Designer and Artist: Ryan Laukat
Publisher: Red Raven Games
Play Time: 8–20 minutes
Target Age Range: 13+ (I’d say it works for kids as young as 7 or 8, though.)
So a couple months ago, when I was at SaltCON (sorry again about dropping the ball on that write-up!), I stopped by the Red Raven Games booth. I had played a demo of the upcoming expansion for Near and Far, and ended up really enjoying it—so much that I ended up shelling out the money for the KickStarter/Convention edition of the base game. (Metal coins!) When I told them about The Innkeeper’s Table, they told me to contact them after the convention to work something out. After a few emails, a box arrived at my door, and I’m now excited to be reviewing one of the games that stood out to me the most at their booth—Eight-Minute Empire.
As the title implies, Eight-Minute Empire is a small game that is meant to be played fairly quickly. A match among friends familiar with the game shouldn’t take much more than the indicated eight minutes, though some matches could easily go a bit longer. It’s a great filler game, though, and it can fill a short break fairly nicely. Under the right circumstances, you could possibly play a game in less time than it takes to read this review.
So I guess we’d better get on with it.
As you might expect in a game that boasts such a short play time, the rules of Eight-Minute Empire are pretty simple. At the beginning of the game, each player is given a certain number of coins, depending on the number of players. Those coins are used over the course of the game to purchase one card per turn. There is no way to add more coins to your supply, so once you spend them, they’re gone.
Each card serves two purposes:
1.) Provide resources which are used to calculate victory points at the end of the game.
2.) Allow the player to take an action that will affect the game board.
The number of each resource a player has dictates how much that resource is worth. For example, in the card shown above, if the player has two lumber, they receive one victory point. Four lumber rewards three victory points, five rewards three, and six rewards five victory points. Each resource’s ratio is different, with some rarer resources offering more points.
The bottom of the cards show the various actions each card rewards. These actions allow players to move their armies, recruit new units on the starting space, build cities (which act as additional spaces where you can bring in new units), and more.
Players purchase cards with coins from their supply supply, with the cost determined based on its position in the card pool. The card farthest to the left costs no coins, and the price progressively increases farther to the right. Once a player purchase their card, all cards move left to fill in the vacant space, and the player draws a new card and places it in the space furthest to the right.
One interesting start-of-game mechanic is that before the game starts, players do a closed-hand bid where they each secretly put a number of coins into their hand, then reveal together. Whoever bids the most coins must spend those coins. They don’t necessarily become the first player, however; they get to decide who the first player will be. This allows some additional strategy at the beginning of the game to influence the way things will play out.
Aside from a card action that allows the player to remove one of their opponents’ units from the board, there is no “combat” in the game. Multiple players can have their armies inside a single territory, and the player with the most units in a territory “controls” it. If two players are tied for the most units in that territory, then no one controls it. At the end of the game, in addition to the points scored from the resources on the cards, players score points for each territory they control and each “continent” they control. The player who controls the most territories on a continent is said to control that continent.
Pretty simple, no? Think of it as Risk: Ultra Light
There’s not a whole lot going on with the theme in this game, but that’s okay. Essentially, Eight-Minute Empire is a “dudes on a map” game boiled down to its barest essentials. You have armies. You have a map with territories. You have cities. But it doesn’t really go beyond that. Your armies are wooden cubes, and your cities are wooden discs.
The game is centered more around the gameplay rather than the theme, and with as simple as it’s aiming to be, any more theme that it’s got would be superfluous, and possibly even a distraction. When you’re sitting down for an 8-minute game, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re High King Olav IV, Slayer of the Thunderbeast or just Jeff from Arizona. You’re just trying to put your pieces in a better position than your opponent. Sometimes, simple’s the way to go, and I think Ryan Laukat recognized that when he put this game together. It may be simpler than some players like, but with a title like Eight-Minute Empire, you should know what you’re signing up for.
Visual/Physical Appeal (8/10)
Again, this game was designed with simplicity in mind. Colored, wooden cubes and discs. A simple map with two sides you can choose between to shake things up a bit between plays. Simply-designed cards with only a few simple images on each. It’s not intended to be visually stunning in the way that Scythe is.
But the thing I like about it is that it works. With games like Islebound and Above and Below, Laukat has already proven that he’s a skilled artist. For Eight-Minute Empire, however, that much visual design isn’t necessary. Laukat’s trademark style is still very apparent in the cards, but they’re not as central to the game as they are in his other work—and I actually kind of like it that way.
Setup Time (~1–2 minutes)/Play Time (8–20 minutes)
Setup is simple for this game. Players decide who goes first through the closed-hand bidding a mentioned earlier, then they each place a few armies in order. Lay out six cards at the top of the board, and you’re ready to go.
As for play time, well… it’s right there in the title. My first playthrough of the game took a bit longer than that, but that’s largely due to the fact that we were unfamiliar with the game and we had a few interruptions as things went along. A group of players who have played a few times could easily get a round in in about 10–15 minutes or so.
Complexity (Rank 4)/Teach Time (~2 minutes)
Again, Eight-Minute Empire is all about simplicity. Simple rules, simple teach, and a short play time is what it’s all about.
Your mileage may vary on this one. Because Eight-Minute Empire is so simple, there’s not much to keep it fresh each time you play through, aside from using the other side of the board. But since each round is so short, you can knock several rounds out quickly, so it doesn’t feel like you’re making a huge time investment. The game does have a few expansions, which I haven’t played, which may add to its replayability for some, but as I haven’t played them, I can’t really speak to that fact. Acram Digital has also released a PC adaptation of the game that has additional maps you can buy, if you prefer to try a digital version.
At the end of the day, Eight-Minute Empire is a fun, little game that can work as a good filler. It’s not a huge, super-thematic epic, but it doesn’t try to be. Sometimes, when you’re hungry, you’re not looking for an all-you-can-eat buffet; you just need a light salad or a bowl of soup to satiate your appetite. The same goes for gaming. Sometimes, you just need a quick gaming fix, and Eight-Minute Empire provides a nice, gaming snack.
Now, if you’ll pardon me, that last paragraph made me hungry. I’m going to go get some soup.