Our ‘First Play’ guides describe the experiences of relatively experienced board gamers playing a new game for the first time. As such, they don’t include in-depth thoughts on strategy, depth or reliability. Playing With
Eclipse is a 4X game set in the distant future. Players research technology, build and upgrade ships, explore the galaxy, and compete for control of areas of space.
During the game, players can engage in a number of different actions including building, upgrading, moving, researching and controlling influence around the board. A player can take as many actions as they want in a round, but each action costs influence, and as you use influence the cost of running your empire increases.
As the universe expands and players settle on planets which provide them with bonuses to science, industry and money, the universe inevitably erupts into combat, which is controlled by the size of your ships, your tech level, your upgrades and your dice rolls. There are multiple ways to gain victory points, including science and control of the galaxy.
4X games are the one genre we have the least experience in. Jamie especially was a little intimidated, though Dan and I have considerable experience in playing 4X video games like Endless Space and Sins of a Solar Empire.
Like many large games, the setup for Eclipse was quite a lot of work. It took us around 30 minutes of reading the set-up rules and painstakingly separating slightly differently tiles into different piles and section of the board.
Mostly the set-up instructions were straight forward. A few times the rules seemed a little backward; asking us to pick a race and then telling us once we had picked that it was best not to play with alien races that turn.
Considering the complexity of Eclipse, learning the game was quite easy, even with a group new to 4X games. There are a few game mechanics that aren’t used in a three-player game which simplified matters a little. Rather than watching a video we simply followed the rules for each round.
While the rules are good, there’s still a lot to learn, especially as combat turns can be quite complicated and involve working out how different elements of ships interact with dice rolls. Because each ship can have different technologies installed, most of the combat encounters in the game meant going back to the manual each time to work out what to do.
The manual is clear and concise however, and the iconography used in the game makes plenty of sense. If we played another three-player game now, we feel we could jump straight into the action.
The sheer scale and depth of Eclipse make it hard to formulate a proper strategy first time. That’s not to say we didn’t have fun though. There’s a lot of different elements to try out, and ways to expand and explore that don’t involve combat.
Unfortunately for me playing a game with Dan, who is famous for instigating combat at pretty much every juncture, we dropped into a fight very quickly, which lead to me losing my home system as he had discovered a free ship during this exploration, making it hard for me to defend myself initially.
After a few skirmishes, I managed to push down out of the few systems I had colonised, and also managed to do a little bit of research to give my ships some defense – something Dan didn’t focus on at all. Unfortunately, while Dan and I were in an endless war with each other for a paltry amount of resources, Jamie had been free to explore half the galaxy, gather resources, colonise planets and build a fleet.
So, less of a ‘first game strategy’ and more of a first game bullying by Dan, but it was fun trying to protect my systems, upgrade my ships and then try to convince Dan – who later betrayed me, of course – to come and help stop Jamie from taking over the galaxy. Even with our rule checking and learning the systems, it was still easy to build up our own story and get into the theme of the game.
While there was no diplomacy built into the three-player game mechanically, we we’re already trying to make deals, attack and team up with temporary alliances through the game. Because each player does one action per round before moving to the next, turns move quickly even though there are a lot of different decisions to make in each round. The influence system also keeps turns limited naturally by making every action cost more each turn.
Much of the fun we had was outside of the games rules, so your mileage may vary depending on the group – we’re happy to jump straight into politics and debate outside of game rules as we play a lot of games together, but if you like solid mechanics you might struggle in a three-player game. Some of the games races and designs were also a little dry, though we added our own colour the alien races.
We’ve barely scraped the surface of Eclipse in one playthrough, but I can see how it could be an excellent game. Unlike some other large space 4X titles, it doesn’t get bogged down in mechanics, and it’s surprisingly streamlined in its rules. Overall, it feels like a good starting step in to 4X games, providing you have the patience to sit down and spend a few hours with rules and setup.
This was my first big 4X game and I found Eclipse initially a bit overwhelming for the first round or so. However, I quickly got the hang of things and managed to win through focusing on amassing as large a fortune as I could. This allowed me to have the very best ships and fortify a large area of the map whilst Dan and Rob fought amongst themselves. - Jamie