Battle for Sularia
- Designers: Jesse Bergman and John Kimmel
- Publisher: Punch It Entertainment
- Players: 2+
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
Battle for Sularia is a game that I have been following for awhile on Kickstarter. Over the years, I have become a bit predisposed to deck building games – and I was drawn in by the promise of this one. The KS site claimed that the game “fuses the pulse-pounding action of card combat with the immersive strategy of domain construction and dual resource management, all in 20-minutes of gameplay.” That short description hits a lot of my buttons, and I was excited to get a copy to try out.
The base game is a small box, containing 180 cards and a small rule book. While there are a number of different ways to play the game – the easiest way is to find an opponent and use the two 60 card pre-constructed decks in a head-to-head battle. One player plays as the Jotune Faction while the other is the Synthien faction.
Each player starts the game with 25 health points, and the goal is to take your opponent’s health down to zero – if so, you will win the game. You will also win the game if your opponent is unable to draw a card from his deck on his turn. Players start the game with a hand of 7 cards drawn from their shuffled decks.
There are four types of cards in the game: sites, combatants, tactics and conditions. The cards can be confusing at first as there is a lot of information on them, but once you get used to the game, the information is easily found and referenced. Throughout the course of the game, you will have two different “currencies” to track – Sularium (generated by certain cards) and Influence (generated by the placement of certain cards).
Each player has a play area in front of him – you can buy a play mat to help keep things organized, or simply arrange your cards so that you have an influence row closest to you, a rear site row above it and then a front site row on top of that. You will also need an area for your combatant zone.
The game is played in a number of rounds – each following the same pattern of nine phases. Whichever player has Initiative goes first in the round and goes through all the phases, then the other player takes his turn.
- Reset Phase – any cards which were activated in the previous round (and are currently rotated at 90 degrees) are reset to their upright position
- Draw Phase – draw two cards from your deck. Remember, that if you are unable to draw two cards at this time, you lose the game.
- Influence Phase – You may play any card from your hand facedown into your Influence row. These cards are important for the next phase as these cards essentially one of the currencies in the game. (Before moving on to the next Phase, a command window occurs… More on this later)
- Site Phase – you may play Site cards from your hand. Each Site card has a Influence cost – you have one point of influence per card in your Influence row. You may play as many Site cards as you wish so long as you have enough Influence to pay for. There are two rows of Sites, and once you start a row, you must place your next card in that row directly adjacent to a previously played Site. Cards in the rear row are blocked by those in the front row. (Before moving on to the next Phase, a command window occurs…)
- Sularium Phase – look at your cards in play, and many of those cards generate Sularium – this is seen in the upper right corner. Collect tokens equal to the amount generated by your cards and put that in your Sularium area. (Before moving on to the next Phase, a command window occurs…)
- Combatant Phase – play Combatant cards paying for their costs with Sularium. Like some other dueling card games that you may have played, Combatant cards come into play activated – that is turned 90 degrees. This means that they cannot be used to attack until the start of your next round when they are placed upright in the reset phase. (Before moving on to the next Phase, a command window occurs…)
- Attack Phase – now declare which of your unused combatants to attack your opponent’s sites. If your opponent has no sites in play, you can directly attack your opponent. Declared attackers are turned 45 degrees to show they are attacking. Multiple cards can attack the same site – and in this case – they are referred to as a “strike force”. The opponent could then declare some of his combatants as defenders – these cards are also rotated 45 degrees. There are then sub-phases for card keywords to take effect and then for a first-strike round to happen. Combat is then resolved – each card has both an attack and defend value; damage happens simultaneously. If the damage received exceeds the defensive strength of a card, that card is removed from the table and placed in the damaged (discard) pile. Further, any excess damage can blast through to the player causing him to lose health points. Once combat is concluded, all cards that participated are fully rotated from 45 to 90 degrees to show that they have been used. (There is actually a command window between each of the different subphases here …)
- Discard Phase – Discard down to 7 cards. (Before moving on to the next Phase, a command window occurs…)
- End Phase – this is here just so you can use any “end of turn” actions as well as end any effects that last until the end of your turn.
Play then moves to the opponent who then goes through the same phases. You probably noticed that there is a “command window” at the end of nearly every phase, as well as in between nearly every step in the Attack Phase. Each command window is a chance to let players make moves to influence the game. You have many options for things to do in a command window, you could: play a tactic card from your hand, you could use the ability printed on one of your played cards, you could reveal a tactic or condition card from your influence row. In each command window, a command chain is created. Starting with the active player, any chosen actions are placed on the table creating a stack. Then, the other player has a chance to add to the top of the stack. This continues back and forth until both players have passed in succession (which means that a single player might have multiple actions in a row in a particular command window). Then, once the command chain is compete, the actions are resolved in last in, first out order. That is, you do the action that is on the top of the stack and work your way back down to the table.
The command window keeps both players engaged in the game throughout each turn – there are plenty of opportunities to take actions; you just have to be aware of the right time to use your cards or abilities!
The game is fairly easy to pick up once you get through the rules. I’ll tell you know – you cannot rely on just the rules provided in the box; they only give the most basic framework and they did not answer all the questions I had on how to play the game.
Also note that you’ll have to come up with your own playmats as well as markers for Sularium. There were no tokens included in my box, and the basic rulebook which comes in the box makes no mention of what to do. We just grabbed some coins to use. It would have been nice for this to have been explained somewhere along the way (in fact there is no manifest at all in the rules) and save me from looking around to make sure I hadn’t missed a component. Furthermore, the basic rules tell you to use set aside the bottom 30 cards of each color’s deck to use the prebuilt 60 card decks to start with – but then nowhere in the base rulebook do they tell you what cards are in those prebuilt decks. If you ended up getting a copy of the game which had already been played, you’d be screwed on how to start without outside reference material.
Since you’re reading this review, I am guessing that you’re the sort of gamer who doesn’t mind doing research on games, and I would implore you to do some advance homework prior to playing it. I think you will have an extremely frustrating game session if you try to play this straight out of the box like our first attempt. The full rules can be found at: http://www.sularia.com/rules/
There are some good videos on the website for the game – I’d recommend that you go and watch them before trying to play yourself; they do help you get a good feel for the game. However, as a purist, I was disappointed by this technique – because when we first tried to play the game – with merely the components in the box, we discovered that we did not have everything we needed nor did we really have a good feel for the rules based on the “Basic Rules” that are included.
Rules issues aside, we’re now just getting started with the game, still only playing the head-to-head version of the game, but the rules also allow for a drafting game (rather than using pre-constructed decks). This drafting version can also be expanded to allow for 4 players, and if you have multiple sets of the game, even more…
If you’re looking for a more complex combat game, or possibly something to take the place of Magic: the Gathering, this is a good candidate. It offers a lot of strategic play, and while many of the individual rules of the game will feel similar, there are enough differences to distinguish it. I like the dual resource system – you have to constantly balance your production to get the cards you want into the game. You also have to closely monitor how you play cards from your Influence zone – the actions can really help you, but you might need those cards in your Influence row as well! And, speaking of that – the many different command windows during each turn give you plenty of opportunity to make a play when the time is right.
It has taken us a few games to get a good feel for the rules, but that’s not a bad thing – I think it’s just a factor of the complexity of the game. We like what we’ve seen so far, but it’s still too early to tell how it will fit into the genre for us. We’ll see how it holds up over more plays this Spring and likely report back.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor
Great review, Dale! I agree about having counters for future sularium tracking. I use D10’s or Ascension crystals for sularium counters currently.