markers, and their starting coins, and places 4 cubes on the starting region, as well as 1 cube on a different island somewhere else.
Once the game is set up, you’ll set up a line of six cards on one side of the board, with their associated costs displayed on a helper card included with the game. The overall recipe for your turn is simple:
- Buy a card
- Slide the rest down (to the left)
- Draw a new card to replace (place on right side)
- Use its effect
It’s genius: take the tile line-up idea from Suburbia (another excellent game, by the way) and instead of hexes to put into your city, you pick up a card that lets you do something with your armies, whether that’s placing more of them…
moving what you’ve placed…
building cities (giving you more spots to build your armies)…
or destroying opposing armies.
What makes the card choices more interesting is the secondary ability of the cards. one card might grant you bonus troops when you take the place troops action while others reduce the movement penalty for crossing water, and some grant you extra moves with you take the move action. Also, there are cards that grant you bonus victory points when you collect cards of a given set, While others provide “Elixers”, which grant the player who collected the most 2 bonus VP at game end.
The fact that each card has two values is what makes your choice intriguing: Do you pick the graveyard to get points for the cursed cards you have saved up, even though its other ability (placing just two cubes) isn’t all that useful? Do you start grabbing the Noble cards and hope that no one else notices as you collect 4 beautiful VP?
All of these questions are compounded by the fact that you are on a budget: it’s practically impossible to get more coins once the game begins. Is it worth it to spend 3 coins for that really helpful card that just came out? If you don’t, will your opponents grab it? The tension associated with getting the cards you want, at the price you need, is yet another stroke of genius that makes this game work.
Here, each card is shown with the cost associated with picking them up. How important is that city card to you? Will your opponent grab it before you get another chance?
The game is built around the (rather realistic) idea that most of the time, armies don’t fight. Most of the cards allow you to place or move, while destroying cubes is a relatively rare affair. This means that instead of simply destroying what your opponents place on the board, you’re forced to wrestle against them for domination of key regions. Often, the movements of other players give you the chance to swoop in and surprise your opponents, suddenly gaining a majority in a region that was long held by another player.
However, don’t discount cube destruction either – it’s a critical way of preventing an opponent from sneaking a single cube into your territory. If a devious opponent sneaks a single cube through your lines, they can build a city, allowing them to place troops from their supply directly into the region, multiplying their numbers, and your problems, a hundredfold.
Despite the short playtime (15 minutes), this game is also surprisingly strategic. You need to have a long-term plan as you get going, but the game is simple enough that you’re rarely frozen with analysis paralysis. There’s also something special about moving your little cubes about your beautifully-illustrated kingdom that just… fits. The game flows organically, downtime is minimal, and everyone has a good time.
I’ve played games ranging from 2-4 players. As a two player game, you tend to run out of cubes, forcing you to manage your resources, this creating a tense game where the last round includes lots of last-minute maneuvering to get that final edge on the opponent. If you’re looking for a 2-player game to play with a significant other, this is certainly a strong choice.
In a 4-player game, you’re all tripping over each other, trying to carve out a niche for yourselves in the little world, creating a controlled chaos that’s highly entertaining. Having more players does make it hard to pull of combos with the cards, because at least one of your opponents is watching what you are trying to collect, but it never feels like you have absolutely no options – there’s always something appealing that you can choose, balanced, of course, by its cost. However, if you’re a competitive type, you might not enjoy this game as much, since you’re somewhat at the mercy of your opponents’ choices.
As I opened the box, I immediately marvelled at the production quality. The boards are made of excellent cardstock that isn’t coming apart anytime soon. The tokens are beautifully made. The cubes, though small, are actual wood, and well-painted. And the wooden cities are the cutest little things I have ever seen included with a board game! This game practically oozes quality, even in the construction of the box.
The imagery also very much kid-friendly, which is important to me – I want to be able to play this game with my kids someday, and the durability of the game, combined with the safe imagery, makes this an ideal candidate.
The game also comes with tokens for several interesting variants to keep things interesting. Explorations markers, bandits, portals, and a rampaging dragon all make an appearance, and provide ways to keep the game fresh long after the first play.
If you’re a light gamer who enjoys faster games and abhors the politics involved in games of epic world/galactic domination, then this game is right up your alley.
Also, if you’re a heavier gamer who doesn’t like too much luck in your gameplay, and who wishes that you had more people to play with, this game might just fit your niche!
But, if you’re hoping for the feeling that you get when playing a large, high-investment game, where politics, shifting alliances, trade agreements, and unexpected betrayals are the highlight of the experience, then this game won’t scratch that itch. The brevity of the game is both it’s strongest and weakest point in this regard. It’s easy to get to the table, and it IS good fun, but its brevity often precludes people from becoming heavily invested in the game.
The other small complaint that I have is that although the pictures on the cards and boards are beautifully done, the theme doesn’t permeate the gameplay. The pictures rarely have anything to do with what a given card does, which also somewhat distracts from an otherwise beautiful title. However, if you can look past that, there’s an excellent game waiting to be played, and the variants available in the game can help to give the game more meat and flavor than just an abstract, cube-placing area control game. If it ever gets old, just add the dragon!
This is a game that I look forward to playing with my (currently non-existent) children. The game is short, easy-to-teach, and surprisingly deep. The strategy gamer will find ways to optimize their play, and the casual gamer will enjoy the ride, and both still have a shot at winning! The quality of the components also means that it’ll last. I feel comfortable saying that this is one of the best gaming purchases I have ever made.
The other thing that I need to say about this game is that it sparks your imagination. As I played game after game, I began to think of other interesting variations that I might choose to play, involving components both inside and outside the box. The game continually beckons to me, inviting me to try something new and unexpected every time I play. And I love it for that.
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You enjoy area control games
- You enjoy shorter/filler games
- You’re on a budget
- You like games with multiple paths to victory
- You have children
- You’re looking for something unique/new
- You’re looking for a gateway game to help someone get more into board games
- You have a varied gaming group
YOU WON’T LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You enjoy politics, deception, and intrigue
- You’re looking for heavier games with more investment
- You prefer games that are more thematic
- You don’t have any connection to your childish side
- You’re not a fan of fairy tales or cute, cartoon castles
- You like more familiar, common familiar games, or dislike indie titles