The game: Solarius Mission by Michael Keller and Andreas Odendahl. The game was published by Spielworxx in 2016 and is currently on Kickstarter by Flying Lemur Game Studios in new and improved edition. I own the first Spielworxx edition.
Elevator pitch: A 3X space adventure: explore, expand and exploit your way to victory in a game of dice drafting, dice manipulation, resource management and space race.
What’s in the box? The gorgeous box contains lots of stuff: each player has a personal player board, there are lots of dice and the space is made of large hexagon boards.
The original Spielworxx edition wasn’t really quite up to scratch: the dice have stickers you have to apply manually (and there are lots of them), some components were really tiny, you had to glue the rotating dials together… Looks like the new Kickstarter edition is improving things a lot.
The first edition is fine and usable, so there’s no point criticizing it now as the new edition will fix many of the problems. Suffice to say there are plenty of components, they look quite nice and everything should work just fine.
What do you do in the game? Players start from the home planet on the middle of the board and have to expand. Your goal is to score points and there are plenty of ways to do that.
You can colonize planets. There are four types of planets, each with different requirements for colonization: one needs money, one needs fuel, two require tech tree advancements in different ways. If you can colonize sets of different kinds of planets, that’s bonus points for you.
Space stations can be built. Those give you benefits every turn and gain victory points, but cost an increasing amount of resources every time.
You can fulfill missions. These require you to gather resources (usually quite a lot of them) and then take them to a trading hub somewhere in space.
You can also build outposts: when you colonize, build a space station or fulfill a mission, you get to place a token on the board, and in certain situations you can add an outpost to get bonuses. Outposts require balanced approach: you can’t get a second space station outpost unless you’ve built at least one mission and colonization outpost as well.
You get 16 actions per game and there’s a bewildering array of things you can do. There’s a three-dimensional tech tree to develop, for example. You must advance four different technologies in order to get benefits and to make space for resources, but you must also improve the technologies by rotating the tech dice to show bigger values, in order to gain more power from the action dice you draft.
There’s a huge conflict between specialization and generalization in this game: you want to focus on couple of things to do well in them, because that’s worth points (and there are only 16 actions!), but at the same time you need to do many things, because that’s important too.
Lucky or skillful? There’s dice, so there’s luck. However, there are many things you can do to manipulate the dice, so you’re not at the mercy of Lady Luck. Also, the game is so complex and has so many things you need to keep in mind that frankly, beginners will stand no chance against an experienced player.
You’ll find you achieve very little if you don’t have a good plan and stick to that.
Abstract or thematic? So and so. It’s space, and yeah, you’re flying around in space and doing space stuff, but it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to retheme this to something else, I think.
The cover is magnificent, but that art doesn’t really carry on to the inside of the box. I think there’s some room for improvement here, but no matter what, this won’t be the most thematic and immersive game experience.
Solitaire or interactive? Low to medium interactivity. There’s a race element for exploring the planets and in some other cases, and every die you draft from the wheel is a die someone else can’t use. But it’s not a 4X game: exterminate is missing and there’s no fighting between players.
Players: 2–4. The two-player game is pleasantly quick, the four-player game has more competition. It’s good both ways.
Who can play? The age recommendation is 12+. This is a complex game, so not my first choice to play with kids or casual gamers – most would probably stop you before you’ve finished the 30-minute rules explanation. That said, I have played this with my son, who enjoys the game, but he likes complex games a lot.
What’s to like: There’s plenty of things to do, and little time to do it. The conflict between focusing on one thing and getting something done in every category is delicious. The dice drafting and manipulation opens up an interesting decision space.
What’s not to like: Explaining the rules to new players will take some time and effort. You don’t want to play this game in an environment where you always have new players. It’s quite fiddly. The first edition components left a lot to hope for and the rulebook was quite bad (just see how much GeekGold my condensed rulebook received).
My verdict: After playing La Granja from the same designers, buying Solarius Mission was a no-brainer. It offered similar gameplay with a cool space theme. I think the game delivers: it’s not simply La Granja in Space, but you can see where the games share design roots at points.
Solarius Mission is slightly more complicated to teach than I’d really prefer, but I’ve mostly played with my son and we don’t have to go through the rules every time, so no problems there. I really like the decision space this game throws me in every time I play.
If you like dice manipulation and games that give you chances to be clever, I would suggest giving the second edition Kickstarter campaign a look (it’s running until 14.7.2018). It’s bit on the expensive side with the shipping in many countries, but I think the game is pretty cool and possibly worth it.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Solarius Mission gets Suggest from me.