Mechanically Sound #4: Eclipse Edition

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I recently had the opportunity to play Eclipse, the highly praised epic space opera game that currently resides as the #5 game of all time. Because of its high ranking and quick ascendancy, the game is somewhat controversial for some. There will always be naysayers. However, after only one play it’s clear to me that this game is very special.

Furthermore, the game is incredibly well designed. Nothing is out of place, nothing was confusing (for me, at least), and everything was richly thematic.  It seemed fitting and appropriate to dedicate a Mechanically Sound column to a few of the things I enjoyed most about Eclipse: Ship customization, battle, and the economy.

Ship Customization

Examine this player board. At the very top, from the left to the right, you have 4 ship types: fighter, cruiser, dreadnought, and space station. If you look closely, you’ll see a variety of squares with symbols on them.

Ships have a few variables:

  • Initiative: This determines who attacks first.
  • Movement: How far the ship can move with a move action.
  • Power: Weapon upgrades, engine upgrades, etc. require power. If your ship doesn’t have sufficient power to equip the part, you cannot do so. You can also upgrade a ship’s power supply.

On top of this basic framework, you can outfit a ship with improved guns that cause more damage with every hit, better engines for more  movement, shields to hinder an opponent’s hit chances, armor to increase life, computers to improve your hit chances, bombs to devastate planets, and my favorite, missiles, with which to launch a single, hopefully devastating broadside at the outset of every engagement. If you’ve read David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, the missiles in particular will be very exciting. I loved them.

This may sound complicated, but the presentation is excellent. You place the upgrade components (square pieces of punchboard) and place them on the ship. Ship numbers are limited by the number of components and typically you only have a handful out at a time. As a first time player, I had zero problems knowing what my ships could do and what upgrades were available for them. I was also able to keep tabs on my opponents’ fleets.

I think the biggest reason for this is that instead of going incredibly broad with ship types and a slew of variants, the designers went narrow and deep. Only 4 ship types, two of which have very simple component possibilities, and everything ultimately feeds into battle or movement.

Battle

I thought the battle system made a lot of sense and had a good dose of randomness and luck (it uses dice, after all), but still seems to reflect the upgrades and capabilities of the ship.

Ships attack in initiative order and players roll the number of dice indicated by upgrades. This usually means one or two per ship. Any 1s rolled are always misses. Any 6s rolled are always hits. Between these extremes is where modifications come in.

If you have a targeting computer for +2 hit chance, for example, you will hit on a 4 and up. If a 6 is a hit, then 4 + 2 (from the computer) means 6. That’s a 50/50 chance,which is much better than 1/6. However, let’s say your opponent has a shield, which gives you a -1 hit chance. Well, then you hit on a 5 and up. 1/3 is still far better than 1/6!

Occasionally, a battle can have a seemingly endless number of back and forth re-rolls, especially if neither side retreats (the game gives you an incentive to fight the battle to the death, even if it’s your death). But, in most cases this system perfectly reflects the capabilities of one’s ships without slowing the game with cumbersome tallying.

I really want to see how this system varies and changes over multiple plays. Currently, I think it’s the bee’s knees.

The Economy

For the longest time with Empire Reborn I tried to craft some form of turn-order determining system that reflected a player’s current status on the map. Essentially, a player with many armies widely disbursed should be more cumbersome than a player with fewer armies tightly focused.

Ultimately, I scrapped this to streamline the game and focus on the battles. However, Eclipse, which is a much heftier game, solves this goal in a really cool fashion.

Look at the bottom portion of the board in the image just above. There are red disks and little red squares on three tracks (orange, pink, and brown). The tracks are:

  • Orange Track: Last number revealed is the amount of money (a currency for taking actions) you earn at the end of every round.
  • Pink Track: Last number revealed is the amount of science (a currency for researching technology) you earn at the end of every round.
  • Brown Track: Last number revealed is the amount of materials (a currency for building ships) you earn at the end of every round.

There are 5 actions you can take every turn (multiple times, any order). To indicate you took an action, you place the rightmost red disk into the action space. This reveals a negative number on the bottom track. The left most revealed number at the end of the round is the amount of money you must pay. So, the more actions you take, the more money you pay.

Now, examine this picture again:

Each hex tile is a system. The owner of the system places a colored disk to indicate ownership. This disk is removed from your track at the bottom, which means colonizing planets permanently increases the cost of taking actions. Similarly, systems have a varied number of orange, pink, and brown cube spaces. When you take control of the system (with a disk), you can place cubes onto the board. So, if I claim a system with an orange and a pink space, I remove those cubes from the track on my board. This means I’ll earn more money and more science every round. It also means some systems are better than others, or may be better or worse depending on your strategy.

If you want to build ships? Go for systems with brown (manufacturing) spaces. Need to up your economy for more actions? Find the orange.

Thematically, this is excellent. The larger my empire, the more costly it is to manage it. And, as I develop star systems, my economy, science, and manufacturing capabilities increase. These things are so tightly connected and intertwined. There is no fluff and it’s just excellent.

As you can tell, I’m a bit enamored of Eclipse. This is probably the closest thing you’ll ever see to a review on this site. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that other games use very similar systems, but I haven’t seen things quite like this in my experiences, so they were very new and very welcome to me.

Have you encountered any stellar mechanics lately? Do you have a love letter to write? Note it in the comments below!

Mechanically Sound #3

Mechanically Sound is a recurring column in which I quickly bring to light some interesting game mechanics I’ve recently encountered. As always, suggest your own in comments.

Post by: Grant Rodiek

In this third rendition of Mechanically Sound I have three new mechanics to discuss. This week, I’m quite excited to discuss the Build Magic mechanic in Summoner Wars, the Color Mixing mechanic in Walls of Light, and the tile laying in Princes of Florence.

The Magic of Summoner Wars

When you want to place Unit cards from your hand onto the game board in Summoner Wars, you must spend a certain amount of Magic. In the card above, it’s the number 3 just under the large 2 (which is the attack value). Magic is obtained in 2 simple ways:

  • If you defeat a Unit, the card is placed in your magic pile as 1 Magic.
  • At the end of your turn, you may discard cards from your hand for 1 Magic apiece.

This does a lot of great things for the game. For one, it ties the game’s core resource beautifully into its battle system. If you fight well, you can summon more Units. It also has a nice risk versus reward with the discard. If you discard, you’ll get to draw more cards and potentially summon stronger units. However, when your deck runs out, it’s out.

I also like that Event cards do not require Magic to use, which means Magic is solely used for summoning additional units. If you’re curious about Summoner Wars, the game is free to play on iOS platforms.

The Pretty Colors of Walls of Light

Walls of Light is a free PNP game from Jesse Catron. You can also buy a version for $9.99 from The Game Crafter. The premise of the game is that you’re rebuilding the stained glass windows in a cathedral. It’s a neat abstract.

The game uses transparent wink tokens with primary colors from the RYB spectrum (Red, Yellow, Blue). If you place them atop each other, they form new colors. For example:

Red + Blue = Purple and Yellow + Blue = Green

This allows for player expression, creativity, and great strategy. It’s also very innovative and viscerally satisfying. Give it a look!

 

Fun Side Note: When I read Indie Boards and Cards’ prompt for a dice only game on BGG I set about creating a dice game. At first I thought about converting elements of my war game into a dice only thing (just for fun) and had some other equally poor ideas. Then I started thinking about wizards, magic, and alchemy. I started thinking of potions and colors and how you could mix them to create other things. Jesse sent me a copy of Walls of Light months ago, and though I’ve read the rules, I’ve never had a chance to play it. I came about this color idea on my own, but I’m also fairly certain Walls of Light was in my subconscious mind. The idea has since evolved past dice and I’ve been working with Jesse for advice and his input. Stay tuned for future info on this.

Building a Garden in Princes of Florence

Princes is fairly brilliant in so many ways. It has a fantastic bidding mechanic, a great long-term engine building mechanic, and it has this Tetris-like tile placement mechanic. The game features several pieces, like a University, fountain, lake, and other things you might see in Renaissance era Florence. When you obtain one of these pieces, most of which are oddly shaped, you must place them within a simple rule set on a very small grid.

I would happily play a game that was exclusively about placing these oddly shaped tiles on the grid. But, the fact that Princes incorporates it so meaningfully into a greater whole is all the more excellent.

What have you encountered lately that stood out to you? Mention it in the comments below. 

Mechanically Sound #2

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Mechanically Sound is a recurring column in which I quickly detail some interesting game mechanics that have appealed to me recently. By promoting the mechanics, I’m not necessarily recommending the game itself (though that’s often the case). I want to hear from YOU as well. What are some great mechanics?

I have been uncommonly busy these last few weeks, which means I’ve played fewer new games. Nonetheless, a few interesting mechanics have caught my attention. For this column I’ll be briefly discussing the interesting bidding mechanic in The Speicherstadt, the market in Octopus’ Garden, and 1812: The Invasion of Canada‘s flee mechanic.

Bidding in The Speicherstadt

Typically in a bidding game players go around one-upping each other. “I’ll pay 5.” “Oh yeah, I’ll pay 6.” And so forth. The Speicherstadt by Stefan Feld presents a fantastic twist to the traditional bidding mechanic that deepens the choices.

There are a set number of cards available each round. Each card can be won by a single player or no players if there are no bids. Each player has a finite number of meeples that he places on a track above a card to denote a bid. The first token means two things: the first player gets first right of refusal to buy the card and the card costs one coin.

However, this is where things get tricky. For each additional meeple placed, the cost increases by 1. If two meeples are placed, the first player can buy it for 2 coins. If there are three meeples, the cost is 3 coins. The first player may pass on the bid and remove his meeple. Now, the player with the second meeple has the option to purchase for the cost of the number of meeples behind him. The cost decreases as players pass.

This system allows for a really compelling situation that involves blocking to drive up the price and gaining position to have first choice. Even better, the bids are resolved from left to right, so you can drive up the price on a far right bid knowing your competitor won’t have sufficient funds once he gets there, forcing him to pass. It’s outstanding.

The Market in Octopus’ Garden

On each player’s turn in Octopus’ Garden by Roberta Taylor, the active player may purchase objects for her ocean. However, the options available for purchase are drawn randomly from a bag. Secondly, the player must buy an entire row or column of objects.

This means if you want the oyster, you need to buy the grass and coral as well. That means you need to pay full price and fill your ocean with less than optimal items.

Octopus’ Garden in particular lacks something that really makes it a game that you want to keep coming back to, but the market mechanic is really excellent and may fit perfectly within your design.

Fleeing in 1812: The Invasion of Canada

1812: The Invasion of Canada by Jeph Stahl and Beau Beckett is an outstanding game that I could reference constantly. To be honest, I probably will.

The game features a novel form of attrition that uniquely alters the state of the game constantly. There are 5 factions in the game: British Regulars, American Regulars, Canadian Militia, American Militia, Native Americans. Each faction player rolls a unique set of dice. All dice have 3 possible faces: Hit, Flee, or blank (command decision). Hits allow you to remove enemy units (i.e. a kill) whereas command decision has a variety of effects. Let’s focus on Flee.

For every Flee symbol that is rolled, the active player must remove and place 1 Unit onto the Fled space on the board. At the start of his next turn, these units are placed back on the board far back at the player’s muster area (i.e. spawn point). Ultimately, the units aren’t killed, but they are removed from the front lines and must be brought back to the front. This takes time and often, you need the units in the battle right now.

The other beautiful aspect of this mechanic is that it’s a brilliant way to demonstrate the personality of the units. British Regulars never fleet. Never. They will stand and fight until they are killed or you move them. American Regulars rarely Flee, but they still do it. The Militia on both sides constantly Flee and by mid-game they are a joke to all involved. This is historically accurate, but also incredibly elegant.

What have you encountered lately that really stood out? List it in the comments below!