Review: Eight-Minute Empire14 Sep 2017 3
Review: Eight-Minute Empire
Released 04 Sep 2017
If you put your mind to it then there is a lot you can accomplish in eight minutes. You could, for instance, achieve an Olympic record for the 3000m steeplechase. Feeling a little less ambitious? How about making an eight-minute cheesecake? Alternatively, you could try your hand at building your very own empire.
Eight-Minute Empire started life as a small print-and-play board game by designer Ryan Laukat. The game proved popular enough to merit a commercial release and the designer went on to devise a range of critically acclaimed board games, such as Above and Below and its recent sequel Near and Far. His games are noted for their wonderfully distinctive artwork, which is also the creation of this multi-talented game auteur. This is a simple area control game, which plays like Risk if Risk was put through an extensive weight loss program.
You place and move armies on a map, build cities and conquer regions, all in a very limited ten turns. Players begin the game with three armies in the central city state and a handful of gold coins. Before the military manoeuvring can commence players may secretly bid some of their meagre supply of coins, the highest bidder gets to determine the turn order.
Six action cards are drawn and placed in a row, the card to the left is free but the price of cards to the right increases incrementally. The starting player chooses a card, pays the cost and gets to perform the card’s action. There are numerous actions, these allow players to recruit extra armies, move armies across either land or sea regions, build cities and destroy opposing forces. Each card also represents a resource, and sets of these can be collected for extra points at the end of the game. Gems are obviously worth more than root vegetables – or to put it another way carats are more valuable than carrots.
As befitting to such a fast playing game there is not a great deal of strategic depth to Eight-Minute Empire. There are no battles, to control a region you just need to occupy it with more armies than your opponents. This is not to say that the game is without any challenging decisions. Cities can be built to improve military strength and also provide an extra recruiting post. The game is all about weighing up your choices and selecting the best short and long-term benefits, based on each card’s action, cost and, resource.
Eight-Minute Empire is designed for up to five players, each of which can be either human or computer controlled. The AI has three difficulty settings, but even on the hardest level, it is quite easy to defeat. Therefore, you are best to rustle up some human opponents for a pass and play battle or take part in asynchronous online games. To spice things up there are also a couple of variants to try. Firstly, there is a campaign mode in which you play three games, adding up your victory points for a cumulative score. You can also play with various resources scattered across the map. If you end the game in control of any regions with resources then you also get to add them to your score.
The game comes with two maps, and a further five can be purchased. The fly in the ointment is that these extra maps are relatively expensive, especially since they do not introduce any new gameplay mechanics. Since release, prices have been reduced, but buying everything is still not cheap. There is also a mountain expansion that can be purchased. Mountains increase the difficulty of moving armies, but also provide increased victory points. The expansion also includes two new card types. The settlers card allows a player to pay an opponent for the use of their city, and the builders card provides an additional opportunity to build a city.
Eight-Minute Empire is a straightforward easy to learn game and although the app does walk you through the first few turns, there are some oversights resulting in the need to refer to the full rules. Sadly, there is not much of an opportunity for the game to showcase Ryan’s evocative artwork. Maps have some neat touches, such as an animated sea monster, but the game doesn’t really lend itself to lavish graphical design. The user-interface is silky smooth and unobtrusive. Admittedly, it is not the most demanding game to portray in a digital format, but it has been done very professionally. Everything works so well that you don’t really notice it, which is the biggest compliment I could pay to any user-interface.
Those players who dislike rolling dice will probably enjoy this game much more than Risk. There are no combat rolls and the only real element of luck is the card draw. However, luck never feels like it has an overbearing influence. Players will always have a choice of six cards and newly drawn cards will always start off as the most expensive, before gradually shuffling down the line and become cheaper.
The focus of Eight-Minute Empire is to make the most of what you have and not get too greedy. Because the game is over so quickly, players need to set goals that are realistic. Money is really tight and if you do not keep a firm grip of the purse-strings your options will soon become severely limited. Turn order is also very important. It may be tempting to elect to be the first player in order to get the initial choice of the cards. However, it feels like there is a distinct advantage to going last as you can take your final turn without any fear of your actions being countered. The tricky part is putting a monetary value on this advantage in the initial bidding stage.
Eight-Minute Empire may not be the kind of game that will absorb hours of your time. However, if you are looking for a fresh, quick-playing and easy to grasp empire building game then you really should give it a try.