Hapsburg Eclipse – A Review

Hapsburg Eclipse

Year Issued: 2014

Manufacturer: Victory Point Games

Cost: $29.95

Playing Time: 30 Minutes

Hapsburg Eclipse at Victory Point Games

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The game box

Sometimes you want to play a board game, but no one else is available.  So what can you do?  Play with yourself!  Wait, I think I meant play a game by yourself!  When I find myself in these situations I grab one of the many solitaire games in my basement and give it a whirl.

Hapsburg Eclipse: Can you Save the Austria-Hungarian Empire?

Hapsburg Eclipse is one of the games in the States of Siege series for Victory Point Games.  The basic mechanic is that of tower defense–a number of units relentlessly try to get to the capital of Vienna and you must prevent them from doing so.  In this instance (and as I explain below) you have to not only keep the invading Russians, Serbians, etc, at bay, but you must also keep the multi-ethnic empire together by making the ethnic minorities (i.e. Czechs, Croats, and Hungarians) stay loyal while also maintaining the national will to fight the Great War.

Thus, while playing Hapsburg Eclipse you will fell constantly besieged!  And that’s because you are.  Trying to keep the invading armies out while soothing ethnic tension is not easy.  And there is also the wider World War going on, and as the Germans lose battles in far flung theaters of the war, your National Will will wane.


Contents of the Game

  • A 11″ x 17″ fold-out map
  • A 11″ x 17″ map comprised of 4 interlocking (jigsaw cut) cardboard pieces
  • Rules booklet
  • 2 small 6-sided dice
  • 66 game pieces (punch outs and laser cut)
  • 50 cards (representing the events and game turns)

The quality is overall quite high.  There are two interesting things about the contents, one good and one bad.

The Good: Having two maps is a blessing.  Some players like fold-outs and others like interlocking pieces.  I prefer the latter, mainly because I hate the ridges in fold-outs.  In either case, having two maps gives the player a choice of which to use.

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The two maps, fold-out on top and interlocking at bottom

You can see on the board a number of objects that will become important during game play.  First, the 4 different colored paths represent the different fronts of the war (Polish, Carpathian, Balkan, and Italian).  An invading force counter (e.g. Russians on the Polish front) will move along the path and if any of them reach the black Hexagon that is Vienna, you lose!

In the lower left is the National Loyalties Track.  It records the position of the important ethnic minorities inside the Empire: Czechs, Croats, and Hungarians.  They start loyal, but if all 3 go into revolt, you lose!

In the top right is the National Will Track.  This measures the will of the Austrian people to continue fighting the Great War.  It goes positive when you (and your German allies) win battles, and negative when you lose battles.  It also goes more negative if the advancing fronts reach key cities (the front boxes with flags) or if ethnic minorities goes into revolt.  If National Will gets to -6 or worse, you lose!  Historically, this is the way the Austria-Hungarian Empire exited the war.

The bad: The playing pieces are laser cut.  Okay, there is a positive as the pieces are sturdy and gorgeous.  But because of the laser cut process, the pieces all have black soot on them, especially around the edges.  Fortunately Victory Point Games gives you a napkin in the box.  You are instructed to use this napkin to wipe down the pieces when you punch them out.

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The napkin and a piece with soot on the edges.  Note: the napkin is not an article of clothing and do not use the napkin as a flotation device!

The pieces are indeed fairly dirty from the soot.  I spent about 15 minutes having to wipe down all of them, especially the edges of each piece.

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The used napkin and my dirty fingers

Having to wipe down the pieces was an inauspicious start to the game, but I guess a small price to pay for some quality counters.


The Rules

The game is really easy to play, as the rules are quite clear and organized well.  The 50 cards control the flow of the game and each represents a game turn.  They are divided into 3 unequal stacks: 15 Morning (Mobilization), 16 Mid-day (expanded and total war) and 19 Dusk (Great War).

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The 3 stacks of cards.  From left to right, Morning, Mid-Day, and Dusk

Each turn you flip over a card.  Then, you address each element on the card in order from top to bottom (the flavor text at the bottom can be read at any time, of course).  Thus, each turn you execute the “Effect”, then “Advance” the fronts, then “Trigger” national loyalty rolls, then take player “Actions.”  It’s just that simple.

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Battle of Dogger Bank–an Off Map Theater battle

As an example, we will use the Battle of Dogger Bank card (above).  When drawn, we read the text to see that it represents an Off Map Theater battle, basically a naval battle in the North Sea between Germans and Brits.  Starting with the Effect, we must resolve this battle.  If we roll less than 4 we lose, rolling a 4 is a stalemate, and roll 5-6 and we win.  If we have any Resources (see below under player Actions) allocated to the Naval Theater, we will get a positive DRM (Die Roll Modifier).  There is a counter associated with this battle, and based on the number we rolled, we put the counter into the “Victories”, “Defeats”, or “Stalemates” box on the map board.  If we win, the National Will gets better, but if we lose it gets worse (stalemates do not change National Will).

Next, we Advance the Polish and Romanian fronts.  If either or both fronts has an invading army on it, we move them one space to a lower numbered box (in other words, toward Vienna).  If a front is not yet active (and the Romanian one is not at the start of the war because the Romanians were not yet involved) then the front obviously does not advance (i.e. there is no army to advance).  If any front advances into Vienna, you lose!

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An example of armies advancing.  The Polish front is almost to Tarnow and the Carpathian front has moved past the Fortress. Vienna awaits!

Then, we Trigger a national loyalty check.  In this instance it’s the Czechs.  They are the most volatile and have a national rating of 4.  Rolling a die, we need to roll a 5 or 6, otherwise the Czechs move one space to the left (i.e. one space closer to revolt).  If all 3 minorities are in revolt, you lose!

Once this is done we can take player Actions.  The player has the following 4 options (plus some special ones that I mention afterwards):

  • Launch an Offensive against a front
  • Allocate a Resource to an Off Map Theater (2 actions required)
  • Repair the Przemysl Fortress
  • Attempt to improve National Loyalty

Launch an Offensive: For 1 action, the player can attempt to push back an invading army on 1 front.  You choose the front and roll a die.  If it is greater than the battle number of the invading army (for example the invading Polish Russian Army at the start of the game has a battle rating of 3) you push the army back 1 space (but never off of the track).  Roll too low and nothing happens.

Allocate a Resource: For 2 actions, you may place a resource marker into an Off-Map Theater.  You may only place 6 such markers over the course of the game and only up to 2 in any single theater.  Each gives a +1 DRM on battles in that theater. On future turns, you may sacrifice these counters.  Each sacrificed counter gives you 1 extra action (called a German Staff Operation) that turn, but the counter is permanently removed.

Repair the Przemysl Fortress: The Przemsyl Fortress protects the Carpathian front (see maps).  As long as it stands, it is easier to push back the invading Russians.  The fortress has strength from 3 to 1 and is destroyed if it reaches 0.  Each time the front is closer to Vienna than the Fortress, the Fortress gets reduced a step.  For 1 action, repairing it restores a step.

Attempt to Improve National Loyalty: For 1 action the player chooses one of the ethnic minorities and tries to move it one step to the right.  Roll a die and if the number is equal to or greater than the Loyalty rating of the minority, you move it one box to the right, otherwise it doesn’t move.  The Czechs are a 4, Croats a 3, and Hungarians a 2.  So, watch out for the Czechs, they will revolt quickly!

Extra Actions:  There are two other actions possible.  One is to activate German Staff Operations.  As I mention above, you may sacrifice a resource marker in an Off Map Theater and gain an extra action.  You had previously spent 2 Actions for the Resource marker, so I hope you got some good die rolls in that theater before you were sacrificed the counter for 1 Action.  The second extra Action is the Great Retreat. Once the Mid-Day cards have been introduced, the player may at any time declare the Great Retreat (the Russians are retreating out of Poland in order to protect Russia against German offensives) by using 2 Actions.  The army on the Polish front is removed and never returns.  In exchange, the player must move 1 counter from the Victories box to the Defeats box.  Then, for each space the Polish front was closer to Vienna than Brest-Litvosk, the player must move 1 counter from the Victories box to the Stalemates box.  If you do not have enough Victories to move enough counters, you cannot start the Great Retreat (I often found this to be the case when I played).

The card has now been played.  The only steps left are the Kaiserschlact Phase (if that card has been drawn, it is a series of off-map battles), Fortress Reduction Phase (reduce the Fortress by 1 step if the front has advanced past it), and the National Will Phase.  The National Will Phase is an important one.  Basically, you add up all your Victories counters, subtract defeats, subtract 1 for each ethnic minority in revolt, and subtract 1 for each flag (i.e. key cities) that the advancing fronts occupy or have gone past.  If your National Will is now at -6 or worse, you lose!

If you have drawn the last card and have completed the National Will Phase without losing by any of the 3 methods (Vienna falls, Minorities revolt, National Will collapses), you win!


Game Play

Once you understand the rules, the game plays very quickly.  At its heart, you flip a card, move some fronts, roll the dice a few times, and take 1-3 actions.  It can seem like a flavor-less exercise if you do not read the flavor text.  Thus, I highly recommend slowing down and reading the chrome.  The game will feel more real if you do.

Anyway, the tension is created in that the number of negative effects each turn is usually greater than the number of actions that the player gets.  If you look back at the Battle of Dogger Bank card, you will see that you will most likely lose that battle (-1 National Will), at least 1 front will advance (probably the Polish front), and the Czechs will most likely move 1 step closer to revolt.  This might not all happen, but my grasp of probability math tells me that 2 are likely to occur.  And now you get only 1 action to deal with it.

Thus, each turn puts you into the bad situation of making decisions based on what you think might work best given that you can’t stop all the threats on that turn.  Do you try to knock back the Russians on the Polish front?  Do you try to reverse the Czech dissent?  Once you know what cards might be turned over on the subsequent turns, you might try to let the Polish front go for a while, hoping that the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia will do some of your work for you.  And of course, you can’t do anything about National Will directly, so if there is a front at or closer than a Key City, you might try an Offensive to knock it back to improve National Will.

Rare are the turns where you get much help.  There are a few cards that give you aid (mainly German aid). Typically, these are counters that allow you to make Offensives easier or prevent a front from advancing.  These aid counters are temporary and can be used only once each, so using them wisely is key.

Some turns you may find that by good luck no front advances (e.g. the Italian and Balkan fronts activate later and often have either a river or trench line in place to hold them back without you using Actions) and miraculously those wild Czechs don’t get more disloyal.  In that instance, you might want to use 2 actions to fortify an Off Map Theater.  Because if you don’t help the Germans, you are going to lose more Off Map battles than the number that you win–and then your National Will is going to decline quickly.  And by placing a resource counter into an Off Map Theater you “bank” it for later when you might need to transform it into a German Staff Operation for an extra Action.

I have played the game about a half-dozen times.  Every single game has ended in Crushing Defeat as National Will collapses (like in the real Great War).  For reference, if the game ends in Ethnic revolt it also is a Crushing Defeat.  Should an army get to Vienna, you have the possibility of (in order of what is better for the Austrians): Pyrrhic Victory, Strategic Stalemate, Marginal Defeat, Strategic Defeat, and Crushing Defeat.  I won’t even discuss the possible Victories from Tactical to International, as I have never, ever been close to winning the game.  If I ever do win, I will take a photograph of the board to prove that it actually happened!


Assessment

I use a rating of 1-10 “Dice” for each category.  For reference, a 1 is the poorest possible rating and a 10 the best possible.

Components: 6 Dice

I really like the quality of the rules booklet, cards, boards and counters.  Also, everything fits into a small box (the size of 1 of the 4 map pieces), so the game doesn’t take up much space on my shelves.  But having to wipe off the black soot was a major downer.

Fun/Enjoyable: 8 Dice

The game is indeed enjoyable to play.  The rules are not so complex that you have to run back and forth to the booklet.  Most of the important modifiers to remember are listed on the board.  The game flow is fast and not cumbersome.  The tension is thick and adds emotion to your choices.

Tactics/Strategy Depth: 8 Dice

Importantly in a solitaire game, you do not want to feel like the game is merely rote rolling of the dice or flipping of cards.  In Hapsburg Eclipse you clearly have tough choices to make when assigning your actions.  Your choices have a large impact on both tactical success (a roll on a given turn) and strategic success (e.g. your performance in Off Map Theaters and overall National Will).  I am not sure yet what choices lead to victory, but I know with some certainly which ones will end in grim defeat.  Knowing which cards are going to come up helps with planning, but it takes 1) a number of games before you can start to anticipate cards, and 2) some luck because if you have to add the last two decks early, the randomness will throw any planning out the window.

Balance: 4 Dice

And thus the card draw and merging of stacks make balance a major problem.  The randomness of the card draw can break a game quickly.  You start with the Morning stack.  One of those 15 cards instructs you to advance the war marker and add the Mid-Day deck (i.e. shuffle the new cards into the remaining cards in the draw stack).  Two Mid-Day cards advance the war and eventually add the Dusk Cards.

If you draw the card that advances the war early, you are going to get swamped.

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My game where I drew Treaty of London on the first turn.  The game lasted 8 turns.  The picture shows the 8 cards that I drew in order (from left to right).

In one of my games I drew the Treaty of London on the first turn.  This was a major disaster because the Italian front activated, the two active fronts at the start of the game advanced, the Croats went crazy, and the Mid-Day cards got added.  My National Will fell apart on Turn 8.  In other game, I advanced all the way to the Great War after only 19 card draws.  All 4 fronts were active and I got mauled as once again, National Will collapsed as key cities fell in succession.

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My defeat after only 8 turns.  The ethnic minorities were still loyal, but I had lost 4 flags and was -2 on Victories-Defeats.  My National Will fell to -6 and it was a Crushing Defeat

Each game might play very, very different because of the card draw order.  The game does have an option to put the cards in order by number.  This simulates the actual Great War.  But, other than that option (which might lead to games being too similar), I am not sure how to correct for the lack of balance that comes about from the card draw.

Of course, the one advantage of getting smashed quickly, is that I was able to sweep up the counters and cards, resetting the game for another try.

Theme: 9 Dice

Particularly if you read all the flavor text, the game does evoke the Great War and the desperation of defending the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  The box cover, the map board, the pieces, and the cards all stay on theme.

Overall Rating: 7 Dice

This is a solid game.  It does a good job simulating the Great War.  The States of Siege core engine works very well in this “tower defense” situation in which the Austria-Hungarian Empire found itself.  Players might even find themselves learning about some events in the Great War that they were unaware of, so there is even an educational value (something that historical war games can add to a gaming experience).  If you like solitaire games, give Hapsburg Eclipse a try.

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