Eight-Minute Empire Review – Great Ambition, Itty Bitty Playing Time
Every now and then the title of a game interests you enough to want to play it. For me, Ryan Laukat‘s Eight-Minute Empire was one of those games – the idea that a set collecting and area control board game can be condensed down into the space of eight minutes seemed like a really interesting concept. It is a novel idea, and original enough to pique the interest of anyone who hears it.
Today, we are going to look a little bit closer at this speedy little game. We are going to delve into the rules and explore what it is like to play in closer detail.
What is Eight-Minute Empire?
Eight-Minute Empire is an area control and set collecting game designed, and with artwork by, Ryan Laukat. It is for 2-5 players, recommended for ages 13+, and plays in around 20 minutes.
Yes, that’s right. Eight-Minute Empire doesn’t actually take eight minutes to play. That being said, for the ambitious game it is, 20 minutes is still a pretty impressive playtime.
The goal in Eight-Minute Empire is to end the game with the most points, and points are collected through controlling the most regions, controlling the most continents, and collecting resources.
The production quality of Eight-Minute Empire is decent, with its own tiny board that is quite neat in its own right. The game box is actually larger than I thought it would be, and this is to accommodate the board, which is about 1/4 the size of a game like Viticulture.
How To Play Eight-Minute Empire?
Okay, so how do you play Eight-Minute Empire? Well, it’s actually incredibly simple. To start the game, the board is laid out. Six cards are placed along the top, and three cubes of each player’s colour are placed on the “Start” region. Cubes represent your armies, with little wooden discs representing cities. We’ll come back to this throughout the course of the review.
In a two player game, players also take it in turns placing 10 cubes throughout the map representing a third player.
The players start off with coins, and bid for first turn. The subsequent cards are purchased like a market place, with each position costing a certain amount of coins.
Each turn you will choose a card, and what you choose has two things on it. The cards have a resource with how many of that resource is needed for various amounts of points in the end game at the top, and an action at the bottom. The action is taken straight away, and the resource is kept until later – for end-game scoring.
The actions you can take go along the following lines –
- Move a set number of cubes/armies a set number of regions (it can be divided, so rather than move three cubes one region, you can move one cube three regions, or one cube one region and one cube two – you get the idea). This can not be over sea.
- Move a set number of cubes/armies, allowing for oversea movement.
- Place a set number of cubes – these can only be placed on the Start region or on a city.
- Build a city – acting as a hub for future placements.
- Remove a cube from the map.
The game ends after a set number of cards have been bought from the market place. This differs per player count.
At the end of the game, you get 1 point for each region you control (you have the most cubes/cities in that region – a draw doesn’t count). You get 1 point for each continent you own the most regions in. You then get a set amount of points based on the resources you have collected throughout the game. These are denoted on the cards – how many each resource type gets you for the amount of resources you have. The player with the most points wins.
There are wild cards, which can count as any resource type, and a resource token variant where certain regions are worth resources at the end of the game as well. This makes the game more competitive for certain regions.
What is it like playing Eight-Minute Empire?
So, what is it like playing Eight-Minute Empire? Well, there are a few things to say.
Firstly, and I know this could just be called pedantry, but the game doesn’t play in eight minutes. Where this is a very small point and, where twenty minutes is still relatively impressive, eight minutes would have been a really neat USP.
Okay, that point aside, what does Eight-Minute Empire actually play like? I think the best way to describe it is that Eight-Minute Empire is surprisingly similar to larger area control games. In Eight-Minute Empire there are several different ways to win. This could be by all out conquest and movement, collecting resources, or, most likely, a mixture of the two. The fact that this small game has taken a mechanic that is usually fitting with larger games, and reduced the size, yet still has room for strategic gameplay, is a strength of Eight Minute Empire.
It is for this reason that Eight-Minute Empire is actually very clever. There is no doubt about it – Eight-Minute Empire is a cut down game because any game that seeks to be a strategic game in a ridiculously short playing time needs to be. That being said, it still keeps a strategic edge that is kind of impressive for a game that is so small. Likewise, it is also a surprise once the game is over to see who has won.
Eight-Minute Empire uses a tried and tested marketplace method that really works well as a game mechanic. You buy your next move, which is a nice way of looking at the game – it works well as a way of ensuring no player can just wipe the board. It also ensures that the luck of the draw gets diminished and allows for more strategic purchases.
One thing that is of note is that there are very few “Remove other cubes” cards. This means that building is way more important than destroying; however, it also means that once you have built all your cubes (which is more than possible in a two player game) it becomes about mobility and out-doing opponents. You need to outnumber them, and warring over a single region (even in the variant mode) can become costly.
This also shifts the focus of the game. Unlike games like Risk or Scythe or larger area control games, the focus on Eight-Minute Empire is pure expansion. It isn’t about fighting each other or trying to outdo each other, but is rather about spreading as far and wide as possible.
Eight-Minute Empire sets out to be both a game about set collection and a game about area control. It does those mechanics well. What is more, with the USP of being able to be played fast, and being a swift area control game, I believe it will make it out on occasions where time is short or where it can be used as a warm up game before a main event.
Mechanically, Eight-Minute Empire is a sound game, and hard to criticise. The marketplace works well. The scoring mechanics options make it strategic. The area control element is the bread and butter of the game. I can’t criticise the mechanics.
That being said, there is one point against Eight-Minute Empire and that is the theme. Eight-Minute Empire is, for all intents and purposes, an abstract game, and yet the theme of the empire feels bolted on. It could just as easily be “Eight-Minute Something Else”, and the theme doesn’t really come across. This can make the game feel dry. It is suggested that you play three games back to back in order to determine a winner but, like with Love Letter (which suggests something very similar) one game is more than enough. It does what it sets out to do, and more than one game could result in Eight-Minute Empire overstaying its welcome at the table.
Another point to note is that Eight-Minute Empire is a light strategy game. Being only 20 minutes in length you can’t really sink your teeth into it before it is over, and where this is ideal for an introduction into the genre or for a casual game, it may put players wanting a larger challenge off.
It is because of this that I don’t believe we will break Eight-Minute Empire out onto the table all that often. It is good, and what it does it does well, but the core USP is that it plays quickly, fitting an area control game into a 20 minute taster. If we are not strapped for time, then Eight-Minute Empire doesn’t necessarily do enough to have it compete against bigger area control games.
That being said, for a 20 minute excursion, Eight-Minute Empire tries to do something new and that is always welcome on our shelves. For a 20 minute strategy game, it fits the bill.
TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and the Cube Removal
Let’s look at the Good, Bad, and Neutral points around Eight-Minute Empire.
- Eight-Minute Empire is a fast game. It takes slightly longer than 8 minutes, clocking in around 20 minutes as a base line; however, this is still impressive.
- For the short play time, Eight-Minute Empire packs in a fair few strategic options. It is a strategic game that is easy to break into.
- The tiny board and production quality are pretty good.
- There are several different ways to accrue points. This means that it may not be the person with the most regions or the most of any kind of resource who wins. Instead it could come down to who balances them best.
- The game seeks to put two mechanics at its core – set collecting and area control – and it does those well.
- The lack of aggressive cards mean it is more a race to get armies out than remove them. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but may swing you if you like competitive games.
- The game,play is very simple, which may be a plus or minus depending on your view point.
- What Eight-Minute Empire does it does well; however, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It sticks to what it knows.
- The theme is a bit dry, as it doesn’t really have one bar (loosely) medieval conquest. This is one of the reasons it may lose out to bigger area control games.
Conclusion: Eight-Minute Empire
Eight-Minute Empire is not necessarily a game we will break out very often, but I can’t help but respect it. What it does is condense a traditionally long-form game into a twenty minute foray that is fun, especially for those who enjoy the area control genre. The theme may be dry, but if treated more like an abstract game then Eight-Minute Empire is a quick bit of fun that is right for a light challenge. I can imagine it being used as a warm-up for a larger game, and for that it is welcome on our shelves.
So, what are your thoughts? Is Eight-Minute Empire a game you have space for on your shelves? Let me know in the comments below.