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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Very nice production
  • Familiar mechanisms made fresh
  • Very interactive for a more Euro leaning game

Might Not Like

  • Some Iconography can be confusing
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Solar Sphere Review

solar sphere

Solar Sphere from Dranda Games is the sort of follow up to Solar Storm. The two games presumably inhabit some sort of shared universe but there is no need to have played Storm to enjoy Sphere. (You probably should play Solar Sphere though as it is excellent). Anyway, this second outing is a bigger, more complex, game.

The story is that you have been tasked by a large corporation to build up a massive megastructure around the sun to harvest its delicious solar energy. (This is sometimes called a Dyson Sphere by sci-fi nerds such as myself). But basically, you and up to 3 friends will take on the role of starship captains and will head out to construct as much sphere as you can. As with any reasonably large infrastructure project there have been protests. But unusually the protesters have come armed to the teeth. You’ve also got to deal with this nuisance as well. It’s going to be a long day at the space construction, so grab your cosmic hard hat and let’s get to work.

Building A New Future

There are a lot of systems here and they all sort of play off each other but the core of it all is dice placement. Every turn, players will get to roll 3 dice and slot them into the docking bay area of their player board. Big numbers are better for placing but lower numbers can net you some nice bonuses too. Once you’ve got your dice rolled you then take it in turns to deploy them out to the different worker placement location cards.

Some of these locations have restrictions on what dice can be placed there but you can manipulate your dice a little. Each player starts with a set of drones. These can be used for many things and one of those things is to add or subtract 1 from the value of a die before placing it. And you can do this a few times for each die if you’ve rolled a stinker and you have the drones to pay for it. Any drones you use get slid over into an inactive area on your player board and you carry on with your turn.

The different locations cards will let you build more drones or re-activated the ones you’ve used. You’ve got 3 locations to pick up the 3 different building materials to build the Solar Sphere. There is also a location that allows you to build the Solar Sphere. To do this you’ve got to spend the required resources and be able to launch a drone to the hex of the Sphere you’d like to build. You then get some faction bonuses for the tile and everybody who has built a tile next to your new tile gets a little morale bonus as well.

I’ve said a few new words there so let’s look at reputation, morale and factions. These are all really to do with endgame scoring but they all work slightly differently. Reputation is a measure of your standing with the all-powerful corporation. As it goes up you will earn more points. It is also important for the optional kickbacks you can take. I’ll circle back to those. Morale is a measure of how things are going with your efforts right now. This can go up and down and the higher it is at the games end the more points you’ll earn. Morale is also used in kickbacks which we’re coming back to, I promise.

Pick A Faction

There are also 3 factions in the game. I’ve no idea who they are, the rules don’t really go into it at all. I couldn’t tell you anything about their ethical viewpoints, but I can tell you that they are an excellent way to earn points. They work like a set collection game. Each set of 3 faction icons that you manage to collect on your cards nets you a handful of points. There are also wild faction icons which can be used for any faction. You get these by building up the sphere and hiring crew.

Crew can be hired from another one of the dice placement spaces. Once hired, these grant the owner an action ability that can be used once per round by them only. These crew come in 3 tiers. As you get to the higher tier crew, they cost more but their actions are also more powerful. You can only ever have a maximum of 3 of these crew but you can retire your crew if you ever want to bring in a new crew card. You’ll also get a little bonus for doing that. One of the bonuses you can get is a kickback which nicely brings me back on track.

Kickbacks are an optional thing you can do before placing out a die. You can move your morale back on its track to receive some assistance from the parent corporation. This can be in the form of resources or even a drone or two. The further you move back the more assistance you’ll get but if you move back below your reputation marker you receive even more assistance. Really you want to get your reputation as high as possible so that if you ever need to take a kickback you don’t have to reduce your morale as much. This system reminds me a lot of how you raise funds in the Gallerist.

Resistance Is Futile

The last element of the game is the resistance ships. Each round, a number of ships turn up to make a nuisance of themselves and it is part of your job to deal with them. You’ll be deploying drones off to attack these ships and you’ll be working together with your opponents as well as with the parent corporation. This works like a mini area control game. If you manage to overpower the ship everybody who contributed will pick up some sort of reward. But the players who contribute more, get larger rewards. If you don’t manage to defeat the resistance ships everybody takes a morale penalty, so really it’s in your interest to deal with them. Again, this sort of reminds me a lot of another game, Tidal Blades.

There are a lot of interesting ways to score points, but the main event is definitely building the Solar Sphere. Which makes sense considering what the game is called. The faction loyalty bonuses you earn from building a hex are a good way to score points but so are the adjacency bonuses. And you’ve got a few ways to play these. You can try and build up your own corner of the sphere meaning all of the adjacency bonuses go back to your coffers. Or, you could try and get in amongst your opponents so every time they build anything you get a few points too.

What’s nice is that for what a game that is definitely more on the Euro end of the boardgame scale, there is a decent amount of player interaction here. You’ve got the standard ‘getting in the way’ dice placement aspect, sure. But on top of that you’ve also got the collective building of the solar sphere where you’re making sure you can try and maximise your points by playing off your opponents as best you can. You’re also generally working together to repel the resistance.

It's a very nice production too. The player boards are double layered and have some nice player aids for the various actions you can do. The cards are mostly clear and understandable, although the stylised way that the dice restrictions is printed on the card did raise a few eyebrows at first.

Build It All Back

There is a decent amount of replayability to be had as well. You’ve got a random ordering of the resistance ships as well as the crew who are available to recruit. The layout of the solar sphere itself is also randomised so it’s never quite the same game twice.

It’s a game that definitely benefits from multiple plays. As I hope I’ve got across, there are a few different systems to contend with here. None of them are overly complex but it does take a game or two to really get an appreciation of how it all meshes together and how to plot that path to victory. All these systems working together sort of make this feel like a greatest hits game for me. I don’t think there is anything brand new here, but the collection of these systems is unique. Weirdly, playing Solar Sphere reminds me a lot of playing Excavation Earth. Not because they play that similarly, but because that also has a sort of greatest hits of board game mechanisms feel to it.

This is a very dense box. You get a lot of game for its diminutive box size, and I appreciate that. While Solar Storm doesn’t really do anything new, what it does do it does incredibly well. This is a nice medium weight game that you can really get your teeth into with friends. It also plays very nicely solo as well. If you like to try new and exciting combinations of familiar mechanisms this is a game you’d do well to give some time to.

That concludes our thoughts on Solar Sphere. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Solar Sphere today click here!

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Very nice production
  • Familiar mechanisms made fresh
  • Very interactive for a more Euro leaning game

Might not like

  • Some Iconography can be confusing

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