Game Length: 2 hours, give or take an hour
Best enjoyed: With 4-6 players who want to conquer the galaxy!
Eclipse is a game of space exploration and empire building reminiscent of 4X videogames like Master of Orion – where 4X stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate – and this, ideally, is exactly what you’ll be doing over the course of the game.
The game board starts completely empty, save for the players’ homeworlds and the Galactic Centre, guarded by a powerful defense system but containing the most lucrative worlds. The spaces between worlds will gradually fill in as players explore, and they will be able to take the discovered systems for themselves – provided they’re not guarded by enemy Ancients.
As the game progresses, players will grow their empire, research technologies, and design and dispatch their warships. Each turn, you may take as many actions as you wish – but the more actions you take, the more your empire will need to pay for it, and if you’re not careful you can end up bankrupting yourself. Designing the warships is a compelling puzzle – you will need to balance offense, defense, speed and power, and be mindful of what your opponents have chosen to include on their own ships. As the empires grow, each will gain a particular flavour – one may be more focused on science, while another focuses on commerce to afford them more actions per turn. This is compounded by the range of alien races on offer, each of which plays quite differently.
Designing your ships and managing your empire in Eclipse is very satisfying – unfortunately, the combat itself can be frustrating. All combat in Eclipse is dice-based, which can cause major swings in fortune. This feels at odds with the cleverly implemented empire management system, and with such a long game it can be unsatisfying when your early expansion attempts are thwarted by poor rolls. Rewards for combat are also drawn randomly, and a player who has been aggressive all game long can end up losing out to a player who was in just a handful of scraps at the end of the game.
Combat aside, Eclipse is an excellent game with a clever empire management system that manages to reproduce the empire-building experience without taking overly long. It plays best with 4 to 6 players, as with 3 or less there are less opportunities for alliances and politicking. The alien races offer a lot of variety and the random offering of technologies will change the dominant strategies from game to game. Eclipse comes highly recommended to experienced boardgamers who want a complex and compelling empire-building game, but don’t want to have to sacrifice half a day to it.