- Designer: Tony Boydell
- Publisher: Surprised Stare/Frosted Games
- Players: 1
- Age: I’m 46, thanks
- Time: 15 minutes
- Times played: 9 and counting, with review copy provided by the designer
Lux Aeterna is a game which I requested from the designer as I really like most of Tony’s previous designs, and I think he’s a pretty swell guy too. The catch is that I haven’t played many solo games recently, so I knew it was going to be a challenge playing it. I managed to get a few plays in the airport on the way home from SPIEL, and then for one reason or another, I didn’t get back to it. Now, in the days of social distancing, I seem to have more free time at home. Sure, I’ve got plenty of other projects to work on, but getting back to some games like this has been high on my list.
In Lux Aeterna, you are an astronaut who is stranded on a damaged ship, and you are drifting towards a black hole! You need to try to fix your ship and stop it from being sucked into the black hole and into the great beyond.
Your ship is represented by six different system cards, one of each color (and there are 5 varieties of each system). Each of these cards has a unique action for when the system is in operation as well as a unique penalty if the system has collapsed. At the start of the game, each system starts with a die on it, set at 2. The die is removed when the system is made operational OR when it collapses. At the start of the game, all six systems are “under repair” and the number on the die tells you how much more work you have to do.
There is a black hole proximity track card; you choose your starting position on it (the game recommends starting at the +5 space). If you win the game, the number on your starting space equals your game end VP bonus… The deck of cards is made – discarding 8 of the 60 cards at random, then shuffling in 4 of the 6 glitch cards in the bottom 2/3 of the deck. These Glitch cards are unexpected complications that just make your job harder. All that is left is a timer to be set, 10 minutes for hard, 15 minutes for easy – I usually use my phone for this. If I’m really in a thematic mood, I sometimes play the music from the Lux Aeterna website… One of the pieces there is a song actually called Lux Aeterna (from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey).
Now, you start taking turns. You have a handy reminder of the phases on one of the player aid cards.
1] Draw cards – draw 4 cards from the deck. IF you draw a Glitch card, you have to deal with them as they come up. Replace a resolved Glitch card with the top card from the deck.
2] Choose cards – using the 4 cards drawn in the previous phase, they must now be allocated onto your console card. One must be placed as the Event (if possible, this must be a card related to a system that still has a die on it). One card must be placed as your Action, one is assigned as your ship’s Speed, and the final card is saved in the Cache.
3] Resolve the Event – apply the damage from the Event card to the appropriate system (reduce the number shown on the die) – if the value drops below 1, the system collapses… Turn the card so that you can read the black half – and this effect happens for the rest of the game. If the fourth system in your ship has collapsed, you lose the game.
4] Apply the action – Do whatever the Action card says to do. If this makes a system go operations, turn it so that the colored side is face up, and that effect is in play for the rest of the game. If all systems are either operational or collapsed (though not more than 3 collapsed) – you win the game!
5] Move –move your ship towards the Black Hole the number of spaces as shown on the bottom left of the card. IF you move into the black hole, you’ve lost.
6] Save to the Cache – You may always keep one card in the Cache; if you wish to replace the card currently there, discard that card and place the new one. Otherwise, discard the card from this round.
7] Discard – discard the Event, Action and Speed cards from this round
8] Check for End of Game – If there are not enough cards for you to draw a full hand of 4 cards, the game ends and you move into scoring. Otherwise, play another hand.
If you run out of time or cards; you move to the scoring phase.
+7 points for each operational system
+1 point for each system still under repair
+ VPs based on your chosen starting location on the black hole track
-10 VP if you chose a particular option on the ERR Glitch card when it came up
Sum these four categories to get your final score. Your goal is to try to get as high a score as possible. Once you are used to the game, you can make the game harder by reducing the amount of time you have to play or by choosing a more advanced starting space. Or, you can add in more glitches. Or you can play without being able to see the effects on the system cards. Whatever makes you happy, really.
Remember that you can automatically win if you have made 3+ systems operational with no other systems still being under repair. And, you automatically lose if you have 4 systems collapse.
My thoughts on the game
This is an interesting solo game with some interesting choices to be made on each turn. A lot comes down to luck of the draw – there are times when you get a hand with nothing but bad options, and it’s a challenge to figure out how to make the best of things. There are also times where you have four great cards, and it’s a matter of choosing how to get the maximal value out of those cards. And of course, there are times where the hand essentially plays itself as the choices seem to be quite obvious.
I don’t normally care for real-time games, but in this case, the little bit of pressure exerted on you by the clock gives the game some tension that it might not otherwise have. After the first few games, the general strategy seems to be in place, as you generally know which sort of cards you want to place in which slots. At this point, I feel that the time limit is what still makes this challenging. I’m currently comfortable at 8 minutes (can usually get thru the deck) – so that makes me think fast and adds a bit more excitement to the game.
There is a fair amount of variety in the different system cards, and that keeps the games from feeling too much alike. I like the way that the different bonus/malus effects can change how the game plays. Some of the effects are quite strong/punishing, so knowing what you might have to deal with can change your early strategy. I have found that the first few turns can often determine your overall result – as things can quickly snowball out of control.
As I near double digits in plays, it remains to be seen whether I’ll want to play another ten. I feel that in some ways, I’ve explored what the game has to offer, and if it is just a matter of trying to do it faster and faster now, that’s a process I don’t want to explore. But yet, part of me wants to get close to playing the game in 4 and a half minutes, so that I can use my favorite gaming soundtrack ever to time the game!
We all need goals in this era of social distancing!
Off to play this or other solo games now…
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Mark Jackson (2 plays) – Played this solitaire real-time space adventure a couple of times… winning both times on “easy” setting. You pick up four cards, quickly assess them and assign them to one of four positions, then execute the good (and bad) stuff. Your job is to keep the spaceship alive and not fall into a black hole. I like the art style but the rules could use a slight tuning and I don’t see it holding my interest for too many more plays.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, John P
- Neutral Mark J.
- Not for me…