Tuesday 17 April 2018

Review: Eight-Minute Empire board game

I seem to be forming a bit of a Red Raven Games series recently, with reviews of the beautiful Above and Below and its sequel Near and Far. To continue the theme, this week I'm taking a look at an older Ryan Laukat game that has grand ambitions on a tiny scale: Eight-Minute Empire.

Eight-Minute Empire - box art | Random Nerdery

Eight-Minute Empire is a game of area control and set collection for 2 to 5 players. It's light on rules but still packed with decisions, making it a great introduction to this style of game for newer players or a brilliant filler for games night (by filler I mean a short, lighter game that usually gets played before, after or in between bigger games).

Each player takes control of a number of armies (little wooden cubes) and embarks upon a mission to spread them across the map and control as much territory as possible.

Eight-Minute Empire - gameplay | Random Nerdery

The map is broken down into regions and continents. A player has control of a region when they have more armies there than any other player. To control a continent, a player needs to control more regions on that continent than anyone else. Everything that you control at the end of the game is worth victory points, and the player with the most points wins the game.

The actions you take to grow and spread your armies are dependent on the choices you make from a track of six cards at the top of the board.

Eight-Minute Empire - card track | Random Nerdery

Players take it in turns to select a card from the row, pay its coin cost as shown under the track, and place it in front of them. Each card will show an action and a type of good (trees, carrots, crystals etc - I'm sure they all have more sensible resource names, really). The goods will be worth points at the end of the game depending on how many of the same type of good you're able to collect, so this gives you another factor to think about when choosing your action.

Eight-Minute Empire - resource cards | Random Nerdery

The cost of each card is also a consideration; the track gets more expensive from left to right, ranging from a cost of 0 (yay, free stuff!) to an extortionate 3 coins. Players start the game with only 8 to 14 coins (depending on player count) that don't get replenished, so money is a finite resource that you have to manage carefully if you don't want to get stuck with whatever happens to be free in the last few turns. Once a card is taken, the remaining cards in the track move down to fill the gap and become cheaper (very reminiscent of Above and Below).

Eight-Minute Empire - build a city | Random Nerdery

Actions available include:
  • Placing new armies on the board
  • Moving armies (without crossing the sea)
  • Moving armies over land or sea
  • Building a new city
  • Destroying an army
  • A choice between two of the above options

New armies have to be spawned in the same location as one of your cities (or the start region), so building new cities is helpful for spreading out over the board. They also count as an army when working out who controls a region.

Eight-Minute Empire - starting region | Random Nerdery

Play continues with each player taking it in turns to select a card and perform the relevant action until all players have a certain number of cards in front of them. The number of cards depends on player count - 13 cards for 2 players, ranging down to 7 cards for 5 players. When everyone reaches this number of cards, the game ends and it's time to add up everyone's victory points in the following categories to see who has won:
  • Regions controlled - 1 point per region
  • Continents controlled - 1 point per continent
  • Sets of goods collected - points for each set of goods, as shown by the victory point shields on that good's card. For example, 2 trees gives you 1 point at the end of the game, 4 trees gives you two points, 5 trees gives you three points etc.

Eight-Minute Empire - resource card points | Random Nerdery

The rules also suggest a couple of 'variant' ideas such as playing three games in a row to get a longer experience, and adding up the victory points from all three to determine a winner. My favourite, though, is adding goods tokens to regions marked on the map with a triangle at the beginning of the game. Whoever controls these regions at the end of the game gets to count an extra resource of this type when scoring their resource cards, so playing this variant really gives you something to aim for in the game. It's such a straightforward little tweak that there's almost no reason not to play with this rule in place.

Eight-Minute Empire - variant rules | Random Nerdery

Eight-Minute Empire doesn't break new ground with its core ideas, but I do think it brilliantly distils the experience of an area control game into a neat little package that new and experienced gamers can enjoy. With barely any setup, easy to pick up gameplay and the same attention to detail I've seen from the newer Red Raven Games, I'd struggle to criticise anything other than the slightly under-advertised play time. Even that isn't far out; eight minutes was always going to be a stretch, and maybe it's doable with some really speedy players, but 15 minutes is probably more realistic. Fifteen-Minute Empire sounds rubbish, though. I'm happy to abandon absolute accuracy for the accomplishment of artistic alliteration!

(If you do want to play in eight minutes, by the way, there is a really great app implementation of the game for Android and iOS).

Loads of the 'filler' length games I have are card games, with the odd dice or dexterity game thrown in here and there for good measure, but area control seems a bit under-represented (Pocket Mars is the only other one in my collection that springs to mind). Eight-Minute Empire fills this nice little niche on my shelves and also does double duty as a solid introductory game that lets you teach a few different core mechanisms to new gamers in a really straightforward way before moving onto 'bigger' games. The neat combination of area control with set collection and management of your coin resource means you always have plenty to think about on your turn, but not so much that you fall victim to the dreaded Analysis Paralysis.

Eight-Minute Empire - completed map | Random Nerdery

It's incredibly inspirational to think that this sort of idea could just pop into your head; as I mentioned in my Above and Below review, Ryan Laukat was at home with a high fever when he came up with Eight-Minute Empire and had knocked up a prototype 20 minutes later. Who knows, maybe one day I'll be struck with a game idea of my own!

Until then, I'll just be here doing my thing, so if you enjoyed the post you could take a look at my Facebook page and leave a like or come and say hello on my Twitter or Instagram feeds!

Eight-Minute Empire

Designer: Ryan Laukat
Publisher: Red Raven Games
Play time: 8-20 mins
Players: 2-5
Age: 8+
Cost: RRP £22.99

[There's a free print-and-play expansion, 'Mountains', available on the Red Raven Games website (scroll to the bottom) which I hadn't seen before and thought I'd share, too!]

I have a copy of Eight-Minute Empire to give away to a lucky someone in the UK, so check out the Gleam widget below if you'd like to add this game to your collection.

Eight-Minute Empire board game giveaway