WBG Score: 7.5
Player Count: 2-4
Published by: IELLO
As I look at the box art for Distant Suns my mind is taken back to the retro sci-fi I passionately devoured as a child. The sense of adventure and mystery I found in space travel that the films, comics, and novels from the 1900's through to the 1960's captivated me. Inside the box, this does not really continue, with the game art being a little more modern and formulaic. But the game does not disappoint. It may not be filled with nostalgic sci-fi adventures as the box teases, but it sure does come packed with fun decisions, interesting scoring options, and a slick gameplay. Distant Suns has been a real winner for me. Let's get it to the table.
Place the two game boards into the centre of the table, joining them up to make one board. Then take the ten exploration tiles, shuffle them up, and randomly choose five. Place these into the large slots at random on the board. Then separate the two sets of mission tiles, and place five from one group at random into the slots at the top of the board. Then place five other matching symbols into the slots at the bottom from the other set, matching the same symbol from the top. This is just so players from either side of the table can see the symbols clearly. Then sort the five modules tiles into order, with five on the bottom and one of the top. Give each payer a sheet and pencil and you are ready to begin.
How to Play
The game plays across three rounds. Each round will have either four or five turns, depending on how the exploration modules are placed. You could place them such that all five fit, or place two so that only two others could now join the party.
The game plays over two phases, Assign and Draw. In the assign phase, the active player will take the top module and place it down next to the action they want to take. The board gives you six options. The five from the tiles you placed during set-up, and the Black Hole that is always present on the far left of the board.
The active player will take the action that the blue side of the module is pointing at. But this is not the only decision you are making as you place the module. The yellow side will point to the action that all other players will take. So, as you make your decision, you are not only thinking about what you want to do, but also, what option you will give up to the other players, and take away from you as a possible later turn as this one is now blocked.
This means that all players are playing at the same time. Regardless of if you are the active player or not during the Assign phase, all players will be “active” during the Draw phase. This is where all players will draw onto their player board the shape that has been selected either for them, or by them. The first shape you add must be placed in the bottom left of your map. After this, all shapes must connect to one other shape on your board.
As you add your shape onto your board, you are then supposed to draw in the symbol for that shape, only if it meets the score criteria. This makes final scoring easier. However, I cannot resit drawing them all in each time, just to add to the fun and theme!
The reason you are not supposed to this is so that you can easily spot which shapes are in a scoring location once the board is full. This is based on where the tiles have been placed at random during set-up, but in the example above, my flying Saucers only score for the one on the bottom right, the one just above that, and the one placed at the top left. The one placed at the beginning on the bottom right does not score as it was not placed next to a yellow treasure hex as per this shapes criteria for this game.
For each correct shape that is next to a treasure space on your map, you will score one point per treasure space. You can place this shape (in this case), the flying saucer anywhere you like, and you can place other shapes next to the treasure spaces, but only the specific shape chosen for that game at set-up will score points when next to the treasure hex.
The Alien hexes on the board all score you one negative point at the start of the game. During the rounds you need to try and cover them up to avoid scoring these negative numbers remaining active in your score. For every shape that blocks the alien that comes from the specific shape for this game linked to Alien hexes (in this case, the shooting star), you will score an additional point.
The blue shapes on the board represent your upgrade slots. When covered up, these allow you to remove one hex from any future shape you add to the board, if this helps you. Again, any shape can cover the upgrade hexes, but if you cover it with the specific shape to your set-up you will score an additional point. In this game, it was the lightning bolt shape.
The forth tile in this example (although again, they are different each game based on your own set-up) shows how you can score points for each specific shape that outlines any black hole. The black hole takes up a lot of space, and any subsequent shape that touches it that comes from the right module will score you a point.
You can also score points for reaching the top left, top right, and bottom right of the board. The first player to do this will score 10 or 15 points depending on which corner, and then any subsequent player who makes it to the outer reaches of the board will score five or eight points.
So, there is an element of a race to this game. But this depends on what strategy you want to take. Will you try and make it to these far sections of the board first? Using any shape to get there, forgetting the other ways to score. Just focusing on distance and speed. Or will you focus more on placing the right shape into the right place, and maximising your end game scoring via the specific shape/hex scoring.
The game comes with the above polyominoes to help you draw the right shape onto your board. You can flip the shapes into any orientation. As doing so in your mind can sometimes be a little tricky to visualise these shapes neutralise that and make it very easy to place them anywhere, in anyway. This is a nice addition clearly brought to the game from the designers frustrations from other games that don’t do this.
Other than the five exploration zone tiles shown on the board at the top of this review, above are the other five tiles included. You choose five from these ten at random during service-up. They don't change the game drastically, but add a small variety game by game.
Overall, Distant Suns works well. As all players play at the same time, but you take it in turns to be the active player, everyone feels constantly involved, but with an equal share in the decision making process. The game moves at a fast pace because of this, each round being a simple task of assigning the shape for the active and inactive players and then drawing the shape. With just four to five turns per round and only three rounds total, the game can be over quickly. Sometimes in just 15 minutes. The variety coming from the different amount of turns that each round can have.
Playing Distant Suns is a lot of fun. There is a nice puzzle to work through in your own sheet that you make very quick progress with. There is an instant sense of satisfaction from meeting goals, scoring points, achieving certain tasks right from the start. There are many different ways to score and paths to choose. This always adds to the enjoyment for me. I like to be able to mix up my strategies and try different ways to score each round and game.
In a world where paper-and-pencil games have become so successful and ubiquitous, in part due to the surge in roll-and-writes, it’s hard for the new kids on the block to stand out. But Distant Suns is worthy of your consideration if you are looking for a new low to mid weight game that plays quickly, and offers some interesting in-game choices and scoring options. Unlike many other games of its type, Distant Suns is limited to a maximum player count of four. That is worth considering when choosing this game. It doesn’t scale like some other games in this genre which play to unlimited player counts. But that is because of one crucial factor. There is a choice in this blank-and-write. It’s not a dice roll that decides everyone's fate. It’s not down to the flip of a card. You, the player, determine the destiny of the players around the table. This is a choose-and-write. And that choice brings a whole new strategy to the paper and pencil genre, and one I am in favour for.