Pick a card, place it in front of you, reveal it, and see what happens. Repeat until one person has gained 15 victory points or until all but one player have been eliminated. Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers, designed by Philip duBarry, takes this deceptively simple mechanic and injects it with a healthy dose of inter-player tension, and tops it off with a Battlecruiser-load of variety. The end result is a very good game that, while it fits neatly into the “micro-game” category, proves its worth on the strength of incredibly high replay value.
Each player in Battlecruisers has a small hand of 6 – 8 cards, depending on player count, chosen from a selection of over 30 cards. Each player’s hand is composed of the same cards, with one discarded at random and one placed face-up in each player’s Recovery Zone at the beginning of the game. Each card has a primary effect that will trigger if that player is the only person to play that particular card, and each card also has a Clash effect that triggers when multiple people play the same card at once.
The Clash effects are what the tension in the game revolves around. Some of the effects are relatively mild, simply canceling each other out. Other Clash effects can be profound, causing clashing players to discard cards or lose precious victory points. The real crunch of the game comes from trying to out-think, out-guess, and out-play your opponents in order to fire off your best primary abilities without clashing with anyone else while, at other times, clashing intentionally when it would most inconvenience your opponents.
After each round, the cards played are moved into their owner’s Recovery Zones. Those cards are cycled back in to each player’s hand as new cards are played, and then moved into the Recovery Zones themselves. This small bit of information is vital to success in Battlecruisers. After a few rounds go by, players can begin to ascertain which cards the other players have in their hands and which they believe their opponents are most likely to play. This becomes especially important when playing with cards that have effects that force players to discard cards. Knowing, or at least guessing correctly, which cards your opponent will play is the key to success, as well as they key to crushing defeat when you were wrong or when your opponents just flat outplayed you. The knowledge of what other people are holding on to is never quite perfect though, because of the card that players discarded at the beginning of the game.
The gameplay itself is fun, but the real value in Battlecruisers is the sheer volume of replayability. Because only 6 – 8 cards are used each turn, it takes numerous plays to even see all of the different cards, much less all of the different combinations of cards that can be played with. The cards have varied enough effects that it’s also possible to choose cards to cater to particular play-styles. If you want to play a no-holds-barred game with a high amount of aggressive cards in order to increase player elimination, you can do so easily. If you’d prefer to race for points, you can do that too. If you are simply looking to change things up from game to game to keep things fresh and interesting, you can play a different combination of cards each time you play. There are 21 suggested combinations in the rules alone, so, even if you only went with those hands that the rules suggest, you are still going to get nearly 2 dozen games in before playing the same exact game twice.
A note on play time: Battlecruisers plays in 10 – 15 minutes consistently. Each player takes their turn simultaneously, so there is very little downtime.
A note on “chrome”: Battlecruisers is light on components, yet those it does have are well made and match the Eminent Domain universe perfectly, using quite a few pieces of art previously seen in Eminent Domain and its expansions. The one complaint I have is with the red Clash text on the cards. The font is very small, and the red text on a black background is very difficult for me to read. Not everyone that I played with had an issue with it, but I find it so difficult to read that it is a noticeable distraction for me each time I play it.
The bottom line:
Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers is a very good micro-game. The core mechanic boils down to “play a card and see what happens” but the sheer number of cards to be used as well as the importance of trying to play around, and off of, your opponents turns the simple mechanic into a fun, strategy-lite contest of how best to outscore or eliminate your opponents. It is great to play as a filler between longer games or when you are short on time. Unlike a lot of other micro-games, it offers an incredible amount of replayability due to the mind-boggling number of possible card combinations. The rulebook alone suggests nearly two dozen different sets of cards to play with, and that is just scratching the surface. There is almost sure to be a combination that every type of player finds fun. My group likes to play with a different combination each time, which means that, even if we only ever play each combination once, we still have a huge number of plays available to us.
Get this game if:
You enjoy micro games.
You like games that offer huge replay potential.
You want a quick playing game that is about more than a few quick laughs and dirty jokes.
Avoid this game if:
You want a game that is mechanically deep.
The copy of Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers used for this review was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.
Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers is a very good micro game with a plethora of options. The card variety keeps the replay value high while allowing players to tailor the game to their tastes.