Bill Koff
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Having gotten back into solitaire gaming this winter with the thoroughly enjoyable Ottoman Sunset, I was eager to get my hands on Hapsburg Eclipse - especially for the combined game using both titles. Here are my impressions after a few plays.

The Look

The packaging and graphics are up to VPG's "Gold Banner" standards, much akin to those for Ottoman Sunset (OS). The cover illustration is a literal interpretation of the title (as was the cover for OS, though in a different style), and is actually a pretty cool image.


Visually the game is mostly appealing, clear, and fairly thematic. There are some nice reminders of key rules on the map (though they missed an opportunity for one on the National Loyalty tracks). The art on the card backs is a beautifully rendered Austro-Hungarian royal crest, which adds to the table appeal of the game.

I have a few quibbles with some of the graphical choices. The main one is where the top half of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway box was placed - which determines how the boards are supposed to join together when playing the joint game with OS. Unfortunately, aligning the top and bottom halves of that box means the maps for the two games are completely non-contiguous, with the OS map far to the east of the HE map.


The combined game is much more appealing when the maps' coastlines are lined up - you have the sense that you're overseeing that whole section of the world. So when playing the combined game I'd recommend you line up the coastlines of the two gameboards, as the Railway box is just a place to put one informational counter anyway.


Other graphical miscues include the variable clarity of the little photo-illustrations on the counters, and the choice of burgundy counters for one type of off-map battle and red counters for another - the colors are too similar (seems like they would've done fine using yellow instead of burgundy). I did like how the pictures of counters in the applicable rules sections made it easy to quickly find the answers to rules questions.

The Rules

The layout of the rules is quite consistent with those of OS - not exemplary, but good enough for a compact booklet of fairly simple, straightforward rules. One or two mechanisms are a little fiddly and non-thematic (like those for the Russian "Great Retreat", for example), but nothing that bogs down play. If there had been more room in the rules booklet, I would've like to see a pronunciation guide - I'm sure I'm completely mangling the names of these Eastern European sites (Przemysl, with an accent over the s? Ay carumba!)


Basically, if you can play OS, you can play HE. Of course they both use the States of Seige solitaire system, though each has its own wrinkles to model some unique elements of that theater of war. For HE, an important one is the presence of National Loyalties tracks for the Czech, Croat and Hungarian ethnic groups, all three of which are threatening to collapse the Empire through revolt. You've got to keep exerting effort to keep them at bay (and none of the historical event cards help you in this at all save one). The political and military effects of these ethnic issues are really elegantly modeled, giving extra dimension to the game.


As has been mentioned by others, one difference between the two games is that HE has more off-map battles, so the importance of allocating resources to other theaters looms larger. Also, the National Will track is longer and thus not as brittle - though there are more ways for it to go downhill, too.

Gameplay

I've played HE by itself twice. The first was using the optional historical sequence of events, and I lost by a collapse of National Will upon the death of Franz Joseph (on card 25 of around 50). In my second game I managed to get a Strategic Stalemate. Just as in OS, the designer, developer and playtesters have done a great job of rigging the interaction of the various systems to yield a nice range of outcomes (and, as in OS, the rulebook also features nice speculative descriptions of what each type of game outcome would mean to world history).


Playing HE by itself yields the same types of pleasures as does OS: quick smooth-flowing play, tense decisions as pressure mounts from various threats, involvement in a conceivable historical narrative, breadth in scope yet inclusion of fascinating detail, and eminent replayability. However, there are plenty of differences in the situations and other elements between the two games. I think they are different enough that anyone with a modicum of interest in the period would like both of them. For me as a WWI buff, the subject matter of OS has always held more appeal than that of HE, but I certainly enjoyed both games on their own terms.

The Combined Game

So after two stand-alone games of HE I plunged into the combined game using both titles (still solitaire, though it's called the "Two Player Game" in the HE rulebook). I was pleased to find how well-implemented the combined game is. The tension and excitement are definitely ratcheted up from that of either game individually, but without any real sacrifice in playability. It took me about two hours for that first combined game, which included time for consultation of the few additional rules necessary - which are mostly straightforward and elegant like those for the individual games.

These games shine especially where the various systems interact and intersect, adding nuance and options to the necessary decisions. In the combined game, there are more of these interrelationships, so the whole experience is amped up. For instance, once Bulgaria's joined the Central Powers then the Austrians and the Turks (both represented by the player, one from each of the individual games) can share resources in certain ways; but if the enemy makes a certain amount of progress in the Balkans against the Austrians, then that rail connection is severed until the enemy can be beaten back. And you must be proactive in sending aid between the theaters, as once either the Turks or the Austrians go down it's too late for the other to help out.

In my first combined game I suffered a Crushing Defeat via the collapse of National Will in both theaters, with the Turks going down about 5 turns before the Austro-Hungarians. I saw the tide inexorably turning, and as control over my subjects ebbed away I found myself trying to orchestrate a military capitulation rather than allow the complete dissolution of the Empire. Alas, it was not to be.

Summing Up

So kudos to the design and development team at VPG for putting out a nice game in its own right in Hapsburg Eclipse, but even more so for being able to engineer such a well-balanced gratifying experience in combining the game with their previous title Ottoman Sunset. If you have any interest in the period you'll probably like either title. And if you like one of them, I think you'll really enjoy the full experience of playing the two together.



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Dave Daffin
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Wow, great review, Bill. I am so looking forward to eventually getting hold of Hapsburg Eclipse, even more so now I've read your review! Plus it sounds like the meshing of the two games has been really well implemented. Can't wait!
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Mayor Jim
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Good review. I have both but haven't had the chance to run HE through its paces yet.
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Bill Koff
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Thanks guys. I think you'll enjoy it.
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Andrzej Fiett
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Thank you for interesting review.

spindoc wrote:
I'm sure I'm completely mangling the names of these Eastern European sites (Przemysl, with an accent over the s? Ay carumba!)

This is not accent but sound silimar to "sh" in word "she". For Polish phonology look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_phonology You can click on a word "śruba" (screw) in the third table to hear pronunciation of "ś".

Nomenclature of the cities on Hapsburg Eclipe map (Polish and Carpathian Fronts) is complete hotchpotch!
Przemyśl - in Polish
Kraków - in English (Cracow)
Kraśnik - lack of "ś" (the same like in Przemyśl)
Lwów (Ukrainian: L'viv)- in German (Lemberg)
Brześć (Belarusian: Brest) - Brest-Litovsk is old Polish name (Brześć Litewski) translated into Russian
Równe (Ukrainian: Rivne) - in Russian (Rovno)
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Bill Koff
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Thanks Andrzej. I know two folks whose last names start with Sz - one (born in Poland) who pronounces it "sh", the other (born in the US) who pronounces it "z"....
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Darin Leviloff
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I spent some time in Poland, but I'll be damned if I can pronounce it. We had a hell of a time with some of the place names, particularly because some had Polish names and others had German names (Lvov and Lemburg were separate spaces until someone pointed out on CSW that they are the same place).

Thanks for the thoughtful review. Graphically, everything didn't work out perfectly, but overall I'm greatly pleased with the result. I'll admit that the "Great Retreat" was our hardest development issue. Take my word, we had a lot of different systems that we tried, until we got it the best we could. I think, though, it grows on you and makes for a strategic conundrum (do you wait for the Bolshevik revolution or spend the resources/victories ?)

I played last night and actually lost on the 50th card! The Balkan Front captured, Vienna, while I was distracted with the Croats and the Kaiserschlact. I'm going to decide now which optional rules to use in my own games- I think the Treaty of Spa and Desperation Morale.
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Bill Koff
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Crassus wrote:
Thanks for the thoughtful review.

Well thanks for the thoughtful game.

Crassus wrote:
I'll admit that the "Great Retreat" was our hardest development issue. Take my word, we had a lot of different systems that we tried, until we got it the best we could. I think, though, it grows on you and makes for a strategic conundrum (do you wait for the Bolshevik revolution or spend the resources/victories ?)

I agree, the rule works. It's just not as intuitive as most of the rest of the design.
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Bill Koff
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I just added a few images to the review. I'm a little surprised nobody else has posted anything about their experience with the combined game yet.
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Russ Williams
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spindoc wrote:
the choice of burgundy counters for one type of off-map battle and red counters for another - the colors are too similar (seems like they would've done fine using yellow instead of burgundy).

Ugh, yes; until I read this, I didn't even realize there were 2 different shades of red battle counter and that this had actual game significance (so I was giving the Western resource bonus to all 6 red battles, not just the 3 Western red battles). :/ Thanks for mentioning it in the review!
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