Solar Storm was a Kickstarter that fulfilled in October 2019. It promised fulfillment in May 2020. Mine arrived just a day or two ago (June 30th, 2020), so they were a little late. In a COVID 19 world, that’s not bad. Honestly, if a Kickstarter delivers within a month of its promised date, I call that a win.
Solar Storm is a cooperative game where players work together to fix their spaceship! Players must divert power to the core (“More power, Captain!”) to power the engines so they can escape the gravity of the massive star (see cover). It plays 1-4 Players in about 45 minutes. There are solo player rules (but see below).
I was a little disappointed because I had a ding in my box (see, just over the designer’s name?), but in general the box arrived in good shape.
The back of the box shows the components, has readable text, and demonstrates what the game looks set-up. This may be one of the better back of boxes I have seen: If I saw this in the store, I would be impressed and more likely to buy it!
The box is smaller than I expected: this is a smaller game. It’s a little bit bigger than Space Hulk: Death Angel (but not much). I don’t know if Space Hulk: Death Angel has recently entered my consciousness (it was in my Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games), but Solar Storm invokes more than a few comparisons to Solar Storm (see Conclusion below).
The components are nice: the space meeples are slightly silly, but I like them.
Most of the game, however, is cards. The cards are very nice linen-coated.
The main cards are resources (4 different type: red, green blue, purple, and wild for fixing the ship), Locations (the ship itself), and Damage (Bad News! cards).
The Locations look real nice! And you can read the special power on the Location.
Overall, the components look nice and very readable (although the Resources are a little generic, but they are very clear).
The rulebook is small (because it has to fit in a small box). I personally REALLY don’t like black backgrounds and white/light text for rulebooks! It’s harder to read and the black tends to “smear” over time (so you see smears in the rulebook). It’s worsened by the tiny font. Black background, tiny font: I am not a fan of these choices. I understand why: it’s a game with a space theme.
But, the rulebook is pretty good besides those choices. The back of the rulebook is used for a very good summary of the game (see above). There are also summary cards for each player.
The first few pages do a very good job of enumerating all the components in the game with corresponding pictures. This makes it MUCH easier to unbox and figure out what all the components are (“Wait, what are the Rooms? Oh ya …”). I was very pleased with this.
What does the game look like when set-up? See above! A very good picture. Makes it MUCH easier to set-up the game.
You”ll notice in my pictures, I have to “hold” the rulebook open to see it. This is another pet peeve of mine: I want a rulebook to lay flat on the table so I can consult it while learning the game.
Despite breaking 3 of my cardinal rules of rulebooks (tiny fonts, black background/white text, won’t lay flat), the rulebook was good. I was able to learn the rules fairly quickly. If you are like me, you’ll probably need your glasses (for the tiny font), something to hold the rulebook down (because it doesn’t lay flat), and bright light (for the black/white contrast). Caveat Emptor, but the rulebook was good despite those issues.
“Wait, that picture shows the rulebook laying flat! Are you exaggerating Rich?” Maybe a little: I had to “rough up” my rulebook (bend it back) a little to force it more flat (but I hate to do that: I am one of those people who tries to keep his games in pristine condition). I’ll be quiet about that now.
The game comes with solo rules (Ya, Saunders’ Law!) .. but you play with 3 characters. After playing a few times, I see why it’s the “endorsed” solo mode: the interaction between the 3 characters creates some interesting interplay! But, it was easier to learn playing two characters like a 2-Player game. Once you know the rules, the solo game is better with 3 characters, but I suggest just playing 2 characters your first time to get the feel.
Gameplay and First Impressions
My first game: I lost! But I had fun. There’s a lot going in this game.
Like Pandemic, you have a certain number of actions per turn, so each player can perform up to three things. I love that if you DON’T use all your actions, you can save them up with the action tokens for a later turn! Very strategic!
A typically turn is (a) moving (b) discarding cards to “fix” a Location (you have to match the cards at the Location) and (c) “hopefully” diverting power. You need to divert power from all 8 Locations to win the game. You divert Power by discarding 3 Matching resources, if you have them.
There’s a bunch of reasons I lost my first game:
- I forget to scavenge! As an action, you can roll a die and try to get MORE resources (you tend to run out quickly in this game)
- I forgot I could save my actions! Rather than “waste” an action doing something kinda ok, I could saved an action for the next turn to do much better!
- I forget to use the special actions of the spaces! (Each Location has a special action you can ONLY use if the space is completely fixed).
Learn from my failures. There’s more to the game than that, but that’s the essentials.
Lost Opportunities and Worries
So, after playing a few times, I am worried the game may get a little samey. The base game ONLY has the 8 Locations (you always need the Power Core in the middle) with the same 8 special actions. I think just a few more Locations (or even better, flip the Locations and add a different Location with a different power on the opposite side) would have made a lot of difference! As a Kickstarter, I got 9 extra Locations which will help me elongate the life of the game. But I think those should have been standard. Having said that, the game still has lots of life (especially since you can simply get rid of more wild resource cards to make the game harder). I feel this is a legitimate concern to be aware of. It’s a cool, small game which doesn’t cost too much, so maybe this isn’t a big deal.
A more “esoteric” comment, and this may be just me: I wished this game had “Special Player Powers”. The game doesn’t have these roles, but what I wanted was play the Junk Scavenger, or the Captain, or the Transporter Chief, or the Engineer, each with their own special ability. This isn’t in the game , but how cool would it have been:
- The Junk Scavenger: Can adjust scavenge rolls by +1 or -1 (almost always want +1, but in the end game, you may want -1 so you don’t take ALL the resources!)
- The Captain: Can take 4 actions per turn
- The Engineer: Can use any resource to repair anything (once per turn), maybe for an extra action?
- The Transporter Chief: Can “teleport” any resource he has to anyone, or vice versa, or can move himself or someone else for one action (maybe if he’s in the Transporter room)
Don’t get me wrong, this is a really sharp, tight little co-op! Special abilities like this (above) would require major playtesting, and more art, and maybe unbalance the game. I love the art in the game: imagine how cool it would have been to have a character sheet with a gruff looking Junk Scavenger? I think it might have helped immersion just a little more.
In the end, this was a tight little cooperative game. It I had to describe it to someone, I would describe it as Pandemic meets Space Hulk: Death Angel. It’s like Pandemic because you have to “fix the ship” when it gets hit by damage (not unlike healing cities in Pandemic), and it has that “Bad News” cards that damage the world as well. Also, every player has action points. However, a lot of this game also reminds me of Space Hulk: Death Angel: the art, the theme, the size, the scale, the limited randomness.
In the end, I liked this game. It has lots of interesting decisions and a surprising amount of depth considering how small it is. My only worry is the game might get a little “samey” because the powers of the Locations don’t change (there’s exactly 9 Locations so they are always the same) unless you get the expansion (the Kickstarter version comes with more Locations to keep the variety up).
I recommended this to my friend Josh: I think he and his son Jackson would really enjoy this game. It’s easy to learn, but short enough (30-45 minutes) that the younger Jackson will stay involved the whole time.