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Solar Sphere

You might be forgiven for thinking that Solar Sphere is a sequel to Dranda Games' Solar Storm. You'd be wrong tho'. In Solar Storm, players were on a ship plummeting into the sun. In Solar Sphere, however, players are contractors harvesting resources to construct a Dyson Sphere around the sun. Gameplay too is very different from that of Solar Storm: the design of Solar Sphere from Arden Lowther and Simon Milburn uses a dice placement mechanic at its core but with ample opportunities for moderation so players aren't usually left at the mercy of an unfortunate dice roll.

In each of six rounds, the 1-4 players will be rolling their three six-sided dice and taking turns to place them out at locations. First tho' they advance the morale on their individual player board by the amount corresponding to each die (lower numbers give more morale). This is important because you can sacrifice morale in order to 'take kickbacks' that let you gain a resource, fabricate a drone or salvage two drones (move them from the used to active area of your board). Your dice represent your spaceships but it's your drones that form the game's key currency: you'll need them for key actions, and you can use them to modify dice rolls...

The locations at which you place your dice each let you take a specific action. This can be to collect the resource at that location (ore, gold or crystal), needed to take certain other actions, hire crew, fabricate or salvage drones, build a hex within the Dyson Sphere or battle the 'Resistance Fleet' who are opposed to the Dyson Sphere project. The build and drone locations accept any die, tho' a higher number at the drone salvage location will earn you more drones. The various resource locations require one of two specific numbers (1 or 2 for ore; 3 or 4 for gold; 5 or 6 for crystal). The crew hire location requires that the die be odd, and the location to battle the Resistance Fleet requires an even number on the die.

The basic placement mechanics then are fairly straightforward. The actions tho' are dependent on having the requisite resources, be they ore, gold, crystal or drones. You'll need various combinations of these to build (and get the bonus and points these generate), to hire crew (which can give you extra actions each round) and to take on the Resistance Fleet. The latter gives some reward to all participants in the battle but the lion's share of the reward goes to the 'commander' (the player who contributed the most drones to the fight; or, in the event of a tie, the player who was first to deploy). If any Resistance Fleet cards are unbeaten, they remain in place for another round. No-one gets a bonus if the Resistance Fleet card is still undefeated in its second round, but the commander still gets to take the card; and the cards are valuable because they carry faction icons that can contribute to what could be a substantial set collection bonus in end-game scoring. Crew members and the Dyson Sphere hexes you've built also contribute action icons.

Solar Sphere then is a game where the individual actions may be simple but you need to find the most effective way of daisy chaining them together over the tight six rounds of play. Deciding when to go to a location can be important too: going to a location doesn't block other players from also going to it but if a ship die is already at a location then players need to spend a drone to place another die at that spot. Players also need to weigh up the benefits of deferred gratification: at all the locations, you have the option of foregoing the immediate benefit and instead placing out a drone. This will mean that if you return to that location on any future rounds, you'll get an enhanced benefit... Just be warned that some players may be prone to dithering over such decisions - extending through Analysis Paralysis what is otherwise a brisk 60-minute game.

There's more than to Solar Sphere than meets the eye. Art is by Igor Ershov and Elias Stern, and tho' Solar Sphere comes in a modest sized box, this is actually a medium-weight euro game where players will find themselves wrestling with a succession of meaty decisions. And those all-important end-game set collection bonuses mean that there's everything to play for right until the final scores are tallied.

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