Wednesday 4 February 2015

boardgaming in photos: Tragedy Looper, Eclipse

14 Dec 2014. Chen Rui (7) wanted to play UNO. I'm not a fan, but I said yes. I treasure the time when my children still ask me to play games with them. This particular game took a very very long time. We exhausted the deck twice and played some more before someone (I don't even remember who) finally won by playing the last card. I told Chen Rui next time we must use a variant of ending the game as soon as the deck is exhausted for the second time. Whoever has fewer cards win.

23 Jan 2015. No Friday gaming night at this day, so Ivan, Dith and I arranged to play at my place instead. I was keen to bring out Tragedy Looper again, and to play as one of the protagonists. We didn't manage to get a fourth player, but the game worked well in 3P mode too. As protagonist I could still discuss with Dith, and work together to guess Ivan the mastermind's intentions and secrets. The mastermind is at a slight disadvantage with fewer than three protagonist players, since one player will be controlling more than one protagonist, so the chances of two Forbid Intrigue cards getting played is less (which is good for the protagonists because when this happens the cards cancel each other out).

Playing as a protagonist feels very different. I can openly discuss strategies (just short of coordinating card play) and exchange theories. The buzzwords "teamwork" and "synergy" flash by. It is very satisfying to find clues and piece together the main plot and subplots. One thing I find is the mastermind role seems to be very hard to play. The mastermind always plays cards first, so the protagonists can react accordingly. The mastermind needs to place enough paranoia markers on a culprit to trigger an incident. The protagonists can see this coming and can work towards preventing the characters from reaching their paranoia threshold. In the game we played, Ivan was not able to trigger any of the incidents because Dith and I worked hard to get rid of paranoia tokens, some by using our cards and some by using character goodwill abilities. I later discussed with Ivan, and his view is that the mastermind needs to fully utilise the information available to him and all the incidents, plots and secret roles in the scenario. It was his first time playing the mastermind role and he had not played optimally, which gave Dith and I an early victory in Loop 2 (of 3). We were able to prevent the tragedy, despite still not knowing quite a few roles. However we did have some idea of what plots were likely in play.

Tragedy Looper is fun and I look forward to play again.

What are you looking at your pervert!

I wonder what this journalist (rightmost) is doing at the school. He already has one Intrigue token, and the mastermind has played a card on him. Time for the protagonists to Forbid Intrigue I guess?

Ivan wanted to play Eclipse. This was my first time playing the physical version. I had played a few times on the iPad, and was lukewarm about it. Now that I have played it face-to-face, I find it much better.

Dith was white, Ivan was yellow, and I was green. We all played alien races and not the vanilla humans. Dith picked Planta, which could expand very quickly, and scored extra points for each star system (tile) controlled at game end. We were still in the first round, and he had already explored four tiles. We played with some of the expansion modules, and one of it is these three ancient ships in the starting setup, each two tiles away from our homeworlds.

The tile at the lower left is my homeworld. It is connected to the next tile via a complete wormhole, i.e. that target-like icon formed by the edges of both tiles. An edge allows passage only when there is a complete wormhole. That means I have no access to the ancient battleship on the right yet. Not that I'm particularly eager to say hi.

This is my player board. The row at the top are the blueprints for the various classes of spaceships. I have not yet upgraded any of them, so there are no tiles placed here. The middle section is for the technology tiles. There are three categories, and for the fourth tech onwards in each category you will gain bonus VP. The section with cubes indicate your production of money (to pay for actions), science (to buy techs) and materials (to build spaceships).

The round discs are action discs. There are six action types, and whenever you execute one, you move a disc onto that space. The number next to your rightmost unused disc is how much you have to pay at the end of the current round. The more actions you take, the more you have to pay. Action discs have another function, which is to stake your claim on a tile (star system). That means the more star systems you control, the fewer discs you will have on your player board, and the most costly your actions will be.

Now all three of us had spaceships next to the automatic defense system at the galactic core. I (green) had two dreadnaught class spaceships (the largest type), but mine were technically inferior compared to Dith and Ivan's. Ivan (yellow) was now attacking a weaker ancients spaceship.

This is the tech board. Depending on the number of players, some tech tiles will be added to this board at the start of the game and at the start of every round. That means the techs available, and also the number of tiles for specific techs will differ from game to game. Sometimes a highly desirable tech may only have one tile turning up, and players need to race to grab it. Sometimes it may not even appear at all. Since we played with expansions, there are some bonus tiles on the left, and some special tech tiles on the right.

This stack of three ancients warships and the tile they are on are an expansion module. I was shocked to run into this when I was exploring the backwaters near my homeworld. I didn't know this expansion was in play. In fact I didn't even know what it was until Ivan explained it to me. This is how it works: After discovering this tile, three ancients warships are placed here. At the end of each round, one of them will randomly move into an adjacent tile, ignoring the need for wormholes. This is contrary to the behaviour of normal ancients warships, which are passive. I had three star systems next to this ancients hive, and they were poorly defended. In fact, some were undefended. This was a moment so tragic that it was funny. I was already no match for Dith or Ivan, and had to put up as much defenses as I could afford at the frontlines. Now I had these hostile warships popping up behind me.

Now Ivan (yellow) had captured the galactic centre. During our game, both Ivan and Dith upgraded their ships very quickly, and they were ready to attack the ancients much earlier than I was. My pacing was rather off. I wasn't much of a threat to either of them throughout the game, but at least I didn't score too poorly at game end. In balance, that ancient hive probably helped me more than it hurt me. Ivan and Dith didn't really want to bother to attack me. They were more concerned about each other. I pulled back my spaceships and attacked these ancients, which gave me some points. Many of the other ancients had already been wiped out by Dith and Ivan by the time I was ready to take them on. So these three ancients ships that turned up in my backyard were mine mine mine.

I had finally upgraded my ships, but they were still nothing impressive. I didn't upgrade my hull (circle with seven-point star in it), which meant just a few hits would destroy my ships. The plasma cannons (orange square with two black dots) meant every hit caused two points of damage.

I think the spaceships in Eclipse are rather ugly. I don't mind it much. They are functional enough, easy to tell apart.

Finally Ivan (yellow) struck at Dith (white). They had been building up towards this big battle. We all knew it would happen sooner or later. Dith's race had an advantage in exploring and in scoring for star systems controlled, but had slightly less customisable spaceships. However he still managed to arm his ships quite well. Unfortunately he could not beat back Dith's invasion force.

Later, after the game ended and we summed up our points, Ivan won by just a handful of points. If he had not attacked at the opportune moment, Dith might have outscored him due to the power of Planta. Never underestimate this margarine.

In the last round, since Ivan still had some spaceships remaining, and they were conveniently positioned next to one of my star systems, he decided to attack me too for some quick points. This was the final battle of the game. I could summon some reinforcements, and outnumbered him 3:1, but I knew it was a rather lopsided fight and I would likely get wiped out in no time. My ships were much too inferior. It turned out that I came very close to repelling him. Too bad, I was just short of that little bit of luck. I lost the star system, and I lost more points than he had gained. Not that it impacted the end game positions at all. We just wanted to have one climactic space battle.

Face-to-face Eclipse is better than the iPad version. For one thing, I can choose to be green. On the iPad, I can be green, but it limits me to specific races. When playing the electronic version, the computer handles many details. I did the tutorial but didn't read the rules. I could play but didn't fully understand every rule detail. That detracts from my enjoyment of the game. I can only blame myself for being lazy and not reading the rules. In the boardgame version I am forced to understand the rules (I read them before we played), and I find that I can plan better and I feel more in control.

It is primarily a wargame. You know you are building up to fight. Most of the techs are for fighting. There is exploration, production and economy to manage, but they are mostly supporting your military. You do score points via peaceful means, but without a strong military to deter attackers and defend against aggression, you will soon find yourself losing system after system. So you need to play with this mindset. Within the military aspect, there is much variability and many strategies to follow. You can customise your fleet in many different ways. Some players may not focus on the big, lumbering dreadnaughts (like what we did in our game), and may instead upgrade the small but numerous fighters, giving them a mobility boost and getting them to sneak past the front lines to wreak havoc in the enemy's territory.

The balance of the economic system and the number of rounds feel just right. You start small and gradually build up for some big conflicts in the mid and end game. The 9 rounds are enough for the players to have developed very different technologies and empires.

I may not seek out Eclipse to play, but if anyone suggests it, I would be happy to play.

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