Brant Guillory, 24 September 2020
Brant takes a look at Eight Minute Empire, a game that plays waaaaaay faster than it takes for him to write the review
How does a game with 2 types of blocks, a map that could hide in a magazine, and no combat pack a legitimate realm-building adventure into a 10-minute game?
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Eight Minute Empire from Red Raven Games probably takes about ten to twelve minutes to play, but you lose the cute alliteration of the name in doing so. Still, taking over the map twice in a lunch break at the office, and still having time to talk smack about it, is nothing to sniff at.
First question – “Does it really only take eight minutes to play?” Yes, if you’ve got a two-player game of guys who know what they’re doing. But let’s just suppose you double the length of the advertised game. Are you really going to be unimpressed with a game that let’s you conquer the map in less time than it’ll take you to read this review?
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Second question – “Whaddaya mean there’s no combat? How do I conquer the world?” The guy with the most armies (cubes) in the space controls it. Ties go to nobody. It’s not rocket surgery.
Third question – “Is it just beating each other up?” Nope. There are potential cities to found, a treasury to manage, and trade goods to collect.
So here’s how it works.
Each player starts off with a fixed amount of cash, a fixed amount of armies (blocks) and cities (disks), and a fixed amount of turns. The armies and cities are the same for every game, but the cash and number of turns depend on the number of players.
The cards are laid out in a market above the map. Each space in the market has a different cost. At one end is a space where the card is free, at the other, it’ll cost you 3 gold. In between, the prices are ones and twos. You buy the card you want to play, and slide the others down toward the ‘free’ space to fill in the gap, draw a new card to go in the “3” space, and the next player takes a turn.
The cards you buy have two considerations (three, if you count the cost of the card itself, especially relative to your dwindling treasury). The first consideration is the action the card allows you to take. The second consideration is the type and quantity of the trade good that’s on it. The actions allow you to move armies around the map. The trade goods are collected into sets for victory points at the end of the game. There are times when you may eschew a more useful ‘map’ card to try and complete a set of goods for the victory points.
The actions you can take with the cards are very simple, and illustrated with intuitive pictograms that make this game an any-language-compatible bit of fun. Some actions allow you to add armies to the map. Some actions allow you to move armies around the map; only some of the move actions allow you to cross the water. A few actions let you do both, or choose one or the other. A few cards let you take an army off the map. Finally, some cards let you found new cities.
Cities are useful in that they count towards control of the map just as though they were an army. They do not move like an army does, however. Instead, they sit in place, and give you a new space into which you can place new armies when playing an action that allows you to deploy more on the map. Otherwise, with no city on the map, you have to deploy all you new armies to the ‘start’ space in the middle, and, well, it gets crowded in there…
When the requisite number of turns have been played, it’s time to count victory points. You gain them for controlling regions on the map, and the continents containing those regions. You also gain victory points for collecting certain quantities of trade goods, like gems, crops, or ore. Even with a two-player game, the math won’t get into the 30s, so most wargamers can handle it without taking off their shoes to help count.
Of course there are a few negatives about the game. The first one is a physical issue: the size of the map. You can cover it with a 17-inch laptop and have room to spare. It’s nice that the map fits comfortably in the cute-and-portable box, but it feels cramped in a two-player game, never mind a five-player throwdown. It would be nice to have a map about twice the size of the current one, if only to have room for everyone to fit around it.
The second issue for is the management of the cities. For a realm-building game, it really feels like there are too few cities in play. I’m sure it’s at least partly by design; when a ‘new city’ card appears in the market, it’s a feeding frenzy. But while cities are useful in extended your ‘spawn points’ it really feels like they should help in other ways, too, such contributing toward the trade of goods, or allowing seaborne movement directly into them regardless of the routes on the map.
Finally, it would be interesting to see some card expansions that swap out trade goods for some sort of bonus action on the card, such as discarding it for a treasury bonus or the ability to always move at least one army each turn no matter what other actions you take. Alternatively, maybe a set of a particular good gives you a bonus action, such as planting a free city on the map somewhere.
Any of these ideas could be house-ruled into place, of course, but then you’re straying from the vision of the designers.
The challenge, of course, is that any additional mechanics you sneak into the game at this point are likely to detract from the simple elegance that is Eight Minute Empire. It really does play that fast, and it really does force you to make some solid, interesting choices, and it really does feel like you’re taking over the world pretty darn quickly.
In truth, there’s not much to change in Eight Minute Empire without radically remaking the game into something it’s not. If you want to recreate Civilization then go play Civilization. This isn’t Catan and it’s not Entdecker. It’s Eight Minute Empire and it’s an insanely fun and quick game for conquer-the-world types who don’t have an hour to set up some big-box game that takes all afternoon to play. This one is absolutely staying in my regular game rotation for the foreseeable future.
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