Throughout the annals of history, there are tales of empires that took thousands of years to build. Built through conquest, murder, and political intrigue, these empires stood as testaments to their times. Spreading far and wide, they encompassed the known world. But not every empire builder's got thousands of years to waste. Some of us have only got a few minutes at best to devote to the cause.
In Eight-Minute Empire, players will use a card driven area control and set collection mechanic to vie for control of several land masses. With only seven turns in which to do so, they will have to use their very best judgment and their wits if they hope to reign supreme. When the inevitable end finally comes, will your empire be the greatest the world has ever seen or will your accomplishments be lost in time? Only one way to find out.
As the name of the game implies, Eight Minute Empire is a game of empire building and the art work for this game reflects that feeling of exploration and discovery. On the front of the box, we see a seascape with an island in the background. Front and center is a three-masted ship, its sails full and billowing. Large red flags wave and snap in the breeze. Keeping pace with the ship is a large sea serpent undulating through the ocean waves. The overall image gives off a sense of movement and the way the ship is angled in the water leads the viewer to believe that the island in the background is old news and we're setting off for new horizons.
Inside the box is a double-sided game board and a slew of other pieces. The game board looks like a navigational map. There are several land masses and islands which have been divided into different regions. The divisions are clearly delineated by dark lines. There are several over water routes that are delineated by dots. Right in the middle-ish of the map is a region that is imprinted with the word 'Start'. Along the upper edge of the game board are six icons that represent where there will be cards placed during the course of the game along with the costs associated with purchasing those cards.
Also included in the box are 42 cards. Even though each of the cards are different, they all share some features in common. At the top of each card is a banner that contains an image of either a tree, a carrot, a rock, an anvil, or a ruby. Beneath this is an area that shows the point values for having a certain combination of identical images at the top of the cards. For instance, if a person ends the game with 4 tree icons under their control, they will earn an additional 2 victory points at the end of the game. These icons are referred to in game terms as 'Goods'.
Finally, beneath the victory point chart is another scroll that contains iconography which represents that card's special ability. Some cards will allow you to place units on the board. other will let you move them around. There are other type of cards that allow you to do other things, but the main thing to take away here is that it is through the use of these cards that your empire will rise or fall.
This game can handle up to five players and there are 3 small, wooden discs (which represent cities) and 14 wooden cubes (which represent armies) per player. Each player can choose from one of five colors: red, blue, white, yellow, and green. These pieces are what each player's empire will be comprised of.
In addition to the contents that have already been mentioned, there are also 44 cardboard coin tokens and 10 cardboard Goods tokens (each of which bears an image of one of the different types of goods). And the only other item of mention is the rule book. The rule book is very well written and well-illustrated. Lookswise, it doesn't strive to be anything other then a rule book. I wish I could say something better about it, but I really can't. While it does an excellent job of teaching the players how to play the game, it doesn't really help to draw them in thematically and it doesn't look particularly appealing.
First, the players agree on one of the maps and that map is placed face up on the table. Then, the cards are shuffled together into a deck and placed face down next to the game board and six cards are drawn and placed face up along the edge of the board where the card icons are.
Next, each player selects a color and takes the appropriate cubes and discs into their control and then three of the cubes (armies) are placed into the START region of the game board. Then the coins are placed into a pile and each player is dealt a certain number of coins depending on how many players are playing.
Once everyone has received their coin, a silent auction is performed to determine who will go first. Each player will select a coins or coins and hide the amount in a closed fist. Once everyone has selected their bid, everyone will reveal the coins in their hands at the same time. The player that bid the highest will go first and then play will continue clockwise from that person.
There are several different fundamental types of actions on the cards in this game. These actions are comprised of:
1. Move army: A move army action is shown as a number of cubes equal to the number of armies that are allowed to be moved next to the image of an arrow. Armies may only move into adjacent territories and for each territory that a single unit moves through, one unit of movement is deducted.
2. Place a castle: A castle placement is shown as an image of a castle. Castles (the wooden discs) may only be placed in an area where the player that is placing the castle has an army present.
3. Place armies: A place army action is shown as a number of cubes equal to the number of armies that are allowed to be placed. Armies may only be placed in a territory that contains a castle of the same color OR the START region.
4. Movement over sea: A movement over sea action is shown as a number of cubes equal to the number of armies that are allowed to be moved next to the image of an arrow that is next to the image of a ship. This ability can be used to transport units over land or over sea and is the only way that a player may ever expand the reaches of their empire to other continents.
5. Destroy armies: A destroy army action is shown as a number of cubes with red slashes to them equal to the number of units that are allowed to be destroyed. The person that is using this ability may target ANY army unit on the board to be destroyed. The destroyed unit is returned to its owners supply.
PURCHASING and USING CARDS
The cards are laid out alongside the game board in a tableau. The furthest card on the right costs 0 to collect. The next two in line cost 1 each. The two next to that cost 2 apiece and the last card costs 3 coins to purchase it.
At the beginning of a player's turn, they will choose a card from the tableau to purchase and add to their collection. If the player chooses one of the cards that isn't free, then they will pay the requisite amount of coin to the supply. The purchased card is then removed from the tableau and then, each card slides to the right to fill in the now empty spot and then a new card is drawn from the deck and placed face up into the 3 coin spot.
Once a player has purchased a card, they will place it face up in front of them and then take whatever action the card allows them to take. A player will never be without an option as to which card they can purchase. While it might not necessarily benefit them as much as other cards could, there will always be at least one card that is free.
END GAME and WINNING
The game comes to an end once every player has purchased and played a certain number of cards depending upon the number of people that are playing. Once this has happened, the players will tally up their scores according to the following:
1 victory point for each region that a player controls (where they have the majority). Cities count as armies when determining control.
1 victory point for each continent that a player controls (where they have the majority).
Victory points for collecting Goods (the points that are shown on the cards)
After all of the victory points totals have been calculated, the person with the most is declared the winner.
When this game made its first appearance at my local game group, it was an immediate hit. It seemed like everybody was talking about it and it seemed like every time it hit the table I was always wrapped up in some other game. My curiosity was piqued and I'd begun to despair that I'd ever get a chance to play it. And then it finally happened. The stars aligned in just the right way and I found myself finishing up one game just as a game of Eight Minute Empire was starting up. And let me tell you, it was well worth the wait.
It's hard to describe just what it is that I like so much about this game. Artistically and thematically, everything in this game fits. As a player, you're immediately drawn into its world. Being able to visually see everyone's cubes filling up the landscape like a virus really makes you feel like you're growing an empire from nothing. So, there's that.
And there's also the way that this game is very easy to set up, very easy to teach, and very easy to play. But the ease of use belies the deep strategy that lurks below. Most strategic board games turn up the difficulty by forcing the players to have to manage a scarce resource - be it money or meeples. But this game is something else entirely. Not only are you forced to build your empire with an incredibly small pool of gold, but you are forced to do so in only seven very short turns. That challenge is something that is ever present in every single game and no two games ever play the same. This keeps the game fresh and invigorating every single time that you play it.
My only beef with this game is the misleading nature of the name. I have never played a game of Eight Minute Empire that only lasted for eight minutes or anything close to eight minutes. But that's only a minor complaint. Yes, there is some luck involved. The nature of the cards decrees that there is some luck involved. However, this is entirely mitigated by forcing the players to make strategic decisions about how they spend their money. As far as strategy games go, this one is pretty much perfect.
This is a very engaging game and a whole lot of fun and I'd recommend it to anybody.