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Subject: First Play Impressions rss

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Chris Berger
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Finally got Escalation to the table last night (4p), and I was pretty impressed. We played with most of the expansion, but skipped the scenarios. While the scenarios are the part that I'm most excited about trying, we had one new player and one who had played the game once, about 2 years ago, and didn't remember how to play.

All-in-all, I think it went fantastically. As usual, the game ended too quickly, and we will probably play the next 4p either with the 5p cards mixed in or to 3 stacks depleted.

The new planets were interesting - didn't change things too much, but helped emphasize deeper Surveys (you don't want to follow Survey with only 2 symbols if the top card is Hostile and you don't have any Warfare, for example). Also the planets with actions on them (Bustling, I think?) were really good, especially in combination with Double Time.

Nobody went real heavy into Warfare, but one player who took Peace Treaty still got about 3 or 4 VP out of it - pretty good for a lvl 1 tech. (I think the other player who took a Peace Treaty only got 1 or 2 VP out of his.) There wasn't a lot of Fleet card use - I think one player traded for Cruisers Destroyers a couple of times to attack planets that needed it. Personally, I chose a Research-heavy strategy, and ended up using one of the lvl 2 cards that can be discarded as a Destroyer instead of upgrading fighters.

Double Times were really good, and I see why others are concerned about the Double Trouble scenario. But in a 4p game without that scenario (or any scenarios), they still seemed balanced. In that they are strong - they give everyone something to chase after - but not necessarily overpowered, and everyone has the same chance to research them with 6 in the stacks. I did point them out as possible research targets when someone had 2 different planets face up and wasn't sure what they wanted. I think that slight extra requirement above normal lvl 1 techs is enough to keep them from being out of line. Of the other techs in the expansion - nothing really stood out, but I do like having an Improved Trade and Improved Research in the Advanced stack (and corresponding roles that were once missing from the Metallic and Fertile stack).

At the end of the game, I Researched Weapons Emporium with my final role of the game, and the last player nicely called Trade resulting in 1 VP for him and 3 VP for me, and the final scores were 23 (Me) - 21 - 21 - 21. I had hoped to follow a Research role to get the Weapons Emporium and then call Trade myself to ensure I got it (and would have also resulted in 1 more VP for me due to having an extra fighter and lacking a symbol to trade it with). But no one else Researched on the last turn around. I guess no one but me had the 5 symbols required to get anything worth points. I did warn the (new) player that I could now trade fighters as resources before he called Trade, but he said he had nothing else useful to do, and if he hadn't done it the game would have ended at 21-21-20-20, with me and him tied for last, so I can't say it was a terrible move...

So far, my provisional rating of Escalation is a 9. If scenarios are as awesome as I think they're going to be, that may well increase to a 10.
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Doobermite
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Quote:
Nobody went real heavy into Warfare


After my initial reading of the rules, my impression was that it seemed very Warfare heavy, with Warfare cards now being able to obtain Research cards. Glad to hear that Warfare is not an automatic "go to" strategy now. I can't wait to play. The Scenarios and new Tech cards look cool.
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Chris Berger
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dbmite wrote:
Quote:
Nobody went real heavy into Warfare


After my initial reading of the rules, my impression was that it seemed very Warfare heavy, with Warfare cards now being able to obtain Research cards. Glad to hear that Warfare is not an automatic "go to" strategy now. I can't wait to play. The Scenarios and new Tech cards look cool.


There are definitely more reasons to go Warfare than before, but the existence of Peace Treaties and Civilized planets puts a check on that. This particular game was unusually Colonize-heavy, just due to everyone's initial Surveys - the Colonize deck ran out probably halfway through the game. So I'll have to play again to see if Warfare is more prevalent, but if it is, then it opens up the opportunity for someone to get double-digit points from Peace Treaties and Civilized planets.
 
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Kenny VenOsdel
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arkayn wrote:
dbmite wrote:
Quote:
Nobody went real heavy into Warfare


After my initial reading of the rules, my impression was that it seemed very Warfare heavy, with Warfare cards now being able to obtain Research cards. Glad to hear that Warfare is not an automatic "go to" strategy now. I can't wait to play. The Scenarios and new Tech cards look cool.



I had the same qualms when doing the playtesting and expressed it to Seth. At the time only the Civilized planets had the ability to gain VP for dissenting warfare and it was too hard to find them reliably I thought. The addition of the tech made it much more balanced.
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Atnier Rodriguez
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How is it with 2-players?
 
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Peter 'Pedro' Goins
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okami31 wrote:
How is it with 2-players?


My wife and I have played a few 2-player games, both with and without the scenarios. We like it, though we only exclude half the recommended role cards from each stack (1-2 instead of 2-4) so the game isn't too short.
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Seth Jaffee
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arkayn wrote:
Finally got Escalation to the table last night (4p), and I was pretty impressed...

All-in-all, I think it went fantastically.

Awesome! It's so good to hear this. I'm glad you enjoyed the expansion

Quote:
As usual, the game ended too quickly, and we will probably play the next 4p either with the 5p cards mixed in or to 3 stacks depleted.

Recently on a game design hangout, Ben Pinchback (Fleet designer) asked me whether I tested with 3 pile depletion, and why that's not the rule, since it seems like that would be an obvious way to make the game longer when some players think the game goes to fast...

I should compose a blog post about this. The thing is, in my experience the game isn't too short. In fact, most games with 4 experienced players tend to last about as long as possible, with each stack being low, and in some cases I feel the game seems to drag a bit.

From what I can tell, when the game goes too quickly it's usually as a result of players over-choosing Colonize, and running the Colonize deck out early. Then the game ends when 1 stack of mid/late game roles is exhausted...

Some of this is group-think, but as players find that they can often do better by getting by with as few colonize cards in their deck as possible, then they stop leading Colonize, and the Colonize deck doesn't run out.

If you are playing to 3 pile depletion and the Colonize deck doesn't run out, then suddenly the game drags on forever - you need to deplete 3 OTHER piles, which just doesn't happen as quickly.

So I recommend against using 3-ppile depletion. If you're looking for a longer game, I recommend adding the 5p cards.

But note, the game is really a race to get to the higher scoring mid-game stuff, and to gather more points than your opponents before the game ends.

Quote:
The new planets were interesting - didn't change things too much, but helped emphasize deeper Surveys (you don't want to follow Survey with only 2 symbols if the top card is Hostile and you don't have any Warfare, for example). Also the planets with actions on them (Bustling, I think?) were really good, especially in combination with Double Time.


I'm glad this came though. One of the things I hoped to accomplish with the expansion was to make it less bad to be the guy with a bunch of Survey cards in your deck. In the base game you can do rather well simply following Survey roles for 1 Planet. I've tried to make more reasons to care about which planet you get, and therefore more interested in doing deeper surveys.

Quote:
So far, my provisional rating of Escalation is a 9. If scenarios are as awesome as I think they're going to be, that may well increase to a 10.

This is great to hear!
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Kenny VenOsdel
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PedroG wrote:
okami31 wrote:
How is it with 2-players?


My wife and I have played a few 2-player games, both with and without the scenarios. We like it, though we only exclude half the recommended role cards from each stack (1-2 instead of 2-4) so the game isn't too short.


Since the release I've only played it with 2 players and I like it a lot. The scenarios are really neat, but if the players aren't as experienced some will be less helpful in giving them directions to play in.

The game length is perfect IMO as printed in the book. You can figure on about 5 planets each in an average game. If it was a little too short for you I would experiment with removing MORE role cards and going to 2 stack depletion.
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Chris Berger
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sedjtroll wrote:
I should compose a blog post about this. The thing is, in my experience the game isn't too short. In fact, most games with 4 experienced players tend to last about as long as possible, with each stack being low, and in some cases I feel the game seems to drag a bit.


Been meaning to reply to this for a few days, but trying to a) compose my thoughts, and b) find the time to get them down.

Honestly, I don't think this is an issue of playstyle, but more one of preference. You say that the game is a race, and I see that it can be fun as a race, but I see it more as an engine building game, and in that regard it often ends before you get a chance to run your engine. At least two players that I've played with have voiced concerns about the game ending "too quick", and several others have been noticeably let down when they ask "that's it?" after a game that seemed to be about 2 to 4 turns too short.

I don't blame the design - there's definitely a movement among modern games to "leave the player wanting more", and a lot of games seem to end just as they're starting to ramp up (Vinhos is the most recent one I played that seemed annoyingly abrupt). And some people prefer that - if the game can be finished in 60 minutes, why play it for 90? Just putting 60 minutes on the side of the box instead of 90 can help sell more games, and yes, it's probably best if that number isn't too much of a lie (and Eminent Domain can definitely be played in 60 minutes or less - I don't have the box in front of me to see if that's what it claims or not).

One of my best friends and frequent gaming partners is one of the ones who insists on playing the game 3p extended and has complained about the 4p game being too short (in terms of turns, while also sometimes becoming too long if playing with AP-prone new players who feel the need to strategize and understand every tech instead of just playing a learning game). He pretty much refuses to play Race for the Galaxy with me because RftG really is a race game. But, like Eminent Domain, it's a race game with elements of engine building in it. A game of RftG is unlikely to take more than 10 turns, but there are "obvious" strategies that can take 5 to 6+ turns to set up your engine and then 5 to 6+ turns to run your engine before it truly pays off against someone that is just spamming development and/or planets as fast as they can. So, to use those strategies, you not only have to hit the lower ends of those ranges, but also avoid any distractions that would cause you to waste turns on side projects. I haven't been tempted to house-rule Race to be more about engine building than racing for several reasons - part of it being the delicate balance and part of it being the amount of randomness in the game (while it's not really luck-based, it is heavy on randomness, and either one, to me, means that a game is better when it's shorter - I love For Sale, but if it took an hour to play, it would be terrible).

Eminent Domain, on the other hand, has a lot more strategy and advanced planning available (while not being quite the tactical masterpiece of RftG, if I'm being honest). And because there are very few "pure" strategies, I don't think the balance is as delicate. By which I mean - there's no strategy to just "go warfare". You need to survey a bit, and you're probably going to want to research some tech cards. Similar, a strategy that is heavy on Produce/Trade or Research still needs a way to get and flip planets. So most games, you will play a hybrid strategy that uses most of the roles, and as long as one role doesn't end up way too strong in comparison to the others, you can mix up the ratios to some degree to make up for minor unevenness in the rewards.

If anything, lengthening the game stack-wise means that the game is more likely to end on VP depletion, powering up Produce/Trade. Currently Produce/Trade still seems to be a touch weak, or at least hard to accomplish, due to the setup involved.

(Doing some analysis here, let me know if my numbers or assumptions are off)
Getting points via Warfare or Colonize takes two "actions" (by which I mean, an Action or a Follow or a Lead) to get about 2 to 4 points. Getting points via Research requires you to get out some planets first (at least 2 planets for 2 points, at least 3 planets (and a lot of symbols) for 5 points), but once you have the engine set up, you can get 2 or 5 points per "action". Getting points via Produce/Trade requires approximately as much setup as Research, but for each planet you have, you can generally get 1 VP for 2 "actions". So with 3 planets, 3 or 4 VP for 2 "actions". For "actions" (really wish I had a better word for that... impulses?) spent vs. VP's gained, Produce/Trade really doesn't even start to pay off until you have 4 or 5 planets flipped, and that's right around the end of the game as it stands (Biosphere does help). Extending it a bit so that you can not only set up a P/T engine, but also get to run it a few turns, can only help a strategy that I have yet to see really pay off (other than in 2p vanilla, which is decidedly longer than 4p or even 3p ext without removing any role cards).

You might say that P/T is still getting the points for flipping planets, so a strategy might be to planet-spam until you have 4 or 5 flipped planets, getting points as if playing a planet-spam strategy, and then switch over to P/T. But due to the way the game builds your deck (and still my favorite part of Eminent Domain), a deck that has concentrated entirely on spamming planets is not well equipped to do anything but spam planets. So at that point, switching your deck to P/T is like turning a battleship. (Though I have had some success with throwing on some P/T ability (mainly for following) with a Research-heavy strategy, due to the ability to get secondary symbols on lvl 1 tech cards.)

But the real reason that I like the game longer isn't really to empower Produce/Trade - it's more so that there's more chance to research cool tech and then get to actually play those tech cards several times. Which now seems barely possible with lvl 2 tech and virtually impossible with lvl 3 tech (that is, by the time you have 3 matching planets flipped and can actually accumulate 7 research symbols either in hand or in play, you are likely to only get 1 or 2 turns at the end of the game where that tech matters - true that the extra turn for everyone under expansion rules helps a little bit, but on that turn only Settling, Attacking, Trading, or Researching really matter at all). It's true that that may make the Research role even more mandatory than it is already, but I feel like the heart of the game really lies with the research stacks, and anyway, the only strategy that has much hope of competing without researching at all is heavy Produce/Trade, and that's helped by lengthening the game anyway. I suppose you might be able to win with pure planet spam, but that's boring and is weakened by lengthening the game, so that's not a bad thing.

Quote:
If you are playing to 3 pile depletion and the Colonize deck doesn't run out, then suddenly the game drags on forever - you need to deplete 3 OTHER piles, which just doesn't happen as quickly.

So I recommend against using 3-ppile depletion. If you're looking for a longer game, I recommend adding the 5p cards.


I will take that advice. Since I'd probably prefer just adding the 5p cards - 3 pile depletion seems like it might have too much variance - either the game ending almost at the same time as it would otherwise or else dragging on forever. But then again, 3 pile depletion is really more like "play until the VP's run out", since Survey still seems very unlikely to ever be rundown, and without P/T being chosen a lot, you'd have to get Colonize/Warfare/Research to all empty out. But in the odd case that would happen, it could be a very long game.



kvenosdel wrote:
PedroG wrote:
okami31 wrote:
How is it with 2-players?


My wife and I have played a few 2-player games, both with and without the scenarios. We like it, though we only exclude half the recommended role cards from each stack (1-2 instead of 2-4) so the game isn't too short.


The game length is perfect IMO as printed in the book. You can figure on about 5 planets each in an average game. If it was a little too short for you I would experiment with removing MORE role cards and going to 2 stack depletion.


I thought the game length for 2p was almost perfect in the base game. So personally, I'd avoid removing any cards from the stacks for 2p. Though it can drag, so I'd probably suggest new players go by the expansion rules (removing cards from the stack) the first time and gauge from there.
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Brian Winkleblech
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My first play of Eminent Domain with the expansion was very positive. It was a 2 player game, and both players enjoyed it. I can't take too much from the experience though, because we played a rule wrong. We didn't realize that you could only have 1 of the biggest ship (forget the name and don't have the rulebook on me) out at a time, other than through technology. So one player won by upgrading his fleet several times and then getting the tech that gives a win for 3 of the last level of upgraded ships out. I found our mistake in the forums after and noticed what we missed in the rulebook.

Despite our misinterpretation of the rules, both players are eager to play the game again, and appreciated the flow of the game with the expansion.

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Seth Jaffee
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arkayn wrote:

If anything, lengthening the game stack-wise means that the game is more likely to end on VP depletion, powering up Produce/Trade. Currently Produce/Trade still seems to be a touch weak, or at least hard to accomplish, due to the setup involved.

(Doing some analysis here, let me know if my numbers or assumptions are off)

So, planet points take a Survey role in addition to a Colonize/Warfare role + Colonize/Warfare action.

P/T out scores planet flipping (is more efficient) as soon as you can get about 3vp per turn, but it requires setup and is inefficient before that. So it's dependent on game length, and it can really get helped out by those 3 tech cards which give additional points for producing or trading.

P/T may be more subtle than planet flipping or researching, but it isn't really worse. It can be very strong.
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Jimmy Okolica
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sedjtroll wrote:
arkayn wrote:

If anything, lengthening the game stack-wise means that the game is more likely to end on VP depletion, powering up Produce/Trade. Currently Produce/Trade still seems to be a touch weak, or at least hard to accomplish, due to the setup involved.

(Doing some analysis here, let me know if my numbers or assumptions are off)

So, planet points take a Survey role in addition to a Colonize/Warfare role + Colonize/Warfare action.

P/T out scores planet flipping (is more efficient) as soon as you can get about 3vp per turn, but it requires setup and is inefficient before that. So it's dependent on game length, and it can really get helped out by those 3 tech cards which give additional points for producing or trading.

P/T may be more subtle than planet flipping or researching, but it isn't really worse. It can be very strong.


But, like everything else in EmDom, it's also very dependent on if anyone else is doing it. If you're the only one calling P/T while you're able to count on someone else calling Colonize or Warfare, it is also less effective. In my games, I'm finding I'm the only one going a P/T route which means it takes longer (sometimes too long).
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Chris Berger
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sedjtroll wrote:
arkayn wrote:

(Doing some analysis here, let me know if my numbers or assumptions are off)

So, planet points take a Survey role in addition to a Colonize/Warfare role + Colonize/Warfare action.


Oops, I knew that, but I was mistakenly thinking of it as "Survey role + Colonize/Warfare to flip", instead of factoring in that flipping the planet takes two impulses on its own.
 
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Chris Berger
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arkayn wrote:
So far, my provisional rating of Escalation is a 9. If scenarios are as awesome as I think they're going to be, that may well increase to a 10.


Confirmed. Played game with scenarios, changed rating to 10.
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Scott Douglass
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I played a 2 player game tonight, and I'm very impressed by the new planets, techs, and the addition of scenarios. While I like base ED, I wanted more strategic diversity. So far it looks like the expansion delivered in spades.

We definitely could have played better, but it was still an interesting game.
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