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From page 20 of the rulebook:

Attacking Population: After all battles have been resolved, the remaining Ships may attack the population in the hex.

From page 21:

Influencing Hexes: If a hex has no population after all battles have been resolved and you have at least one Ship there...

Does this mean when all battles have been resolved across the board, or just all battles within that hex? Or is the timing left to player discretion, so long as it's all done "after all battles have been resolved"?

For example, in a case where the blue player, who has no influence discs remaining, successfully attacks a hex, but loses another hex in a later battle (which frees up a disc), this can be understood three ways:

  1. Battles are resolved completely on a hex-by-hex basis, ending with attacking population and influencing the conquered hex.
  2. Ship battles are resolved completely across the board, then population attacked and hexes influenced on an arbitrary basis at the end of the combat phase.
  3. Ship battles are resolved completely across the board, then population attacked across the board, then hexes influenced across the board, all in descending hex order.

In the first interpretation blue would not be allowed to influence the first hex since the disc would not be freed at all until the later battles are resolved. However, in the second and third interpretation, blue would be allowed to influence the first hex attacked since the disc freed from the later battle would be available.

How should this be played?

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2 Answers

I would say option 3. That seems to follow the Course of Battle as detailed on page 20-21:

  1. Missiles
  2. Engagement Round(s)
  3. Retreat
  4. Stalemate

  5. Attacking Population

  6. Reputation Tiles
  7. Influence Hexes
  8. Repair Damage
  9. Player Elimination

Where 1 through 4 occur for every battle. Step 5 through 9 occur after all battles across the board are resolved with the exception being step 6, since drawing reputation tiles occurs after every battle.

Attacking population and influence hexes doesn't necessarily have to be done in descending hex order.

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I was doubting my answer so I started searching, found this comment from one of the play testers, which supports my answer... –  Major Byte Jan 24 '12 at 8:57
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According to the Eclipse Official Faq,

Page 21, Influencing hexes: The Influence Discs are placed at the end of the Combat Phase. A better wording for this chapter would be: "At the end of the Combat Phase, if you have at least one Ship in a hex that has no population, remove the previous controller’s Influence Disc (returning it to his Influence Track). After this, you may place your own Influence Disc there. Also, if at the end of the Combat Phase your Ship is in a hex without an Influence Disc, you may place a disc there."

which clearly sets the timing for the remove-and-influence steps of the Combat Phase. Attacking population, on the other hand, is apparently done on a per-hex basis, according to this post by one of the designers:

Similarly, population cubes are attacked after all battles in one hex are resolved.

Earlier in the same thread, the same designer also states the following in regards to a rare case where order of resolution actually affects gameplay:

If that's needed, resolve the hexes in descending numerical order, just like the battles.

Taking these factoids and combining them with the rules as written, it seems the Combat Phase can be summarized (in a simplified form) with the following two steps, each performed to completion on a hex-by-hex basis:

  1. Resolve battles
    • Fire missiles
    • Engage the enemy (repeat as necessary)
    • Attack population
    • Collect reputation
  2. Influence hexes (if sector is unpopulated)
    • Remove old owner's Influence Disc (if present)
    • Optionally place your own Influence Disc

Regarding the situation in OP, where the ability to influence a hex is dependent on an Influence Disc being freed during the same Combat Phase, it would appear that any Influence Discs freed would only be useable to influence hexes later in the resolution order with any hexes resolved earlier in the order remaining uninfluenced.

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