During Christmas of 2013 I discovered tabletop gaming. Specifically board games. I had already dabbled in some RPGs and throughout my life played the occasional CCG here and there. However board games as a hobby were unfamiliar to me and now almost two years later, I can’t imagine how I never knew of them before. That very Christmas was also when I received my copy of the Lord of the Rings: LCG which of course, led to this blog and yada yada.
But having been in the hobby for nearly two years now and collecting games every now and again I find myself pressed for space. More often I am intrigued by small boxes that “pack a lot of game.” Not only do these games fit easily on my shelf but they aren’t intimidating to those who are as unfamiliar to the hobby as I was in 2013 and they are also easy to transport, fitting in some cases, in my pocket. Though not portable to that extent, Eight Minute Empire: Legends, is a small box game with a slightly epic feel. The name can be misleading, as it takes about 20+ minutes to play, but it is none the worse because of it. It’s a game of conquest, area control, tough choices, and in a sense negotiation. It’s one of my favorite games I picked up this year and will be staying in my collection for quite awhile.
Eight Minute Empire: Legends (which I will now abbreviate to EMEL) is a area control game designed by Ryan Laukat and is a sequel to his game from 2013, Eight Minute Empire. Thankfully EMEL is stand-alone and you don’t need the original to play it. Though you might as well check it out! EMEL plays 2-4 Players and plays in about 8-20 minutes. In EMEL players take the role of an up and coming civilization in a nameless world filled with strange and wondrous lands. These civilizations will each take their turn spreading their armies to new regions and perhaps even new continents. As the civilizations expand they can either work together to secure a balanced control of a region, or fight each other for dominance. At the end of the game, the best empire wins.
The set up of the game is incredibly simple. Each player starts out, as in 99% of board games, choosing a color. Once selected, players will arrange a series of three tiles to form a “T” shape from a selection of four double-sided tiles representing islands and continents of the world. The layout will create hard to reach, hard to secure, and hotly contested lands for the players to aspire to conquer. After a starting region is selected, indicated by a special token and typically in the center of everything, each player places four of their armies (cubes specific to their color) on the starting region. The first player then takes one extra cube from each player and puts these cubes in another region on the map (effectively creating two starting zones). Each player is given a number of coins depending on the number of players and the game begins.
Like the set up, the gameplay itself is very simple. Once everyone is ready to go, the first player deals six cards from a special deck to one central location (typically an area above the map). These cards are arranged left to right and a special card, with 6 slots on it, is placed above them looking somewhat like this:
Each card has a cost. From left to right, the pictures on the… Card Cost Card indicate how much each card is worth for purchase. The first player picks one of the cards laid out to the players, pays the appropriate cost, applies its effect then slides the cards to the left and deals a new card on the far right. Once the action has completed the turn passes to the player on the left and they select a card and so on and so forth. This continues until players earn a certain number of cards. For example, in a 3-player scenario the game will end when all players own 10 cards.
So what do the cards do?
Each card has two scrolls, a top scroll (which is called an ability) and a bottom scroll (which is called an action). Actions happen the moment you purchase a card and abilities are constant effects that last until the end of the game. If you were to purchase a card with two cubes on it’s action scroll, you would get to muster two armies on one of your regions. If the ability scroll (top) shows a cube, then it means you have a constant bonus to mustering and can always add one extra army when you get the muster action. Should the cubes have an arrow next to them, it means you have that many points of movement. So if there are 3 cubes with an arrow you can either move one army 3 spaces or three armies 1 space. I won’t go over every symbol but I will point out one more. A picture of a city allows you to build a city (castle shaped tokens) on a region where you have an army. Outside of the starting zone you are only allowed to muster armies where you own a city, and so these cards are very vital.
Those are the broad strokes of the card abilities. Some allow you to do “this-or-that” or “this-and-that.” Some allow you to destroy armies, vital for gaining control of a region, and some grant you other things that can be used at the end of the game for extra scoring. For instance, there is an elixir icon (seen in the above image) that grants the player who’s cards show the most of that symbol an extra 2 points at the end of the game.
And so play continues. You’ll purchase a card and typically it will allow you to either expand your army via mustering or by moving them in vast quantities over the landscape all the while increasing your effectiveness with game long buffs. You and the other players begin to perform an intricate dance as the cubes move to and fro, quite often changing who is the majority leader in certain areas and when it gets back to you it can sometimes feel like a whole new board, but not overwhelmingly so. Everyone is limited in their options, just the same as you, and since more cards were removed from the table by the other players so to have new options been presented to you, ripe for the taking.
This is how the game goes until every player has their ten cards (or more or less depending on the number of players). The game then ends and players look back at the board to see what they control. If you control a region (meaning you have majority of the cubes in a spot of land divided by a white line) you get a victory point. If you control an island you also get a victory point. One quick note. Islands are separated by water, not by the white lines, and majority is determined by how many regions you control. In textbook fashion, let’s refer to the following image and explain how the points would work on this particular tile:
For this image I only included one tile to keep it simple. This tile contains two islands, a small one to the northwest and a large one in the center. The NW Island contains two regions, as indicated by the solid white line separating them. The Central Island contains five regions, also indicated by the solid white lines. If this were the end of the game then the scoring would work as follows. The White Player would get 1 point for controlling the southern region of the central island, 1 point for controlling the western region of the NW Island, 1 point for controlling the eastern region of the NW Island, and finally 1 point for controlling the NW Island itself (by controlling the most regions). Grey would get 4 points as well. 3 points for controlling three of the regions on the Central Island, and a final 1 point for controlling the Central Island itself. Lastly purple would only get 1 point for controlling the South East Region of the Central Island.
You do this for each tile in play, tally up any bonus Victory points (like the elixirs) and determine who is the winner.
I love the components of this game. The cubes are pretty abstract, but anything else would have been too big. Thankfully, the wooden castle pieces add enough theme that the cubes don’t bother me. As for the artwork IT. IS. GORGEOUS. The designer, Ryan Laukat, also did all of the art for this game (something he does for all of his games). Though I imagine this could be a deal breaker for some who may not enjoy his style, having a person both design the game and the art can be an amazing thing. Sometimes a designer and artist don’t get along, or their styles are too different and they come off as clashing in the final product. Sometimes the art is just beautiful and the design is brilliant, but you can tell they came from two different approaches. Ryan Laukat’s art matches the feel for this game, which is a big plus for me. From the cards to the tiles and even the box itself, I can’t help but take an extra second to look at the art now and then.
Physically, the components are nice and sturdy. The tiles feel strong, the cards aren’t flimsy, the cubes are… cubes, and the box itself has a nice solidity as well.
Given what I described in this post, you may think there’s not too much variety or reasons to replay this game. Thankfully I would say otherwise. Each tile is double sided, and each tile can be arranged and connected alongside other tiles in different ways each game. On top of that, the purchasing of the cards and when they come out will vary each game. As you become more familiar with the game you can add other variants as well such as Leader Cards that help dictate what strategy you should take, Warp Tokens that bridge the gap between two far off regions, Explore Tokens that grant the first conqueror special rewards, and Citadel Tokens that make certain regions worth an extra point, just to name a few. On top of all that, Ryan Laukat has recently released an expansion titled Lost Lands that not only brings in new regions and cards to explore but turns the purchasing system slightly upside down. The purchasing is still the same but instead it’s done in a drafting style essentially giving each player 4 pools of cards to choose from as opposed to the central one above the map in the base game.
If you like epic games but can’t get everyone to sit down for 3-4 hours at a time then I would recommend at least trying this game. It may not scratch that itch, but you would find a very fun and strategic game where you may not have looked elsewhere. If it does scratch that itch then that’s fantastic! But if it doesn’t then maybe it can be used to get some friends who aren’t as into the idea asking questions about what more strategic, epic, and in-depth civilization games are out there. If you aren’t in that crowd at all but you enjoy a nice area control game, then this is a great choice. If you are looking for a lot of game for a low price then again, this is a game for you. If you like great art and fantasy, I would hold onto this game just to display it.
All in all, I love this game. It’s easy to learn, short to play (even if the title is misleading) and deep enough to warrant additional plays. Even better, there are variants that actually feel like they matter (as opposed to feeling like a ditched idea they kept in the box) and add another layer of strategy to the game that you can bring out with more experienced players. I have been slowly finding more and more games by Ryan Laukat popping up at FLGS’s and this is the first one I’ve tried. From what I’ve read, and from playing this game, I see myself purchasing more of his other games as time goes on.
But don’t let me just tell you, check out some reviews from others who are more experienced in the industry. I’ll post links to those in the bottom. Until then, thank you for reading, and if you have any games you’d like to see me cover just leave a comment at the bottom or shoot me an e-mail. Thanks!
-The Secondhand Took
Impressions after my First Three Games **not my actual impressions, just the title the user used…