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.


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!

2 thoughts on “Mechanically Sound #4: Eclipse Edition

    • It was a really outstanding game. You should know very much how much I avoid long games like the plague. I am really tempted to buy this, $100 and all, just to have it on my shelf. It just scratched a big itch for me.


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