Dale Yu: Review of Solenia

Solenia

  • Designer: Sebastien Dujardin
  • Publisher: Pearl Games
  • Players:
  • Age:
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Pearl Games/Asmodee NA

So, this is one of the final reviews that I will write from Essen 2018 – mostly because I’m nearly at the end of the stack of games. Yet, this is one of the games that I played early on – and due to a less than awesome first experience, I found that I had a hard time getting it back to the table to play a few more times in order to write a review. And, in the end, I’m probably to blame for that bad experience for not sticking to my guns. In the end, I’m glad that I decided to play this one again as I have found that I really enjoy the game now.

In this game, players are traders on the world of Solenia, that somehow has managed to lose its day and night cycle – so that half of the world is always in daylight and the other half is always in night. Each side wants the resources that the other side makes, and you navigate around the world delivering goods to the places that want them.

The world is comprised of 5 double sided strips – 4 double sided tiles which are day on one side and night on the other and then a transition piece which is dawn and dusk. The game starts with this dawn/dusk in the center and two of day/night on either side. This is a conveyor belt of sorts because as you move forward on your travels, the rearmost tile will be moved to the front (and flipped over to change its day/night orientation). Thus, you will travel through a world that eventually has four tiles of day then dusk then four tiles of dark then dawn… (or the opposite pattern). The big yellow airship is placed in the center space of the central strip to start the game.

Each player also gets a player board which represents their trader ship. Novices to the game are recommended to use the summer side of the player board. In the center, there are cargo bays to hold your collected resources. You are limited to holding as many resources as you have cargo holds on your ship. The top and bottom of your ship has spaces for you to store your completed delivery tiles – a supply of day tiles and a supply of night tiles is dealt to the table.  Each player has an identical deck of 16 cards – each with a hole in the center, a number value (0, 1 or 2) on top, and a special action on the bottom. Each player shuffles their deck and then deals themselves a hand of 3 cards.

The game is played over a string of 16 rounds – in each round, a player will play a card from his hand of cards, and thus, at the end of the game, all the cards in their deck will be played. On a turn, you must play a card to the board. Your card needs to be played on to an empty space (one that does not have a card on it already) and on a space which is adjacent to the airship token OR adjacent to one of your previously played cards. If you want to play in a space which is not adjacent, you can discard one resource from your ship for each space crossed from the airship or your card to the place you want to play.

There are two types of spaces – a production island where you collect resources or a floating city where you spend resources to meet the needs of a delivery tile. Regardless of where you play, you will see an icon through the hole in your card (either one of the four resources or a gold star on a city). When you play on a production space, you will collect resources matching the number on the top of the card and matching the icon seen through the hole in the card. (Yes, if you play a zero card here, you will not collect any resources when playing the card.)

If you play on a floating city, you first collect as many gold stars as match the number on your card. Then you must fulfill a delivery tile that matches the day/night status of the city you played the card on. Each delivery tile has a different set of resources necessary to complete it (and with a different VP value based on the number of resources needed to collect the tile). The delivery tile is then placed into a space on your player board, and then you collect the resource/star shown next to that area. The delivery tableau is then replenished to its full complement on tiles.

Finally, if you played a strength ZERO card, the airship now moves forward one space. At this point, the map is going to advance by one tile. All of the cards on the rearmost tile have their special action (printed at the bottom of those cards) enacted by the owner of the card. You might generate specific resources as pictured on the card, if there is a number on the action area, you collect that number of resources of the icon pictured. You might get a VP bonus if the card was placed on an appropriate space. Once the action is completed, the card is then placed in the discard pile of the owner. The rearmost map tile is now moved to the front, and flipped over to the other side when it is placed on the front of the line.

The game continues in this pattern until the end of the 16th turn, at which point, all players will have played all their cards. There is a little bit of endgame scoring. First, players score 1 VP per each two resources they have left at the end of the game. Next, score 1/3/6/10 for 1/2/3/4 pairs of day and night delivery tokens. These points are added to all the VPs collected during play as well as those pictured on the completed delivery tiles. The player with the most points wins the game. There is no tiebreaker.

My thoughts on the game

Solenia is a very nice lightweight resource management game where players have to tactically play the cards in their hand to best effect. There are a very limited number of actions (sixteen for the whole game), and each action and each resource can be critical. The basic game gives you a nice puzzle to solve, but not one which causes analysis paralysis.

So, when I first played this game back in November, I had taken the advice of some of my friends and played the game with the advanced improvement tiles. This version of the game uses the winter side of the player board and has a draft of improvement tiles which gives each player some unique powers which can be activated once a certain number of delivery tiles are completed by the player. For whatever reason, we had a long plodding game which way overstayed its welcome on the table. No one at that particular table enjoyed the game much, and Solenia ended up on the shelf, not to be picked up again for a few months.

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best decision on our part to jump right into the advanced game. We didn’t really have a great way to value the improvement tiles nor know how they would work together. Combined with the usual struggles learning a new game, the moderate difficulty puzzle provided by the advanced game became nearly too much to process. Normally, I’m a huge proponent of playing a game with the basic rules or a suggested first game setup – and I deviated from that standard in this case, and I think that decision was to my detriment.  As a game developer (in the past), I can definitely say that starting game recommendations can be very important in how a game is first played and received; and my experience with Solenia reinforces that importance to me. I shudder to think of people who would play Dominion for the very first game with a randomly selected set of cards… and I fell into the same trap.

So, when we pulled the game back out, we played with the basic rules, and everyone at this table had a much better first experience – I was the only one who had played before. When considering the game as a nice lightweight game, it fits that niche well. The basic game challenges you to get the right resources at the right time. There is a little bit of a race element as you compete for particular resource spots on the board. There is also a bit of luck involved as it helps having the right cards in your hand at the right time; though this should all balance out as all players have to play the same set of cards by the end of the game.

There is a little bit of a spatial puzzle in Solenia, as you are rewarded for playing adjacent to the ship or a previously played card. Having your cards in the right places might help you reach a desired resource or city on a later turn. There is an interesting dynamic as the day makes resources that you need to deliver in the night, while the night makes the resources that you need to deliver in the day. So, you are constantly balancing the need to deliver resources in the current area while also trying to collect stuff for the other side.

Also, trying to time when your cards leave the board is a tricky thing – as sometimes the resources collected as the cards leave the board can be a huge boost to your efforts. But, you need to make sure that your cargo holds aren’t full at the time that your cards come off the board or else you’ll waste those resources if you can’t collect them.

There is a nice risk/reward to the delivery tiles. You can try to get the tiles which require five resources (For 9 VP) to maximize your scoring per resource – or maybe you’ll try for the tiles that only need two resources – as there are high bonuses for completing the fifth and sixth tiles of each day/night. No matter how you go about it, you’ll only get to play 16 cards total, and you’ll get the extra actions from whatever cards come off the board during the course of the game. (Near the end of the game, you might be tempted to play cards near the back of the board in order to ensure that you get the bonus actions).

There is a little bit of variation from game to game – the board will be slightly different depending on the random order/orientation that the board tiles are setup in. Also, you will draw your sixteen cards in a different order each game. But, admittedly, there isn’t a significant change overall – these variations are just enough to stop players from coming up with a fixed strategy for Solenia; you will have to constantly be evaluating the spaces on the board and see how they line up with the cards in your hand and the delivery tiles currently on offer. For the level of complexity that I think the game is shooting for, this is a perfect mix for me.

Having played the basic game, I did go back and try to play the advanced game again, and I’ll say that as of now, I actually prefer the basic game. The improvement tiles certainly add more decision space (and play time) to the game, and I can see where that would appeal to some people – but for me, the simplicity of the basic game and the short play time makes this the desired option for me. I am guessing that at least one other writer here will disagree with me…

Right now, this game is on the cusp of being a keeper from SPIEL 2018 – which is a surprising status (to me) given our first game with it. It’ll probably get a few more plays this summer to sort that out, and I do think that the game merits those continued plays.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Brennan: This is a race to acquire resources and complete contracts from an open draft. I’ve been going off this genre because it’s usually pretty random if a contract you can build will be there by the time you’re ready to complete it (without paralysing analysis of all player options) and it’s random whether newly revealed contracts will suit the resources you have. The winner is often determined by who has contacts fall into their lap. No different here. There are multiple means of gaining resources (from deliveries, from being on a game board that moves, from your cards) that it’s nigh impossible to glean what other players will be doing contract-wise. There are some nicely crafted constraints, namely using the Marrakesh mechanic to slide game boards from one end to the other and flipping them, causing the tiles to shift between night and day (making it easier in turn to fulfil night contracts, and then day contracts, with bonus scoring if you balance deliveries between them). But the frequency that this happens generates its own irritation. If you like this type of game, it provides a different approach that could well be worth checking out as it did evoke interest, but it’s not a style of game I’m seeking atm.

Dan Blum: I’ve only played the advanced game, or rather the extra-advanced game since we played with both the winter side of the board and the improvement tiles. I agree with Dale that jumping right into the advanced game isn’t always a good idea, but c’mon, the basic game here is really simple. Given that all games have the same number of turns I don’t see how the advanced game could be a slog unless some players have extreme AP.

In any case I think the game is… fine. It does what it wants to do and it’s pleasant enough. I’d play it more (advanced game only, I can’t imagine the basic game holding my interest). It doesn’t stand out from the crowd other than having the neat cycling board. I will note that with four players it can get a bit chaotic since the board could change a lot between your turns.

Karen Miller: I have played this only once and just the basic game. I enjoyed this so much I immediately bought a copy. I think this game will be a great one for the game night I run at my church. It looks great on the table and it’s easy to understand and there are enough interesting decisions to keep me engaged. I am looking forward to trying the advanced game, but suspect that it might introduce to much opportunity for analysis paralysis. But that remains to be seen. In any case, I am excited to play it some more and try out different strategies.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Karen M.
  • I like it. Dale Y (basic), Craig V., Dan Blum
  • Neutral. Dale (advanced), Patrick Brennan
  • Not for me….

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2018, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Solenia

  1. Pingback: Dale Yu: Review of Solenia – Herman Watts

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