Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Thursday 2 September 2021

The Game Shelf Previews:- Solar Sphere

Game: Solar Sphere

Publisher: Dranda Games

Designer: Ayden Lowther, Simon Milburn

Year: 2021

Solar Sphere is a competitive dice placement game coming to Kickstarter in September 2021. It's the second game from the design team of Ayden Lowther and Simon Milburn, under their publishing company, Dranda Games. It has artwork that's consistent with their first game, Solar Storm, which was a really fantastic cooperative game, but offers a completely new game, only with a somewhat similar, sci-fi theme.

Solar Sphere is set ten years after the events of Solar Storm, and players are competing to win prestige by contributing to the building of a solar sphere, enabling mankind to harness the power of the stars. Contributing to the solar sphere is, however, just one of the ways to gain prestige, along with defending against aliens and building a strong crew with high morale.

Solar Sphere takes place over 6 rounds. Each round every player will roll their three dice and place them on their player board, higher numbers are generally better, but low numbers, or a large amount of the same number, will grant you morale, which can either be saved, or used for bonuses. Players will then take turns placing their dice on the various locations around the sun. Each of these locations has a requirement for the die placed there; odds or evens, 1& 2s only etc. If you lack the correct number on a die you can spend some drones to alter your die pips to make them work.

The locations mainly do typical worker placement things; generating you some resources, getting you new drones, repairing used drones so you can use them again and so on. However instead of activating a location you can upgrade it for yourself, permanently situating a drone there in order to make every future activation more powerful.

You'll be doing this with three main goals in mind. Hiring crew gives you new in game bonuses,perhaps letting you trade a resource type for another, or gaining some extra drone repairs. You can have three crew at any one time, whenever you hire a fourth crew you'll have one retire, granting you sizeable bonuses as they do so. You can also defend the project from incoming aliens. To do this you'll be sending drones to fight them, each ship has a number, which is the number of drones needed to defeat them, though you'll be rolling a die to add 0-2 to that number. Points are rewarded to everyone who helped defeat an alien, with more points to the player who sent the most drones. Lastly you can spend resources to build the solar sphere itself. Doing so will reward you mostly with points on the solar tracker, which is worth end game points.

All three of the above actions will earn you faction icons, which can be grouped up for set bonuses at the end of the game. At the end of six rounds the alien attacks stop and players see who has earned the most points by combining their current score with their solar track, morale track and faction icons bonuses.

Amy's Final Thoughts

Solar Sphere is a dice worker placement game that wants you to play as efficiently as possible. With only three (or four if you unlock a bonus die) workers per round can you really afford to waste time gathering resources or building drones? Probably not, so just spend your morale, it makes it easy to fix up those broken drones and gather crystals, so why not? Of course all things need to be taken in moderation, there's valuable end game points for leftover morale, so you have the constant question of whether those instant bonus resources will grant you more points than keeping your morale up.

While there are three ways to gain large number of points you'll certainly find yourself wanting to focus, placing a drone down on a worker spot might waste a valuable action, but that spot becomes permanently better for you, of course you'll have to make sure you are using that space most rounds to really make it count. Both crew and solar sphere building strategies demanding good amounts of resource gathering. Fighting off aliens is comparatively cheap, but comes at a large drone commitment. It's one thing when these come back to you broken ready to repair next turn, but should you not win the fight you'll end up barely being able to manipulate your dice next round. I really enjoyed the risk reward of trying to send just enough to fight on multiple fronts, it was certainly a lucrative strategy, when the die liked you!

If you like feeling like you had the freedom to do everything you wanted to do, then Solar Sphere certainly isn't the game for you. Even when you really focus down on a strategy it can be hard to get much done in the game's measly six rounds. When I first played the game I found this a little disappointing, I wanted to sample from every item on the menu and as such ended up with an awful score. But once I'd learned to use the right crew of the right job things started going a lot smoother.

Ultimately Solar Sphere feels a touch less refined than its predecessor, Solar Storm, which was an extremely tight co-op game. Solar Sphere has some great elements to it, the use of morale giving a constant, and thematic, quandary of how hard to work your crew. failed fights against aliens end up with government ships helping which is a fantastic way to bolster someone after a bad roll and stop players from coming in to snipe the second place point rewards. The tight nature of the actions means that every choice counts, but in turn makes some of the more basic actions feel wholly underwhelming. I certainly enjoyed every game of Solar Storm and would certainly recommend it to anyone who likes to work out that efficient play, without minding that little bit of dice luck thrown in.

Fi’s Final Thoughts
Solar Sphere gives you just 3 dice placements per round, and is only a six round game, so, naturally, every decision is an important one. If defending against aliens is a big part of your strategy, it is also important to make sure that each round of three dice placements stands alone as a success because the defence is evaluated at the end of each round. Managing your resources to make sure that every placement is effective is a tricky puzzle and making sure that, in particular, you've got enough drones to execute your plans is a huge aspect to keep track of.

The biggest drawback that I find with Solar Sphere is that it's very easy to formulate a plan early in the game, perhaps set your sights on two or three crew who boost a certain action and then make sure that action becomes a focus for your second half of the game. What's disappointing is that my strategy is always far too ambitious for the game length and I really have to scale back, or simply play the game more tactically that strategically. My engine-building brain just wants to do more.

With that said, Solar Sphere is still a very clever dice worker placement game with a big focus on efficiency and resource management. If those things are your jam, then this is definitely a game to check out on Kickstarter!

You Might Like...
  • Solar Sphere is a tight game, and it's filled with tough choices.
  • There's a lot of moments of satisfaction, with each round feeling like its own puzzle to get the most out of.
  • The modular board means that quite a large board game can fit into a much smaller package.
You Might Not Like...
  • There are three very different aspects to the game, and it's difficult to know whether to focus or spread yourself thin.
  • There's lots of engine building potential, but the game isn't long enough to let you explore all the paths you might like to.
The Verdict
Solar Sphere is a far more ambitious design than Solar Storm and it's wonderful to see a small publisher using the Kickstarter platform to grow into bigger games. If the prototype box is anything to go by, then there's quite a substantial game packed into this small box. If you like games that force you to make a small number of critical decisions, with tight resource management, then Solar Sphere brings all of this together with some stylish artwork to bring you a fresh take on dice work placement.

Solar Sphere was a prototype copy kindly provided to us by Dranda Games. It's live on Kickstarter from September 7th 2021.

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