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Review: Eclipse: Shadow of the Rift

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eclipseshadowoftherift_boxcover

Just when you thought everything was going great – the universe had been divided up nicely, all that war stuff had been put behind you, everyone knew their place – the very fabric of space and time got all twisted up. New aliens showed up out of nowhere to make a big ol’ mess of things. On, and massive wormholes have started ripping open, unleashing massive and terrifying Anomalies everywhere.

Fortunately, with these new threats have come new technologies and discoveries with which to enhance your arsenal, and that’s good. Otherwise you might not stand a chance against the time-traveling Shapers of Dorado, the evolving Octantis, or the matter-transforming Pyxis Unity.

Ready your rift cannons, emperors. The rift has been opened, and we’re all living in it’s shadow. Welcome to the new expansion for Eclipse: Shadow of the Rift.

How It Plays

Eclipse is a massive game, and I highly recommend checking out my review (And playing the game) to get a feel for how it works. In short: explore the universe. Build space empires. Win.

Shadow of the Rift adds a number of new options you can plug into your game at will, so here’s a quick summary.

Three new races make their debut with brand new mechanisms.

Oh those zany Octantis
Oh those zany Octantis

The Octantis are a rapidly evolving race. They have a fourth resource type, Mutagen, that can be spent on Evolutions. These tokens are similiar to technology, providing a permanent boost, although each individual evolution represents a smaller scale of power than tech. In any case, by Evolving you are essentially picking and choosing the racial abilities you feel are most important to you. Evolutions can give you faster ships, more efficient researching, extra slots for your population cubes, more methods of scoring points, and other benefits.

The Pyxis Unity only have on resource type: Transmatter. The Shapers spend Transmatter on everything; structures, technology, empire upkeep. This makes them able to easily react to changes in the universe and spend what they need where they need it without inefficient 3:1 trades. The Pyxis also have a unique selection of actions. Rather than the standard Explore/Research/Upgrade, etc. each action slot provides a different mix of the normal actions. So, for one action the Pyxis might explore a tile, upgrade 1 ship part, and move 1 ship.

The Shapers of Dorado have mastered control of the time continuum. This race has a collection of Distortion tiles, which can be used to send things back and forth through time; generally, ships and structures. Any ship or structure sent forward in time is placed on the turn track at the designated amount of time, and placed back on the board when that round is reached. Anything sent FROM the future is immediately placed on the board; but, when the appropriate time is reached, the player must have the necessary technology available and pay the resources to build the structure (which is immediately sent back in time). If they are unable to, they cause a paradox; in game terms, they lose points.

PARADOXES EVERYWHERE. What universe am I even IN anymore?
PARADOXES EVERYWHERE. What universe am I even IN anymore?

On the plus side, every distortion tile they complete is worth points.

In addition to the races, the biggest addition is the Wormhole Nexus and accompanying Anomalies. The Nexus is a special tile that doesn’t connect with the rest of the board; however, certain tiles can be explored that contain a wormhole connection to the Nexus. This Nexus has a ton of planets available to settle, but it’s teeming with anomalies. Each time a new Nexus wormhole is discovered, an Anomaly leaves the Nexus and travels to that tile.

Anomalies are similar to Ancients, in that they’re NPC ships that threaten all players. Anomalies have two sides; either a mobile side, or an immobile side. The immobile side simply sits there until it is destroyed. The mobile side moves randomly around the board, also randomly attacking players and destroying planets. Yes, destroying planets. These ships are equipped with deadly Rift Cannons (more on that later) and have a lot of hull to punch through. They do, however, have a tendency to damage themselves. Destroying an Anomaly awards you points (in addition to the potential reputation), and destroying a Mobile Anomaly grants you a discovery tile.

You're gonna need these
You’re gonna need these

A few new Rare technologies have been added to the tech bag – basically, tech that only has one copy in the bag. A few give multi-use ship parts, one grants a limited use of the Evolution ability, and there are a couple new weapons. The Soliton Cannon gives blue dice that do 3 damage, while the Rift Cannons are a bit more unique.

Rift Cannons completely ignore shields and targeting computers. Instead, special Rift dice are used, which simply tell you how much damage is done. You might do 0 to 3 damage to your opponent; you might also do 1 damage to yourself in the process. Rift cannons are dangerous, yo.

New Reputation Tiles provide one-time-use abilities instead of points. They still take up a slot on your player board, at least until you use them. They provide effects like extra ship movement, a bonus action at the very start of a round, extra ship parts or tech when you take the corresponding action, and others.

Finally, new Discovery tiles are added to the mix, providing bonuses corresponding with the other new features added in this expansion.

Anomalous anomalies
Anomalous anomalies

Turn, Turn, Turn

I love expansions. Adding more content to a game you love can breathe new life into it after you’ve satisfied yourself with the core game’s offerings. Especially with massive games like Eclipse, adding new stuff adds more to discover, more excitement, more fun.

Short confession: I missed Rise of the Ancients, the first expansion for Eclipse. While most of what was added here in Shadow of the Rift stands on its own, it does supplement RotA with a few new tech and developments tying back to what was introduced there. At least, that’s my understanding.

Anyhow, I can’t compare the expansions or give a clear perspective on what’s been expanded versus what’s brand new. I also haven’t been able to test the expansions mixed together. That being said, Shadow of the Rift stands on its own and can be added to the base game without RotA, so that’s the perspective I’ll be taking.

My reputation tiles are at stake here
My reputation tiles are at stake here

The thing I like most about this new expansion? The new races. Each one offers up something pretty unique, much more off the beaten path than the original set of races. Whether you play as a new race or play against someone controlling one, it’s going to change the experience. Strategies and interactions explode off into wild directions. You probably don’t want to throw any of these at a new player, but they are pretty cool.

The Octantis give you the chance to essentially customize your own racial abilities. In fact, most of the upgrades you’ll see on the Evolution tiles can be found across other player boards. But you, master of evolution, start with nothing and decide where you want to specialize. By the end of the game, you’ll likely have more power than everyone else. Fortunately, while Mutagen is another resource to track, you don’t have to worry about scrounging it up. It automatically fills up over time, and merely serves as a limit to how quickly you can grow while leaving your choices open. If you want the more powerful evolutions, you’ve got to save up.

There is one caveat that I noticed: evolution can feel frustratingly limited, especially early in the game. It takes a Research action to activate, and as we all remember every action adds up against you. While the cost in Mutagen is separate, the action you take still counts against your upkeep. As a result, there are two particular Evolutions that I think players will naturally gravitate towards as quickly as possible. These provide a bonus Evolution or Research tile when you take the research action. Once you get one of those, you can more efficiently use your research, adding new Evolutions on top of your standard tech research in a single action. This makes the ability feel like a naturally growing power, not a side-tracking task that uses up your precious actions without enough reward to truly be worth it.

You can get a heck of a lot of Evolution tiles with that bonus, for real
You can get a heck of a lot of Evolution tiles with that bonus, for real

Anyhow, moving on.

The Pyxis Unity is another race that is a ton of fun and really goes off the beaten path. The one resource, Transmatter shindig lets you stay on your toes and get what you want, and that’s fun. You don’t have to worry about not having enough pink planets or orange planets. You just have planets and you morph your resources as you see fit. It’s nice not to have to worry about that 3:1 trade ratio.

But then, it’s not a walk in the park either. You have to be more careful about what you spend, since all resources come from the same pool. If you overspend on building ships, you might not have enough for the tech you need, and vice versa.

The other tradeoff is you get slightly fewer resources overall than other races, although not by much.

Who needs MORE resources when you have ALL the resources?
Who needs MORE resources when you have ALL the resources?

Pyxis also has some unique ship configurations, and some unique ship-building rules. While they can build Dreadnoughts and Cruisers straight up, they can also convert two smaller ships into one of the next size up. Two Dreadnoughts can be converted into Deathmoons (which cannot be built in any other way). Deathmoons are nasty versions of the Starbase with an extra upgrade slot and two permanent hull. It’s also worth 4 points.

Lastly, we have the Shapers of Dorado, the time travellers. Putting time travel into a game like this is a bold and clever idea, and it is enormously entertaining pulling ships from the future, or sending them there. And yet, as cool as the time travel element is, their abilities felt the least useful compared to the others. It almost feels like a mini-game off to the side that the player has to play by themselves.

The biggest advantage comes in getting an early jump on some of the advanced structures. Getting an extra Orbital in the first round or two before you even have the tech? That can be quite a boon to your production. Sure, you have to pay for it later, but there’s no EXTRA cost. In fact, you might even take the 2 point penalty and get an otherwise free thing. Might be worth it.

Plus you're kinda cool-looking. And scary.
Plus you’re kinda cool-looking. And scary.

There isn’t really a benefit to sending your ships to the future; the only direct benefit I can think of is maybe getting your ships out of a combat to reappear later in a safe place. Not that it’s pointless; you score points for every Distortion Tile you complete. In the middle rounds after everyone’s done expanding, you might have some ships just lying around, and sending them to the future while they don’t have a task anyway is sort of like free points. But… it’s not a particularly interesting thing to do.

Part of what makes it feel less thrilling is that you’re limited to the Distortion Tiles you draw from a bag. You have some ability to cycle those tiles, but it’s not like you can decide to pull starbases from the future at any given moment. Maybe it would be more interesting that way, maybe not. Certainly, the tiles prevent you from accidentally wiping yourself off the face of the universe by over-doing the time travel, but I wonder if more specific player control would allow for more interesting decisions related to the ability.

At the very least, you get the thematic aspect of your race constantly messing with the time stream, so it is still fun to play that race.

These three races make up the meatiest part of the expansion, and it’s probably worth it for them alone. In fact, Distortion effects can be found on certain new Discovery tiles, and a weaker version of the Evolution ability can be researched in a rare Technology, so those features can be available to everyone.

Still makes for a big ol' space map
Still makes for a big ol’ space map

The rest of the box contents are… well, they’re less appealing to me than the new races.

The Reputation tiles seem neat at first, and encourage early combat (usually we have a peaceful era in the first 2/3 of the game). Unfortunately, it’s pure luck to get one, and usually don’t outweigh the benefits of making alliances. They also add a lot of finicky-ness to the Reputation tile draw after combat (you draw numbers and special tiles separately), and I just haven’t seen them get a lot of play. For the complexity added, I’d rather just leave them out.

In a similar vein, the Developments look cool at first glance, but we’ve never touched them. They’re so expensive and the potential benefit seems pretty low, especially when you factor in the cost of the action used to obtain one, which could easily be spent on something else. Ancient Labs, for example, costs 8 to get a free discovery tile – which might just end up giving you 8 resources back, so you’ve spent the action (and the cost of that action) to gain nothing. Genetics Labs gives you an evolution costing 5 or less, but you have to spend 8 total resources to get it. Might as well spend your goods on a new tech. And Quantum Labs? Sure, the idea of getting an extra tech is kinda appealing, but again the cost is too high. Most players don’t even fill up their technology rows anyhow. Maybe something added in Rise of the Ancients provided more resources or more motivation to nab some Developments, but with Shadow of the Rift alone, they’re pretty worthless.

So much rare tech! So many parts! Such developments!
So much rare tech! So many parts! Such developments!

Rare Tech is a lot more fun – but it’s pretty dangerous to throw something in the mix that only one player can get their hands on. Rift Cannons in particular are pretty nasty, and feel a little overpowered. After all, you customize your ship. Rift Cannons mean you don’t need targeting computers, which means you have more room for shields and hull. Load up with a bunch of Rift Cannons and Hull and you’ve got a nearly unstoppable force. One particular part simply overriding the usefulness of another? Not that cool. In one game, a player found the Rift Turret discovery tile, and from then on her fleet was basically unstoppable. She loaded up on Initiative so her ships shot first, and generally wiped out most of any opponent in combat.

The Anomalies I find a mixed bag. In one sense, they add a lot of excitement. They’re powerful and thrilling to destroy, and the rewards certainly make it worth pursuing. They also give you a reason to build up your awesome fleet and use it without antagonizing other players.

On the other hand, they can wreak a heck of a lot of destruction. They start blowing planets to bits, and that can really damage one player’s chances of winning. Movement is randomized and they don’t necessarily target planets, but if you’re on the wrong end of that cannon when it fires? Oof. Eclipse has always had some randomizing elements, but to me it always felt like there were things you could do to work with the luck, or at least around it, and still have a chance. Some of the more powerful elements here can really just kill a player without much they can do about it.

But think of the glory of flying into the Wormhole Nexus and wiping the floor with the remaining Anomalies? (I did this once. Proud of it.)
But think of the glory of flying into the Wormhole Nexus and wiping the floor with the remaining Anomalies? (I did this once. Proud of it.)

So that about covers it. If you’re into Eclipse, the new alien races add a ton of replay value, not to mention new exciting strategies. If you like more chaos, the anomalies and wormhole nexus can be an exciting addition, and the Rare Tech adds plenty of opportunity to get a leg up on everyone else. The new Reputation Tiles are too clunky for what they add, and the developments are useless, but for the rest of it, the expansion is probably worth it.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee for providing a review copy of Shadow of the Rift.

  • Rating 7.0
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Summary

Pros

Really cool new alien races
Adds new mechanics and life into your game of Eclipse
Anomalies add new unpredictable excitement

Cons

Anomalies really add chaos and randomness
Developments are uselessa and new Reputation tiles aren't great
Rare tech can create imbalance

7.0 Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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