Artist and Designer Ryan Laukat’s Eight Minute Empire: Legends (EME:L) is the standalone followup to Eight Minute Empires, with some changes to rules but the same core gameplay. I ran out and bought this after backing the expansion, because it was on my list to buy and I didn’t want to miss out.
I struggled with whether to make this a full review or not. It comes in a small box, but larger than Fleet, which got a full size review. It is nominally a quick game, but we played for a long time. And although it is dramatically simplified and streamlined from a full civilization game, it still has a lot of pieces and a lot of depth. Both the game and this review are somewhere between full-size and mini. So while I don’t need a lot of room to say that I like the game, it took a little more room than I was expecting to explain why.
What You Get
- 4 double-sided map cards for modular variable setup
- 34 action cards
- 4 score/turn order cards and 1 cost reference cards
- 18 wooden cubes (armies) and 3 wooden castles (cities) in 4 colors
- 36 cardboard coins
- Starting area marker, and several different expansion tokens.
The box is very thick and sturdy with plenty of room for the upcoming expansion. The map cards and cardboard tokens are very high quality. The castles are awesome bits. The art is all by the designer and is part of what makes this game so awesome. Every card and island has its own character. And you actually have time to focus on it and appreciate it. For the most part, the art and theme just act as flavor, but that’s fine for the level of game. The rule-book is fine, but I would have liked a card reference, or at least a count of how many vials, cities, and wings are in the game [13, 8, and 6, by my count].
What You Do
Players vie for control over a series of islands, based on area majority. The board consists of continents with one or more regions, connected by land and water. Players start with some coins, and 5 armies on the board on two separate regions, and bid to select the starting player. (Note, you can select anyone to start.) Each turn, the player buys a card from the 6 card display, with newer cards decreasing in cost from 3 coins to free. Each card shows one or more actions: add armies where you have a city or at the starting location; move armies, using 3 movements to cross water or 1 to cross land; build a city where you have an army; or destroy an army on a space you also occupy.
Cards also show bonus abilities, like extra armies or movement when you take that action, but also wings that reduce water movement cost, vials that earn 2 points for the player with the most, invincibility, coins, and points for collecting sets of cards with a specific word in the name. After a certain number of rounds, scores are tallied: points on cards, 1 point for each region you control (the most armies), and 1 point per continent you control (the most controlled regions).
The card choices are very tactical in a 4-player game, because you won’t see many of the same cards you saw in a previous round. But placement and movement are more strategic. Not only do you have to balance movement, building, and adding armies, but you have to consider the abilities, especially the point-giving ones.
What I Liked
The art is wonderful and evocative. The combination of abilities and actions on cards makes almost every decision interesting. The balance between all of the actions and the abilities is superb. Every option is a viable path. The abilities and art give it a lot of the feel of Small World, but with a larger variety of options, and the ability to play only two players. It also takes up a fairly small space on the table, without giving up depth.
What I Disliked
Our biggest problem is that since so many of the choices are tactical, it is very prone to over-analysis. Our games last more like an hour. But you can still plan on an opponent’s turn, and it was engaging the whole time. Almost any card can be a huge game changer. That’s good because you can make a big comeback, but it also means that luck of the cards plays a big part. The big swings in the last rounds especially can feel like king-making, but social gamers will really enjoy that aspect throughout the game. When combined with our long play time, that’s a little aggravating, so I’d like to see how it works with 3-players.
Often, when I want more from a game, it’s because it feels like it’s missing something. With EME:L, I just want more because it’s so good. So I’m glad there’s an expansion coming. There are lots of fun ways you can combine the actions and abilities, and it looks like the expansion does just that. Even though we play it more like Eighty Minute Empire, I look forward to returning to it again and again.