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The Genius of Eclipse IOS

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Big Daddy Creations hit IOS board game paydirt a couple of years back with Neuroshima Hex, a title that remains one of the best examples of crossing the table-to-tablet divide. Their long-awaited implementation of Eclipse (a Cracked LCD Game of the Year shortlister back in 2011) has finally arrived and it’s a grand slam. It may, in fact, be the new benchmark of how to do board game apps. It level of polish is AAA-impeccable. The interface brilliantly conveys every piece of information you need at any given time and after a mild breaking in period it makes the rich complexity of the game feel like second nature. It looks great, the AI can be quite ruthless, and although the multiplayer is hampered by Big Daddy Creations going with a proprietary service rather than Game Center, the async is rock solid.

But above all, what makes Eclipse the new standard for board game conversions is, ironically, that it doesn’t seem much like a board game at all on the iPad. It looks, sounds, and plays like a very streamlined, very focused Master of Orion-descended 4x game. There are points at which its board game parentage peeps through- like a wonderful combat resolution screen that shows you the die rolls but not some silly animation of clattering dice- but you could tell someone that this was a totally new design with no cardboard analog and they’d probably believe you.

Unlike Talisman, Eclipse’s more careful, measured pacing and combination of a strong economic game with conflict and exploration make it a great fit for IOS gaming. Thankfully, unlike Ascension, there’s a chat function so you can get in some trash talk before your dreadnaughts unload plasma missiles on your opponents. I’ve had plenty of fun with the single player game against a variety of AI opponents and I’ve never had an easy win out of it. If you’re new to it all, there’s a decent tutorial and the full rulebook. The latter should be absolutely standard on any tablet board game.

For six bucks- less than 10% of what the boxed game costs- you can buy one of the best 4x space strategy games on the market today. You might ask “why don’t I just play Starbase Orion, Sins of Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations et. al.” and to that my response would be that aside from a game taking an hour or less to play through first exploration to final victory, none of those games are as concise or as editorial. It’s funny that a board game cuts right down to the heart of the genre, and in an implementation that’s better than some computer-bound examples. It’s a masterstroke of design sense that they just went ahead and made this a full-fledged digital strategy game that is able to compete with its forbears head-on.

Eclipse is (Nearly) Ready!

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Eclipse is a wonderful boardgame from designer Touko Tahkokallio. Basically, it’s a Eurofied version of Master of Orion and it won a slew of awards after its release in 2011; it’s generally considered one of the better games of the past few years.

I like Eclipse. But it’s a beast of a game, takes up a lot of room and is one that you need to play several times in order to get a feel for how it works — Eclipse takes practice in order to learn how to play well. And when it comes to boardgames, that can be a slight problem. For some, playing a 4 hour game as a “learning” experience is frustrating because gamers, whether they be inclined to video or cardboard, are not a terribly patient lot.

This is precisely why I can’t wait to play the iOS app of Eclipse, which is ready to go and awaiting approval from Apple ($6.99). Now, you can play the game, test some strategies, generally learn what the hell you are doing and THEN take that experience to the table. This is also from Big Daddy Creations, who know how to port a boardgame to the app store — Neuroshima Hex, anyone?

I’ll keep you posted when it’s ready for your money. Until then, screenshots!

Cracked LCD- Empires of the Void in Review

Ryan Laukat’s Empires of the Void is a very solid, very smartly considered but derivative space conquest-themed 4x game that’s been recently Kickstartered and released into the wild. It’s a handsome production with charming, cartoon illustrations that are very welcome in a genre that tends to go for stiff and sterile or grit and grime. It’s big on the table with tons of counters but not a whole lot of rules bulk or complication, and although it doesn’t have the scads of plastic miniatures these kinds of games usually feature, there’s still multiple ship classes to play with and lots of dice to roll at them.

The problem with the game isn’t the game itself, which I would absolutely recommend to tabletoppers looking for a smoother-playing, lightweight game in the Twilight Imperium (or Master of Orion) mold. It’s that it’s coming so soon after Eclipse, one of the best games in its genre. Not to mention that Twilight Imperium is still widely played and considered by many to be the last word in building cardboard space empires. Then there’s games like Ascending Empires, Space Empires, and any number of other jumped-up Dudes on a Map games with tech trees and other 4x gameplay elements.

So this game has got to stake a claim and state its differentiators up front. When I first got my review copy, courtesy of Mr. Laukat, I was initially worried that it was going to miss this mark and suffer the same fate- mediocrity followed by obscurity- that Galactic Emperor did a few years back. That was the first game that made a play for the TI-lite crown. After a couple of games, I’m not ready to mothball Eclipse but I think there is definitely a case to be made for Empires of the Void.

These games are kind of like falafel joints. One might have the best hummus, but another has better Baba Ganoush and grape leaves. Then another has the best falafel. TI3 has the epic, sweeping scope and detail down pat. Eclipse has the economic and technology angles completely cornered. With its finger-flicking combat resolution, I’d have to give the combat edge to Ascending Empires. But Empires of the Void, so far, has the best Star Trek sense of diplomacy, negotiation, and politics.

The setup is standard. Everybody gets a race and a home planet from which they send ships out into the titular void for typical 4x goings-on. There’s a bunch of races, more than the four players the game supports. Races each have advantages and different start-up material. The map is a modular, point-to-point thing with a couple of roadblocks in minefields, asteroids, and tentacle monsters (dubbed “ancient defenses” for reasons unknown). It looks more like Merchant of Venus than TI3, and the presence of specific and very different alien races on each of the planets on the map makes the game world feel more alive and vibrant than other games where the planets that are little more than resource numbers.

As players head out from their home planet with fleets of Diplomat-class ships or war vessels ready for battle, the idea is that you can lay claim to these populated planets either through diplomacy or violent conquest. Diplomacy requires you to spend some Culture actions to draw cards. Each race has a particular disposition- Militaristic, Capitalist, Scholarly, and so forth-and the more matching cards you have, the lower the die roll needed to sway them to fealty. Make friends, and you drop an Ally token on their card and they give you access to any resources (needed to build some technologies), income, influence in the victory point-generating Galactic Council, and a special ability. It’s a cool touch that some races do things like give you access to special ships that you otherwise can’t build.

But if you don’t want their junk, you can just blow them up by rolling a combat success against them, which makes them enemies and a subjugated people only willing to share their money and materials. I didn’t care for fishing for cards to get the matching sets at first, particularly since you only get three actions per turn and it felt like a waiting game. But thematically, it makes sense at an abstract level. You’re negotiating, finagling, maybe learning about their culture to influence them, and bartering. And there are technologies that give free Culture draws and increase hand limits. But you’ve always got the quicker nuclear option, which is not only viable but also advisable for certain races.

There’s also an interesting- and subtle- concept regarding the cards. Over the course of the game, as planets are claimed their utility actually changes. Every card has an effect, activated by turning in two or three sets of matching cards. So by the end, they almost serve a completely different function.

I don’t like that the tech tree is so short and shallow, with particular techs all but required to be competitive. Actions do feel somewhat restrictive, with the Move action initially only moving one ship at a time but there again, with those must-have technologies it ramps up over the course of the game. The combat is somewhat ho-hum, with the standard Axis and Allies-style order of battle. It definitely feels like the work of a first-time designer, and I do not necessarily mean that as a perjorative- there’s a great sense of heart and passion on display here that smooths over some derivative and sloppy design moments.

I love the event cards that send Space Pirates out to hassle the galaxy or start crises that happen on planets that areresolved and affect political positions. These narrative events occur without bogging the game down in tracking devices or “effect creep”. I like that there’s so many different aliens in the game and a sense that this setting has personality beyond spaceships and endless warfare. And I really like that there’s loose trading rules so that players can swap money and resources along with threats, bribes, and promises.

Overall, Empires of the Void’s biggest and most important differentiator is that it has sense of fun and simplicity that these other space 4x games do not have. It’s a spirited if not completely original design with some smart streamlining that cuts a little close to the quick at times (that tech tree), but manages to retain its scope and design goals admirably. It’s a fun game with minimal hassle, which is exactly what I like playing these days. It can still run a little long, but the four player cap seems to keep a two hour and change game from being a four hour and change game.

It is definitely a situation where those with limited gaming budgets (of time and/or money) may find themselves asking if Empires of the Void delivers anything unique or compelling in competition with similar titles. Those looking for the hardcore all-day-a-thon game may be better off sticking with TI3, those looking for a more serious, balanced, and intricate design would be better served by Eclipse. Empires of the Void is best positioned as an alternative, “indie” version of this kind of game.

Wings of Glory Coming to iOS; Eclipse Screenshots

I missed this announcement but it’s worth sharing regardless of my tardiness. Wings of Glory, the miniatures game of World War II tactical aerial combat, is making its way to iOS devices via Big Daddy’s Creations . Big Daddy is the company that brought us the wonderful iOS version of Neuroshima Hex, which remains one of the best game apps available.

“We were interested in developing the iOS version of this game since our first visit at the Essen game fair, in 2010 – the game was called Wings of War back then. Unfortunately the title was not available at that time. When, after over a year, we found out that WoW was going to be re-released by Ares Games as Wings of Glory, we contacted them right away and it turned out they were happy to work with us. We think that Wings of Glory is one of few board games that will not only fit iPad’s touch screen, but will have this unique ‘something’ to further enhance the original gameplay – and will also look just great, as we can see in the first screenshots”, said ?ukasz ?azarecki, one of the founders of Big Daddy’s Creations.

The game is scheduled for an end of year release.

Also, in other BDC news, an update which will include online multiplayer for Neuroshima Hex is in the works. In fact it should be out any day now. Oh Brandon…I’m sorry man.

Finally, one of the hottest games of the past six months, Eclipse, is also in the works from BDC. These guys are cranking out the boardgame apps. I’m late to the party on this announcement too but check out the screenshots for the iOS app as well as a few more Wings of Glory pics. Eclipse is a 4X strategy game with a lot of Eurogame mechanics. I’m not as enamored with Eclipse as some but I think it would make for a great iOS game.