Eclipse from Asmodee – a classic game review revisited

For my first foray into the past, I present you with my initial play review of the sci-fi 4x board game Eclipse. What did I initially think and has Eclipse stood the test of time? The original review was first published on the Windsor Gaming Resource blog on November 4th 2012.

This going to be a new feature here at Tabletop Bellhop. During #ThrowbackThursday, I’m going to dig up something I wrote in the past and re-publish it. I’ve written a lot of gaming content over the years on forums, blogs, RPGgeek and Google+ and I think it’s worth revisiting some of that content.

My plan is to repost the original with only minor editing. I want to keep the feel and tone of the original post. I will also try to include any original photos. I will, at times, insert comments, you will find these in [square brackets]. At the end of the original content, I will follow up with some of my current thoughts on the topic.

Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. As an associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The original review

Last night, thanks to a friend and fellow local gamer, I got to try out Eclipse. Eclipse is currently ranked as the #5 game in the world [Now #36] on Boardgamegeek.com and is also the #5 [Currently #31] Strategy game of all time.  It’s been listed on The Hotness since being announced and I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype [No longer on the hotness].

Eclipse is a space exploration game along the same lines as long time favourite Twilight Imperium or Galactic Emperor and has quite a bit in common with both games. Each player picks a race and starts in their own region of space. The galaxy is formed with hex tiles that include quite a bit of information. Victory points for control, planets providing up to three different commodities (Money, Technology, and Resources) and worm holes along some but not all edges of the tile.  Unlike the other games mentioned, the galaxy isn’t set up before hand but discovered through play. Each player gets a starting system and a personal player board that varies by race. When we played we took the suggestion to all be humans. I apologize now for the quality of pictures my iPod touch takes, it’s what I had at hand during the game.

Gameplay sounds complicated but is rather simple once you pick it up. Each turn players, in sequence, get to choose to do an action or pass. Each time they do an action they move a disc from the bottom part of their player board to the appropriate action area. As discs are moved a cost is uncovered, this is the money you will need to spend at the end of the round to pay for your actions. Discs are also used to assert influence over a star system so the number of systems you can control and the number of actions you can complete are limited by your income. You get income and resources by building colonies on planets, these are the cubes. As you remove cubes from your play board larger numbers are uncovered giving you more income each turn. It’s a rather elegant system. Actions include exploring, researching technology, using researched technology to upgrade your ships, changing how your influence is spread, building things and moving.

Exploring is what you do to spread out from your initial colony and also what builds the board. When you choose the explore action you pick a wormhole on the edge of a tile you control and draw a new hex tile from a stack of tiles based on how far it is from the galactic center. Tiles closer to the center tend to be better but are often guarded by aliens, the Ancient Race. When a new tile is placed you must match up the wormhole you entered from. Not all edges have wormholes, which really makes things interesting. Due to this mechanic, tiles that are right next to each other on the table could actually be multiple hexes away. We all really enjoyed how the map generated as we played and how players we expected to be neighbors were actually so far apart that they barely interacted due to the wormhole system.

Research and upgrading are worth talking about as I thought they are one of the best parts of the game. When you take a Research action you can buy new technologies from a central technology board. What is available changes as the game goes on (with tiles drawn out of a bag). There are three different tech trees you can work on and specializing gives you a discount on each future tech and victory points if you buy enough of each type. Some new technologies give you instant bonuses like being able to settle more planets, or being able to build orbital space stations or Monoliths (there’s stars in there) [Wow I’m not good at quotes. That should say: “My God, It’s Full of Stars”]. Most technologies are equipment upgrades for your fleet. When you buy these you don’t get anything right away, you need to use the Upgrade action. When you do this you get to add or replace two components on your ship diagrams located at the top of your player sheet. You have three types of ships and a space station that can all be upgraded with new weapons, more power, faster engines, etc.

Combat is quick and brutal and happens whenever, at the end of a turn, there are pieces from two or more different players on a tile. Initiative is determined by ship speed based on upgrades and weapon type. Missiles fire first and then other weapons. All attacks are done using six-sided dice, d6.  The basic rule is that you roll 1d6 per weapon and rolls of 6 cause a hit. One hit does one damage and destroys a point of hull. Once a ship has no hull it is destroyed.  This is all modified greatly by the technological upgrades players have applied to their ships. By the end of the game, we had ships rolling four orange, two damage, missile attacks the first round against ships with five hull and two sets of red, four damage, lasers that had +4 to hit. Combat goes back and forth until one side is wiped out or retreats. Colonies need to be attacked before the sector tile changes player control and we all found that the Neutron Bomb tech really helped with this. Overall combat plays out very fast and furious and is hugely based on the technologies that each player chooses to research and then equip on their ships. Participants in combat will each get to draw victory point tokens from a bag. Each player gets one token for being in a battle and players who destroy enemy ships get extra tokens. The tokens are numbered 1-4 and you only get to keep one token out of all of the ones you pull.

The other phases include building, which lets you build new ships, starbases, and orbital stations or monuments. Some of these require you to have the right technology developed. Movement lets you move your ships around hex by hex with speed set by the drive unit equipped on each ship. Influence lets you abandon sectors and take over new ones. The first player who passes on their action becomes the start player for next round. In an interesting twist, even passing doesn’t necessarily take you out of the game for the round. There are three reactionary actions you can take even though you’ve passed. These are reduced versions of the move, build and upgrade actions.

Eclipse is played for a total of nine rounds and it’s the player with the most victory points at the end of those nine rounds that wins. Players get victory points for each sector they control, technologies they have developed far enough down each of the three trees, trade agreements and victory tokens collected through conquest. In the game we played victory was determined by two points.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to the game than this, but I figured I’ve already typed enough. There are the alien ships that guard some territories, some sectors give a bonus to the first player who settles there, the galactic center is guarded by a big space station, and more. If you have any questions about anything in particular please feel free to ask in the comments.

Overall I had a great time trying this well regarded game. Eclipse seemed like it took the best concepts of Twilight Imperium and Galactic Emperor and combined them into a very quick, very refined and balanced game. Rules explanation took a long time and it looked like there was far too much to figure out, but by turn three we all had it figured out and the game flowed great. While Eclipse is shorter than it’s predecessors it’s still not what I would call a short game. Our game went over 4 hours, almost five with rules set up and explanation. I fully expect we could cut that down to three easily now that everyone knows what they are doing. We also had a few players who are known for analysis paralysis so I would expect the game to be quicker for other groups.

I think the best thing that can be said about how much we all enjoyed the game last night is that we are all trying to figure out a way to play again today. Also, we are all still talking about it. We’ve been on Facebook saying “you know when I attacked Green, I should have waited one turn to…” and “Why the heck didn’t I set up that treaty earlier, I knew …” To me, going to bed thinking about what could have been, is a good sign of a great game.

My thoughts now

Wow. 2012 was a long time ago. Eclipse doesn’t feel that old to me. I’m pretty impressed with what I had to say back then as it’s all pretty much still accurate. I really enjoyed it back then, and still enjoy Eclipse now.

One of the things I remember happening with this game is that there was a certain combat strategy that came out that seemed a bit overpowered. I don’t remember it ever being a problem with our games but I heard a lot of buzz about it online. I also remember that when the Rise of the Ancients expansion came out it addressed that problem. I still own Eclipse. I own Rise of the Ancients and Ship Pack One, and  I still play Eclipse now and then. I’ve played it this year. So it does seem that the game has staying power. It may not be ranked number 5 on BGG anymore but it’s still an excellent sci-fi 4x game.

The thing is, it’s basically now obsolete. Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy funded on Kickstarter earlier this year. This is a revised and updated version of this classic game. A revised version that I was very happy to back at the highest tier. The fact that I was willing to buy an upgraded version of a game that I already own (and own two expansions for) is probably the best indicator of my regard for the Eclipse series.

I look forward to the new version showing up, and when it does I’m sure you will get to read all about it here.

At this point, this article is more than two years old and I’ve since received the new version of Eclipse with you can see in our Eclipse Second Dawn for the Galaxy Unboxing Video. I share my first thoughts on this new edition of Eclipse on episode 99 of The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast. So far I haven’t done up a full review due to the COVID pandemic and not being able to play with more than two players.

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