Stan had been asking to play this for a while and I'd been putting it off. But to be fair to him he stuck it out - not the popping; most sane adults would have given up on that - but the game itself which we played over about three hours in two sessions during the day. As Quentin probably tried to tell us many moons ago, the game at heart is rather simple - you have six actions you can do on your turn. You can explore (adding more hexes to a modular board) build ships, advance the technology to equip them, equip them, fly them into other people and have battles, or choose 'influence' which is kind of a getting-ducks-in-rows move, gathering your strength for the future.
endgame v Stanley
Around those moves are the technologies and upgrades and the vagaries of the parts of the galaxy (the hexes) you explore. Stanley and I played several rules incorrectly but we did enough to get the gist of it, and I felt confident enough explaining (or refreshing) the rules to Ian and Andrew tonight.
We got off to what we might later refer to (during our Eclipse dotage) as a flier, as the early rounds kind of suggest either exploring (which we did) or advancing technologies (which we couldn't do, as none of the cheaper ones were available). At the centre of the galaxy is a particularly rewarding hex and we all edged toward it whilst keeping an eye on each other. Ian was first to do battle with some ghostly alien spacecraft, and went down with all hands. Andrew and I edged closer... but while we took our time, Ian rebuilt and rebooted his hugely destructive dreadnought spaceships and moved into the middle hex.
Too late I realised I was massively under-defended in my own territories, and despite my entreaties to "get Andrew instead" Ian cut a swathe through my hexes, obliterating my better-armed but unwieldy spaceships that could only react after being blown to shite. Bollocks, I thought. But whilst Ian was making hay in my part of the galaxy, Andrew stole in and claimed that centre hex. Fortunately for me, that took Ian's attention back to the centre of the galaxy and whilst they waged war on each other I got on with developing technologies and exploring the outer reaches of space - each hex worth a lowly point, but because of that not attracting the attention of the others.
Andrew was victor in the battle of the central hex, but come the count-up we were all surprised (or I was anyway) - final scoring for hexes saw Andrew in the lead and me lagging at 20-15-11. We added our reputation tiles (gained during battle) and Andrew was still leading 34-31-24. But the bonuses for discoveries and technologies saw me surge back to nab the win by a single point:
Our game, with Sam's distracting tablecloth removed
and a lovely backdrop of stars put in its place
We all enjoyed it but all also felt we were ready for the end - the game took slightly over three hours which was way over the half-an-hour-per-player estimate on the box. But it was also slowing down toward the end as we a. took longer to decide things and b. realised we got one or two things wrong. It was only my second play and Ian's first (Andrew's third?) so with those mitigating caveats in place we felt it was definitely one to revisit again. I must say, even though I didn't relish being on the receiving end, I haven't experienced that much drama in a game for quite a while - Vangelis playing in the background as my spaceships were blown to smithereens! I even forgot about the pain in my foot.