Last year we enjoyed getting to grips with Tinners Trail, and having enjoyed that so much, I knew that taking a punt on the Kickstarter, Eternal Palace, was sure to be successful. Alley Cat Games have a great back catalogue. Let me explain why Eternal Palace will transition from Kickstarter to mainstream without any issues.
So many games have an oriental theme; Tang Garden, Tokaido, Kanagawa. For many the mysteries and different cultures of the Far East hold some mysticism. Where we have our formal gardens and manicured lawns or our Royal Parks, in China, they have their Emperor’s palace and imperial gardens. It is into this land that we step with the Eternal Palace.
Each player is a noble whose aim is to gain the favour of the emperor by assisting in the rebuilding and reconstruction of one of the imperial gardens. During the construction, progress is “captured” by an artist who paints an additional scene or vista that represents the area that has been completed. The game ends when one player has completed eight regions of the palace garden and points are tallied and victor crowned.
No Beige In Sight
At its heart, this is a worker placement game. Yes, it is a euro game, but it is far from beige! Players use dice to represent their employees, and the number of workers available tends to increase during gameplay. Initially, players have just three dice, but later in the game up to five workers will be in use. The palace gardens have over a dozen different areas, labelled 1 through 12. Some are useful for material collection [stone, would, bronze, or kaolin], or perhaps to gain fish or wisdom.
Fish can be used to bribe or barter other players to allow you to share their working spaces. The emperor really wants monuments within his garden so four areas have been set aside for these. Advisors are available to assist, and these too can be utilised during a players turn to gain advantage.
Each player’s dice is colour coded and at the beginning of each turn everyone will roll all of their dice simultaneously. Turn order is determined by the aggregate score [irrespective of the number of dice rolled]. The player with the lowest score has the honour of starting that turn. In secret players will move their dice behind a screen. By grouping dice in ones, pairs, triplet or quad combinations they can make combined scores.
This will allow them to place their workers [dice] onto specific matching numbered areas to gain those resources or to work there. Players take turns placing a group of dice in turn. Every area is always available to be used. There is no space-blocking in this game. However, any subsequent players will need to pay a premium of fish to utilise a previously used spot.
Change Those Pips
The roll of the dice will affect the areas that can be played. However, the number of pips can be altered up or down by paying a cost. All of these changes are made in secret so others may know your total score but be unaware of how the dice have been changed or grouped.
Once a player has developed an area fully [by visiting it over a number of rounds] they can claim to be one of the creators of that vista. This allows them to get part of their canvas to be painted as a record of their achievement. The first player to complete each specific area also can paint a bonus monument on their canvas. Players chart their progress by creating their picture montage. Once eight areas are developed the game is finished. Points are scored for the number of areas developed, sequences in regions, player’s progress with the emperor in the palace and the number of monuments that have been built.
Most games will take about an hour and usually, victory is achieved with just one or two points separating first or second place. A five-player game seems to take about 90 minutes. The solo variant, about 45 minutes.
Thoughts On Eternal Palace
Euro games present a player with choices. In most, there will be an element of competition for space, resources, actions etc and there is a trade-off by selecting the second or third best option depending on how others have made their choices. Eternal Palace is full of choice. Players are never short of options, and with a variety of ways of obtaining victory, there seems to be a selection of methods of gaining the Emperor’s favour. With over a dozen of different areas within the garden to place workers, coupled with a few additional spots as well as some expansion areas, the placement of dice is easy. Whether these are placed in the best possible position will be a moot point and dependant on others actions.
So if the challenge is not the limitation of space or resources, where is the “gaming” element? Timing is the key. The first player to select a spot on each turn is able to play for free [with the exception of building monuments]. Any subsequent players will need to pay fish tokens for the privilege. Being the first player to complete an area will also give bonus points and embellishments for their picture. These, in effect, offer an extra victory point for end game scoring.
First Player Advantage – I Think Not!
Too many Euro games have potential issues with a first player advantage. Alley Cat Games have really thought this through with turn order dependent on the aggregate score. The players with the lowest [and perhaps least valuable dice] will go first. They get the pick of the areas to develop. Each player starts with just three dice but as play progresses, the player who has the lowest scores, or has the fewest dice, gains an additional dice worker.
This is a wonderful counterbalance at play. By having many dice workers [up to a maximum of five] this gives huge options of placement and rolls. But by having numerous dice the probability of gaining a higher aggregate score and playing last is therefore much higher. Thus the benefits of multiple choices is offset against playing later and paying penalties for “good” positions.
The player with fewer dice will usually play first and will often determine how a round plays out. However, that player does not have it all their own way. Playing last on a turn also can have benefits. By retaining a number of dice a player could have two or more opportunities to play at very favourable areas without penalty or hindrance. Similarly, this also enables a player to “steal back” one of the four monuments at the end of a turn. This allows progress along the palace track quickly.
Eternal palace has a flow and simplicity about it. All players roll their dice together and resolve turn order. The grouping of dice is made “privately” and with so many areas to choose, players will quickly place the worker dice. There is little downtime and for our family there has been almost no analysis paralysis. This is to be commended. Most turns consist of two groups of dice placement, then restoration and removal of advisor cards, before the next turn starts and finally distribution of an extra dice to one player.
Advisors are an excellent resource. These cards may be single-use or available to provide a “drip feed” of resources with each turn. One or two have significant advantages; For example there is one that allows one free movement along the palace track each turn when four dice are played in a quad combo. This is particularly popular with my daughter, but as I explained to her, “in making progress and by using all four of your dice in one position this will leave the remainder of the board open for rich pickings without competition.”
Roll Of The Dice
At first glance, it would appear a player’s chance to do well is determined by the roll of the dice. However, with hundreds of combinations of dice rolls and groupings available with each turn the element of luck soon balances out. A player is not limited by the role of their dice. The use of wisdom, acquired through the advisers, allows the pips on the dice to be manipulated and, by doing this in secret after turn order has been fixed, a player can steal some prime position that might have been considered inaccessible.
Expanding Your Horizons
My deluxe version of Eternal Palace is complete with a number of expansions and solo mode included. These certainly enhance the gameplay experience and some are more suitable for higher player counts. The solo variant sees a gamer competing against an automaton. There is still a dice roll for both player and the AI but the decision tree and outcomes will vary depending on the scenario chosen.
Alley Cat Games have been very clever in providing six different solo “personalities”. Each has a preference and reference card and determined some of the decisions and where the “dummy player” may choose to place any dice. These provide varying levels of difficulty and challenge. Together with the randomness of dice rolling, this means that every game is different.
A simple addition that we play as standard is the composition expansion. This provides additional scoring opportunities when a player achieves a specific goal and has collected some key landscape pieces. This is very much like the collection of the visiting nobles in Splendor to gain victory points. The beauty of the composition cards is that they encourage players to take a certain tack in their landscaping but reduces the competition for less valuable spaces.
Getting Lost In The Maze
No self respecting stately home or garden should be without a maze. Eternal Palace has a labyrinth and river market as supplementary areas. These allow players to place dice, advance and collect bonuses or materials. These two expansions are particularly useful with higher player counts as they reduce the pressure on the main game board and give alternative scoring opportunities.
Eternal Palace has fantastic components. The deluxe miniatures with models of the summer pavilion or bronze ox are lovely. The player specific dice trays [purchased as part of the deluxe set] really make the game feel special. As a player with colour recognition issues I have had no problems at all with the icons, cards or pieces. The colours and fonts are clear to see and read. The only slight issue is that the individual player token discs are slightly small.
The board can feel quite busy especially to squeeze in the dozen or so areas within it. With higher player counts the board does become even more crowded. I can’t help feeling that a four-fold board with the labyrinth and river market included as standard and with more space between the 12 areas and regions could help this slightly overcrowded feel.
Each area of the landscape is printed on double sided card so that it can be reversed to provide different scenarios with each game. The presentation and display pack doubles up as a storage area and is an excellent addition to the game. The use of a developing picture as a method to keep tabs and score progress is a nice touch. It fits with the story and the theme.
Final Thoughts On Eternal Palace
Alley cat games have done it again. Eternal Palace is a dynamic and challenging Euro game with so many options there is plenty of replayability. My 15 year old daughter loves the game, especially the opportunity to change the pips on the dice to gain other areas in which to work. There is a speed and slickness to play. The rules are very straight forward and Eternal Palace can be taught within about two turns. With no downtime and plenty of worker places, it does not feel at all cut throat or vindictive.
The final set of images and picture on the easel is a lovely flourish that is as rewarding as the final result. Having reviewed Tinners Trail, also by Alley Cat Games, it is difficult not to compare these two games. Both are excellent with superb components. I believe Eternal Palace is not quite as complex which then opens it its suitability to slightly younger teens. Both are excellent games and worthy of occupying space on my gaming shelf. I’m looking forward to Alley Cat Game’s next offering, Autobahn. Watch this space.