Base price: $XX.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 30 minutes.
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?) (Will update when widely available.)
Logged plays: 11
Full disclosure: A review copy of Eco-Links was provided by Nice Game Publishing.
Alright, friends, it’s the big week; Essen has finally arrived! I think. I’ve never really been one for getting the dates correct. The one nice thing about Essen is that I’ve been (as you likely know from previous reviews) trying to broaden my horizons beyond just games coming from the US / Europe (hopefully getting those games in from Nigeria, soon, which is going to be extremely exciting), and Essen, despite being in Europe, has a pretty great selection of publishers that we don’t often see in the US. One such publisher is Korea Boardgames, based in South Korea. I’m super excited to check out Eco-Links (among other games, such as Topito and Pile-Up Rush, that you might have seen on my Instagram), so let’s get right to it.
In Eco-Links, the environment is kind of messed up (so, the day-to-day around here). This has caused a bunch of animals to get separated from their families as their habitats have kind of collapsed. This is sad for multiple reasons, but you’ve figured out a way to reunite them. Be quick, though; they can’t wait forever! Can you help get an animal family back together?
So, for setup, you’ll want to give everyone a player board, first off:
Give them the animal markers corresponding to those boards (frogs for the lake, cats for the grass, squirrels for the woods, and polar bears for the ice):
There are also path tiles for each board; give each player all 16 in their color / style:
The last few things are the Completion Tiles:
As well as the number tiles:
There’s also a sand timer, but I’ve probably uploaded enough photos of sand timers to BGG as-is, so I’ll spare you having to see one more. Shuffle up the number tiles and you’re ready to go!
So your goal in this is to reunite the animals as quickly as possible; the more quickly you do so, the more points you’ll get! But, uh, you need to make sure you actually do it correctly.
The first thing to do is to flip 6 of the Number tiles face-up. Nobody should touch anything while this is happening. Once you’ve flipped all six, the round immediately starts, unless no Gold Tiles were flipped; then, just flip six more to replace these and shuffle the old ones back in! Each player must place their Animal Markers in those six numbered spaces and place path tiles on their board to connect all six animals. There are, however, a few caveats:
- You must fill every space. You can’t leave out tiles, even if you don’t want them. Sorry.
- All tiles must be in one path. This isn’t Railroad Ink; you can’t have multiple networks.
- Your tiles must only connect markers; you cannot have paths to empty spaces. You’re trying to save animals, not nothing.
- All paths on your tiles must be connected, as well. Think of it like roads in Carcassonne; you can’t have a road connecting to a blank space. That’s illegal. Same rules here.
If you think you’re done, grab the topmost remaining Completion Tile. If you take the 1st tile, flip the timer. The other players have until time runs out to finish. That’s the good, good stress. Once all the tokens are taken or the timer runs out, move on to the Scoring phase.
During the Scoring Step, verify all of the players’ paths on their player boards. If their path has any mistakes, return their Completion Tile to the center. Once you’ve done that, the player with the lowest-numbered Completion Tile takes the highest-value Gold Tile; the player with the second-lowest-numbered Completion Tile takes the highest-value Silver Tile. If there are no Silver Tiles, the second-lowest-numbered player takes the lowest Gold Tile. It is possible, as a result, that only one player (or no players) will score in a given round.
Once that happens, move on to the next round! Players keep the Number Tiles they earned (they’re points!) and you set the rest aside. When you run out of Number Tiles, shuffle the discarded tiles (not the taken ones) and form a new stack. Once a player hits a certain score, they win!
- 2 players: 50 points
- 3 players: 45 points
- 4 players: 40 points
As you might guess, if multiple players cross the threshold in the same round, the higher score wins. If there’s a tie, the player with more Number Tiles wins!
For some fun variants, try these:
- When you take a Gold Tile, remove one of your tiles with an Animal Sign on it from the game. That should add a bit of challenge for experienced players.
- Inexperienced players may add their Animal Markers to their spaces on the board before the round starts. That gives them a bit of a time advantage and makes sure that they don’t place them in the wrong spots. Both things are important!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t that many, to be honest. You’re basically playing by yourself, just against other players at the same time. They can’t affect your board (though it would be fascinating if they could), so all you really have to worry about is their speed. It is nice that 3rd and 4th aren’t completely out of the round (if 1st and / or 2nd make a mistake, 3rd might get to score), as it balances the speed / accuracy trade-off quite nicely, in my opinion.
I don’t really have a preference on player count with this one. Anything from 2 to 4 players is fine.
- Gotta go fast. Seriously, it’s a speed game; move like your points depend on it. They do.
- Make sure your numbers are correct. There’s nothing more embarrassing in this game than being first, being totally correct, and then finding that you connected a token at 6 rather than at 9, which you were supposed to do, so 2nd place gets the full points, instead.
- I usually do depth-first rather than breadth-first when it comes to placement. If you haven’t done a lot of programming, depth-first generally means going down one path as far as you can, when presented with branching paths. Breadth-first means taking one step down each branch, then one step down each of the subsequent branches. I find that depth-first is a bit faster and lets me make quick swaps to avoid mistakes.
- Look for places where a quick swap will get you the outcome you want. Like I said, this is critical. Sometimes you know exactly which piece you need in order to get your paths correct, so just quickly swap them around. Just make sure you have the piece you need.
- It’s better to be right than fast, I suppose. You really would like to score some points, and even only scoring the Silver tier is better than scoring nothing because your paths were wrong.
- If you’re playing with the variant where you remove tiles, don’t get rid of your dead ends too quickly. Dead end tiles are useful for helping you quickly get out of a bind, and the only two in the game are both on tiles that get removed if you score a Gold Tier tile. It may be worth considering not removing them so quickly, or at least holding on to one.
- Winning may not necessarily be worth it, in some rounds. There will be some rounds, where, unfortunately, very few / no Gold Tiles come up. When this happens, well, it might not be super worth it to score. Or you might have a situation where the only Golds are 10 and 11 and the Silvers are 9. Is it worth losing a tile over one or two points? Generally, I think not.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the art. It’s super good! Upbeat, vibrant, colorful, and fun, and plenty of animals, to boot. It’s also got a nice like, four-season thing going? If you assume the lake is summer, then each of the four boards corresponds to a specific season, which is very pleasant.
- The theme is good, too. You’re saving animals! Who wouldn’t enjoy a game like that?
- It’s got three things I love quite a bit: real-time gameplay, path-building, and chunky tiles. The real-time makes the path-laying mechanics much more difficult but avoids the analysis paralysis usually inherent to games like this. If it were turn-based, it would take forever. I’m glad its real time. Also, yeah, the boards and the components are super nice!
- The animal selection is quite good. Polar bears, cats, squirrels, and frogs are a great mix of animals to want to protect in a game.
- The included variants are a solid way to balance gameplay for newer players. You may still want to wait a bit before you start playing if you’re an experienced player, but it’s a good start to trying to make the game a bit more fair for new players.
- Sets up and plays quickly. It’s a very fast game; perfect if you want to jam on something but don’t have much time.
- I wonder how widely available it’s going to be? I really enjoy it and I hope it sees a wider release stateside, beyond just Essen. Funagain has an Essen Mule service; maybe request it there, if you’re hoping they’ll bring some copies over for BGG.CON or other places? I didn’t see it on the list, though, so hopefully they’ll add it in the next few weeks.
- The box insert is vaguely nonsensical. There are six slots for four types of tiles. That means you have to split the 64 path tiles into two stacks of 10 and four stacks of 11; they won’t fit in the box as four stacks of 16. That just … makes life harder when you’re trying to put the game away. I wouldn’t mind a slightly taller box or an insert that stores the tiles horizontally.
Overall: 9.25 / 10
Overall, Eco-Links is suuuuper fun! I think I have a noted preference for real-time games, but this is a great combination of a bunch of things I like. Real-time, tile-laying, path-building, and you do so on your private board. It reminds me a bit of Scarabya and NMBR 9, but with a bit more Tsuro added in. Personally, I think it’s a great game for a lot of different skill levels, but my main complaint is that I wish there were more granular ways to adjust the difficulty / provide ways for new players to be competitive as they’re learning the game. Not much you can do about that, but I’m still a huge fan of it. If you’re looking for a super-fun and super-fast game with some great art and theme, I’d definitely recommend Eco-Links! It’s probably going to be on my list of games that I introduce to new gamers from now on; I really quite like it.