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Any fire in my eye for Solar Storm? A solo perspective on a smallbox co-op.

Players: 1-4 players

Playtime: 30-45 minutes

Ages: 10+


Solar Storm box in front of some cards and components from the game on  playmat

Buckle up for some tense and nail biting gameplay in Solar Storm by Dranda Games - a co-operative game for 1-4 players where you work as a team to redirect energy from each room on your ship back to the central energy core. In this game, you will be managing a hand of resource cards and action points whilst also benefiting from special room abilities to enhance your chances at getting your ship back online to escape the solar storm!


I have played this game almost entirely solo, but also have a two-player game under my belt. Therefore, most of my review will be from a solo perspective, but I will mention also what I thought about the multiplayer experience!


Gameplay

Solar Storm takes place in your ship, and in the solo game you control three meeples which start in the central energy core room. Your ship has eight different rooms and these and the energy core are arranged in a 3 X 3 grid. With a starting hand of four shared resource cards, your ultimate goal is to discard matching resources in each of the eight rooms to redirect energy back to the energy core. When the energy has been redirected from each of the eight rooms, a player needs to get back to the central core to spend an action (get the system back online!) and the game is won, your lives are saved!


Solar Storm game in action

In a solo game, you take turns controlling each of the three meeples, and each turn consists of taking actions, drawing new resource cards and resolving ship damage. For your actions, you may choose to do the following:


1) Move one room orthogonally

2) Trade resources with the face-up resource pile with those in your hand

3) Scavenge for more resources by rolling a die to determine how many you can take

4) Repair a room by discarding a matching resource card

5) Activate an undamaged room's special power

6) Redirect the power of an undamaged room to the central core

7) Save your action point for later (and draw a token to help you remember).


Each room in your ship has three resources that are required to help divert the power back to the core. By spending an action point in an undamaged room, you can discard those resources to divert the power. One down - seven to go! On the right-hand side of the card there are three more resource symbols which are usually covered by cubes. When the room takes damage, you remove the top cube to reveal a resource symbol underneath. If you at a later point want to repair the damage to the room, these are the resources that need to be discarded instead. If a room has had its energy diverted, it becomes easier to repair as discarding just one of the resources repairs all three cubes instead of just one.


Once a player has taken all the actions they can or wish to, they can choose to take one face up resource card into their hand or draw two from the face down draw pile. Next, a card is revealed from the damage deck which shows you which room(s) are taking damage, and the top cube is removed from each of these rooms. These cards get progressively more aggressive as the game moves along, as your ship gets closer and closer to the sun ... with up to three rooms being damaged at a time! Once these cards run out, you meet the 'Hull breach' card where you need to roll a die to determine how many resource cards are being discarded from the deck instead of damage being taken. I imagine this part of the game is when you have a gaping hole in the side of your ship and all of your bits and pieces are flying out to space!


That then marks the end of a turn so play passes to the next player - in a solo game this just means that you can start to control the second meeple in the same manner!


You win the game if you manage to divert power from each of the eight rooms and at least one player returns to the central core to spend an action point. Players lose the game if at any point a room needs to take a fourth damage, or the resource deck is depleted.


Thoughts on Gameplay

I've found this game quite challenging so far and have only been playing on the 'easy' difficulty, which involves shuffling in the maximum amount of wild resource cards. I have managed to win a couple of times, but these were down to the wire wins and created quite a bit of tension! Therefore, I do think this game is quite well paced, balanced and offers a decent amount of replayability when it comes to the difficulty. The veteran and realist difficulties are definitely something to work up to!


What I found particularly interesting in this game, was the careful balance of knowing when to spend all of your action points vs saving them for later. I feel that the ability to save action points for another turn is an underrated and underused rule in co-operative games, but this added an extra layer of strategy. There were some turns when I just felt I needed to await those extra resources or see where the damage was being directed so occasionally just missed a go leading to a very busy next turn, as you can save all of your action points for the next turn if you want to.


A game of Solar Storm in play with the neoprene matt in use

I also enjoyed the spatial aspect of this game and the handling of three different meeples. As you often only have three action points and damage builds up in the ship, rooms very quickly, it becomes quite important to carefully think about where each of your meeples are so you can do some quick repairs on the fly!


Each room has a unique action that you are able to activate as long as the room isn't damaged, and there are multiple versions of most of these rooms in the deluxe edition so you can swap these in and out from game to game to enhance replayability. Some of these give you the ability to discard a resource to repair another room, move a meeple elsewhere, provide protection to rooms for a round or look through the resource or damage decks. I have found some of these room abilities to feel stronger than others, so I do wonder if the game would feel quite repetitive after a while as you could fall into the same pattern of gameplay. However, it does become quite important the longer you play the game to move around more as each meeple isn't able to cover that large of an area.


I really enjoy the escalation in this game as it progresses, as quite often you can begin the game by diverting power of a room immediately, and you can feel pretty good at that point, tinkering around doing some small repairs here and there. However, as you progress through the damage deck and reveal those two-room and three-room damage cards, it quite quickly becomes a mad dash around the rooms discarding cards here and there, activating rooms to desperately find that resource you need and considering how to best place each meeple. Solar Storm definitely finds a way of cooking up a storm of tension and really sets a good pace. On top of that, each of your individual turns plays very quickly which helps to keep you on the edge of your seat.


Once you have got to the bottom of the damage deck, as described above, you reveal the Hull Breach, where instead of damaging the rooms, you roll a die to determine whether one, two or three resource cards will be discarded from the deck (remember if this deck depletes - game over!). On one hand, I really like this aspect as it keeps the game feeling quite unpredictable, and you need to adapt your thinking about utilising your resource cards as best as possible. On the other hand, however, I've found that the situation feels more and more desperate right up until that point, as then damage is no longer being done to the rooms (which I think disrupts the theme a little). I have had a couple of games where I have felt more relaxed at this point, as I could then focus on just pottering along to the remaining rooms, grabbing a couple of extra resources and taking my time with diverting the energy. It could just be that I had a lucky couple of games or that I should now be playing on a harder difficulty to prevent that, but I did feel that the theme definitely didn't hold up quite as well at that point!


I found the multiplayer game a little easier due to the fact that, between the two of you, you have a maximum of 12 cards to play with rather than six, which ultimately just means you can plan ahead a little easier and divert power from rooms a little quicker. On top of that, as you're only controlling two meeples this means that your turn comes around a lot quicker than if you are controlling all three in a solo game, which I found was easier as it meant less damage was being dealt to rooms between turns. Although you're covering less area with your meeples, I found the ability to take your turn a little earlier pushed this to feel like a more forgiving game. Solar Storm was a lot of fun playing multiplayer with its quick turns, great tension and need for good communication.


Solar Storm areas of the Ship to repair. Two have meeples on them.

Solar Storm card types (energy, universal, data, metal and nanobots)

Solar Storrm damange card - this time it features Engine Room, Repair Centre and Mess Hall

Production

As with Dranda's other title, Isle of Trains: All Aboard, the production of Solar Storm is incredible.


The edition shown in the pictures is the Deluxe edition which, according to the Kickstarter page, is not available at retail unless a store purchased copies from the campaign. The Deluxe edition includes some alternative room cards (with different room abilities), a small damage control expansion (which allows you to choose the rooms which are damaged) and from a component perspective, four gorgeous wooden screen-printed meeples. The retail version of the game comes with smaller meeples.


The neoprene playmat is also available separately, which of course is very impressive and provides an atmospheric background for the aesthetic gamer.


On top of this the card quality is very good with a nice linen finish, the cubes are the standard plastic coloured cubes you may find in many other games and the cardboard token are very thick and nice to handle. A really top notch production all round.


Conclusion - Solar Storm


Replayability

I do feel that Solar Storm may not be the most replayable of games, but this is probably along the same lines as most other co-operative titles of the same complexity. The addition of extra rooms in the Kickstarter copy I feel should have been included in the retail edition, as this ultimately changes up gameplay the most, but I do feel there's a reasonable amount of replay value from the challenging nature of this game alone.


Production value  

Really great production value here. A very pleasing game to handle and play with!


Theme

I think the gameplay does a great job for the most part of ranking up that tension that would be felt in the situation, only to be let down slightly upon the Hull breach stage. At the end of the day, the discarding of resources to repair a room is pretty basic when it comes to translating theme. However, for a lighter co-operative experience, I think this does a good job of what it sets out to do.


Complexity

This is a quite lightweight experience that feels simple to play but harder to master! Knowing when to activate which room ability and when to save those action points is key.


Rules

Very nicely explained and well set out. The game also comes with player aids for each player, which provide a good overview of the turn order and the actions available to take.


Uniqueness

This game falls very much into the typical co-operative gameplay loop of utilising action points for movement, card management etcetera, so I do not feel this is a particularly unique title. Pandemic-like titles however are very popular, so I do see this being a good addition to the collection for those that like smaller co-operative games with a space theme that are easy to set up and get going.


Value

I believe the Deluxe edition was a Kickstarter exclusive purchase for £24 with an additional £12 for the playmat. At the time of writing the retail edition of Solar Storm can be found in the UK for between £16 - £22. I think this is a very competitive price if you are looking for a very well-produced and approachable co-operative game.


A d6 die face showing four pips, each pip the head of the Diary Of A Lincoln Geek mascot Ink the Imp

Overall, I think Solar Storm creates a good amount of excitement for the size of the game put together in a small beautifully produced package! If you're looking for something a bit different in the co-op category then this may not be for you but this will definitely be at home on a good few gamer's shelves! I would rate this game a 4/6.

Rhiannon - Solo Gaming Specialist


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