01 May 2020
Law of the jungle
We’re going to create a world. It’ll take a few days. No pay, but great exposure. You can have Sunday off. You in?
In Ecos we play competing creative beings doing the actual graft of creating the land, seas, mountains and forests as well as the creatures that live in them. Yet, as we do so, we are in competition. You might think that that forest goes well with that ocean just there, but to me, it clashes horribly. To remedy this I’ll activate one of my cards that allows me to replace it with more ocean, or a desert. Of course, you might change that back when you next get a chance to redecorate.
The game consists of one player drawing delicious tokens out of a bag, declaring each as they go. This allows all players to use their energy cubes on the cards they already have laid out in front of them. Naturally you have to match with the most recently drawn token, and you’re building up these powers each turn. Once complete you say “Eco!” and then the game pauses while you enact your power. This can be simple things like laying more tiles, or placing an animal on a valid space. You might gain some points for this, or some extra energy that can be immediately played, causing a chain reaction of cards, if you’ve tee’d them up right.
It’s not all peaceful though – your actions can be more disruptive. A sea full of fish and gentle creatures can suddenly be set upon by a shark. For the player that did this, and in truth, laid out the fish and manatees, this was a huge swing in points, pushing them closer to the magic points threshold which allows them to finish the game. Other versions of this might be enacting one power to move animals out of the desert, and then claiming points for every barren and sandy space in the habitat. So, it’s not exactly one for those who don’t like that bit in Bambi.
The cards themselves also only have so many uses. Rotate with a use and soon you’ll be discarding it. This makes Ecos a game of managing your engine in front of you, and striking when the time is right to get you the maximum number of points. You can make things easier for yourself by playing out various future bonuses (often the previously mentioned buffet of manatees) – but these too could be used by another player to their own advantage. Or they could flip the board in a way that leaves you with two smaller deserts rather than one large one – which is less good for claiming certain tile-based points.
Yet, despite how simple this sounds, Ecos is difficult to understand a lot of the time. There’s just such a variety of ways that a player could be planning to gain their points. This is good, but it means those swings come out of nowhere from your opponents. Yes, you can announce the card when played to the board but this requires understanding why someone has done everything they have up until then. For a game with board-state changing conflict the “oh, I was sure there was a manatee here earlier…” moments feel a bit limp. As such, it’s difficult to recommend to someone who isn’t planning on playing it endlessly.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN EGGETT
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Ecos, despite the entirely wonderful design, feels ever so slightly aimless. There are great moments in the game, but they just didn’t make anyone feel powerful enough to keep them drawn in.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED....Ishtar
When it comes to creating a new world, we’d prefer to be creating The Gardens of Babylon.
Designer: John D. Clair
Artists: Sabrina Miramon, Matt Paquett
Time: 45-75 minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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