Battle for Sularia: Review

Today, Fairway takes command of an elite squadron of mercenaries and soldiers in a dystopian future where a mining corporation “accidentally” destroyed the planet. Find out whether he can destroy the restless population or whether he’ll totally lose control in this review of Battle for Sularia and its expansion Blood, Profit and Glory.

Battle for Sularia is a two-player, deck-building, battle game very much like a Magic the Gathering with a sci-fi theme.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The art and illustrations and card design are down right stunning.  There is a ton of visual appeal.
  2. We just about gave up on the rules. The included rule book is short, full of jargon, and down right confusing. We had to go in search of other explanations and the designer links a much longer “comprehensive” set of rules. Ugh.
  3. Mechanically, this game shouldn’t have been so hard to describe.
  4. I really dislike games that require tracking things that don’t actually provide you the things to do the tracking. In the “how to play” videos, the creator literally has handfuls of dice handy. Ugh.

Game play ^

Battle for Sularia is a two- player duel with each player trying to knock the other player’s health down to zero from twenty-five. Each player is given a deck of cards corresponding to one of two factions, either the Jotune or Synthians. The game provides that you can construct your own decks, but for a whole litany of reasons, I’m not going to explain that aspect. Right out of the box, the game has pre-constructed decks for both factions.  We almost entirely played with those — except to the extent that we tried the expansion.

The decks in Battle for Sularia are composed of a set of different types of cards: sites, tactic, and combatant cards.  There are also “factionless” mercenary cards that are essentially for-hire combatants that will pledge their allegiance to either faction.

With a deck in hand, each player shuffles their own deck and then roll for “initiative.”  The player who goes first is called the initiative player and the other player is the off-initiative player. The only real difference is that the off-initiative player may get one last opportunity to deal damage at the end of the game.

As for set up, that’s basically it.  The initiative player goes first. They draw an initial hand of seven cards. This initial hand can be redrawn until you have an appropriate number of sites of low enough value. I’ll note below that this is just one of the initial hurdles to playing the game. It’s hard to even get started. It’s hard to know why you’re doing some things, especially as the game rules are written.

The next step in the first round is to play a card to an “influence” row. The rules explain that this can be any card, but you’d want to play a card with a green influence icon, if you have one.  The number of cards in your “influence” row tells you how much “influence” you have to spend when building a site. One card means you can build a site worth one influence. Two cards means you can build a site with two influence.

If your initial hand has a site with influence equal to or less than your influence, you can build the site. That site is then built in one of two locations: front or rear line.  This decision matters since attacks will go down columns starting with a front line site before a rear line site. Once the first site is built, subsequent sites much be built adjacent to that site (left, right and forward/back).

Once the sites are out, a player generates sularium by totaling up any generation and special effects. These solarium allow you to play combatant cards from your hand.

Then your’e off to the attack phase. I don’t really have the patience to describe it, but it boils down to compare attack and defense value as modified by a litany of things.

This goes on and on. Play goes back and forth with players drawing and refreshing their playing field at the start of each turn.  The game ends when a player’s health reaches zero.

The Expansion.  Briefly the Blood, Profit and Glory expansion adds 56 new cards that can be added to the base game’s two factions. The cards add a few more opportunities for players to mix up their decks and add things like new mercenaries.

On the green ^

Battle for Sularia is definitely a beautiful game. It has a lot of eye candy appeal and some good things going for it. In some ways, the game reminded us of a card game version of Command & Conquer.

Art. This game’s art shines. Many of the cards have the type of art you’d expect in a collectible card game. They feature rich, detailed illustrations and this aesthetic is really the hallmark of this game.

Theme.  In some ways, the designer invested a ton of time in the theme and setting. There’s enough fodder in the backstory to feed a graphic novel or book series.

Variation.  The game has a huge array of cards and powers. There’s so much going on that the designer has pages written about strategies for various cards. That alone will be welcome to gamers looking for an immersive strategy game.

Strategy.  If you’re invested in this game, a la Magic the Gathering, then this game has a lot to offer you in terms of strategic play.

Pre-constructed decks.  Thank goodness for these. I couldn’t imagine the likelihood of going through the process of constructing custom decks

Where it comes up short ^

Roughly half the steps in the attack phase of the comprehensive rule book

But for all the good things about this game, the learning curve, or at least the way the game is presented, presents some huge (gigantic?) obstacles.

Play time.  Let me just say, none of my games were anywhere near 30 minutes. Perhaps if you had the cards memorized, had a known and repeatable set of strategies, or just didn’t care what you played when, you could finish a game in thirty minutes. We often spent 5-10 minutes evaluating just the opening hand.

The start of the game.  In addition, we somewhat questioned our sanity in that the first few rounds of the game you can literally do almost nothing: add a card to your influence row and hopefully build a thing by the second or third round. The rules permit a redraw of your hand if you don’t get a site. But this just left us asking a very basic question: if building a site is so important, there’s a chance you’re not going to draw a site, you have a rule that permits redrawing of your hand to the start of this game, and you spend one or two turns doing nothing but building those, then why not just let the players start with one or two sites? Or if you don’t want it to play that way for advanced games, you should at least have starting players begin that way.

Rule book. Battle for Sularia does itself no favors with the rule book. Even the “quick reference” on the back is basically unusable unless you’re immersed in the game already. It doesn’t really help get players started. It’s organized in a way that makes gigantic assumptions about your knowledge of the game.  The “comprehensive” rulebook is in most ways actually worse.  You’re better off skipping both and watching the almost 80-minute long series of how to play videos. Yep, 80 minutes of how to play a “30 minute” game.

I also don’t generally do this, but I went in search of other Sularia reviews. Even other reviewers who enjoyed the game slogged through rounds of doing it wrong and reverting to the comprehensive rules.

Trackers.  The game is full of things to track, but provides you nothing to track with. They suggest a note pad for health points. But there’s so many things to track during a round not the least of which is sularium and hit points during combat. Any given game could have dozens of things to track across two players.

Complexity. Like the included rule book, this game does itself no favors in terms of complexity. It’s almost like the designer didn’t know how to just stop adding new steps. It took the bones of Magic and splintered them. This is very daunting for a someone first approaching this game. The number of times we stopped and checked the comprehensive rules just to make sure we did everything in the right order in the right manner was ridiculous. Event listening to any of the end-phase how to play videos illustrates how the designer has to tip toe around complexity.

In the hole ^

Battle for Sularia is a beautifully illustrated dueling game. The game play is heavily influenced by games like Magic the Gathering but loses much of its soul to complex rules and an unhelpful rule book. That said, if you’re one of those willing to invest in, and endure through, the incredibly steep learning curve, there is very clearly a rich game in the box. This game will definitely find an audience in Magic players that are longing for something different.

Battle for Sularia is in the hole for one over par. ^

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