Truth be told, I’m a bit cowardly. Not anymore than anyone else, mind you. I’m just saying that I recognize myself for the thin-skinned blood balloon that I am, and I usually don’t go out of my way to engage in activities that are likely to end with my insides on the outside…s.
But some part of me, and probably you, wishes that wasn’t the case. We all want to see ourselves as brave, and clever, and powerful which is why we have made games a part of our lives. Solar 175 gives you the opportunity to indulge those power fantasies by letting you pretend to be an ambitious and unrepentant capitalist bent on an economic takeover of the stars. The Jeff Bezos of space, if you will. Because as much as we like to rail against the super wealthy, a part of us would be happy to trade places with them even if for a little while. Well now’s your chance. Suit up, cowboy, because space has just become the most bullish of markets.
The first thing I feel I ought to tell you about Solar 175 is that it’s big. Really big. The board itself, a faithful representation of our own solar system, starts with just 2 zones but expands to 6. According to the designers, Joseph and Madeleine Adams, a big inspiration for the game was the tabletop version of This War of Mine which should help you appreciate its scale. It’s a worker placement and area control game at its core, but it’s also a bag builder and a secret voting game as well. Oh, and did I mention it’s a legacy game too?
But rather than feeling denser than a neutron star, the complexity is pleasantly engaging and keeps you on your toes. The game’s theme places each player in the roll of CEO for a newly-minted space development firm. Your job is to garner the most influence points in the solar system, accomplished by constructing outposts and bases, contributing to a joint-effort mega structure, earning credits, mining resources, strong-arming workers into joining the Peacekeeping Forces, and influencing interplanetary politics through voting. The tricky part is that the score values for each of these can change depending on which way politics swing and how much you’ve contributed to the megastructure. Depending on which party wins the election at the end of the game, scoring for military tokens, mega structure tokens, and bases can double. So make sure that you’re greasing that political machine thoroughly and often.
Joseph and Madeleine, who are two of the most friendly, delightful people by the way, have taken it upon themselves to shepherd me through a few rounds to show off a bit of what Solar 175 can do. And while there are only 3 of us playing, this game can accommodate up to 5 players as well as solo play. The bag building and worker placement mechanics kick off right away. Each player begins the game with 1 ship and 4 workers: a general worker, pilot, lobbyist, and engineer. At the beginning of each turn, players draw workers out of their bags and place them in various configurations on their boards to acquire new workers or take actions. They then take turns completing 1 action at a time. At the beginning of the game, you only have room to draw 4 workers, so Joseph wisely begins by hiring a lobbyist. This generates a bonus action of letting him place an outpost and allows him to clear up a 5th worker slot, increasing his overall productivity. Madeleine uses her workers to take the “Build an Outpost” action which also earns her 2 credits. I elect to hire an algorithm since they can be any worker, but seeing as how it took 3 of my 4 workers to create, I’m not feeling so good about my choice just now. Since Joseph and Madeleine both have 2 workers remaining, they are each able to hire a general worker whose special “Trade” action allows them to earn 2 more credits each. This means that I end the turn with just one new worker while they both not only get extra workers but each now has presence on the map thanks to those outposts. Did I say they were going to shepherd me through this? Because I’m feeling pretty fleeced at the moment. But at least they were really nice about it?
It’s the start of round 2 and the first player role shifts to Madeleine. She draws her workers from her bag and starts off by hiring an algorithm, making me feel a bit better about my choices last round. I too copy my opponents’ previous moves by hiring a lobbyist, getting room on my board for a 5th worker and placing my first outpost on the board. The game board consists of different zones which radiate out from our sun. Seeing has how Madeleine and Joe have placed both of their outposts in zone 1, I place mine in the uncontested zone 2. This means I have the most presence there and could net me some influence points if I can maintain that lead. But against these deceptively cheerful cutthroats, that’s a big “if”. Joseph hires another general worker, amassing quite the workforce. With Madeleine unable to do more thanks to her expensive algorithm, I again copy Joseph by hiring a general worker and earning a couple of credits. Joseph hires a pilot, letting him move his ship as a bonus action, and flies over to Palas to pick up a mining resource.
By round 3, I’m feeling much more confident and so decide to get fancy. Starting off the round, I also purchase a pilot and blast off to Phobos to pick up some sweet, sweet mining resources myself. But here is where the complexity of the game begins to expand and my feelings of confidence to diminish. Joe has been amassing a large workforce for a reason. His first action is to send a worker off to join the Peacekeeping Force, earning him a military token worth 2 influence points at the end of the game. The worker is now gone from his bag, but for 2 points towards the win condition, it’s a pretty fair trade. Madeleine uses a pilot to take the “Fly” action on her ship card and picks up a mining resource for herself. I’ve opted to take the “Trade” action and earn more credits. Combined with my mining resource, I now have enough to build a base. Normally this would be cause for celebration, but Joseph goes next and he sends a lobbyist to go vote. Like joining the Peacekeeping Force, this burns a worker, but again the trade-off might reap some big benefits. Votes are secret, but based on the fact that Joseph has a military token, I’m guessing he voted for the Worker’s Union Party. If this party comes into power at the end of the game, all of Joseph’s military tokens will be worth double. Already the gears in my head are grinding. Do I focus on getting military tokens as well and let Joseph do the voting for me? Or should I double-down on my base building and do some voting of my own? If I can help bring the Brave New Dawn party to power, then all of my bases will be worth double. And what’s Madeleine’s play in all of this? At this point in the game, it feels like I’m having an immensely enjoyable stroke.
And that is the feeling of the game throughout. The sense of competitive intrigue kicks off early and doesn’t let up. Despite its size, the game is incredibly quick and agile. Since players place workers simultaneously, the individual turns move quickly and keep the pace hurtling along at sub-light speed. And the game only gets bigger. New actions will also become available in the form of new board zones, new ships, new trade actions, etc. There is also an expanding narrative that will begin to unfold based on who won the previous game and what path they took to get there. Players have a direct hand in this, ensuring that no 2 games are alike. In other words, there are more possibilities with this game than there are stars in the sky. Check it out yourself on Tabletop Simulator or join the Kickstarter which launches March 1.
by Zane Messina