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Subject: What I like and what I don't (a 2900-word review) rss

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Remy Gibson
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If you're reading this review, then you probably know a little something about the amount of attention this game has received over the past year, the anticipation people have had (myself included) for its release. So I'm not going to say any more about that.

I think there's also a solid chance that you know something about how the game works. If not, let me steer you to three excellent resources:

- the game's rules
- an in-depth text review
- a visual overview of the game's components and rules

No need for me to rehash all of that here. Instead, I'm simply going to give you my opinions about the game (even though chances are you've either: a) already purchased it, or 2) don't want to spend $150 on it and have to wait until April).

What I like about Eclipse

There certainly is a lot to like about this game.

While I have only played twice so far, both 2-player games with my son, it feels like a very well-designed game to me. Everything integrates together nicely. There are a lot of options available to you, and much like in a game like Le Havre, it feels like every option is a pretty good one. Your task is to develop a strategy and discover which of these options is your best route to that end.

The game is short. I don't mean this in a negative way at all; this is the "what I like" section, after all. But I think that "30 minutes per player" estimate on the box is probably right on. Not counting setup and teardown, our first game ran to about 1½ hours; game #2 was more like 70-75 minutes. It's pretty amazing that the amount of game there is here -- and it does feel pretty epic in scope -- has been wedged into that time frame without feeling like it's been "wedged" in. When the game is over, you have played a complete game; you don't wish it had gone on longer, you don't wish it had been over in less time; it's a Baby Bear of a game: just right. Coming from the Twilight Imperium realm, this is quite refreshing.

Designing ships. This is one of the most interesting things about this game and one that seems to have the potential for loads of replayability: the fact that you have 4 different offensive/defensive items you can build and that each one can be completely customized the way you want it. Stronger hull, better shields, computers to generate better chances to hit, more powerful armament, faster drives -- and your only limit is the size of the ship and the need to power all of that juicy new technology. Space Empires, also recently released, is another "4X" space civilization game that allows individual customization of ships. Eclipse's version is certainly more streamlined, and therefore less "realistic" (as any changes you make are applied instantly to all of your ships, wherever they are), but this is something that is to be expected when comparing a Euro game to a war game.

Another note about ship design: There are 17 different ship parts that you can attach, which can be grouped broadly into 5 different categories (if you combine computers and shields in the same grouping). One kind of part is available at the start of the game from each of these categories; to get to the other 12 parts, you'll need to research the appropriate technology (though some of the alien races start with a more advanced part). Each of your ship types is constructed with a variation of these 5 parts. This does not serve as a very strong differentiator. Aside from minor differences between races and the matter of initiative, your ships are capable of the same things; the real difference is in their size, which in this case means how many different ship parts you can pack on.

What this allows is a wide open field for players to tailor each ship to their personal desires. What this doesn't allow is for any ship to have its own identity, functions and features that are inherent to it. To refer to Twilight Imperium for a moment: In TI, each ship has a particular function, something that it is especially good for. Technologies layered on top of these basic functions typically don't change this underlying identity. This simply isn't true for Eclipse.

I'm not making a value judgment on this point (i.e. "I like this" or "I don't like this"). I'm just making an observation about a qualitative difference.

Simplicity. This might be a matter of perspective -- and this whole review is, actually -- but I think the rules in this game are fairly easy to grasp. Again, my background here is Twilight Imperium; the rules here are far less complex and with far fewer exceptions than in TI. Even though both games say they are for ages 14 and up, I can tell you that though they are not kidding with TI, I think that's overstating it for Eclipse. My son is 10, and he is grasping the game just fine.

But as far as the rules go, you have just a few different things you can do on your turn. Each option is easily understood and most of them are super-quick to perform. The rules don't get in the way of executing your strategy. This feels very Euro to me, but it fits in quite well with this execution.

One specific aspect of the rules I want to mention, especially in combination with the ship design, is combat. D6s are used, which always makes me a little leery, but I think they are used to good effect here. The basic rule of combat is simple: a "1" is always a miss, no matter the modifiers, and a "6" is always a hit. So you either need to roll a 6, or have parts on your ship to allow you to roll a lower number and still hit. Despite the variety of stuff that can be attached to your ships, it is quite easy to tell at a glance:

- who has the higher initiative (and therefore fires first in this non-simultaneous system)
- what their "to hit" number is (by comparing hit bonus for computers and hit penalties for the other player's shields)
- how many hits each cannon will dish out (by the color of the dice rolled -- an ingenious mechanic)
- how many hits each ship can take (by looking at their hull strength)

The implementation of the rules via its graphic design is also very good. The rulebook, while still necessary as a reference tool, has been largely obviated by the little icons decorating every piece of the game. Theoretically, one could simply look at each icon presented for your six basic actions and know what you can do; ultimately, these icons serve as quick reminders. I suppose they are like Race for the Galaxy in that way, but I don't think the level of initial confusion is as present regarding these icons as it is for RftG.

Here's a specific example, contrasting the way Twilight Imperium indicates that you receive a +1 bonus on combat rolls for your Cruisers with the way Eclipse indicates this same thing.

- In TI, you can research the technology Hylar V Assault Laser. When you do, you receive a specific card, which you place in front of you along with all other cards indicating which technologies have been researched as well as cards indicating which planets you control. The text on this particular card reads: "All of your Cruisers and Destroyers now receive +1 on all combat rolls."

- In Eclipse, this ability is not actually a technology but a ship part called Electron Computer. When this ability is active on your Cruisers, you place a tile on your Cruiser "blueprint" on which most of the space is taken up by a white box with a black "+1" in the middle of it.

Let me just say -- in case it isn't obvious -- that it's far harder to see that card in TI from across the table than it is to see that big "+1" in Eclipse.

This is just one example of the many, many little things that have been done graphically in this game to help the player out and keep the flow of the game moving right along.

A few other quick hits on things I like:

- The restrictions on movement -- one can't necessarily travel to any adjacent system due to wormholes -- do a good job of constricting the board and allowing for strategic blocking.

- A simple system for generating resources of three different types that allows for a lot of meaningful choices.

- Nice checks and balances to allow players to do what they want while keeping them from doing too much, as each disc you use to control a system and gain resources makes each future action more expensive. This integrated economy is a nice little engine underlying the game.

- The technologies that aren't ship related open up numerous interesting options, from Orbitals to allow more resource generation to Monoliths for points to the Wormhole Generator for an explosion of unexpected movement.

- The purchase of technologies is interesting in itself. You always want to buy more than you can get (or want to buy techs that haven't become available yet). And the purchasing system for techs is good, too, allowing discounts for having multiple techs in one field without allowing the discounts to be too deep.

- Discovery Tiles (bonuses for conquering certain systems) and their sometimes-protectors, the Ancients, add in some nice little incentives for exploration and non-player elements.

- Passing first can be important, as it allows you to go first in the next round (which can be important for certain timing-related things like buying technologies, fighting for valuable systems, and exploring into certain locations). But even when you pass, you can still take some limited actions, which is unusual and nice.

- The bonuses for combat are large -- but not too large -- and varied. And you get a bonus whenever you have a ship in combat, even if you don't initiate it, which should serve as a bit of a disincentive to warmongering types.

- The Ambassadors look like they should be an interesting addition. I've noticed that certain races have Ambassador-only spots on their Player Boards, which would encourage those players to make friends with at least one other player. Unfortunately, these rules are only in effect for 4-6 player games, and I haven't had the opportunity for one of those yet.


What I don't like about Eclipse

All the little bits. One of the biggest gripes I have with Through the Ages -- and what makes playing it online so much better than the physical version -- is all the tiny little rolling wooden pieces. Eclipse is not that bad. But it's not great. You have 30 cubes to line up on your player board at the start of the game, as well as 15 discs. By the end of the game, you have little bits and pieces all over the place. It's probably still not as bad as Twilight Imperium in either respect, but it's a little bit of tedium.

The storage solution is lacking. This is hardly the only game that takes the "throw all the stuff in here" approach to box inserts. But that Supply Board is pretty terrible. On one board you are to put all of the technologies as they come out through the game (not bad), in addition to other various tiles: Ancients, Discovery, and Orbitals/Monoliths (tedious). But this is the worst: the ship parts. There are 154 ship part tiles in the game. I believe you're supposed to sort and stack all of these onto this board before the game starts. This is almost unworkable.


Notice the board in the lower-right corner. This is the Supply Board. The mounds of tiles are the ship parts. You can also see the cubes and discs set up on the various Player Boards.
Image by BGG user duchamp.

What I have done is use a Plano 3650 box to sort the ship parts; some have used a GMT counter tray; I tried a Chessex counter tray but it didn't work well for me. The Plano box works quite nicely. A better option would have been for the game's publisher to supply some sort of tray for everything. Perhaps this is unrealistic for a game that already retails for $100. But I believe that it simply isn't possible to use that board as it's intended; I believe that they almost expected us to buy an alternate storage solution for those ship parts. That being the case, why not include a smaller board with just the technology area? (This has been provided on the BGG files page here: Eclipse compact technology board.)

The fleets are really . . . small. You only have 2 Dreadnoughts, 4 Cruisers, and 8 Interceptors in the game. That's it. So what the manual calls a "vast interstallar civilization" can't seem to muster much offense. Again, this is hardly the only game to impose limits on the number of ships you can build. But these limits seem particularly low.

And while we're on the subject of the ships, I don't like the ships. Most of the components in the game seem pretty high-quality to me, but the ships feel like cheap plastic, very light. Yet, at the same time, the Dreadnoughts and Cruisers are huge! Actually, I think they're too big for these system tiles, taking up too much space on the board.


The larger ships in this pic are the Cruisers. The Dreadnoughts are significantly larger. Get a couple of fleets in one hex with cubes on those pink and orange spaces, and it starts to get mighty crowded. (Yes, I know there's a Crowded Hex tile, or actually, two.)
Image by BGG user rashktah.

And since I've mentioned that most of the components are of a high quality, let me mention that the Supply Board and Player Boards are curiously thin. In fact, they are quite flimsy and easily bent. Again, I'm sure cost was a consideration here. There are a lot of little pieces in the game. And the Player Boards in Eclipse are of slightly better card stock than the race sheets in Twilight Imperium. But they also see a lot more use. They are the central hub of all your actions and are also at least 2-3 times larger than TI's race sheets. So the choice to make them flimsy card stock is ... curious.

The theme is certainly not pasted on. But I feel that it's integration is inconsistent in places. There are certainly parts of the game in which the science fiction theme comes through loud and clear: exploration, combat, technologies. But whenever the game's Euro mechanics assert themselves -- such as when colonizing planets, manipulating the in-game economy (especially at the end of the round if you're short on money), and scoring points with Reputation Tiles -- the theme seems to disappear. At these times, it feels as themed as something like Hansa Teutonica (which is to say, not at all). I'm sure there are some who will want to disagree with this paragraph, so let me reiterate that I believe the theme is as present here as in, say, Race for the Galaxy, but less so than in Space Empires or Twilight Imperium.

One other thing I will comment on that I don't like is the artwork. I don't mean the graphic design, such as the omnimpresent iconography (which, as I've said, is quite good), although I think they could have picked a more readable font for all the text in the game. But the few instances of artwork on the Player Boards and in the manual are quite unappealing to me. (I am not an artist; my level of expertise is slightly below cave-painting. But obviously one doesn't have to be an artist to be a critic.) In addition, since the drawing on the Player Board is your only clue as to what color you're supposed to be, there are some occasions where that could have been more clear.


An example of the artwork. Also note the font.
Image by BGG user kilgore.


Another example of the font choice. Not horrible, but not great.
Image by BGG user (and the game's designer) Touko.

----------

One obvious question that people are likely to have when looking at a modular, hexagonal, space-themed game is: How similar is this to other such games? I can only speak for Twilight Imperium, one of my favorites. But I can answer that question this way: Not very similar.

The emphasis in TI is on achieving specific objectives, diplomacy, and fleet movement and construction. The emphasis in Eclipse seems (again, after 2 plays) to be more of a focus on your economy, expanding enough to give yourself options without expanding so fast that you weigh yourself down. To me, Eclipse feels like a cross between Twilight Imperium and Through the Ages, and I mean that in the best possible way.

It's hard to pin down the exact elements that make the games feel different, but they do feel very different. Have you played a Euro game before? Well, Eclipse feels more like that than Twilight Imperium does. My apologies for such a vague conclusion to this review, but there you have it.

Eclipse: Should you buy it? I don't regret the money I spent on it ($65 pre-ordered). I expect that it will get more play over the next couple of years than Twilight Imperium, but the primary reason for this is its play length and the fact that it supports 2 players, rather than any qualitative superiority. I haven't rated it as of writing this review, but it stands a good chance of cracking my top 10 games.

If that isn't saying a lot, it's saying enough.

Edits for image insertion and title change.
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Dmitry Vensko
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Fleet size is matter of preference I think. I personally like battles of individual ships much more than battles of generic hordes.
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Tim Seitz
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Good comments. I agree with most of them.

Since most of your complaints are visual, you'd make your point more effectively (and get more thumbs) if you add pictures to describe your specific issues: ship part stacking, size of the ships, the cube setup, the font, etc.
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If Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Then Actions x2 Speak Louder Than Actions
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There's 2949 words in this review. I know you're underselling it a bit, but some people value accuracy in their word counted reviews.
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Peter Vrabel
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I certainly do. I was counting as I went along, and I refused to read the last 49 words out of protest.
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Remy Gibson
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VDmitry wrote:
Fleet size is matter of preference I think. I personally like battles of individual ships much more than battles of generic hordes.

I don't have a problem with the battles. But they are more ... intimate. I suppose another issue I have is with the thematics of the rulebook. As I mentioned before, a "vast interstellar civilization" should be able to muster more than 14 ships (though any board game is going to have limits). And it seems odd that there's some "Galactic Council" but the races don't actually know what the galaxy looks like.

It's a mismatching of the flavor text, but not an inherent flaw in the game.

out4blood wrote:
Good comments. I agree with most of them.

Since most of your complaints are visual, you'd make your point more effectively (and get more thumbs) if you add pictures to describe your specific issues: ship part stacking, size of the ships, the cube setup, the font, etc.

Thanks for the suggestion. I've edited the review with a few pics from the image gallery.

And now with captions, the word count is probably up to 3000. Should I change the title?
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Dmitry Vensko
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Aweberman wrote:
As I mentioned before, a "vast interstellar civilization" should be able to muster more than 14 ships


I think it is based on how big or expensive these ships are. For example USA has just about twelve carriers at the moment.
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I'm also not a fan of the ship models (they're the same ones you get in Eminent Domain, so some supplier must have had a big stash of them). If anyone finds an affordable replacement that looks nicer, I'd love to hear about it.
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Nate Merchant
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Hobbes wrote:
I'm also not a fan of the ship models (they're the same ones you get in Eminent Domain, so some supplier must have had a big stash of them). If anyone finds an affordable replacement that looks nicer, I'd love to hear about it.


Agreed. I'd love to see what Eclipse, 2nd Edition would look like.
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Barry Kendall
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Your review is very informative and much appreciated. In the avalanche of new releases this past year, this title fell off my radar entirely. Based on your article, I must give it a serious look-see.

I particularly like the fact that you've been playing this two-player. I have TI and would love to spend whole days playing it, but getting even four people together for an allday is virtually impossible these days for me, and I'm not schizo enough to play it solo!

Your comments on the relatively short game length which still yields a satisfied-at-the-end play "feel" are particularly intriguing.

Re the small fleet sizes, I was already mentally picturing "squadrons" of ships in the classes represented in order to get that "fleets in space" mind's-eye view.

However, since I own another space game with these ships, would you say it's possible to play "Eclipse" with larger numbers of ships? Or do economics/costs in the game preclude larger fleets?

Also--from what you've written, it sounds as though this game would work for solitaire players running 2-3 races. Do you think so? Or are there elements of the system that would preclude solitaire play?

Thanks for your review, all 2,949 words of it.
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Remy Gibson
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Barry Kendall wrote:
In the avalanche of new releases this past year, this title fell off my radar entirely.

You must never look at The Hotness.

Quote:
However, since I own another space game with these ships, would you say it's possible to play "Eclipse" with larger numbers of ships? Or do economics/costs in the game preclude larger fleets?

Without more plays, I can't state this for a certainty, but I believe the ability to build larger fleets would not work here. Other more experienced players can weigh in to support or deny this assertion, of course. But I think the way movement works in this game would mean that a player who could get a large fleet going would run rampant over those who decided to focus in a different direction.

Even though there are 9 rounds in the game, I think less actually "happens" than in a 7 or 8 round game of Twilight Imperium. I also think that the ships take a larger chunk out of your roundly budget. In the early rounds you may only be producing 3 or 4 Materials, which is enough only to pick up 1 Interceptor. So it may be that larger fleets aren't actually possible within the limited time and economic constraints of the game.

Quote:
Also--from what you've written, it sounds as though this game would work for solitaire players running 2-3 races. Do you think so? Or are there elements of the system that would preclude solitaire play?

I think 1 player could probably run 2 or 3 races. I think more interesting solitaire variants should be possible, though, maybe by beefing up the Ancients or having non-player characters be more active, a la the recent Power Grid: The Robots expansion.
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Dan Williams
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I played this for the first time last night with a friend. It took 3.5 hours to play through to the end, which could be cut in half now that we fully understand the well written rules. He pursued more military early, while I explored and built up my civ engine. I was concerned about round 7 that he may come over to party in my neighborhood, but it never happened. The key play was that he bought the monolith tech out from under me. I was left with orphaned construction resources, and he won 35-34.

I agree with the OP about the pros and cons of this game. This is certainly a top-ten title. I want more two player, six player, and everything in between player plays of this. The internal logic and clear graphical representations of the pieces make it a pleasure to play. You can focus on your strategy, rather than trying to figure out the hieroglyphics on the units.

One thing I liked is how colonizing is handled. It reminded me of Alexander's approach to the Gordian Knot. No buying colonizing tech, building colony ships and moving them to the destination. Just an abstract ZAP you're there, and it's done. Sure, it's not realistic, but nothing is realistic about space colonization games.

This game is interesting, moves along, and is fun, fun, fun. At least until Daddy takes the T-Bird away.
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John Sullivan
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Excellent, well-written review. I wish I had enough board game experience in general to feel comfortable writing reviews for games. It's my GOTY for sure, of course I don't have bottomless pockets, and I haven't played them all. Either way, I do think it's an incredible must-play experience. I just love it.
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Natus wrote:
Hobbes wrote:
I'm also not a fan of the ship models (they're the same ones you get in Eminent Domain, so some supplier must have had a big stash of them). If anyone finds an affordable replacement that looks nicer, I'd love to hear about it.


Agreed. I'd love to see what Eclipse, 2nd Edition would look like.


I agree too. But if you already own Twilight Imperium, do what I did: I just subbed TI3 ships for the Phugly (with a capital P) ships that came with the game and replaced all the disks with the little flags from TI3 too. I think it makes the game look a lot better... only problem is that there is not enough flags of each color so I still had to use 1-4 disks, depending on technologies.

Look much cooler imo.
 
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Aweberman wrote:
One other thing I will comment on that I don't like is the artwork. I don't mean the graphic design, such as the omnimpresent iconography (which, as I've said, is quite good), although I think they could have picked a more readable font for all the text in the game. But the few instances of artwork on the Player Boards and in the manual are quite unappealing to me. (I am not an artist; my level of expertise is slightly below cave-painting. But obviously one doesn't have to be an artist to be a critic.) In addition, since the drawing on the Player Board is your only clue as to what color you're supposed to be, there are some occasions where that could have been more clear.


An example of the artwork. Also note the font.
Image by BGG user kilgore.


Another example of the font choice. Not horrible, but not great.
Image by BGG user (and the game's designer) Touko.

----------



I completely agree (and I made the same point within the header of my Eclipse GeekList: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/74269/is-there-room-fo...). The artwork is really very ugly!


Great review!! thumbsup thumbsup
 
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Natus wrote:
Agreed. I'd love to see what Eclipse, 2nd Edition would look like.


+1.

I like adore this game, but I'd pay for nicer ships as part of an Agricola-style Goodies expansion.
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someotherguy wrote:
If anyone tries the game with extra ships (using proxies, perhaps), I would be interested in hearing if they found the change an improvement.

Such a simple suggestion, and so easily implemented.

As mentioned my somebody else, Twilight Imperium's ships are easily swappable. That game comes with 5 Dreadnoughts, 8 Cruisers, and 10 Fighters in each color, and TI's DNs are about half the size of Eclipse's. A two-fer!
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Aweberman wrote:
someotherguy wrote:
If anyone tries the game with extra ships (using proxies, perhaps), I would be interested in hearing if they found the change an improvement.

Such a simple suggestion, and so easily implemented.

As mentioned my somebody else, Twilight Imperium's ships are easily swappable. That game comes with 5 Dreadnoughts, 8 Cruisers, and 10 Fighters in each color, and TI's DNs are about half the size of Eclipse's. A two-fer!

Why didn't *I* think of that!

I also have Starcraft, with ship stands!
 
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Aweberman wrote:
someotherguy wrote:
If anyone tries the game with extra ships (using proxies, perhaps), I would be interested in hearing if they found the change an improvement.

Such a simple suggestion, and so easily implemented.

As mentioned my somebody else, Twilight Imperium's ships are easily swappable. That game comes with 5 Dreadnoughts, 8 Cruisers, and 10 Fighters in each color, and TI's DNs are about half the size of Eclipse's. A two-fer!


Yes, but then you'd have the headache of the TI3 ships bitching that you only played with them half the amount of time that they were used to! Mutiny! laugh
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Quote:
The fleets are really . . . small. You only have 2 Dreadnoughts, 4 Cruisers, and 8 Interceptors in the game. That's it. So what the manual calls a "vast interstellar civilization" can't seem to muster much offense. Again, this is hardly the only game to impose limits on the number of ships you can build. But these limits seem particularly low.

Use a little imagination. Cruisers are the size of Starbases! Dreadnoughts are ginormous, blotting out the sun when they hover over their targets! Interceptors merely warp local gravity!
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Aweberman wrote:
it's a Baby Bear of a game: just right.
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Tomas Plečkaitis
Lithuania
Kaunas
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completely agree, ships could be smaller and differently shaped
 
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Joseph Wisniewski
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Nebraska
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squash wrote:
... The artwork is really very ugly!


Having played a bit of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim lately it looks like the people are screenshots from the game, same lack of proper reflection of light and same distorted features.

At least I can forgive ugly people pics in a board game more easily than in a video game renowned for it's graphics.
 
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Marcelo Trein
Brazil
Porto Alegre
Rio Grande do Sul
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" my level of expertise is slightly below cave-painting."




Anyway, I can't find this game anywhere for less than $200. Is there going to be a reprint? If so, where can I pre-order the reprint (if possible)? I hope they improve the bad points a bit.
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Peter O
United States
Oakland
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mtrein wrote:
" my level of expertise is slightly below cave-painting."

:D


Anyway, I can't find this game anywhere for less than $200. Is there going to be a reprint? If so, where can I pre-order the reprint (if possible)? I hope they improve the bad points a bit.


There are several threads discussing releases. The publishers do a good job of keeping people informed. Currently, the second reprint is expected in stores around early June. There are already rumors of some stores having sold out their pre-orders. The publishers have stated a third reprint would happen if needed.

As for changes, only some minor tweaks to the rulebook and bits are happening. Personally, I don't think there is anything significant to fix. For those who do think plasma missiles are overpowered will find that the expansion will have plenty of answers to them without invalidating them.
 
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