Scott Sexton
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Back in 1993 (or so) a good friend of mine introduced me to 2 video games: VGA Planets and Master of Orion. Master of Orion gave me my first real taste of a solo 4x in space game, while VGA planets was the first game I ever attended a LAN party for (technically I don't think this was a LAN party, but you get the idea). I couldn't tell you how many hours I've sunk into those two games, but I'm sure the number is staggering. That is what kids do when they have all the time in the world to waste. Those games made a HUGE impact on me and if nothing else, I find myself drawn to games that evoke a sense of nostalgia for the games of my youth like HeroQuest, Battlemasters, Axis & Allies, and VGA Planets. Somehow, I've managed to never play Eclipse until now, which is both unfortunate and perplexing, but hey, that's life. For me, Eclipse manages to capture all the thrills of VGA Planets, spun up in a faux Babylon 5 setting. Its delicious.

You can find other, better reviews that discuss how Eclipse works, how it compares to other 4x games, and even if its a good value for the money. This review will do none of those things. Instead, I want to look a bit more closely at what Eclipse does that I think is worth celebrating.

To boldly go ...

Exploration is probably the most important thing that a space game get right. To do exploration right, you need to have a sense of gazing into the unknown with the knowledge that you could be fabulously rewarded or that things could go wrong. There must be a sense of risk and reward. If there was no threat of failure or sub-optimal results, there would be no tension in seeking the unknown. If success was the only possible outcome, exploration would be boring, mundane even. As I gaze into the abyss, will I find some long lost alien artifact that grants me wondrous powers? Will I find a bountiful system full of planets ripe for the picking? Or will I find some horrible space cloud that wants to melt my face? Best of all, games that nail exploration tell fun stories and are immersive in their settings/themes.

The variety of tiles you get to explore is so much fun in your first several games, but as you begin to understand how the game works, the game begins to open up mechanically speaking. You will better understand what types of things you should be looking for to better synergize with your alien race, the techs you have learned, or even with the other things you've discovered along the way. Exploration becomes something much more then a blind jump into the unknown, rather it becomes a carefully calculated search for what your empire needs. Being able to assess your empire's needs and goals are crucial so that you can better decide what kinds of systems you should be looking for. This almost press you luck style of exploration becomes a very interesting decision space, especially for those who know what they are looking for.

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.


The ship customization elements of Eclipse really did surprise me. On paper it doesn't sound like much, but in practice, the act of taking techs and installing them in your little custom ship blueprints is a true joy. When I'm shuffling around my ship techs, I feel like a grease monkey tuning up the last of the custom V-8 Interceptors in some apocalyptic version of Australia. The performance of my ships is directly related to how I've built and designed them. You can even customize your death dealers to serve specific rolls. Will your fighters play out as bombers, or meat shields? Will your dreadnought be a missile platform or a near impenetrable fortress. The ship customization is so compelling that it even drives players to explore the depths of space on the off chance that they can dig up some unique ancient alien tech. There is something very fulfilling about swapping out your puny pea shooters for some rare guns capable of tearing worlds in half.

Its poetry in motion.

Science/Tech trees are nothing new and good designers know that they don't have to completely reinvent everything when designing a game. Nothing about Eclipse's tech tree system is particularly ground breaking, but when you add in the rare techs from the expansions, things get very interesting, very quickly. Each of the rare techs is one of a kind, and often they provide very powerful bonuses. That isn't to say you'll race to buy them 100% of the time though. Maybe you need to develop a common tech that can ramp up your ability to settle planets. Maybe you have other pressing needs like defending your systems from your neighbor. Every once and a while though, that rare tech will pop up that everyone wants though, and it becomes a race to grab it. Winning such a race though often time requires you to sacrifice money and resources though, depending on the state of your economy. The branching decisions that spin out from the tech tree as it develops are quite interesting. Better yet, developing your tech tree allows you to better customize your faction much like how the drafting in Blood Rage allows players to differentiate themselves from their opponents. Something else that mirrors Blood Rage is the manner in which the game rewards players who fully develop any of the branches of technology. Just like in Blood Rage where players can score significant bonus points for developing their clan stats, in Eclipse, the rewards for maxing the branches of technology can be very lucrative. In fact, ignoring your tech tree can put you at a significant disadvantage when scoring your empire.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.

The thing about Eclipse that stands out for me, that haunts me, is the unfolding narrative the game spreads out before the players. Eclipse is space opera in a box. Your triumphs. Your tragedies. Your discoveries. Your failures. They all belong to you, and they are your story. When I play Eclipse, I am a part of the epic space saga. A part of me wants to make the sound of engines firing as I jump the fleet. I can hear the sounds of missiles and laser turrets firing. Eclipse gives players permission to recite their favorite lines from Sci-fi the classics. And when you make that final push with your fleet on the final round of the game, you will feel that sense of the grand climax as it unfolds. Eclipse gives players both the tools and the permission to have fun as they race their empire across the starts. This is storytelling done right in a board game, complete with drama that creshendos at just the right points and all or nothing moments upon which all things hinge. The story of Eclipse is not one of nuance.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

In modern gaming, its easy to forget games after 6 months, a year, two. Somehow it took me almost 6 years to finally get in a game of Eclipse and I'm happy to report that it has held up very well with time. I would briefly note that I have all the expansions and haven't played Eclipse without them. The content of "Rise of the Ancients" is pretty much essential to getting the most out of this game. The Shadow of the Rift expansion is less then essential, but very much a good purchase to hunt down if for nothing else then having the extra variety in rare techs and discoveries. For anyone, like I, who has been interested in playing Eclipse but hasn't given it a shot yet, please do so. Eclipse is very much a relevant game, and feels every bit as fresh as a game released this year. It has aged quite well compared to where the board game industry is at today. If you find yourself looking for an epic space empire game full of wonder and fun, give Eclipse a shot. I do not give out perfect scores lightly, but it has been an extremely long time since a game evoked such emotions and satisfaction in me as a player. BGG rating 10.



You can find more of my reviews (including some laughably terrible ones I am ashamed of) here:

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/223195/item/5281612#item5...

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Ivan Alaiz
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I love your review, I come from the same place, VGA planets and MOO, I even suggested how to add a VGA planets theme to the game in the variants forum.

Eclipse is a high investment to play, not only in $$ but also logistics and timewise, for me it is always an effort to round up the amount of players I need with enough time to play the game and I always feel it was worth it.

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Jo Bartok
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Didn't feel any narrative when the game was just about tech trees, euro ressource management, discovery luck and combat dice rolling luck.

Exodus, TI3, Xia, Star Trek Fleet Captains, Star Trek Ascendancy are all better picks in my book, and for s space themed Euro with dice there is always Alien Frontiers.
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Wim van Gruisen
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This is what a review should be. It skips the boring rehearsing of the rulebook and gets right down to the passion it generates.
We need more of these reviews. Thank you for providing one.
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Scott Sexton
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Thank you for your kind words. I have been inspired by some of my favorite reviewers:

Charlie Theel
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Daniel Thurot
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and

Raf Cordero
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These three are a great read and do far better work then I.
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Andy Szymas
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Scott, have you considered starting a geeklist of reviews? I echo the sentiment above - quite like your reviews - and would love to know when you have a new review up.
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Craig Truesdell
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ionas wrote:
Didn't feel any narrative when the game was just about tech trees, euro resource management, discovery luck and combat dice rolling luck.


I see a lot of narrative in the items you listed.

Resource management is your race's economics. Run fast and hard and you are broke, but, if it gets you want you wanted, may have been worth it. Play it slower and you have healthy reserves which can create real issues for your enemies as they don't really know when or if you will pass and what you may build and where.

The key is keeping track of what your opponents are up to, it matters quite a bit, you can't optimize your own economy and expect to win. What is optimal depends on everyone on the map, what tech is available, and what turn it is, and the board which changes each game.



Discovery Luck: If it was known, it isn't really discovery so some randomness is expected. In games where someone is kinda stuck, they explore and the more they explore, the more lucky they will be. I bought the missile tech and the same turn my opponent found the -3 artifact! Dang it! It was pretty funny. That could be a plot for some movie or TV show, find the ancient artifact that saves the fleet.


Combat Dice Rolling Luck:
Ask any casino, rolling dice over time is math, not luck. The ships you build, the upgrades you make, and the battles you start, determine battles way more than luck at least in my experience. In history, it seems there are always some ships fighting in some big battle that are pretty much obsolete. That happens quite a bit in this game as it is hard to keep more than 2 classes of ships at the top end of the tech curve. I love it. And sometimes, they actually do make a difference. With the free battle calculators on the web, you can get very good estimates on your chances. In history, luck has always been a important part of combat, I would not expect this to be different.
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DB
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Thank you for reminding me that VGA Planets was a thing!
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Ivan Alaiz
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dpbush wrote:
Thank you for reminding me that VGA Planets was a thing!


You just made me not feel so alone in the universe... tried to create a visual retheme some time back and nobody got it...

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1646140/vga-planets-aka-80s...
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Markus
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ionas wrote:
Exodus, TI3, Xia, Star Trek Fleet Captains, Star Trek Ascendancy are all better picks in my book, and for s space themed Euro with dice there is always Alien Frontiers.


You don't have to like Eclipse, but likening it to Alien Frontiers is just purposeful, mean-spirited misleading.
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dpbush wrote:
Thank you for reminding me that VGA Planets was a thing!

Isn't it still a thing?
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Peter Bakija
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ionas wrote:
Didn't feel any narrative when the game was just about tech trees, euro ressource management, discovery luck and combat dice rolling luck.


Like, ya know, you have no need to like Eclipse if you don't like it. But "tech trees, euro resource management, discovery luck, and combat dice rolling" pretty much describes, ya know, a game. You aren't really pointing out anything that is a flaw, so much.
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Scott Sexton
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AndySzy wrote:
Scott, have you considered starting a geeklist of reviews? I echo the sentiment above - quite like your reviews - and would love to know when you have a new review up.


Better late then never I suppose:

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/223195/item/5281612#item5...
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Tanausú Alayón
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ionas wrote:
Didn't feel any narrative when the game was just about tech trees, euro ressource management, discovery luck and combat dice rolling luck.

Exodus, TI3, Xia, Star Trek Fleet Captains, Star Trek Ascendancy are all better picks in my book, and for s space themed Euro with dice there is always Alien Frontiers.


Simple flexible tech trees with tons of variety, streamlined and thematic resource management, balancing control and exploitation of planets against the ever increasing cost of managing your empire and performing actions, exploring the unknown, making choices whether or not you will keep the discovered sector (never discarding sectors is a very common mistake that makes things more luck dependant than it needs to be), rolling dice you carefully prepared and built up so that you get favorable rolls and great results when you land hits, or colossal epic roll offs between crazily tuned fleets with computers, shields, super fast drives, etc on all sides, but seriously though, the planning, researching and upgrading of your ship is much more than half the battle.

Also the games you mentioned are all very different games, achieving different things, it's fine if eclipse is not your cup of tea, but it doesn't mean those other games are better for everyone, they're different, and that's not the same thing, no pun intended.

I also feel like there is a meta arc in eclipse that most people go through who like the game. Early games are turtly, with a couple of big battles at the end. Then slowly players start discovering the merits of early aggression and expertly sniped research and upgrade actions that open doors for things early on. People learn to better discover sectors and keep an eye on each other and have stand offs and influence each other much earlier on, from there on the sky is the limit and games get much more dynamic and exciting, not just in the last turn. Or maybe that's just me, and it's not true at all for other people.
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Bryan Yeager
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bobbyme wrote:
ionas wrote:
Didn't feel any narrative when the game was just about tech trees, euro ressource management, discovery luck and combat dice rolling luck.

Exodus, TI3, Xia, Star Trek Fleet Captains, Star Trek Ascendancy are all better picks in my book, and for s space themed Euro with dice there is always Alien Frontiers.


I also feel like there is a meta arc in eclipse that most people go through who like the game. Early games are turtly, with a couple of big battles at the end. Then slowly players start discovering the merits of early aggression and expertly sniped research and upgrade actions that open doors for things early on. People learn to better discover sectors and keep an eye on each other and have stand offs and influence each other much earlier on, from there on the sky is the limit and games get much more dynamic and exciting, not just in the last turn. Or maybe that's just me, and it's not true at all for other people.


The cult of the new really interferes with players finding a game's deeper heuristics. Some games shine the first time you play them, but quickly tarnish over the next few plays, like silver. Other games look rough and do not initially show their luster, but with attention and the polishing of multiple plays shine like a diamond forever. Eclipse is a diamond.
 
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