Your empire’s apogee is just past you. From your rearview mirror, you can see what a brilliant masterpiece it was, while you resist to look ahead and face the harsh reality that approaches. Fires, floods, diseases, famine… Disasters are everywhere, conflicts arise, and you cannot avoid them all. It is up to you to choose the ones you want to spend your resources with and the ones you will let your civilization succumb to. From the same designer of crowd favourites such as Space Base and Mystic Vale, Empire’s End is a game by John D. Clair for 2 to 4 players that plays in under 1 hour, where players try to avoid the complete destruction of their once magnificent empire and be the one reminded as the most glorious of their time.
Setting Up For Collapse
The game set-up for Empire’s End is very simple, with each player getting a set of 11 tiles representing their empire’s locations, whose arrangement is randomly drawn for the first player and copied for everyone, giving a symmetric start. In the frontside, locations have a type, an ability that can be triggered in different phases of the game and a number of victory points that it is worth if it is still standing healthy by the end of the game. The flipside represents that this location has been destroyed, and contains information on how many tools does it cost to be restored. These locations are at the very heart of the game, since you need to keep them healthy to claim their benefits throughout the game and earn victory points at the game end. Even though players start with a symmetrical set-up, empires will quickly differ from one another as locations start to be ruined and moved around through different game effects.
There are also four resources that are used during the game: axes, hammers and wheat are basic resources that will often be used to avoid disasters. Moreover, axes help you win conflicts and hammers help you repair damaged locations and build innovations. The fourth resource is gold, which is a wild.
It Is The End Of The World As We Know It
Each round, the hourglass marker will advance to a new space and a new phase will take place. There are essentially 4 different phases: disaster, conflict, industry and economy. Through them, you will need to balance your resource usage to keep your empire as wealthy as you can by the end of the game.
Disaster phase is probably the core one to the game. It will reveal a card from the disaster deck and dictate what will happen next. Disaster cards will say which location will be suffering from it, based on its position in your empire. It also contains information on which resources can be used to avoid the disaster, and the bottom part contains an innovation that can be built onto a healthy location. Starting from first player, each player in their turn has two options: pay one of the resources depicted on the resource to avoid it or surrender to it, claiming all the resources previously paid by all players to avoid it and the innovation depicted at the bottom of it. That player then flips the target location to its destroyed side (or the closest one if it was already destroyed), add the innovation to one of their healthy locations and takes the first player marker. Sometimes, there may be double-disaster rounds, where two cards are revealed and must be avoided simultaneously.
Conflict phase will compare players strength while following the instructions in the conflict card. Each player will have a base strength depicted in its healthy locations and their innovations, and each can also place a secret bid of axes to increase their power. Based on the total power of each player, each of them is awarded or punished as the conflict card says.
During the industry phase, players have the option to spend hammers to build innovations from their hand into their healthy locations, or to repair destroyed locations by paying their depicted cost. You can also trigger any brown background innovation that can help you in many ways, including relocating your location tiles. In the economy phase, players will get income from healthy locations and their innovations. Sometimes, there will be rounds that combine both phases, and players can resolve them in any order.
The Glory That Remains
Empire’s End finishes once the marker hits the end of the trail, and the final score is computed from healthy locations and any end-game scoring innovations on them. Bravo! You managed to save as much of the glory of your once great empire as you could, even though it might not have been enough to be the most infamous one, since only the one with the most points wins the game.
Empire’s End offers many possibilities in terms of how the game is played through thanks to its variable set-up and huge number of cards, while having very simple phases happening one after the other for many rounds. The later, in the one hand, means you have very easy rules to understand. In the other hand, it may make the game feels too mechanic, since there is not much else you can do besides the “rinse and repeat” round after round, even though the game plays differently based on each player’s playstyle, the set-up, and the cards that are showing up.
The production is wonderful. Components have very high quality, and artwork is neat and beautiful despite its simplicity. It also comes with a well-designed insert that helps you keep the components organized in a practical manner.
However, the most unique and intriguing aspect of the game is that, in the contrary of most empire-themed games, you are not playing to build a thriving civilization. Instead, your days of glory are past, and you need to save as much as you can of what you once used to be. It is a complete twist in the mindset most players would have, which may cause a feeling of “love it or leave it”. Frustration is definitely high during the gameplay, and the tension is there every time you need to decide whether to commit resources to avoid a disaster right now or let it happen, save resources for future turns and try to reap the benefits from the innovation you get from it. The sunk cost fallacy is there to prove you and try to sink your empire too!
If you like auction games and want to try something very different, Empire’s End surely deserves a try. If you are into civilization games, you may feel the theme lacking, but it is still worth playing for the unique feeling it offers. If you are looking for a game with lots of player interaction and an innovative feeling, it is also a good call. It will offer you conflict, tough decisions to be made and much fun! Afterall, the question is: can you outplay your opponents and shadow their fallen empires?