Ecos: First Continent – World Building

Ecos: First Continent
Ecos: First Continent boardgame

A frothing volcano. A calm, deep voice detailing the massive energy displacement of the eruption of magma. Time-lapsed footage of small plants growing in fertile soil. This is how the continents were formed, we would learn from The Discovery Channel in the 90’s and 00’s.

AEG has a different take on continental growth, seen through the spreading of hexagonal tiles in Ecos: First Continent. Be your own world builder as you grow the first continent of the Earth. Ecos is an engine building game by John D Clair for 2-6 players, recommended for ages 14+. A game lasts around 60-90 minutes.

Setup

Lay four tiles in the center of the table using one desert, one grassland, and two water tiles. Put the score track in the middle of the table. Each player chooses a color, takes their matching dial square, and puts their score marker on the score board. Then, each player takes seven energy cubes.

Separate the map tiles into water and land tile stacks. Place the Ecos bag with the 40 element tokens in the center of the table, next to the organization trays, mountain tokens, and forest tokens.

Each player takes a starting deck of twelve cards. Players can deal these randomly, draft them, or take one of the twelve suggested starting sets (defined by footprint or flora icons on the bottoms of the cards). If you used a starting deck, the three cards with slightly darker icons are your starting actions, and the rest are your hand.

Place the remaining cards, separated into blue and brown, as draw decks for all players.

Choose a start player to be the Harbinger and begin!

Ecos game setup: 4 land/water hexes in the center. Each player has three cards laid out for all to see, 7 wooden cubes, and a square dial representing their color.
Setup with three players

Gameplay

Mechanically, Ecos centers around the game cards. Each player starts with three face-up at the beginning of the game. Cards have one or more leaves at the top, icons on the left, and actions in the center of the card.

The Harbinger draws element tokens from the bag one at a time. Players may take an energy cube and cover an icon on one of their cards that matches the token. If they cannot or do not want to, they can rotate their Dial token instead.

Ecos bag of resource tokens
Harbinger draws one element token at a time.

Eco!

Before the Harbinger draws the next token, everyone checks for a completed card. If they have one, they declare “Eco!” and resolve their cards in order, beginning with the Harbinger and continuing clockwise.

There’s no limit to the number of Eco events that can happen, and Eco events can trigger other Eco events. Each player finishes all of their events in order.

Finally, once an event has completed, discard the card if there is only one leaf at the top. If there’s more than one leaf, rotate the card clockwise 90 degrees. Return the energy cubes to that player’s supply.

These Eco events allow for all sorts of things like placing tiles, mountains, or animal tokens on the board. Players collaborate in their creation of the First Continent. Every game ends with a picturesque land mass. You’ll take pictures.

If a player’s Dial token shows an action at the top, they may choose to do that as well. Reset the Dial to put Start at the top when doing this.

Once all players have checked for Eco, the Harbinger draws the next token.

The End

The round ends when the Harbinger draws one of the Wild element tokens. Gather the element tokens back into the bag, check for Eco, and the Harbinger role passes to the left.

The game ends when one player crosses the 80 point threshold. Finish the round and the highest score wins! You may drop the threshold to shorten the game.

Blue drawstring bag in background with a line of tokens coming towards the viewer. The last token is the wild.
After drawing a wild token, the round ends.

Impressions

Ecos final board
Building and populating a common landmass can be its own reward.

Simply Stunning

Ecos is a beautiful game with attention to detail and rich, lush art design. The care in crafting the experience was evident from the moment we opened the box. Instead of using baggies, the team at AEG provided punch-out container dispensers for all of the animal tokens and energy cubes.

Ecos animal tokens in a cardboard tray dispenser.
Animals and energy cubes all have their own dispenser boxes, with lids.

The ocean tiles are even slightly thinner, creating a topographical difference when the tiles come together. The change is small, but the effect is fantastic.

Although Ecos is not a cooperative game, nothing on the central game board is owned by a particular player. Once players place tokens on the board, everyone shares the continent and its inhabitants.

Ecos is mechanically simple which makes it approachable for younger ages. The structure of the game, with its shared central board, makes the score seem secondary. Again, this makes Ecos an excellent game for families, because the collaborative effort of building the board is rewarding for everyone.

Outstanding details: Ocean tiles are slightly thinner than land.

Lots to Manage

Ecos has a lot going on. Every card’s orientation has to be carefully managed to make sure players aren’t inadvertently cheating themselves into or out of uses of their cards through accidental spins. In casual play, this might not be a real problem, but there is no way kids will be able to resist spinning cards on a slick table.

There are also so many cards in this game it can feel like players aren’t wringing max potential out of it. This is more of a positive than a negative for casual players though; the variety leads to near endless possibilities and massive replayability. It takes a few plays to hammer out card synergy and maximize the engine building potential of the cards.

Players would do well to keep in mind the differences in the brown and blue cards as well, Brown cards generally help players put more tokens and tiles on the board, whereas blue cards tend to score more points.

Ecos cards from left to right: gain two wilds; place a seal, gain an energy cube, gain plant & wild; place a tree and gain 2 points per adjacent tree.
Managing cards well means you can set up an Eco! cascade: fill the left card to gain two wilds for the middle card, which gives other benefits before filling the last two spaces on the right card for yet more benefits.

Some Struggles

This huge amount of cards and tokens and cubes also means a bit more cleanup than many games. Ecos was a table hog, completely consuming our 5’x3′ table in a four player game.

There were also a few graphical missteps. These are minor in the scope of the game, but they deserve mention:

  • The animal tokens have small sections on them that show the valid land or water tiles players can put them on. This is nice for clarity, but it’s so small they’re difficult to see.
  • Do not use the serpentine style score track. Every copy of Ecos we have seen has a misprint on the serpentine track where the number 44 is counted twice. Oops!

Ecos has a lot of specialized terms (“adjacent”, “community”, “landmass”, “habitat”) which take getting used to, but they do all make sense and the rulebook is very clear on their definition.

Ecos hippo tokens on grassland and water hexes.
Hippos can live on grassland or water – can you see the symbols on these tokens?

Final Thoughts

Ecos is rated a 14+ game, but there is no way we would hold this game back from any age that is able to read well. We think 8+ is a better fit, especially with a parent involved. A younger player may not be able to maximize the strategic potential but they can definitely enjoy the game.

We would strongly recommend Ecos: First Continent for any family with strong readers who enjoy gaming and can appreciate the beauty of a well crafted experience. As we move into the school season, motivated gameschoolers can find ways to talk about ecological adjustments through the ebb and flow of a game of Ecos.

Drift over to Amazon or your local game store today to find a copy today!


The Family Gamers received a copy of Ecos from AEG for this review.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

Ecos: First Continent
  • 9.5/10
    Art - 9.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Mechanics - 8.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Family Fun - 7.5/10
8.5/10

Summary

Number of Players: 2-6

Age Range: 14+ (We say 8+)

Playtime: 60-90 minutes

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