Given that there are so many good boardgame ports available, it’s a pretty lousy time to sell a lousy boardgame port. It doesn’t help when the boardgame being ported is nothing to write home about. It certainly doesn’t help when it wants you to buy pointlessly expensive maps, not to mention actual gameplay mechanics. This sure is demanding for such an inconsequential game. It barely even qualifies as beer n’ pretzels. How about suds n’ crumbs?
Eight-Minute Empires is a throwaway territory conquest by Ryan Laukat, who’s turned out a handful of frothy little games that rely more on charm than game design. It’s basically Risk, but instead of dice and hands of cards, everyone has to buy from a row of face-up cards to do anything. Do you buy the card to move your guys or the card to add more guys? Or do you splurge on the rare card that actually takes someone else’s guys off the board? It’s an important decision, since you only ever get the handful of coins you start with. But don’t give it too much thought since it’s all going to be over soon. Guess how many turns before Eight Minute Empire’s hard cut-off time. I hope you guessed eight.
I mainly know Laukat for Above and Below, which marries a city builder with one of those games where you look up a paragraph in a big spiral-bound book and read it to find out what happened. The clever part of the design is that the city builder is the “above” part of the game, but once you start digging underground to expand your city, the “below” part of the game introduces the big book of paragraphs where stuff happens. Deterministic economy up top, shrouded adventure text down under. Cute! It makes a great first impression. The problem is that the set-collection economy is fundamentally broken in a way that a game designer should have noticed. It only took us two playthroughs to see that, uh, this doesn’t work like the designer seems to want it to work. So all I’ve got left is a game about looking up a paragraph in a big spiral-bound book and reading it find out what happened. No thanks. If I wanted to play Tales of the Arabian Nights, which I sometimes do, I would play Tales of the Arabian Nights.
At least Eight-Minute Empire works as intended. Namely, a diversion comprised of familiar game ingredients. Oh, look, it’s got a set-collection economy. It’s a harmless enough game, and unlike Above and Below, nothing is egregiously broken. Pick a card, do the one thing it says, repeat seven more times. Now tally up who controls how many territories and how many continents. Easy peasy.
But as a port, there are a couple of problems. The first is that this is one of those games with a deck of cards that thinks you don’t care about seeing the cards. According to Eight Minute Empire, there is no reason to know what cards are in the deck, or even which cards are in the discard pile. You weren’t trying to game the set collection by knowing the game components, were you? Not on this digital port’s watch! All you get to see are the cards in the face-up row. It seems like the deck might be built to gradually ramp up, but I can’t be sure how. This vapid port doesn’t say.
What’s really galling about Eight-Minute Empire is how it’s sliced up into various expensive pieces. I normally figure a game’s price is between you and your wallet. But this is one of those games where the business model sticks its pudgy fingers into the design. You want to play on different maps? You can buy extra maps for four dollars each. Do you want to play the maps with some of the territories as mountains? You get to buy an add-on called “Mountains” for another four dollars. Did I mention that you already paid nine dollars for the game without the extra maps, or the rules for mountains, or a single card that lets someone build a city? All that stuff is extra.
This seems to be a habit with the publishers, who also sell a port of Martin Wallace’s Steam. The maps for that game cost $5 each, so at least the abusive business model is getting cheaper.