Eight Minute Empire: Legends is almost right on the money. My wife and I played a series of rounds challenging the game to live up to its name, and while we never quite dipped to eight minutes, we had an absolute blast putting the game through its paces. Using area control mechanics with tableau building elements, Eight Minute Empire: Legends tasks 2 to 4 players with expanding their control over a configuration of fantasy islands while settling cities, recruiting monsters, and collecting magic vials.
While Eight Minute Empire: Legends might look like a fantasy wargame, there is much more to the experience than a first glance might suggest. Building a fantasy empire requires controlling territory, establishing cities, and recruiting diverse forces to fight and build for a player’s cause.
How to Build an Empire in Eight Minutes
Eight Minute Empire: Legends is a simple game to set up and learn. The rules indicate that one player should set up the game, but my wife and I did it together. First a selection of maps are laid out, a starting city is placed centrally and a few units for each player are placed on the city. It’s a crowded start but quickly reinforces that conflict isn’t the only way to victory in the game. Beyond that, for the basic game at least, the only thing left to do is hand out the small sum of coins that players use to build their tableau and lay out 6 cards for purchase, placing the deck of replacement cards nearby.
Eight Minute Empire: Legends’s basic mechanic is straightforward area control. Players will earn victory points if they control territories and full islands. They do this by having more cubes in a particular territory than their rivals, and control of more territories overall to claim an island. Actions are tied entirely to buying and immediately using cards. Enter the Tableau builder mechanic. Six cards from a deck are dealt along a cost track ranging from free to three coins. Every player starts with the same number of coins except the winner of the initiative bid.
Sometimes, Gambling Pays
True to the nature of a quick-play game, Eight Minute Empire: Legends starts with a bang, forcing players to bid their limited coin reserves for a shot at being first player. Only the winner must pay, but whatever advantage is gained from going first must be considered against the loss of a player’s only means of acquiring more expensive cards. There is no way to earn more money, except by way of a single advanced token, leaving players to ration their stockpile while they try to buy the best cards or else draw the dregs as the game reaches its end.
When a card is purchased — or to put it another way, when a fantasy hero, people, or monster joins a player’s forces — they immediately perform the action printed at the bottom of that card. This is usually to move a certain number of cubes, add new cubes, build a city in an occupied territory, or eliminate a rival cube. In addition, cards have a permanent ability at their top which will impact all future actions. Grab a card with a cube at the top and all future card buys with a recruit action will recruit an additional block. These abilities can stack in interesting ways, even pulling away from the core area control mechanic to earn players victory points and extra movement options. Some cards will give you victory points for each other card of their type in a player’s tableau. Others give magical vials, with the owner of the most at the end of the game earning extra victory points.
Learning the Heart of the Cards
Strategizing around card buys is really the heart of Eight Minute Empire: Legends. While spreading cubes out and creating cities across the colourful islands is entertaining in its own right, pulling unicorns and orcs into orbit and chaining action combos is really where the fun is. It is also where the most player interaction happens. Knowing an opponent’s potential buys and buying around those considerations is just as important as looking at one’s own forces.
It is interesting how little the removal of enemies mattered in the grand scheme of things while playing Eight Minute Empire: Legends. This really is an empire building game, and while conflict may occur, there is a certain pleasantness to the idea of earning victory points in an area control game by slaying a dragon, capturing a lofty tower, or simply spreading to populate a once desolate island of rocky crags.
The advanced game setup is a little more complicated but considerably more fun. Beyond setting up the normal map tiles and city, players also place towers worth extra victory points when controlled, random tiles that can add a bonus or a malus, and hero characters that provide special rules to differentiate factions. There is a bit of variability to how advanced games play out as more strategies, like the Red Sorceress’ ability to earn victory points through collecting defeated enemies, can impact player decisions and card buys.
Wizards, Pixies, Giants, Oh My!
Visually and materially, Eight Minute Empire: Legends is a fantastic production. The map cards are sturdy, beautifully illustrated, and offer a variety of configurations to shake up games. Each card’s types are instantly recognizable and the art for monsters and fantasy creatures equally well done. All the cardboard chits used for money and special tokens are also well illustrated and recognizable. The cubes are cubes, but they are nice colours, at least.
Regarding replayability and longevity, Eight Minute Empire: Legends is an excellent filler game. It might not actually take eight minutes but a good game can easily fit in a 20-minute block of time including setup and teardown. There are enough varied strategies, especially if players use the advanced rules, to keep it a worthy addition to one’s collection for quite some time. A lot of this replayability comes from the advanced rules additions, and after one or two learning games with the basic rules there is no reason why players shouldn’t exclusively use the advanced set.
Overall Eight Minute Empire: Legends is a fantastic small box game. I’d place it at the same level of small-box-with-big-punch as Air, Land, & Sea. There is an ease to the mechanics that helps it stay true to its name while also encouraging some interesting strategic play as players buy fantasy creatures, expand their forces, and contend with the board and their opponents. It is now a regular addition to game nights for my wife and I, slotting in between other, chunkier fare. A suitable place for Eight Minute Empire: Legends.