While there’s plenty of games in my collection that allow players sat around the table to indulge in the noble art of conquest, there’s not that many that let you take over continents in a few minutes. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that there was a gap for such a thing on my shelves, but having now played Ryan Laukat’s Eight Minute Empire I’ve come to my senses. Where microgames up until now have been card based, this could well be the first in the genre that plays out on a board. After being successfully Kickstarted in late 2012, the game has won plenty of fans but also drawn a bit of criticism for its light nature.
Of course, a game called Eight Minute Empire (which even states in the metrics that it’ll play out in around that time) is never going to be the deepest of affairs – it does exactly what it says on the box. However, if you go in expecting something speedy that just about scratches the itch of taking over nations, you’ll be grand. Think of EME as the board gaming equivalent of an arcade game that you don’t have to keep throwing quarters at.
Between two and five players begin the game with a bunch of cubes that represent their armies as well as three discs that will act as cities. They also get a fistful of coins that will be spent during the course of the game. Three cubes are placed into the large starting area by each potential world leader, and six cards are dealt face up just above the board. These cards are what drive the game, and they serve two different functions – allowing you to perform an immediate action for that turn, and gathering sets of goods that will give you points at the end of the game.
When a player’s turn comes around, they choose one of the cards that are laid out, paying the cost that is determined by its position. The card furthest to the left is free, the second and third cost a coin, fourth and fifth are two coins, while the sixth card has a massive cost of three – quite hefty when you only start with eight or nine. On taking the card, you perform the action shown at the bottom.
These are pretty simple: you can establish a city in an area where you have a presence, add armies to the start area or a city that you’ve placed in a previous round, or move armies about from region to region. There are actually two types of movement, one that allows for travelling anywhere including over the sea, another that is strictly land only. Players will aim to spread their influence through the regions and eventually dominate continents, gathering points after a set amount of turns that depends on how many are sat around your table.
Once everyone has that set amount of cards sat in front of them, it’s time to tally the points. Sets of the rarer items like crystals are worth a lot more than something like vegetables or wood, and these are added to the points scored for the regions you control on the map as well as dominance of the various land masses. Variant rules and components are also in the box adding goods tokens to certain areas that increase your sets at the end of the game, bringing in a shade more strategy to the whole EME experience.
All in all though? This is a light little thing, a wisp of a game time-wise, but with a surprising amount of thought required too. That’s not to say that it has the depth of even something like Risk, but as a quick playing palate cleanser, Eight Minute Empire works incredibly well. If you go in expecting a heavy wargaming experience you’ll be sorely disappointed – there’s no direct combat aside from the occasional card that lets you remove an opponent’s cube from the board, and you’re not barred from moving into new areas even if they’re already occupied.
A lot of the game hinges on when the perfect time is to spend your limited funds on those more expensive cards, but I actually really like this mechanism – do you immediately pick up a 3-coin card that could help you for that turn but leave you poor later in the game, or wait and hope that no-one else touches it and you can pick it up cheaply next turn? In all honesty, my advice would be go for it – after all, the game only takes minutes to play, and if you screw it up you can always just set up for another round.You may not get on with it, but for me… well, I like it. I’m never going to build an entire games night around EME, but as a game to open an evening or fill a few empty moments with mates who are waiting for something more meaty to be set up, it’s ideal. It’s the Milky Way of games – the one you can play between heavier meals without ruining your playing appetite!
Eight Minute Empire was designed by Ryan Laukat and published by through Red Raven Games (amongst others). Between two and five can play with games taking fifteen minutes at most – you can actually get it down to eight if you’ve got a bunch of people who know the rules. You can pick up a copy for around £16 from the folks at Gameslore – go pay them a visit!