2-6 players, Competitive, Action Selection Galaxy Traversing
Designer: Touko Tahkokallio
Artwork: Noah Adelman, Jere Kasanen, Jukka Rajaniemi, Sampo Sikiö
Release Year: 2020
To be honest I had never heard of Eclipse before the Kickstarter that was redoing the game. This new version was going to be a complete overhaul from the original, basically improving all aspects. At the time I was in desperate need of a good space game and I thought it looked pretty great by all accounts, so I backed it. Through many twists and turns and delays it finally arrived at my door a few weeks ago. Read on to see how it turned out!
Overview of Gameplay
I know I have seen many comparisons to another larger space game called Twilight Imperium and indeed this game takes up just as much, if not more, table space. However, the games feel so much different from one another. In Eclipse you will be controlling one of the 7 different races (6 alien races and 1 human race) and you will be taking a single action on your turn. After that the play passing to the next player and around and round this goes until all players have passed. Once this happens the combat phase will commence if anyone is on the same game tile that another opposing unit is. Then the upkeep phase will occur in which players will gain some tech and building points and have to manage their money income. Finally the cleanup phase where everyone pulls their spent action discs back to their starting places and then new tech tiles are drawn from a bag and the round marker is moved forward. At the end of the 8th round victory points are tallied up based on a number of different things such as territory controlled, tech track progress etc. Whoever has the most VP’s wins!
So let’s talk about those actions for a moment. On your turn you can take one of the 6 actions and each one can be taken multiple times over the course of the round if you want. The first action is “Explore” and this allows you to draw a random territory tile from one of the stacks depending on placement. You can choose not to place it if what you draw isn’t quite what you’re looking for but you don’t get to draw another (there are exceptions based on your race). If you choose to keep it then you place it down next to a tile that you control aligning the little wormhole icons on the tiles so they match up. Then you can choose to move one of your action discs (called influence discs) to the tile to control it and can send population cubes to inhabit certain planets on the discs. These are important as they will increase the amount of tech, money and build points you will generate every round.
The next action is “Research” and you can use this to peruse through the available technology tiles that are available. There is always a random assortment of tech tiles available since they are always blind drawn from a bag at the start of every round so it is pretty important to get first dibs on these. These tech tiles unlock all sorts of interesting new abilities for your race. Some will open up the ability to build these cool little orbital stations allowing you to send even more population to them to live. Others unlock fantastic new weapons and armor attributes for your ships. And even more unlock some much needed mods that allow you to really customize your ships. Of course you will need to spend an amount of knowledge that you generated from your tech track so you won’t have access to everything available at the start.
Next is “Upgrade”. Most of the ship customization are only unlocked through researching the corresponding tiles, however each race already has some specific things unlocked based on their strategy. When you take the upgrade action you can sift through the available upgrade tiles and pluck as many as your action allows and place them on your player board over your specific ships. This is pretty cool as each player has four different ships they can call onto the board. Each one already has a unique setup to it but you can fully customize these babies to your heart’s desire. You would rather have TWO missile launchers on here instead of the extra armor? Just cover up the armor spot with another missile launcher. On top of that there are a TON of upgrade tiles to choose from so the options are nearly endless.
Moving on, we have the “Build” action. Building allows you to spend you generated build points to construct new ships or structures on the board. This one is pretty straight forward to be honest. You will need ships to not only defend your territory but to attack if you choose. Many times you will be exploring and find a tile that is already inhabited by some “Ancients” or “Guardians”. These are AI NPC ships that just sit on some luscious space tiles protecting them and the only way through is with battle (One of the playable races actually befriends the Ancients). So in some cases you will need to build up a decent military just to pave the way to deeper regions of space. You can also build structures to improve your standing. I already mentioned the Orbitals but there are also these Monoliths that can be built. Although very expensive, these critters are worth 3 victory points each at the end of the game so if you are just drowning in build points you might as well toss a few of these up.
Next is the “Move” action, I wonder what this one does. To dig a little deeper into the movement, you can’t just fly across the board and go to battle. When you take this action you can only move as many ships as your action allows (usually 2 unless upgraded), 1 space each (unless upgraded). And you also cannot move to adjacent tiles UNLESS they are connected via complete wormhole icon. As players are exploring they will create a maze of tiles so movement will be restricted based on that. There is technology that allows player to bend these rules of course, if drawn and researched.
Lastly there is the “Influence” action. This simply allows you to place or move your influence discs on different areas next to your controlled tiles and also allows you to flip your spent colony ships (used to send population cubes to planets) face-up to be used again that round if needed. You may need to use this action if you go on a wild exploring spree and then later need to manipulate exactly which tiles you control and can afford. Which leads me perfectly into what effect the actions you are taking have on your economy.
Every time you take an action you will move one influence disc off this money track on your player board and onto the taken action space. Now, when you move a disc off the money track it will uncover gradually higher numbers. These increasing numbers are meant to represent the rising cost of your empire and during the upkeep phase you will take the highest uncovered money number on your tracker board and minus the highest number uncovered on your player sheet. This may lose you money, in which you will have to spend it from your tracker board and if you cannot, well, then you start losing influence in the galaxy and have to return those influence discs back to your player sheet from the main board. This is a very interesting gameplay mechanic, basically saying, “yeah you can take ALL the actions you want during a round…..but is it wise?” I love how the game gives you that option, letting players push to the limits of what they can afford.
Before we move on to the nitty gritty let’s discuss combat a bit. Combat is initiated during its own phase so you can move about however you want during the action phase without engaging. Going into combat has many variables to take into account and isn’t just focused around your numbers. Each different ship has a particular initiative amount which shows attack order. So, attack order isn’t dependent on who attacks or who defends, although defenders do win ties in initiative. Furthermore, if you are able to destroy a ship before it attacks then they are out and don’t get to attack, so needless to say initiative is very important. Beyond that players will take the dice that their ship shows they can roll. Speaking on the dice a moment, there are four different colored dice of increasing power. Yellow is the lowest and base attack die and can only hit ONCE per die. After that it jumps up to Orange with 2 hits, Blue with 3 hits and finally Red with four hits per die. Of course to get these higher end dice you will need to upgrade your ships through the “Upgrade” action and most of the time, the “Research” action. So, when players roll these dice you can ONLY gain a hit on a roll of a six. Now that may sound like it’s very difficult to hit and you would be correct. BUT, luckily there are upgrades you can acquire that lessen the amount you need to hit. Combat will continue like this with players rolling in order of initiative until either one side is destroyed or flees from the combat. And that is the meat and potatoes of the game!
As I am writing this I am gazing upon my fully setup game of six on my table. I am struggling to find ANYTHING that is not incredible when it comes to components here. Taking a closer look at the components here, you have different colored everything for each player that translates to plastic cubes, discs and ships. The ships are all unique from each other as far as look and ability goes AND if you got the ship wash done they look even cooler. The minis have some interesting details that directly corresponds to their alien faction, such as the Planta faction ships remind me of plants and the water based faction ships look like little underwater submarines. The structure minis you can build are equally as awesome with the orbitals having a small spot where you can place one of your population cubes which not only MAKES SENSE thematically but just looks really cool and allows players to easily see who is controlling what on the board.
My goodness and the big bertha of them all, the GCDS space station sitting smack dab in the middle of the board. This beast is one of those AI NPC’s just casually sitting atop the single best location tile in the game ripe for the plucking. Of course if you move in there you are stuck and that thing is packing some serious firepower. And good gravy the miniature for it is just amazing. HIGHLY detailed and foreboding gazing over the rest of the board just tempting players to take it on. The cardboard tokens are thick and sturdy and the only thing that seems “lesser” than the rest are the player sheets themselves. They are thinner than everything else in the game, including the included reference cards. That said, I don’t think they are of a low quality by any means, just not as nice as everything else in the game.
Oh and sweet cheeses the Gametrayz inserts! Now normally I go on about these things in the “Storage” section but with this game they actually use them as a vital gameplay element! The lid of each player’s storage tray doubles as the tracker for the tech, build and income for each player. Not only that but the way the insert sits atop the lid makes it double layered so the population cubes sit neatly down in it sturdy and secure. AND those inserts are double sided so you can flip them to use the tray sideways instead up vertically depending on space or preference. They are just awesome and I cannot say enough good things about Gametrayz and what they do for boardgames.
The game board itself is composed of many tile pieces that form the overall galaxy once fleshed out and explored. The tiles look really nice with a bit of that spot UV coverage on the wormhole icons and population spots. They not only look really nice but have a good thickness to them as well with zero bowing or flexing to the tiles. The dice are also incredible and easily distinguishable from one another. Not only do they use colors to differentiate them by power but they make it easier to see if you’ve hit or missed by removing the “1” in favor of a blank side and removing the “6” in favor of an automatic hit. Not only that but they have a nice feel and heft to them, exuding that premium feel. Overall, this game is in my top 3 of ALL TIME best components for a board game.
It goes without saying the storage is incredible as well considering the entire game is decked out with Gametrayz inserts. Beyond the amazing individual player trays there are specific trays that hold the tech and upgrade tiles. Each tray has its own lid that securely holds everything in place, indeed, I have tested this by putting everything back in the box and tipping the box all over upside down, sideways and this way and that and nothing was out of place! It all fits into the box perfectly with almost no wasted space too. The box is on the bigger side of board games for sure, coming in larger than the Twilight Imperium box. In a standard Kallax shelf you will have a bit of overhang (about an inch) with about a half an inch of space above it. Everything said, the box and insert is also in the top rankings of boardgames sitting right up there with Wasteland Express Delivery Service.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Theming-wise this is a pretty standard space game. I mean there is a paragraph of information for each alien race in the manual AND each race does play differently but don’t come running to this game for the theme. Now typically I go wild for a good theme in a game and, for me, it does improve the overall feeling of a game. For this one though the gameplay is just SO rich that I’m ok with a pretty generic space theme. Looking at the game from a visual standpoint it looks pretty good with the small bit of artwork on the player sheets for the alien races and the game tiles having a few different hues of purple and orange. Nothing out of this world though. Where the game REALLY shines visually is when you have played around 3 or 4 rounds and take a step back and just gaze at the table. The sheer amount of stuff that is going on is incredible and not in a bad or overbearing way! Seeing the orbitals holding different colored cubes scattered about or the mass of ancient ships gathered on random tiles is breathtaking. The different players colored cubes decorating the board actually go to liven it up even further and in the center of it all…..the imposing GCDS space station. Just incredible.
The rulebook overall is very well done with just a few instances of mind melting. First, let’s discuss the mind melting portions. Right at the beginning with the “Game Setup” section, this is the very essence of melt. Straight up walls of text straight down the far right of a two page spread. The other one and a half pages are pictures and normally this sounds like a good setup page. However the way it’s done is so overbearing. There are numbers mixed in with the text that are supposed to denote the spots in the pictures of how to set stuff up BUT you have to search for each of them and let me tell you there are A LOT of these numbers all over the place. It’s like trying to find a number hidden in a pile of numbers. Not only that but then they throw in a bunch of letters as well and they are all color coded the exact same. It’s a mess.
Now, other than that pretty bad setup section the rest of the rulebook is excellent! Dedicated pages for each action, sections that explain what each tech, discovery and ship part tiles do WITH PICTURES. Full multiple page examples of combat and actions. I love the layout as well, with sidebars explaining the actions and the middle of the pages showing picture examples. This layout is excellent and makes the game very easy to pick up and play. The back of the book has sections for each race, explaining what makes them different from the others and giving that bit of thematic blurb. There is also a FAQ on the last page that answers some questions. Overall I am really impressed and it would be a perfect rulebook if not for the subpar setup section. There are also dedicated tiles that each player has that show the actions and round order and they double as your passing token when you decide to pass during a round.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
There is a bit of player interaction based around the typical combat type parts and if you play a 4 player game or more you open up diplomacy! This allows you to trade your ambassador tiles with players that you share a border with as long as neither of you has ships on the tile. These ambassador tiles are then placed on the others player sheet with one of their population cubes of their choice. Thematically those shows that you are sending some of your people to the other alien nation AND as the added benefit it opens up more production on your end! You also gain an extra vp at the end of the game for each races ambassador tile you have. Now, if you ever attack someone whose tile you have then you break those relations and will not only lose that ambassador tile but also gain the “Traitor” tile. This tile prevents you from forming ANY new relations with anyone AND you will receive a negative 2 vp score at the endgame. The only way for this to be removed is if someone else breaks relations. Other than that though there really isn’t any other interaction, it’s mostly done indirectly by grabbing up those juicy tech tiles first or placing exploration tiles down in a particular fashion to block off other players.
All that said, I think the game rolls on at a pretty great pace! I never felt like I was bored and the downtime isn’t that bad since each player only has a single action to take. And I never felt like I was playing multiplayer solitaire. There are lots of decisions to make and most of them are only focused on you but looking ahead at the board state you can really plot out a strategy that involves other players based on their actions. And I have always found myself super engaged with this! The way the gameplay mechanic works with actions and income is incredible and I simply LOVE the customization you can make to not only your ships, but your ever-growing tech tree as well. There are three different colors of techs, each focusing on a specific idea like ship upgrades, military or economy. And the more you build up each section, the cheaper future techs become in that section. Not only that but if you build the sections up high enough you will gain extra vp’s at the endgame.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Personally, the more the merrier with this game. I have now played it solo to learn playing as multiple races, two player and a six player. The game plays fine solo if you don’t mind managing multiple races and honestly I didn’t find it too overbearing at all. It’s easy to keep track of what you have going on because of the action placement and board state with the different easily distinguishable colors. Six players was also super fun because of the added diplomacy and increased player interaction.
Two players was a bit lacking however. And this is where we find my biggest complaint about the game, not in the player count per say but the exploration action. And it was only when playing a two player game that I really noticed this, which is why I mention it here instead of earlier. When playing a two player game you see MUCH less interaction and of course there is no diplomacy to offset it. It really feels much more like multiplayer solitaire in that regard. And with exploring you are to draw a single random tile and place it or discard it. You don’t get second chances on this (some races bend this rule) so if you continually draw tiles that are filled with ancients you might be stuck trying to beef up your ships JUST to move forward. Basically pigeonholing you into a certain play-style that you may not prefer. OR, you could discard the tile and completely waste your turn, that’s not fun at all. In one two player game I played, my opponent drew ancient tiles FOUR times in a row where I drew nice open tiles filled with population centers and bonus tiles. This allowed me to REALLY gain some serious strength early in the game where she just could not catch back up to me. I didn’t see this problem AS MUCH in higher play count games but that aspect of randomness wasn’t all that fun for us.
Replayability is very high not only because of the random tile draws but not ever tile will be used that is included with the game. There will always be some leftover tiles for the 1 or 2 sections and the only time all the 3 tiles will be used will be during a 6 player game. So you will always have a bit of variation where that is concerned. There are also a couple variants for the Ancient, Guardian ships and GCDS strengths to change up. Each alien race is setup completely different as well so playing through the game as any of the 7 selectable races will give you a bit of a different style. Another random variable is the drawing tech tiles, since you always draw from a bag you never know what may come up to research. The beginning of the game a random assortment is drawn so each game should start out differently. And there are a BUNCH to choose from! OH! I almost forgot about the discovery tiles. These are small facedown tiles that are added to certain exploration tiles that are placed and collected when someone happens to explore a tile. That person flips it and can choose to either take the reward they find or keep the tile as an extra 2 vp’s. Some of these tiles also have some SUPER ELITE upgrades on them that you can ONLY find on these tiles. Furthermore you will only end up using MAYBE half of these tiles in any single game so there is always a fun time to be had searching for this treasure.
Positive Final Thoughts
I mean there isn’t much more I can say about how much I love about this game. It’s my favorite space themed game of all time and I will NEVER turn down a game of this. The immense amount of customization you have available to you is simply fun and the replayability is off the charts good. The components are some of the best I have seen all around and the game mechanics are incredibly designed. The look of the minis and how they match the unique alien races is fantastic. The inserts are incredible with the way they interact with the game. The dice play is fun with combat and not too difficult to comprehend. I mean just an outstanding production and design all around.
Negative Final Thoughts
The only real negatives I have are with the game setup in the rulebook (the rest of the book is excellent) and the low player count with the way the randomness can really harm players when exploring. With a little house ruling the exploration randomness can be alleviated and once understood, the game setup isn’t bad at all.
The Bottom Line
In my humble opinion, this is THE space game to be playing. I also have Twilight Imperium which is the most compared with this one and I vastly prefer Eclipse over that. The action management is flat out fun and good gravy the customization you can do is incredible. This is one of those games that I would normally want to upgrade the components because I love it SO much….BUT the components are ALREADY SO GOOD that there really isn’t anything I feel needs upgrading. This is a game that NEEDS to be played.
The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE