Eight Minute Empire: Shorter Than Sex And Almost As Much Fun

EME-BoxEvery once in a while, a game comes along that tests the boundaries of game design in such a way that it’s hard not to take notice, and Eight Minute Empire from Red Raven Games does just that. When people think “dudes on a map” game, such as Risk or Conquest of the Empire, they tend to think “long, epic game that may last several days”. Red Raven has managed to not only make a game that has many elements of that style of game, but they made it work so well that it redefines what I thought was possible in the genre.

Eight Minute Empire is a light-to-medium complexity game that blends set collection, area control, resource management and action cards together in such a way that you can literally play out the conquest of an entire planet in the span of about a half an hour with four players. The idea is that you start out with a handful of cash which is never replenished during the game, and you spend it to buy action cards that let you place, move, or destroy cities and armies. The cards also function as goals because come in sets which when collected provide you points, with each type of card providing a different value depending on how many of each you have. Play is surprisingly brisk, although there is some hand-wringing over which action card to play since you are faced with three competing attributes: their cost in cash to acquire and play, their value as victory points, and finally, the action they provide. This delivers incredibly tough decisions in an ultra low overhead game, which is an astonishing feat.

8ME- Rules Summary from BGGThe “hook” to the game is that six cards are laid out above the board, and the leftmost costs nothing, the next two cost one coin, the next two cost two coins, and the last costs three. As a player takes one, all the remaining cards to the right slide to the left, making them cheaper, and a new card is placed on the rightmost, most expensive slot. When you start with between eight and fourteen coins and you play between seven and thirteen rounds, you can easily see that you have a very limited ability to buy the cards when they come out or you will be at the whim of your opponents, forced to buy whatever dregs they’ve left in the leftmost, free slot. All of this adds up to an incredibly tense decisionmaking process, and that’s what makes this game so damned good. Not just “good for what it is”, but just plain good, and maybe even “GREAT”.

The components are quite good, albeit diminutive, because they consist of cardboard money chits, small wooden cubes and disks, small cards, and finally, a double sided game board that is roughly three times the size of a US dollar note. In addition, there’s some small little tokens that have icons on them which you can pre-load the board with during setup to add a little extra strategic facet, as they act as a “free card” for the purposes of scoring for the player who controls the region they rest on. The art is very decent, although there’s not a whole lot to depict, and my only complaint is that I’d have liked to have some variable player powers to mix it up a bit. Other than that, the game is an almost perfect, compact game. The box itself is also very small, about the size of an FFG Silver Line game like Red November or Citadels, making it all the more portable. For the $25.00 I paid for it, it’s a great value from the component perspective, and even more of a value based on the game play.

The long and short is that everyone I’ve played this with either liked it or adored it completely. I’ve played this with two players through five, and it scales perfectly with all of them, although I’d argue that playing at two players is less fun since you have to pre-load the map with a neutral army to balance things. I think that would have really helped with replay value, since its offspring, Eight Minute Empire: Legends, has this mechanic in, albeit in a muted and underwhelming way. If you don’t have this game, you are missing out.

Why This Game Is Eight Minutes Of Magic:
– Short, brisk play makes this a filler, but one that has the strategic scope of a main event
– Good quality, albeit bland, components make this look pretty nice on the table
– The low price point is a welcome change in the Age of Kickstarter
– Lots of passive-aggressive player interaction keeps players engaged

Why Eight Minutes Does Not An Empire Make:
– This skews Euro and might very well be a little too dry for some people
– There’s no combat, per se, so this isn’t quite as war-gamey as some might like

I, and most of the Circus, really love this game. Those of us that are fans of El Grande like it because it has a huge area control component, but those of us who like big, epic games like it because it takes a lot of the tedium out of playing those kinds of games. For us, it’s a total winner and I can’t envision ever trading or selling this game off; it’s often requested and played often. Its only flaw is that there are only so many strategies you can use due to the short scope of the game, and so after fifteen plays, it starts feeling a little samey. We still like it, and we still play it, but having something like variable player powers or some random events might have added to this game’s replay value.

4/5 Stars

Read more about this game here:

Additionally, there’s a TON of great score sheets, tuck card boxes, etc on Boardgamegeek, and the rules summary depicted above (2nd photo) can be had here: http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/90936/card-sized-rules-refresher
Created by BGG user “GwarJuice” and posted here because it’s brilliant and the guy deserves credit.

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