The Sun is about to go supernova. It is the far future, and the Sun is unstable, so the inhabitants of the solar system are preparing to save themselves, by launching an Arkship into deep space, with the hopes of establishing a new colony. Building the Akrship, and launching it, requires tremendous energy – and the only source of the energy is the collapsing Sun. You are leading a ship, which will launch sundivers into the very heart of the Sun, to harvest and transmit energy to your Arkship, to save your people. This is the world of Sol: Last Days of a Star, by Elephant Laboratories.
In Sol, you’ll start with your mothership and four sundivers orbiting the collapsing sun. The goal is to get your Ark the most momentum as the player with the most momentum at the end of the game wins. On your turn, you can choose one of three options. First, you can move your sundivers. You have a total number of movement points equal to three plus the number of layers of the sun you’ve built structures in. Second, you can build structures, and third, you can use structures.
All three actions are interlinked. You start out able to move in the outer layer of the sun; you cannot get to the deeper layers before you build a gate between the various layers of the sun. Once these gates are built, you can dive deeper into the sun. Building structures, including these gates, requires you to sacrifice your sundivers. At the heart of Sol, you want to get your sundivers into the right configuration in order to build structures. If you have two sundivers in a column across two different layers of the Sun, you can sacrifice them to build a solar gate in the layer of the deepest layer of that column. If you have two sundivers on the same layer, with a space between the two of them, you can sacrifice them to build an energy node in the in-between space, which is used to capture critical energy from the unstable Sun. Lastly, if you have a sundiver at a structure, you can choose to activate that structure: to harvest energy, build new sundivers, or transmit energy to your Ark, giving you the momentum points you need to win the game.
When you build or use structures deeper into the sun, you draw cards from the instability deck. All of the cards provide you with a different ability that you can use later in the game. But, some of the cards in the deck are solar flares. When you draw a solar flare, the flare marker advances on a timing track – it starts at 13, and when it hits zero, the sun goes boom! Game over! The design of the instability deck is quite elegant. You add a suit – a collection of 13 cards with a symbol on it – for each player playing. Then, you draw a number of ability cards from the ability deck, and add a wooden token, with a symbol matching the suits you used, to each of these ability cards. This provides for quite a deal of replayability – you can have a different setup of ability cards every time you play, and it doesn’t involve needing reams and reams of cards in the box.
The components of Sol are quite nice. The figures are plastic, and have a very retro-future sci-fi feel to them. The faction colours are distinct, and provided no difficulty to the colour-blind players in my playgroup. They capture the feel of the setting quite well. The playboard is a deep, rich Sun about to go nova, contrasted on the black of space. The cards feature only a colour and a symbol, so they don’t look cluttered at all. The component quality is quite high, and it’s a joy to play.
Sol has captured me, and my playgroup, because it doesn’t feel like any other game I’ve played. I think it’s fair to say that many gamers have a favourite genre or mechanism in a game. Me, I like worker placement games. My playgroup has a fan of deckbuilders, and a fella who’ll snatch up almost any co-op. Familiar mechanisms are good – this isn’t a knock – but it’s rare that a game comes out that isn’t a riff on some mechanism out there. I really don’t have another game in my collection that I can compare to Sol. And yet, the mechanisms fit the game perfectly. It really does feel like you’re flying your ship around a collapsing sun, trying to harvest enough energy as quickly as possible. As that instability deck starts to thin down, the pressure gets put on you, fast. Will you be able to finish everything you want to finish before the sun goes boom? Will you need that all important just one more turn?
The feel of this was captured perfectly, as one of my pals, when we were playing looked at a very small instability deck, and remarked “oh jeeze, the sun is gonna go nova really soon.” He didn’t say “the game is about to end,” or “the deck is getting pretty small,” but related it within the context of the game. The game really immerses the players this way.
Sol: Last Days of Sun is the first offering from Elephant Laboratories – it kickstarted in January of 2016, and fulfilled in spring 2017. I’ll be watching Elephant Laboratories very closely. Sol is a stellar offering (get it? Stellar? Because suns?), and I’m intrigued as to what they’ll serve up next. Sol is available directly from their website.