Disclaimer: This review is from a reviewer’s copy of the game that was provided by AEG to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.
Game: Ecos: First Continent
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Design: John D. Clair
Art: Sabrina Miramon, Matt Paquette
Mechanisms: Tile placement, Modular board
Number of Players: 2 – 6
Game Time: 45 – 75 minutes
Description: Ecos sees players building the first content by collecting elements to activate their card abilities that add, change, or even remove map tiles, mountains, trees, and animals. Players score points from certain cards and once a player reaches 80 points the player with the most points at the end of that round is the winner!
Each player begins the game with some energy cubes, a dial token (which has the quantity breakdowns of elements in the element bag), and either a predefined starting set of cards or a randomly drafted set. Some cards start in play while the rest make up the player’s hand. Pick a starting map layout from the rulebook and lay out tiles to match on the table.
Choose a player to begin as the Harbinger. Each turn, the Harbinger draws an element from the element bag and players can either place an energy cube on one of their cards with that element, or they can turn their dial token. The dial token has abilities that can be used after a certain number of rotations and allows players to still progress even if elements they can’t (or don’t want to) use are being drawn. If the Harbinger draws a wild element, the round is over at the end of that turn , the element bag is passed to the next player, and they become the new Harbinger for the next round.
When a player’s card has every element on it covered by an energy cube they say “ECO!” and the card will resolve that turn. If multiple people call “ECO!” in a turn, start with the Harbinger and proceed clockwise. Players resolve all abilities on their completed card(s) in order from top to bottom, then the card is rotated to show that it has been used. Cards have leaves around the edge showing how many times they can be used, and when you use a card with only 1 leaf at the top it is then discarded. Some card effects, as well as your dial token, allow you to play additional cards to help replenish ones that have been fully used (or to add to your available elements and options).
Review: AEG caught our attention earlier this year with Tiny Towns, and I (Marti) assumed that AEG wasn’t going to bring out another smash hit in the same year. Spoiler alert – I was wrong.
The game is absolutely clever. Rotating your card to indicate how many times it has been used is a simple concept, but it’s genius in this context. On top of that, the fact that you’re building the world together (while still being competitive for points) is absolutely amazing. Your plans could be totally contrary to your opponents’, leading to some “my bad” moments.
Your decisions can be very difficult. Which card do you add to your tableau? Do you get a cube from the spinner, or do you play or gain a card? Do you set yourself up for that big turn, or nickel and dime your way to the 80 point mark and win?
Like John D. Clair’s first hit, Mystic Vale, there’s a definite “ramping up” as you play. That is, you feel like you start off slowly, but then you get some really big turns where you’re triggering multiple cards and getting all sorts of points. One time, Scott got around 30 points in a turn because he had lined everything up perfectly. That’s atypical – but all three of us definitely had turns where we got 15 or more points.
The art is beautiful. I love all of the little creatures that are represented, and the elemental symbols are very nice as well. The tiles are simple, but they get the point across as to what needs to be done. The colors are vibrant and the symbology is easy to understand. While the art is simple and elegant, I feel like it’s a perfect fit for a game where you’re creating the world from scratch.
The components are top-notch. The runes are bulky and feel good to touch. The bag you pull them out of is well-designed and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart anytime soon. The tiles are chunky and it’s very obvious whether you’re looking at grassland, desert, or water. The cards are a little thinner than I’d like, but that’s a minor issue.
My only other complaint is that the texts and symbols are a little small on the cards. But I can tell you, that’s partially an issue with my eyes. There’s no way you can see what someone across the table from you is doing with their tableau, but you have no way to affect their tableau (only what they’ve done on the shared board), so it shouldn’t matter too much. The couple of times I needed to know what Sarah and Scott had, I just asked to see the card or told them to tell me what it said.
The replayability level of this game is through the roof. No two games feel the same and there is so much to explore. In our first couple of games, we used the suggested decks, and we didn’t really dig too much into the extra cards included in the game. With more plays, I could see us really diving into those and making crazy combos and chains with the cards in our tableau.
Speaking of those decks, they are awesome. Even though they’re only suggested for the first couple of games, I’m not sure if I’d play without them until I really dove deep into the game. There are drafting rules included in the game, but I feel like drafting would end up being a little bit of a struggle until you really know the different strategies and how you could use them to make some big gains.
All in all, both AEG and John D. Clair have another hit on their hands. Ecos is a very unique game that is unlike most games I’ve played in the past, with unique mechanisms and some really big decisions that make your mind melt. It’s very likely that Ecos will show up on at least one of our top 10 of 2019 lists.
Try, Buy, Deny: You’ve gotta buy this one. It released at Essen, and the price ($60 MSRP) is a deal for just how much game that you’re going to find in the box. If you enjoy any sort of game where you’re building – whether tile placement, engine building, or whatever – it’s a must add to your collection. It’s so freaking good.
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