There are many reasons that expansions are created for games. Sometimes an expansion is needed to fix problems that exist in the base game. Other times expansions simply add more of what made the game good in the first place to increase variety and re-playability. Still, other expansions focus on adding complexity and depth to the existing game by adding additional mechanics or tweaking or putting a new spin on existing formulas. Eminent Domain: Escalation is the latter type of expansion, adding new mechanics, tweaking existing formulas, and even giving the base game's ship miniatures different game effects which, somewhat confusingly, came in three separate sculpts in the base game even though they all had the exact same function.
Eminent Domain is a great game in its own right and manages to stand alone without the addition of Escalation. What Escalation brings to the game is what I can't help but refer to as an 'expert's mode.' Eminent Domain is fun, engaging, easy to learn and teach, and there are enough strategic options that players can play it many times without feeling as if the game has run its course or has run out of strategic depth. Escalation is intended for players who are savvy to the strategic options of the base game and ratchets up the depth and complexity significantly enough that it can make the game feel overwhelming to new players while veteran players will appreciate what Escalation adds to the game.
Not only does Escalation give different meaning to the existing ship models, but it introduces many new ways in which the ships can be used. The ships are no longer simply a means to conquer planets. Escalation allows them to be used to research new technologies in place of Research cards; the biggest ship grants a bonus of victory points and can even make conquering planets using other ships cheaper and more efficient. Additionally, there are new planet types that can only be conquered by certain ship types, dramatically increasing the value and flexibility of what was simply a single use resource in the base game.
Escalation also offers enough role cards that the game can now be played with 5 players and nearly every aspect of the game has received the same type of overhaul as the ships. New planets have new abilities, new Technologies add interesting options while having new costs associated and many cards introduce new effects. Many of Escalation's cards can be played as resources or ships rather than simply being played to boost a role. Escalation also introduces a way in which players are allowed to attack and conquer other player's surveyed planets. While attacking other player's planets is somewhat indirect, it is still a great addition to have the option to interfere with them in an attempt to foil their plans.
By far the best addition from Escalation comes in the form of Scenario cards. Scenario cards give each player a different starting deck and most give each player a specific starting planet and one or more Technologies with which to start the game. The Scenario cards add just enough asymmetry between players to really shake things up. Scenario cards will generally encourage each player towards a specific strategy so there is the possibility of players starting with a deck that leans towards a strategy that they don't enjoy but that can be mitigated by drafting or selecting a Scenario card rather than drawing at random. The Scenario cards keep the game fresh and exciting and dramatically increase re-playability.
The only slight negative with Escalation are the rules for two players. The two player rules instruct the players to remove a certain number of role cards from the game prior to the game's start. Removing these cards can make the two player game feel too short. It is easy enough to ignore this rule though and shouldn't deter anyone from considering this expansion, especially players who felt the original game dragged too long with two players. Those players should instead see this rule change as a positive.
A note on “chrome”: The art, cards and components from Escalation all fit in seamlessly with the base game. The box for Escalation is small enough that it fits neatly into the box insert from the base game, saving shelf space for players who like to hang on to their game boxes like I do. Escalation also includes some updated components that have errata for earlier versions of Eminent Domain, including a big sticker for the Role board to bring it in line with the newer print versions of the game.
The bottom line:
Eminent Domain: Escalation is a great expansion to a great game although it isn't for everyone. Players new to the game should hold off on getting Escalation until they are already familiar with Eminent Domain, as the added complexity can be off-putting to newer players. Players who are familiar with Eminent Domain that are looking to significantly up the strategic depth of the game and add in splashes of asymmetry and increase player interaction, will find the Escalation has a lot to offer them.
Eminent Domain: Escalation can be purchased from Amazon here.
The copy of Eminent Domain: Escalation used for this review was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.
Eminent Domain: Escalation is a great expansion for experienced players. It greatly increases the game's strategic depth but may be off-putting to new players.