Thursday, September 4, 2014

Quick Review - Solarquest

Quick Review - Solarquest
Designer: Uncredited (Valen Brost)
Publisher: Universal Games
OK, I have to preface this review by saying that this isn't really a true First Play Impression.  Truth be told I've played the game a number of times.  But this was the first time I had played in at least 20 years, possibly 25.  And I'm definitely approaching games quite a bit differently than I was waaaaaay back in the day. In fact, I loved the game so much back in the '90s that I painted over an old Sorry board and created all new property cards for a home made expansion that included comets, planet X, and other properties.  I know I had the game still in college (although I don't remember playing), but unfortunately somewhere along the line between college and living where I am now the game disappeared.  I still hope it turns up someday in a box somewhere or at my parents' house, but in the mean time I picked up a copy on eBay a few years ago.  So the copy I have now is the Apollo 13 version by Universal Games from 1995 and not the original version by Golden from 1985 that I had back then, and of course it doesn't include my awesome expansion (which may also be my first attempt at game design).

Update - 11/8/2016: An updated version of SolarQuest is available on Kickstarter now!  For just $38, through December 25, 2016, you can pick up an updated version of this classic.  Check it out now!

You can also enter to win a copy of SolarQuest here:
  • Everything Board Games
  • Giveaway Geek

  • There are a few differences between the original game and the Apollo 13 game, but they aren't significant.  The newer version has a quad fold board that is a tad smaller, a nicer storage box, and a small tweak to the rules - Red Shift cards are drawn on a roll of 1 & 3 instead of rolling doubles.  This is to celebrate Apollo 13 and increases the probability of drawing a Red Shift by about 5%.  It's not a significant increase though, and I didn't feel like Red Shit cards were drawn too often in the game.

    OK, so what is Solarquest you ask?  Solarquest is a Monopoly-esque game set in space.  Instead of purchasing property and building houses and hotels you buy moons and planets and build fuel stations.  As you buy more properties within a grouping (e.g. Jupiter's moons, Mars and its moons, Research Stations, etc.) the cost of rent for other players landing on your properties increases.  But that's about where the similarities between Solarquest and Monopoly end (oh, you also get a monetary bonus for passing or landing on Earth and there are Red Shift cards that are pretty much like Chance cards, so I guess that's where the similarity ends).  In Solarquest there is the added complexity of dealing with fuel and gravity.  As you try to leave the orbit of each planet you must expend fuel to exit the gravitational pull of the planet.

    This means that you might get stuck orbiting a planet if you don't have enough fuel to escape, or don't roll a high enough dice roll to escape the gravitational pull of the planet.  Sometimes this can be beneficial (give you a chance to purchase more properties in the system) and sometimes it can really wreak havoc (if you're in a system that has many items owned by other players).

    So keeping an eye on your fuel level is important.  In addition to paying rent for landing on opponents' properties you can also purchase fuel if they have a fuel station.  But an interesting twist is that if your fuel is low and your opponent doesn't have a fuel station on the moon you land on you can instead purchase that moon from the player as a penalty to him for being 'negligent' with his property.

    The game relies more heavily on luck than I usually like, but there is enough happening in the game that you can put forth a little bit of strategy and the luck is in more than just rolling dice and seeing where you land.  There are choices to be made in the game and lots of player interaction.  There are a number of small details like fuel management, orbiting within systems instead of just always passing by, the greatly varying sizes of the systems, and more that really set this apart from your typical Monopoly themed game.

    When I pulled the game out and insisted on playing it the friends that we had over reluctantly agreed to play, on the condition that we could stop after an hour and play something else if it felt too long.  But two hours later we were all having a great time still and the only reason we stopped before the 'official' end was because it was getting late and the kids had pretty much destroyed the house.  (Seriously, where do they get the energy to keep up that level of commotion for that many hours???)  So after about two hours of playing we all took one more turn and then added up assets.  My wife won, by a LOT, even though she almost went bankrupt at one point.  The rest of us were fairly even.

    For the type of game, and the age of the game, it held up really well to modern gaming standards.  It was as fun as I remembered it.  Now, if only my copy with the Oort Cloud expansion I made will turn up I'll be really happy!

    Preliminary Rating: 7/10

    Mid-game and everyone is starting to run low on fedrons ($$$) except for my
    wonderfully rich wife - even after having to pay $1200 for landing on Venus!

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    GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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