Andrew: Yesterday, we posted our review of Eminent Domain, from Tasty Minstrel Games. We lauded this unique, extremely playable sci-fi deck-builder for some innovative mechanics and extremely engaging gameplay, and how it brought galactic conquest to your fingertips in under 45 minutes. But what if you only had a quarter of that time? What if you wanted to, say, decide who controls the galaxy over appetizers?
Eminent Domain: Microcosm is a recent distillation of Seth Jaffee’s excellent deckbuilder. Microcosm plays only 2 players and is designed to be finished in under 10 minutes; that timetable is no exaggeration: Jess and I finished our very first game in just over 11, and that was with us checking the rules occasionally and having to read all the cards as they came up.
Card effects are simplified versions of the basic Roles from Eminent Domain – players will primarily be colonizing or conquering planets through Colonize and Warfare, respectively. Research cards draw Tech cards into your control or force other players to lose theirs, and Tech simply provide more role icons needed to boost other actions. The Produce/Trade mechanic is missing completely, but the game is no weaker for its absence.
Gleaned from the straightforward turn structure of the original, Microcosm has less than a page of rules to cover. On each player’s turn, they first choose to add a card to their hand (either from the three face-up cards or the top of the draw deck), and then they either play a card from their hand to resolve its effects or they draw as many cards from their own discard pile as they want.
The game ends on the turn that the last card is pulled from the draw deck, and then points are tallied. That’s it!
It’s just the right amount of simple, with some genuine strategy thrown on top. Microcosm has some real decision-making hidden between its light gameplay and quick turns.
See, every card you add to your deck (though it’s generous to call the handful of cards you’ll end the game with a ‘deck) has some sort of scoring mechanism. Maybe this one gives you one point per Colony you control. Another may give you a point for every Tech you own. Each card not only serves as a gameplay mechanism, but also provides a scoring mechanism, thereby helping you form a scoring strategy.
In one game, Jess grabbed two early cards that provided 1 Influence Point per Spoil she collected (a Spoil is a planet claimed by Warfare – unlike Colonies, which can be stolen via Warfare, Spoils are untouchable, at the expense of never benefitting from the Role icons they bare). So she went full Warfare, grabbing up Tech and cards which made her war machine more and more powerful.
I, on the other hand, went Colonize/Capital, hoping to keep my colonies ahead of her engine.
It was a close game, with my barely-held final colonies giving me enough points to edge her out. The exchange lasted about 9 minutes.
Not big fans of bickering, take-that style games, we found the stealing and subversion possible in Microcosm to be entertainingly inoffensive, and actually quite fun.
Eminent Domain was special because of the Leader/Follower/Dissent mechanic, which kept everyone playing on everyone’s turn – it was a game with no downtime. Microcosm lacks this mechanism, but that’s ok, because the average turn takes about 20 seconds and, since it’s designed exclusively for 2 players, you’re never truly disengaged.
Fitting everything into a slim tuckbox, I think Microcosm is a great game to have on hand whenever you and your gamer-mate are looking for a quick fix. It’s nowhere near as meaty as Eminent Domain (which is itself on the light-to-medium-weight side), but its brevity is its strength, and neither is it a simple filler game.
Eminent Domain: Microcosm is finding its way to Kickstarter backers and will see a retail release sometime later this month. We will post links as soon as it is available.
In the meantime, though, you might want to watch our Twitter (@Gameosity) for the chance to win a copy for yourself!
(Our copy of Eminent Domain: Microcosm was given to us by Tasty Minstrel Games for review. The enjoyment we got from it was our own)