When Eclipse: New Dawn For The Galaxy first came out in 2011, it was viewed by some as potential competition for the granddaddy of all space exploration games, Twilight Imperium. In the years since then, the comparison (if not the competition) has continued apace. That’s really not surprising of course, both games are about ruling space empires, exploration, research and combat. And both games are absolutely huge. With half a dozen different factions exploring dozens of different star systems and researching a simply enormous tech tree, Eclipse may not be quite the scale of TI but it’s no slouch in the scheme of 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) gaming.
A Second Dawn
The second edition of Eclipse (now subtitled “Second Dawn For The Galaxy”) carries on from where the original left off with a narrative taking place after the events of the first edition. To this end there is a new piece on the board alongside all the different factions in the shape of the GCDS (Galactic Centre Defence System), a Death Star like space station at the very centre of the map. This doesn’t have a significant effect on gameplay but does make travel through the centre of the Galaxy a lot more hazardous than previously!
The Way To Empire
The aim of the Second Dawn of the Galaxy is simple, build up victory points by means of expanding your empire, researching technology and winning battles against NPC ships and player factions. After X rounds, the player with the most victory points is the winner. As a game, Eclipse can be quite overwhelming to look at, but it’s really a series of very simple actions and the truly complex aspect is the strategy required to win.
In terms of basic gameplay, over a series of several rounds players take it in turn to spend their actions doing one of a number of things:
- Exploration – You can place one of the deck of star system hex tiles from the stack onto the board. Finding new systems and taking them over is the key to expanding both your empire and your economy.
- Influence - You can add an influence token to a system next to one of your own. You can also remove a token from one of your systems if you think you might have overreached yourself.
- Research – You can spend some of your science points to research one of around 40-50 different technologies. These range from upgrades to your spaceships to economy upgrades and new structures that can be built across your systems. Which brings us to…
- Build – Spend some of your build points to add to your fleet or build a space station to improve your infrastructure. Later in the game you can build a monolith (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey) which gives a boost to your victory points.
- Upgrade – Once you’ve researched upgrades then you can use them to improve your ships. These might be improvements to weapons, engines, shields or a number of other aspects; all of which will improve your fleet’s chances when they get to grips with the enemy.
- Move – Exactly as you might think, you can move your ships a given number of systems (depending on their speed) to fortify your own space or invade others’.
See? Simple really! Every action is beautifully streamlined and designed to be completed with quickly and easily. But here’s the tricky part. With each action you take, you spend an influence token, and the more tokens you spend the more it costs to complete all these actions. But you’re also using these very same tokens to mark the star systems that you’re controlling, which means that the more systems you own, the fewer tokens you have for actions before they start getting reeeally expensive at which point you’d better hope that your economy is strong enough to cope with this level of spending and what’s this? Your opponents are expanding towards you and you need to upgrade your fleet but you absolutely need to place that economy cube or you’re looking at bankruptcy, so you’ll need to spend influence over there and… well… this is where the complexity comes in.
Because for every action you take there’s a double cost of influence and money which means that every decision you make needs to be geared towards a very clear goal. Are you going for tech? Great! Better hope that no one invades! Are you building towards a military victory? Better get those ship upgrades right or you’ll be very embarrassed when your armada collapses in the face of the enemy defence fleet.
This brings us neatly to the combat. Unlike its heftier cousin, Eclipse: Second Dawn of the Galaxy isn’t actually that combat heavy. That’s down to a few reasons.
Firstly, building ships is expensive in terms of both build points and actions. You don’t want (and can’t afford) to simply send off an expeditionary force if you’re not confident of victory because if you lose, it’s a long way back.
Secondly, and linked, the upgrade system means that it wouldn’t take much for that enemy cruiser to become spiky enough to deal with being outnumbered by becoming effectively unkillable. It wouldn’t take much for even a fighter to start posing a serious threat to cruisers and even dreadnoughts. That means that you need to at least keep pace in the interstellar arms race if you want to do any conquering later in the game.
Thirdly is the way combat works. A fairly simple initiative system means fast, light, but well armed ships get their shots in first and unless you have a well armoured fleet, you could be down by half your force before you even get to roll dice. That said, if you do go for the light option, you’d better hope the dice gods are smiling or you’ll simply fire everything and once the smoke clears you’ll be looking at an unscathed enemy ship just as it turns its guns on you.
This all means that in the games I’ve played, combat tends to be a late game rush as various players finally decide that now is the time to throw around those fleets that they’ve been building up since turn one.
Dawn? Or Sunset
I really hope that this review has persuaded someone that this game is worth their time because it is big, beautiful and spectacular. I haven’t touched on the production values, which are excellent, or the spaceship miniatures themselves which are glorious. Each faction has a different design of ship so it’s easy to tell which race you’re playing as even if you struggle telling apart the colours. The new player trays are incredible as well now because you don’t need all the extra Jiffy bags. It’s great to see a box and components that have been so well designed to make setting up and putting away as quick as possible. This makes it really easy to get to the main event.
If there is a note of caution I should sound it’s that a game like this certainly isn’t for everyone. For starters I’ve never gone under a play time of 3 hours which may be a bit long for those who like their games quick and simple. The potentially cutthroat nature of the game can be off putting too. If you’re concentrating on tech and exploration and suddenly you find a monster fleet hoving into view off your capital it can be pretty dispiriting, likewise with the “winner takes all” aspect to the space battles. And if you find that you’ve been climbing the wrong branch of the tech tree halfway through the game, we’ll that’s a long time to sit there knowing you can’t win and wondering if there are still any Pringles left in the tube.
For anyone familiar with first edition, the biggest change might be something that’s not actually related to the game play. In these big games, the set up and put away time can take another hour on top of play time. No longer. With each faction’s pieces in a separate box and each box carefully set up to fit together, it can take only a few minutes to start play and not much longer to put away.
With all that said, and taking into account the price (not cheap, but with the length of play and quality and quantity of components), if you think you have the friends to play this with then buy it. It’s a great game and will absolutely justify the price. Even if you only get it off the shelf a couple of times a year, that’ll be well worth the epic science fiction event that takes place everytime you do.
That concludes our thoughts on Eclipse: 2nd Dawn for the Galaxy. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Eclipse: 2nd Dawn for the Galaxy today click here!