So we have roll & writes, flip & writes, flip & place, roll & draw, the list goes on. Surely there are no more ‘& writes’ options available. Nope, I was wrong. Iello Games have just published Distant Suns (by designers Gary Kim and Yeon-Min Jung) which is a choose & write.
In Space No One Can Hear You Roll
First impressions count, and Distant Suns certainly announces itself with amazing box artwork from Vincent Dutrait. The great artwork continues with the rule book and combined with very high component quality, gives you the feeling of a game that should cost more than it does. The only small complaint is the main board comes in two halves, but this isn't a big deal. I appreciate it is dual layered and that it is cut in half to fit inside the box, however it would have been better to make it a folded board.
To start a game you place the main board (both halves) on the table and then fill the five middle spaces with the exploration tiles. The exploration tiles show you what shapes you will be drawing and there are ten different ones available in addition to the black hole shape that is permanently on display on the main board.
Next you place the mission tiles in the spaces allocated (the pink ones up the top with the same tile, but in blue opposite itself on the bottom row). These five mission tiles are scoring options in the game and the random placement combined with the variety of choice and placement in exploration tiles provides a massive amount of re-playability. Give the modules to the starting player in numerical order with 1 at the top. Finally give all players (two to four) a sheet from the vast pad and a pencil. You are now ready for blast off.
Boldly Going Where No Game's Gone Before
The aim of the game is to score the most points by visiting outer worlds, covering alien and upgrade spaces, surrounding treasure spaces, place certain shapes next to black holes and treasure spaces, and have a group of one shape all connected. As previously said the combination of the random placement of the exploration tiles combined with the mission tiles means no two games will play alike. It may mean that in one game you want to have the small triangle shape next to black holes but in the next game these may need to cover alien spaces.
To help you draw the unique shapes represented on the exploration tiles the game includes templates for you to draw around. This was a really nice touch and it helps players who may struggle to visualise the shapes especially as you are allowed to flip and rotate them.
The starting player of Distant Suns will take the number 1 module and place it around the main board so that its triangle prongs will fit into two of the twelve spaces available. Then the starting player will draw where the blue circle side points to whilst all other players will draw where the yellow hexagon side points to.
Then the modules are passed to the next player (clockwise) where they get to choose where to place the number 2 module. This continues until either all five modules are used or there are no more spaces for the module to be placed (will happen when four modules are placed in a certain way).
Two more rounds are played out and then final scoring takes place. As each round is either four or five goes the game will have a total of twelve to fifteen turns. A small omission is a round tracker, this could have easily been incorporated into the player sheets.
A Long Time Ago In A Game Far Far Away
You have finished exploring the galaxy and now it is time to tally your Distant Suns scores. For each of the mission tiles you will score depending on how many times you achieved its goal. Then you will score for reaching the outer worlds (first player to get there gets the higher points, all other players receive the lower points), for each treasure you have surrounded you will receive 10 points and finally you will lose 5 points for each alien space left uncovered.
The scoring can be a little fiddly especially if your drawings are not clear. It would have been nice to have bonus points for getting the most of any of the mission tiles but that may have confused matters further.
Something I haven't mentioned at all so far in this review is the upgrade spaces and there is a very good reason for this, these feel very undercooked. For each upgrade space that you cover you are allowed to remove one of the hexagons on a future draw. That is it. This does help with placement but every time I play I wish the upgrades would allow me to add another hexagon or maybe draw another shape rather than the one chosen for me by another player. I have played several games where no one has used a single upgrade and it hasn’t resulted in low score.
This is a great game which has become an instant hit with everyone I have taught it to. The variety between games really helps and the unique choosing mechanism elevates it above other ‘& writes’.
As you are choosing not only your own but other peoples shapes you can ruin their games by constantly making them have shapes they don't want, but they can do the same to you so you have to adjust your game plan ‘on the fly’. Its a shame there is no solo mode as this feels like a game that would not have been too hard to incorporate one.
I highly recommend Distant Suns to fans of ‘& writes’ or anyone interested in a quick space themed game. The price point puts this perfectly into the filler category but if you are like me one game wont be enough and you will end up exploring deep space all night.