Fiddly is always expressed as a function of bits. A fiddly game, then, is a game with either lots of bits or lots of manipulation of bits. Eclipse, a new space exploration/expansion/extermination/exploitation (4X) Euro game from Asmodee, satisfies both conditions, with hundreds of wooden cubes and lots of little plastic spaceships and a gazillion punched cardboard tiles that get shifted and adjusted over and over through the two hour plus play time.
The fiddly nature of Eclipse helps provide a sense of immersion in the game’s theme of galactic civilizations expanding, exploring, and exploding one another through well-designed player mats that track the state of the player’s empire and various technologies. One watches his or her civilization grow (and, yes, shrink). But such fiddility comes at a time cost.
Recently, Pablo Garcia-Silva, Michael Vogt, and I put Pablo’s copy of Eclipse through its paces at Labyrinth on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. It took us about half an hour to punch the counters and get all the wooden bits and info counters sorted on the various player charts, but once everything was in place, we roared out of the wormholes and finished eight of nine turns in about two hours. I imagine that, with the pieces now roughly sorted, set-up will take less time, probably on the order of ten to fifteen minutes, an acceptable amount of prep time for those of us used to wargames but perhaps a bit long for those weaned on Euros.
The gameplay itself is mostly economic engine/worker placement (take a different action every round, increasing your mandatory end-turn money expenditure with every action), with some simple combat, random board generation, and awesome ship building thrown into the mix for good measure. Victory goes to the player with the most victory points at the end, earned through combat, territorial acquisition, and technology research.
Combat is perhaps a bit simplistic for the wargame crowd, but even having combat in a Euro game is rare enough that I won’t complain. Besides, getting to load up your ships with plasma cannons, gluon computers, and tachyon thrusters makes up for the buckets-of-dice combat resolution.
One never has quite enough resources to do everything, but there’s always the tantalizing possibility that if you over-extend, you can steal away an opponent’s resources to cover your own shortfall. I can see where an group given to analysis paralysis would hate this game—lots of potential paths to victory and avenues to failure—but if the group is as interested in having fun and flying little plastic spaceships and making poor science fiction puns as it is in maximizing efficiency in an economic engine, it’s a keeper. And at a hundred dollars retail, it better be.
This is another game I see getting a lot of play in the late-night game convention slots just for its support of up to six players and the glorious tableau the game presents on a table. Plus, you know, you get to make spaceship noises.
Once again, my thanks to the crew at Labyrinth for their gracious hosting and to Pablo and Michael for a great afternoon of gaming.