Eight-Minute Empire (Game Review)

There’s a stack of games in our house we’ve said at some point or another that we’re probably going to sell. But before we do, I force us to play one or two more times to be sure we’re not making a terrible mistake and to try to think through why we didn’t enjoy the experience (if that’s still the case). THESE… are our stories.

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O a previous episode, we traded the Le Havre spin-off game Inland Port for Eight-Minute Empire. 8ME’s not a bad little game, though thoroughly in the ‘filler’ class. Our family uses filler games in a few ways:

  • as a warm up for a session of playing longer games (I sometimes feel I want a run-up),
  • as something that’s easy to teach and play with people who don’t Eurogame (who are often a bit stuffy about learning new rules, complexity, unfamiliarity, etc.),
  • as part of a session of gameplay entirely made up of light to medium games (like going out for tapas rather than ordering an entree), and
  • when the time in which we want to play just won’t support a more substantial game: the ‘one for the road’ situation.

Eight-Minute Empire, which despite the cute name takes about fifteen minutes to play (with three people, at least), is well-made. No complaints on that front, but no excessive praise either. It’s not gorgeous or exceptionally good, it’s just solid. The theme is present, but not hugely developed, innovative in its presentation or particularly appealing in and of itself.

It’s interesting to see a sort of baby version of a larger civilisation-builder game. The first time we played, due to the way the glyphs are written on the card some of us got a bit confused about whether carrots were incredibly valuable (turns out the reverse), but other than that the rules are straightforward. 8ME has a simple, double-barrel mechanic involving set acquisition and area control. You’re just deciding how to spend your limited resources in buying things that will facilitate your empire’s expansion and bulk up your set collection. The cards are part of sets, but in nabbing them at various prices you’re also choosing whether to travel by land or by sea, whether to increase the number of your troops on the board and where to do that from. The game also provides you with tokens to play a slightly different version.

We’ve decided to trade 8ME on for reasons that have a lot to do with how we use filler games as a household. I never really want 8ME for my warm up session: it’s not as easy-clean and energetic as our card-based games. If you want a filler to whet your appetite, to serve as a good hype-man/MC for a session of gaming, you want it to fall out of the box, build your energy/get you in the mood and scoop back into the box after.

There’s both the emotional work to consider (filler games as amuse-bouche or foreplay) and the pragmatic ‘how easily can you play and pack, when you know the game well’ question. Ideally a quick game should have almost no set up and clean up time. 8ME is light and comes in a tidy little box: I commend its portability. But with its many bits, I don’t grab it and go to play on the train like I do a game that’s essentially a deck of cards.

8ME is fairly competitive with other little games in terms of play length and ease of explanation for game-shy newcomers, but it lacks appeal there. No one yearns to go again when we’re done, or wants it first in a session of short games. The concept and play experience aren’t engrossing, high energy and fun enough to really grab newbies. Oddly everyone we play the much more complex Discworld: Ankh Morpork with bloody loves it, which leads me to suspect that theme and energy are even more important than ease for non-gamers. This may be that common user experience thing where people often don’t know what they want or how to get it. Ask non-gamers if they prefer simplicity and they’ll say yes, but I swear they like D:AM better, and for reasons not unconnected to its comparative complexity!

For me, 8ME is enough like the bulkier civilisation-builders I’m fond of to make me miss them, and insufficiently sprightly as filler. Not bad by any means, but neither would I call it great? To bolt on mechanics and make a longer or more complex game out of it would feel wrong and against the purpose of 8ME, yet as is something about the balance of it is strangely off.

I wouldn’t rule out the ‘filler civilisation builder’ concept, though. It’s too intrinsically intriguing and appealing for me to believe that another game couldn’t achieve a balance I like better. (Perhaps if there were less of an emphasis on area control? I don’t know that I love that mechanism.)

RULING:

Someone wanted to trade this for Small World and its extension, Fear No Evil. Surprising, but true! We took the trade–it’s good value, to be honest.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Eight-Minute Empire (Game Review)

  1. “This may be that common user experience thing where people often don’t know what they want or how to get it. Ask non-gamers if they prefer simplicity and they’ll say yes, but I swear they like D:AM better, and for reasons not unconnected to its comparative complexity!”

    It may be (I mean that thing is definitely a thing, and people’s idea of ‘simplicity’ is often quite uninformed – they say “simple” if they don’t know exactly where their line of “complicated” is, erring on the side of caution, perhaps?).

    I also wonder how much of it is down to anchoring on the theme? D:AM anchors very well in that if you know the series you have a grasp on at least some of the win conditions (the real estate Lords are a bit more abstract but I think theirs is almost the most conventional condition, apart from maybe Vimes). I’m incapable of appraising it as someone who doesn’t know and love Pratchett, and I’m not sure how well I’d take to it if that wasn’t the case.

  2. Oh yeah, it’s great not just for–cogency and familiarity of theme, but for integration of theme into aesthetics, gameplay, win conditions. Lovely for that. And we’ve had complete non-Pratchett people DIG it: apparently it’s considered very unusual in the gaming world for its variable and hidden win conditions/structure. A few other games have a somewhat similar structure, but at a much more complicated mechanical level? It’s like taking a Virgin Queen tier mechanic and translating it for a general audience, if that makes sense?

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