Game Buzz: Exile Sun

Do you remember the Soundgarden song from the 90s, Black Hole Sun?  I always think about that every time I hear about…

image by BGG user genericm

Exile Sun was successfully Kickstarted in December of 2011, and will be released by Game Knight Games later this year.  The game was designed by Eric A. Martin for 2-6 players aged 14 and up, and takes 30 minutes per player to complete (so up to 3 hours).  The sci-fi theme involves colonial powers that have been cut off from communications with Earth for over 200 years.  Being forced to develop a new civilization has been tough, and different factions have been struggling for power.  That’s where the game comes in.

Exile Sun comes with seven map tiles, including a sun tile and six system tiles.  Six frame tiles form the border for the game.  There are six control cards, six colony cards, and seven pawns (six for the players and one for the timer track).  For cards, you get 108 ship cards, 20 agenda cards, a bonus mission card, 30 technology cards, and 10 strike craft cards.  There are also 60 fleet tokens and 60 colony markers.

Set Up - image by BGG user genericm

In the beginning of the game, each player gets a colony card (each with a different special ability), a pawn, 18 ship cards, 10 fleet tokens, and 10 colony markers in their color.  The sun tile is placed in the center of the six frame tiles and the timer pawn goes on the start space of the timer track (located on the sun).  Each player, in turn order, places a system tile around the sun in any orientation they wish.  This is their home system.  Tiles are placed according to a pattern based on the number of players, and extra tiles are placed face down.  You’ll place a colony marker on the VP track (around the frame) and another on your home planets.  You’ll draw a technology card and a private agenda card, then will place a Light, Medium, and Shipyard fleet token facedown in your system (as well as any decoy tokens you also want to play).  Split your ship cards into a design deck (three battleships and five cruisers) and a build deck (three destroyers and five frigates).  You’ll draw one card from the design deck and one from the build deck, as well as taking the flagship and shipyard cards.

The game begins with a supply event.  Generally, this is how you will increase your ships, fleets, and technology, and will happen several times throughout the game.  I’ll describe it more later – for now, just know that this is how turn order will be determined, as well as how many supply points you’ll have.

Exile Sun is turn-based, so you’ll be resolving actions in turn order.  On your turn, you’ll use your allotted move actions and move the timer pawn.  You have four action points to spend, and there are four different types of move actions: move a fleet token, start a battle, scan an enemy fleet token, and launch a decoy.

  • Move a fleet token – In normal space, it costs one action point to move one space.  In trade routes (blue border), it costs one action point to move up to two spaces.  For military zones (yellow border), the player who owns the home system can use it as a trade route.  All other players treat it as normal space.  With asteroid fields (brown borders), it costs two action points to enter.  Gateways can also be used for one action point to send you to another point around the board.
  • Start a battle – Moving onto an opponent’s token starts a battle.  Only two can be involved in a battle at once.  They will remain in this state until a battle event is resolved.
  • Scan an enemy token – Spend an action to peek at an adjacent token.  If it’s a decoy, return it to its owner.  If not, return it to the board.
  • Launch a decoy – Pick up a fleet token, then place it and a decoy back on the board, one in the original position and one adjacent to it (even on an adjacent enemy unit, but not into an asteroid field).  You only have three decoys.
  • You can also forfeit all of your action points to discard your secret agenda and draw a new one.

After spending all your action points, you move the timer pawn one space, either backward or forward (you can’t move backward off the start space).  As you move around the sun, you’ll trigger events.  A supply event is triggered when the timer gets back to start.  Two battle events will be triggered.  A full cycle is a lap around the sun, and each event can only be triggered once per cycle.

In supply events, you’ll first have the opportunity to repair destroyed flagships.  You’ll then determine player order by choosing a space.  Going earlier in the order gets you fewer supply points.  Supply points are allocated on control cards into various categories.  The control card is specially designed with sliding columns so you can adjust the totals in secret.  The available categories include advanced design (moving ships from the design deck to the build deck), ship building (draw ship cards from the build deck into your hand), deployment (take fleet tokens and deploy them to planets they control or their shipyard token), or research and development (drawing technology cards).  You get a bonus for having the most or second most in each category.

Battle events mean that any stacked tokens must now fight.  They are resolved in order according to the token on top.  First, you’ll choose ship cards from your hand based on the type of fleet in the battle (5 for heavy, 4 for medium, 3 for light).  Decoys mean that there is no battle.  Once you’ve chosen cards, you allocate points to your control card based on your fleet power.  These points can be allocated to attack or defend for each ship (and apparently, you’re not allowed to always put them all on defend).  Once both players have put out their points, they compare attack and defend.  When attack exceeds defend, you’ll cover up circles on the defending ship with colony markers.  If all circles are covered, the ship is destroyed.  A new round begins after damage is dealt.  You go until one fleet has been completely destroyed, or one player surrenders.  The losing fleet is removed from the board, and destroyed ships go back to their deck.

After the battles are all resolved, there’s a scoring.  You get points for claiming an agenda, for control of a home planet, and for having a flagship and shipyard in your hand.  The game is over after a predesignated number of cycles (1 for a learning game, 2 for a short game, 3 for a standard game, 4 for a long game).  The player with the most points wins.

This game has some interesting mechanisms, particularly in the point allocation during the events.  This seems like a pretty novel way to deal with space battles that does not involve dice rolling.  I’ve gone on record about how much I like games with programmable actions, so this method appeals to me.  It’s not exactly programming your actions, but it is trying to outthink your opponent in secret, determining how hard you want to hit and from where.  So I’m interested to see how that works.  Plus, the control card seems pretty cool.

The game is turn-based, which always threatens to derail an experience if you have people with AP.  However, it seems like turns will go quickly.  I can see some problems arising if people keep pushing the timer backwards instead of forward to make the game longer, but it seems that the game still won’t be too long.  I doubt I’d want to play with 6 players, at least not at first.

I was initially attracted to this game by the theme and the art.  But the mechanisms in play seem really unique and interesting, so this has become a game that is one I want to explore at some point.  Thanks for reading!

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