You may have noticed the fangirl post last week about Eclipse‘s submission to the App Store. Big Daddy’s Creations had been very secretive about the progress of this 4x giant throughout development, and several fans of the cardboard incarnation have been wondering if the digital version will live up. Well folks, let’s find out.
There’s always a bit of fear when its announced a big name board game is going digital. Especially when the game announced is as physically large as Eclipse is. The analog version of Eclipse features over 700 components, every single one beautifully shaped and colored. There are technology trees, player boards, colony ships, fleet ships, star bases, resource tokens, damage counters, and more. Setup in the realm of reality takes quite a while, and tear-down even longer. The expectation that Big Daddy’s Creations would flop with this undertaking wasn’t completely unrealistic, especially considering the tactile nature of Eclipse. The cardboard version is gorgeous, after all.
Big Daddy’s Creations knew what they were getting into, though, and they delivered. The app starts with a video-game-esque animation, introducing the main races and their simpler, human counterparts. Fans of Eclipse the original will get giggly tingles as the game’s story is flashed onto the screen. It’s Christmas in spring, even for those not in Colorado.
Eclipse falls into the category of 4x strategy games, similar to the classic Sid Meier’s Civilization. Players take on the role of one of the seven species in the known galaxy, or as leaders from the Galatic Council itself, vying for control over the galaxy. By exploring, expanding, exploiting and exterminating, the four X’s of the genre, you and your competitors will grow your civilizations in an attempt to amass the most victory points.
At the skeletal level, Eclipse is a simple enough game that is easy to pick up and run with. Each of the four X’s is trivial to learn on its own, but the balance between the four points, in addition to your relations with your neighbors, makes Eclipse a game that is difficult to master. The game is divided into nine rounds that can contain several turns, the number of which depends on each player’s available influence and wealth. On your turn, you’re allowed to take one of six actions, all of which fit into at least one of the main categories. They’re actions that are similar in a lot of 4x games and are explore, adjust influence, research technology, upgrade ships, build ships, and move ships. They’re all pretty straight forward, but indulge me.
The Explore action is the most obvious – it allows you to explore the sectors adjacent to those you already have influence over. Influence is denoted by a small symbol in the corner of each territory and affects how much money you need available at the end of each round. At the end of each of the nine rounds, you need to pay an upkeep cost for every sector you influence, as well as for every action you’ve taken, according to a sliding scale. The number of actions you can take each round is therefore limited by your available money, which is in turn affected by the number of sectors you control. When you set off to explore new territories, you’re given some stats about the areas available nearby. These stats let you know the probability of finding planets of each resource type (money, science and materials), as well as any ancient races that might be present.
After you’ve selected the territory you wish to explore, the particulars about what you find there are revealed. You can accept or reject the sector, and if you accept it and no ancient races are present, you’re given the chance to establish your influence there and then establish colonies.
Colonizing planets in your sectors grants you valuable resources that you need to help expand your empire further. Also, sectors with more valuable planets tend to be worth more victory points at the end of the game for whomever holds them. Planets that produce money are always useful, and science and material resource planets can be useful, depending on your strategy. Science is used to research new technologies, most of which can be applied to the ships you build with the material resource.
There are four classes of ships that you can build to help exterminate your enemies, each with different default abilities. Some are more defensive, some are faster, some are stronger. The army you build depends on what you need it for, as well as which species you’re playing as. The Terran roles all feature the same starting statistics, but the alien species have unique abilities that affect which strategy is best for them. Some races are just more inclined to be militaristic, even if they may not have the resources available initially for that strategy. Which brings us around to the battles. Ah yes, combat.
Ships are grouped by type in the combat screen and each grouping of ships share the same initiative. In the case of ties, defenders are granted first crack at doing damage, which is dealt by the outcome of a D6. Sixes are automatic hits, and ones automatic misses. Aside from that, it all depends on what modifiers are present due to upgrades on the ships doing the firing and the ships under fire.
Regardless of the outcome, both sides of the combat receive victory points, though the victor does earn quite a bit more. If the invading army succeeds in overcoming the defensive forces, they also get a shot at taking out the defending player’s colonies and taking over influence of the sector.
Local play supports up to 6 players, and you can also play online through Big Daddy’s Creations private servers, which hints at cross-platform support later. Games against the AI are relatively quick at less than an hour, though you have to sit and watch their turns, with only the option to skip their battle scenes. The more AI players you place into the galaxy with you – each set to their own difficulty level, if you like – the longer the game will take.
It’s no little task to take the number five board game from BoardGameGeek’s Top 100 Games List and shove it into an iPad screen. Eclipse in its original form takes up a decent sized table and most of an afternoon, something only dedicated fans of the game are willing to put up with more than once. Both the size and time of this massive undertaking needed to be shrunk down, and gracefully. To do this, Big Daddy’s Creations chose the route of off-screen drawers and a zoomable galactic map for the main play screen, a place you’ll spend most of your time.
The research and upgrade actions are tucked nicely away to either side, both accessed and hidden via a simple touch. The battle screen is the only game screen aside from the main, and it only features the fight animation, attack and retreat options.
There are still a few kinks to iron out with the pinch zoom feature and the option to skip watching all of the AI players’ turns would be nice, but aside from these small points, Eclipse is the best game I’ve played on the iPad in a long time. The touch areas, though seemingly small, are easy to hit and very responsive. Everything is in a logical place and there is plenty of info text around the app. The tutorial is also thorough in explaining all of the main actions and features of the app.
Big Daddy’s Creations has not only succeeded in what they set out to do with Eclipse, they’ve also raised the bar on digital board gaming. They’ve taken a highly rated board game and delivered a digital version that stacks up against both it’s predecessor and competition. With a rich interface, comprehensive tutorial, full local and online multiplayer support, and excellent execution of the theme, the iPad version of Eclipse plays much easier and quicker than its analog counterpart. A game that used to only see the flat of my table once every blue moon will now be played several times a week, if the past seven days have been anything to go by. Eclipse is a game that I crave to play with my friends and now, thanks to Big Daddy’s Creations, there’s very little excuse not to. And for $6.99 to download? That is a steal, folks. I would be willing to pay twice that for a game this well delivered.
Very well done, Big Daddy’s Creations.