Eight-Minute Empire

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Red Raven Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, 8+ minutes; $25)

eightminutempireboxPacking a lot into a small box is something usually reserved for diamonds or other expensive bits of jewelry. In games, it’s not quite so easy. So it is a pleasant surprise to discover Eight-Minute Empire, a new game designed by Ryan Laukat, which packs quite a lot in a relatively small package.

Eight-Minute Empire comes with a small double-sided mounted board, each side displaying a map of the game’s “world”, divided into continents (which are sub-divided into regions), separated by water. The deck of 42 cards is shuffled and six cards randomly dealt out in a row above the board. Players begin with a set of 14 cubes (in their chosen color), each cube representing an army, along with three matching colored discs (cities) as well as a starting bankroll of coins (from 8 to 14 depending on the number of players). Once each player places 3 armies in the Start area on the board, players bid to become the starting player.

Bidding is done in closed fist style. Everyone takes whatever amount of coins he wishes (from his starting supply) and places them inside a closed fist. Simultaneously, all bids are revealed. High bidder goes first (turns will proceed in a clockwise fashion from there) and his coins go into the supply. (All other bids are returned to the unsuccessful bidders.) This is the only instance of bidding in the game. Now, we get into the action.

Each turn, the active player chooses ONE of the cards on display at the top of the board. To claim a card, the player must pay the associated cost. As noted on the board itself, the first card has a cost of 0, the next two cost 1 coin each, the next two cost 2 coins each and the final card costs 3 coins. Every card has two characteristics: an action (that if a player wishes to take must be taken immediately) and a good (which will impact on final scoring).

Actions are straightforward. A card may allow you to place new armies on the board (placement restricted to the Start area or any other region in which you already have a city), move armies (to adjacent land regions), move over land and/or water (allowing you to cross those large bodies of water to claim areas on a different continent), build a city (placing one of your discs in a region occupied by at least one of your armies) or destroy an army (remove an enemy cube from the board). Some cards give an “either/or” option allowing you to choose which of two possibilities you wish to take; one other card is an “and” card, giving you a bonus of two actions on one turn. As mentioned, if you wish, you may decline to use ANY action and just collect the displayed good on the card. Some cards are “Wild” and may be used to increase the number of goods you have. Once a card is picked, remaining cards slide down a slot to fill in the vacated space and a new card drawn so that there are always six cards from which to choose.

Play continues until all players have claimed a predetermined number of cards (from 13 in a five player game to only 7 when 2 players are involved). With the final card claimed, victory points are totaled.

Each region on the map controlled by a player earns that player 1 VP. (Control is defined as having more armies there than any other player. For this purpose, cities count as armies. Tie? Then, no control and no victory points either!) Each controlled continent (controlling more regions there than anyone else) is also worth 1 VP. But victory points also come from collecting sets of goods.

Victory points for goods vary based on the particular good but, in all cases, the more goods of a certain type you have, the more VPs they are worth. For example, one Crystals card is worth 1 VP but collect four Crystals and you will earn 5 Victory Points for your trouble. The highest combined score, for regions, continents and goods, wins! (Tie? Then the player with the most coins left claims victory!)

8map2Competition for control is fierce and often decided by the presence of only 1 or 2 pieces. Although cities count the same as cubes when determining control, cities, once placed, cannot be removed! For this reason and because cities act as a base to place additional armies, city placement (you only have three of these) can be critical in setting you up for area and continent dominance. But don’t be so focused on area control that you neglect goods collection.

Goods can be a determining factor in victory. This become more evident with fewer players as more cards are taken and more cards means more goods which can result in higher victory point totals for your sets. Wild cards can be used to augment your holdings of ANY good and you do not have to commit a Wild Card to any specific good until the final scoring. Goods collecting may encourage you to spend money to pluck a card costing 3 in order to get goods attractive to you before your opponents do. Or a particular action may seem so attractive to you that you are tempted to spend a bit extra to obtain it. However, money is very tight in this game so A) don’t go crazy with your opening bid (better to go second or third than to be handcuffed on your card selection throughout play) and B) be judicious in choosing your cards so you can still control your destiny in the game’s later stages. You might also wish to “push your luck” as the costs for cards can lessen as they slide to fill the gaps left by other chosen cards (a very nice design touch, reminiscent of DIrk Henn’s brilliant Showmanager).

The double-sided board which gives a different geography to the contest allows for a little variability in the dynamics of expansion. And the game scales well with different numbers of players (though four seems to be the sweet spot in our experience). Although the title may lead you to believe that eight minutes will be enough, the thing to remember is the “+”, but a game should come to a swift conclusion within 30 minutes. It might have been nice to have a scoring track to help with the final scoring (the rules ask players to count up points “in their heads”) but that is a minor consideration.

Eight-Minute Empire neatly distills key components of area control into a game filled with tough choices and meaningful decisions, doing it all in a surprisingly short period of time. This game fits nicely into the opening or closing slots of a gaming evening encouraging you to have multiple plays allowing you to get from Eight-Minute Empire hours of enjoyment.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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