Friday, December 23, 2016

An Empire, Built in Considerably Less Than a Day

It's a rare board game that can be both short and strategically satisfying. But one game that makes a reasonable play at it is Eight-Minute Empire, by Ryan Laukat.

Eight-Minute Empire is a territory control game played over eight rounds. You're given a fixed amount of money to use for the entire game. Each turn, you take one of six cards from a face-up row of choices; the leftmost card is free, while other cards require you to spend increasingly more of your funds. Each card represents both an action you take immediately on the board (usually to place or move your forces), and an item used in set collection for endgame scoring. And that's basically it.

There are tons of territory control games out there, with different mechanics and of varying qualities. If you're looking for something revolutionary, a system you've never seen before, Eight-Minute Empire isn't it. But I did find it surprising just how much of the flavor of those games was successfully captured in a far simpler system. You still have to make many familiar decisions. Spend big now, or hold back in anticipation of something better on a later turn? When is it time to spread out, and when is it time to consolidate? Should you be favoring points on the board, or points from collecting sets of cards? Who do you think is ahead, and how much of your efforts should be directed at stopping them?

But the game's title speaks to the core appeal here. Now the truth is, to really play this in just eight minutes, you'd need some swift thinking players (or just two of them; the game can take 2 to 5). But it IS fast. Learning, setup, and playthrough for four players took less than 20 minutes the first time I played it. And while the game might not scratch my itch for somewhat similarly themed games like Concordia, Attila, or others, this takes a fraction of the time. It's maybe 15-25% of the time investment, but I felt it offered considerably more than 15-25% of the fun.

So consider this not in competition with meatier territory control games, but in competition with 15-minute lightweight games -- the sorts of games that often begin or end a gaming night. On those terms, Eight-Minute Empire made a pretty good first impression on me. I'd grade it a B+, and I look forward to trying it again.

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