I’m sure we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Wondering what we’d do if we found ourselves the lone occupant of a crippled spacecraft, being sucked straight towards a black hole. No? Maybe just me then. But, if you do want to find out what you’d do in precisely that situation, then you could do worse than to give Lux Aeterna a go.
Lux Aeterna is a solo card-based game which plays in 15 minutes or less. The premise of the game is that you are racing against the clock to repair your spaceship sufficiently to allow it to escape from the clutches of the black hole to which it is, unfortunately, speeding. The ship’s systems are represented by six jauntily-coloured cards representing, in turn, the ship’s power, communication, engineering, life support, memory and navigation systems. Each system has a number of card variants, allowing for a different combination of cards each game and thus enhancing re-playability. The object of the game is to ‘repair’ as many of these systems as possible – or, more pessimistically, to stop as many as possible from collapsing – whilst trying to slow down the ship’s progression towards the black hole.
The initial set up involves arranging system cards, a scoring track and a draw deck.
The six system cards start off placed horizontally and each card has a matching coloured dice, which is placed on the card and initially set to a value of 2. This value represents the state of that system and subsequent turns will see the values of the dice increase or decrease. If the dice goes above a value of 6, that system is repaired; if it falls below 1, it has collapsed.
The scoring track sees your ship placed at a particular position on the track, relative to the black hole. As players become more experienced, they can make the gameplay harder for themselves by positioning their ship closer to the black hole.
Eight cards are randomly removed from the main draw deck before the start of the game, but four ‘glitch’ cards are shuffled in. These ‘glitch’ cards will introduce a random element of risk into the gameplay.
Get Those Systems On-line!
Each game is played against the clock. Novice players are recommended to set themselves a time limit of 15 minutes, but then soon progress to the harder 10 minute version. This does introduce a real element of jeopardy to the proceedings – it drives a feverishness to each turn, as, if you run out of time, it’s game over.
There are actually three ways to lose Lux Aeterna; as well as running out of time, the game is lost if four or more systems collapse, or if the spaceship reaches the black hole on the scoring track. Conversely, there are two ways to win – by running out of cards to draw or by repairing three or more systems and having no other systems ‘under repair’.
Each turn, four cards are drawn and placed around a ‘console’ card. The cards are cleverly designed so that they can be used either for an event, an action, or to determine the spacecraft’s speed towards the black hole. Each card relates to one of the six systems, and the event element of each card determines how much damage the relevant system suffers that turn. The action part of the card generally drives a positive development in terms of one of the systems or the ship’s position in relation to the black hole. Finally, the speed part of the card is used to move the ship towards the black hole. As each card contains all three elements, it is up to the player to determine which card will be used for which attribute. As mentioned above, the feverish element comes into play here, as, working against the clock, the player needs to take decisions quickly. The fourth card is stored in a ‘cache’ and can be brought into play in the next round if required.
Each time cards are drawn, there is always the risk that one of the four glitch cards, which have been shuffled into the deck, will make an appearance. This is bad news – the glitch cards inevitably cause a major issue for at least one of the systems. However, there are ways of avoiding them – some actions allow for the removal of the next glitch card.
Play continues like this until one of the victory – or loss – conditions has been met.
There’s a really nice touch to the game in that there are some little nods towards science fiction films and franchises and some humorous elements to some of the cards, eg. The ‘percussive maintenance’ card shows a space-suited boot shattering a piece of material. Each card has a relevant piece of interesting, and sometimes amusing, artwork - they have been thoughtfully designed.
If one of the victory conditions has been met, then the player scores victory points for systems which are operational or under repair, and adds in points depending on where the ship started on the scoring track
Lux Aeterna is a nicely-designed, compact, game with enough re-playability to keep it interesting. Varying the spaceship’s starting position on the scoring track allows players to continue to challenge themselves as they become more experienced. It’s an attractive, brightly-coloured, game and the fact that it can be played in as little as ten minutes means that it’s a great option when time is short. Overall, a great little solo game!