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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Empire Building Filler Thriller

Eight-Minute Empire could be described as wargame. It has armies, their leaders contest for territory, and at the end of the game, the leader who holds the most territory wins the game. It is though not a wargame—certainly not in a traditional sense—but is instead a Eurogame that combines area control and card drafting mechanics with a set collection mechanic. It is a little game with big themes that can be played through in the eight minutes of the title with just two players, but just twenty minutes with the maximum number of five players.

Published by Red Raven Games, inside Eight-Minute Empire’s small, square box can be found one double-sided map board, a four-page rulebook, forty-two cards, and five sets of armies, forty-four coins, and ten Goods Tokens. The map board depicts various continents broken up into regions, connected by safe sea routes. At the centre of the map stands a city—this is the starting point for the game. At the top of the map is a line of numbers—[0], [1], [1], [2], [2], [2], and [3]. These are the costs that a player will have to pay for the cards placed in the corresponding line placed at the top of the board. The cards are marked with an order that the leader will give his armies and with a Good such as a Carrot, Pine Tree, or a Gem. A leader will gain more Victory Points if he has managed to collect these symbols in sets by the end of the game. The five armies—in blue, green, pink, red, and yellow—each consist of fourteen cubes (the armies) and three discs (the cities). The coin tokens are used to purchase cards and the Goods tokens replicated the symbols on the cards and are used as part of the game’s advanced options.

At the start of the game, the cards are shuffled and six laid out at the top of the board face up. Each player receives his armies and some coins. Initially he will use these to bid on who goes first in the game, but their primary use is to purchase cards. He will also place three armies in the starting region. On his turn, he will purchase one of the cards at the top of the board, the cost being determined by its position in the line. Cards towards the left are free or cheap and get progressively more expensive to the right.

Purchasing a card gains a player its Goods symbol and an order that he can give his armies. This order may be to place armies (from his reserve onto the board), move armies (already on the board), move armies by sea (already on the board along a sea route between continents), destroy armies (remove an army from the board), or build cities (in a region where a player has armies). Some cards give a choice of options, others two options, while others give the player the choice of Goods symbol at the end of game to add to the sets he is collecting.

Each player has two aims in the game. The first is to dominate as many regions as possible—a player needs to have the most armies in a region to hold it, though having a city in a region will also contribute towards the number of armies in a region. The second is to collect sets of Goods tokens. At the end of the game, a player will receive a Victory Point for each Region he controls and for each Continent he controls. He will also receive Victory Points for each set of Goods cards he has, the number varying from one Good to another. For example, three Carrots scores a player one Victory Point, five Carrots two Victory Points, seven Carrots three Victory Points, and eight Carrots five Victory Points, whereas one Gem scores a player one Victory Point, two Gems two Victory Points, three Gems three Victory Points, and four Gems five Victory Points. The player with the most Victory Points is the winner.

The Eight-Minute Empire rulebook does feel a little cheap, but it is clearly written. The other components are all of a high quality. It could be argued that the auction at the start for first player delivers little given its potential cost. One way to balance this would be to have an auction at the start of every turn, but the game does not include enough gold for this. If it did, it would also mean that the players might have too much gold with which to purchase their cards. Another issue might the game’s lack of theme. My suggestion would be that the Emperor’s sons’ rivalry threatens to erupt into civil war, so he directs his sons to take their armies and compete for dominance without course to open conflict.

Interestingly, the game’s feel and flow will be influenced by the cards drawn. For example, the lack of Sea movement cards would limit travel to other continents, concentrating the contest for territory to a limited area, whilst lots of them, would enable the players to spread their armies and vie for wider regions. Balance this against the need to collect Goods for sets and limited gold to spend, and a player has some tight choices to make over the course of cards he must choose—varying according to the number of players, more players means fewer cards. Eight-Minute combines tactical play in its armies and area control with strategic decisions in the Goods needed for sets in a pleasing presented and re-playable package. The result is that Eight-Minute Empire is a rather charming little filler.