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Eclipse, Mage Knight and Other News

Jesse Dean
United States
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
With the arrival of Eclipse on Wednesday, I have switched my primary focus from playing Mage Knight to playing Eclipse, though that did not stop me from playing Mage Knight 6 more times in the last week (mostly thanks to a houseguest whom likes adventure games). As expected my opinion of the game has improved with further plays, though my concerns have not really been alleviated much.

I think the biggest reason for my overall increase in opinion of the game is just a general increased understanding of the nuances of the game’s mechanical infrastructure and how to push and prod the system to my advantage. I still feel I have a lot to learn about the game, which is a good thing, but as it stands now does not seem to be only superficially deep, unlike 2010’s big 4X game “Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game.” There is a lot going on here, and I suspect it is going to take quite a few games for me to really understand the implications of all the options that the game provides. I also really like the different races. Each one seems to provide a different overall play experience, with options that provide only a slight difference from the human baseline and those that are significantly different enough to open up entirely new strategic horizons.

The elegance of the system is also pretty exceptional. After my disappointment over Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game and my fading appreciation of Through the Ages I was beginning to despair over ever finding a empire building board game that would ever come close to providing as good an experience as empire building video games. I think that Eclipse, and Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas for that matter, succeeds in that goal. So even if it does not provide my perfect empire game experience, it does provide proof that someone might be able to produce it someday.

My previous concerns about Eclipse have both faded and been replaced by entirely new and different concerns. I still think there is a potential to get put into a bad position based on the exploration tile draws as it really does seem better to find resource tiles, particularly those that provide money, early on then it does to find ancients. You do want to find ancients eventually in order to get their discovery tiles and reputation tiles, but getting effective resource tiles will allow you to ramp up until you get into a good position to deal with them faster. This issue may be avoidable if you are able to get a lucky ship-boosting or material production discovery early on, but I could easily see someone put in an unrecoverable position based just on exploration draws. I am not willing to dismiss the game just based on exploration yet, but I think I would be happier with the overall design if there were more system tiles total, and everyone had the ability to look at two and keep one.

I am much less concerned about the luck of discovery tiles. Most anything you find can be turned into an effective advantage, and even if you decide to simply keep the tile for victory points, 2 VP is a significant advantage, perhaps not as significant as getting a ship part or resource boost early on, but still a bonus that I am happy to get.

The variance of the reputation tiles is a concern, and a somewhat major one. In the worst case scenario there can be a 12 point difference between someone who draws straight 1s for their four tiles vs. someone who draws straight 4s, but even a close game can be decided by the draws if one player drew slightly better than the person in second place. You could continue to attempt space battles after you get your full reputation tiles just for the opportunity to get better draws, but you are also potentially thinning out your opponent’s bad tiles in the process too, and the likelihood of getting good draws from the bag goes down over time as other players grab the better reputation tiles. With victory points from most other areas in the game pre-determined this is slightly jarring. None of our games have been close enough for the difference in reputation tile victory points to matter, but as skill levels get closer, it could become problematic over time.

I plan to continue to encourage play of Eclipse in the near future to see if I can work through my issues with the game or at least find how much they negatively impact my perception of Eclipse’s quality. At the very least they are not as detrimental to the play experience as the chaotic parts of Urban Sprawl, which means that it will at least be fun stretching out the limits of the design. I hope to write my Eclipse review by the end of the month but we will see what happens.

Mage Knight
Mage Knight continues to go well. I am up to 21 plays, and am really appreciating the variability between individual games even with identical scenarios. Tonight’s game (Full Conquest) was particularly interesting because we ended up with 3 castles in the same general vicinity. Two were captured by the same player, and he proceeded to claim the third from another player after he had moved on. That castle was next to a city. Hilarity ensued, he conquered two cities and that was the end of that. Honestly, I am fairly surprised I was only 18 points behind after that, thanks to my steady acquisition of artifacts and abused of the Learning advanced action. I think Full Conquest is still my favorite scenario, but I enjoy the others too. It is interesting how each one changed the value of particular enhancements in relationship to each other.

Other News
Alex Wilson wrote an excellent blog post (BGG's most influential reviewers) analyzing the most influential reviewers on BGG and I came up 6th as well as the 2nd most influential written reviewer (vs. video reviewer) based on people who thumb and tip my posts. Thanks for the support ladies and gentlemen, I really do appreciate it!

I also see that Coolstuff got in copies of German Railways, which is a game I pre-ordered in preparation for Essen 2010, and Warriors and Traders which is a game that I have been interested in since I first read about it. Is there any desire for me to take a look at it after I finish up with writing about Eclipse?
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