As a game that involves both fighting and space, Eclipse is the perfect game for people who think that Agricola is too long and boring. Lasting only about eight hours and with a focus on the fun and trendy areas of resource management and statistical probability, Eclipse is a great light filler game for people who want to have a quick blast at each other with a plasma cannon and roll lots of dice.
Over nine rounds players explore and conquer new space tiles, carefully manage their economy, build ships, research new ship components, modify their ships’ blueprints and fight one another in a massive free-for-all. There are a lot of different parts of this game and they all interact with each other, making for a great deal of strategic complexity. I also really enjoy the theme – the ships and player boards look good and, frankly, who doesn’t want an excuse to blast their friends with an antimatter cannon? In short, the good parts of this game are very good.
Unfortunately, it also has some serious flaws. The biggest, in my opinion, is the somewhat incongruous presence of a great deal of luck. Randomly drawn exploration and discovery tiles can have game-changing effects, and combat relies on rolling dice. I’m not inherently against luck in games, but with a game that lasts this long and involves so much careful strategic planning it doesn’t seem appropriate for the ultimate outcome to hinge on a couple of dice rolls (which it often does). There are also enormous imbalances in power between the different factions, and the mechanics make it very easy for inexperienced players to accidentally king-make (while the theme often encourages them to do so).
However, despite these flaws it is still among my top ten games – largely because the good parts are good enough to make up for the bad parts with some room to spare. Of course, the parts of a game that its players don’t like can always be house-ruled out – an approach that I strongly recommend with Eclipse!
There are two expansions available (Shadows of the Rift and Rise of the Ancients) which introduce a few new mechanics that I don’t like. If anything they add more luck to the game without really adding any new strategic elements. However, I would still recommend the expansions because they contain a lot of new factions and technologies which definitely do add to the gameplay. Just don’t buy them for the portals and anomalies, or you will be disappointed!
When you talk about an eclipse most people automatically think of a solar eclipse. To follow the metaphor through in this case, “eclipsing” an opponent would mean being the small dim thing that momentarily gets in the way of the big bright thing before fading into obscurity. Below are my top tips for how to do this in Eclipse…
Fight everybody. Even a battle you win will cost you valuable resources. If you try to fight everyone you will cripple your economy, so pick your battles. You can also gain a valuable economic boost by exchanging ambassadors with other players. I would recommend doing this as much as you can in the early game, and you won’t be able to if you are at war with everyone.
Overexpand. Eclipse has an interesting and unusual mechanic where every sector you control costs you upkeep and makes it harder for you to take actions. This means that it is only worth holding a sector if it contributes more to your economy than it takes out of it, in contrast to most similar games where controlling extra territory is unequivocally good. Sectors with only a single usable planet are worse than useless in most cases. Try to colonise a few good sectors near the galactic centre where they are more likely to have two or more usable planets, rather than spreading yourself over lots of less lucrative star systems.
Build orbitals. This may seem quite specific, but then they are really bad. In order to build them early enough in the game to actually recoup the costs you will have to use nearly all of your materials and quite a bit of science, leaving your now orbital-enhanced sectors virtually undefended. You might as well paint a target on each of your sectors and put up a “neutron bomb here please” sign.
Play as the Exiles, or possibly the Pyxis. As previously mentioned, the factions are highly unbalanced. The Exiles are definitely the weakest, with the strongest few probably being the Planta, Hydran Progress, Orion Hegemony and Shapers. The Pyxis are also quite weak, if unusual and fun to play. They take a hefty penalty to total income in exchange for a boost to versatility, but as usual with “versatile” resources I find that the bonus you get would only make up for the disadvantage if you hadn’t really been bothering to plan at all… They do at least get the wonderfully named “Deathmoon”. This ship can only be built by merging two Dreadnoughts (usually the largest class of ship), but disappointingly isn’t actually very good in combat, and is mainly built on the final turn to gain victory points.
Bring cannons to a missile fight. Missiles are overpowered. There are a few extra anti-missile countermeasures in the expansion which help a little, but they are still overpowered nonetheless. There are good counter-strategies for defeating missile fleets, and indeed I have used some of them successfully, but they generally require much more work and/or research than your opponent has had to put in. All in all, the best way to defend yourself against a missile-armed enemy is to have your own missile ships, ideally with a slightly higher initiative…
Good things to do include deliberately bankrupting yourself (which is a great way to save taking an Influence action) and trying to get hold of the Advanced Robotics technology and/or a suitable advanced production tech as soon as possible. The Improved Hull technology also offers good value. Most importantly of all – whether you are exploring an ancient alien ruin or priming your antimatter cannons before leading your fleet into battle – always remember what this game is really all about: painstaking resource management.