Battle for Sularia Review
It’s all out war between the Jotune and the Synthien, two enemy factions on the scarred world of Sularia. Once a paradise among men, this planet once rich in resources has been overtaken by endless battle between these two groups, each of them fighting for the lion’s share of precious Sularium, a powerful natural resource that has powered their civilizations for millennia. Gaining self awareness, the robotic Synthien have broken away from their Jotune overlords, the human-like race that has governed the world of Sularia until recent times. Both sides have their own heroes, motivations, and abilities, and only the best will see the light of victory. It’s up to you to decide who, in this new Battle Card Game by Punch-It Entertainment.
Battle for Sularia is a brand new competitive card game that pits players against each other, each one commanding one of the aforementioned factions. Although it brands itself as a “Battle Card System Game,” make no mistake, this is a Living Card Game. Fantasy Flight has (somewhat annoyingly) trademarked the term “Living Card Game,” so other games that follow suit must refer to themselves by a different title, but this is an LCG through and through. In Battle for Sularia, you will tactically construct your own deck, adapt to your opponent’s strategies, get more cards for your deck through transparent expansions (as in, no randomized distribution–you have full knowledge of the contents of every add-on), and then put those cards to use in what will become an evolving metagame.
…Of course, you’ve heard all of that before, haven’t you? Replace “Jotune” and “Synthien” and “Sularia” with other words, and you might be able to think of ten other competitive card games that might as well be telling the same story. Delve deeper, and you might be asking yourself how different these games even are when it comes to gameplay. There are plenty of LCGs that are out right now, so do we need room for another? That’s the question I asked myself when I heard about Sularia–“Why should I care about a new LCG?” I’m sure many other people are asking themselves the same question, among others–“does this game do anything to stand out?”
After playing Sularia for a good long while, it is this reviewer’s opinion that Battle for Sularia is worth your time. I feel like the game has a lot of potential, but only if you, dear reader, are willing to give it a chance. Let’s talk about it.
How do you play the game? Is it a fun experience? How much interaction is there between the players? Is there very much luck involved? Will it take forever to to learn and teach?
Gain influence –> Build sites with influence, which generate Sularium –> Spend Sularium to deploy combatants –> Attack/defend sites with combatants –> Rinse and repeat
This is the first major action you take on any given turn (you start the game with a hand of seven cards, and you can’t go over this limit throughout). Influence is counted by the number of cards in your influence row. The “gain influence” phase is simple–you simply pick a card from your hand, and place it face down on the influence row. You can only do this once per round, so it’s not possible for players to gain influence disproportionately; this helps to set the pacing of the game.
A card in the influence row counts as an influence point, no matter what its contents are. Also, cards can be turned played from the influence row, but be careful!–only “tactic” and “condition” cards will REMAIN in the influence row after being played. These cards grant you a one-time action or passive bonus respectively. If you play a combatant or a site card out your row, they will move to their respective spots on the table and lose their status as an influence point.
After you’ve tallied up your influence, it’s time to build a site. Each site costs a certain amount of influence to play. When you build your site, it goes in its own row, just like influence cards. There are two rows in which to place sites–front and rear. A site in the rear row cannot be attacked if there is a site ahead of it on the front row. This means that strategy has to be employed when you build your sites; you’ll want to place them in such a way as to protect your most valuable sites while also making the most ideal defensive barrier.
Sites act as more than just a defensive wall, though. They grant you special abilities, and precious Sularium generation. Each site generates its own set amount of Sularium, and some sites have passive boosts or special actions that can be activated once per round. This is where a lot of Sularia’s depth is; you’ll have to arrange your sites so that they defend well, generate good Sularium, AND dole out special abilities that synergize with the rest of your cards.
Once you’ve got some Sularium generation going on, you can spend it to deploy your various combatant cards. Each card has an attack and a defense value, and can do one or the other each turn. Like sites, many combatants have their own special abilities that can synergize with other cards, and it will require a tactical mind to get the most use out of them.
The catch with combatants is that they can only take one action, so you’ve got to be wise in the way that you play them. If they attack, for example, they’re deactivated until your next turn, leaving them useless if your enemy invades. Likewise, a combatant who defends against an enemy strike will be unable to attack when your turn rolls around. Furthermore, some cards have their own exhaust abilities; these abilities can help your army, but, like attacking and defending, it makes them ineligible to do anything else until your next turn.
Attacking and Defending
The battle mechanism of Sularia is one of its most tactical areas, and it can be a lot of fun when things heat up. You can either choose to attack one of your opponent’s sites on your turn, or defend one of your own sites on your opponent’s turn. However, you’ll have to deactivate your combatant to do either action.
Attacking a site is simple–you take a combatant, and rotate it 45 degrees to point at whatever site you’re targeting. Every site and combatant has an attack/defense value, shown at the bottom of the card. It’s not too difficult to calculate losses; if the offense’s attack stat is greater than or equal to the defender’s defense stat, the defending card is destroyed. Sularia kind of takes an “all or nothing” approach with damage. If a card is not destroyed by the end of the turn, damage resets and the cards begin at full health.
Upon being attacked, the target player may activate one of his unused combatants to defend against one specific attacker. They will absorb all of that attack’s damage, potentially preventing it from reaching the site. See, in Sularia there is a “damage chain,” or in other words, a specific order in which damage must be applied. Damage first goes into combatants, and then through sites, and then to the player directly. That means, to deal direct damage to your opponent (the object of the game) your attack needs to be big enough to penetrate two to three walls of defense.
If your opponent is well-guarded, that’s not a one man job–you can group combatants together to form a “joint strike force” that combines their attack power into one deadly blow.
Tactics, Conditions, and the Command Chain
The steps above make up almost the entirety of Battle for Sularia. However, there’s a little more that adds to its depth. You can play Tactic and Condition
And of course, as with any good card games, there’s a plethora of actions all over the place that can be played in certain moments. You might activate a site card to enact a stat-boosting ability for your attackers, or exhaust an attacker to use his special ability instead of sending him into battle. You might have a tactic card waiting to be played at just the right moment, and that’s where the “command chain” comes into play.
In certain moments of the game, a “command window” opens up, where players can play actions. This is basically a reactionary moment. If somebody takes advantage of the window and, say, plays a tactic card, the next player has a chance to react to that action. They could ostensibly play an action that cancels their opponent’s, or they could hit them hard with something else as retaliation. Players go back and forth taking turns like this until there are no more actions to be played. Some of the most intense moments in the game can happen during these command windows.
And that is, in a nutshell, Battle for Sularia. You’ll repeat the steps above over and over, but each turn will bring something new to the table as your influence and resource collection slowly grows. If you can create a strike force capable enough of penetrating your opponent’s defenses, you can claim Sularia, and all of its precious resources, to yourself. Good luck!
A sense of progression
Although this isn’t something that’s unique to Sularia, it’s something I always appreciate seeing in a game when it’s implemented well–I’m talking about the sense of progression that you feel as the game goes on. Simply put, you start off with nothing in Sularia, and end with a cadre of sites, combatants, and powers aggressively working for and against you. However, there’s never one moment where it feels like you jump from one end to the other; there’s a feeling of buildup that occurs as you play, and this makes Sularia an exciting experience. There’s never a question of whether or not you’ll become powerful, it’s simply a question of who will do it faster and better.
It definitely feels like you’re building something when you play Sularia, and I just love games where you feel like you became powerful by the end of it. I like it when things culminate into a decisive final battle, or when you’re tempted to take a risk that might yield strong payout or major losses. These are the feelings you get when you play Sularia, and on top of everything, it usually doesn’t feel clunky or clumsy. It’s hard to design a game that elegantly allows for major growth and progression without providing checks and balances that prevent it from feeling like an unbalanced mess. This usually either ends up IN an unbalanced mess, or a game that’s so tightly checked and balanced against itself that it leaves no room for anything interesting or unexpected.
Much like the RTS games (like Starcraft) that I compared Sularia to earlier, there’s a palpable sense of satisfaction to starting with nothing, and building a base/army out of gradual resource collection. If you like this kind of feeling in your games, Sularia will deliver.
It’s the elusive sweet-spot that every game covets–the “simple, yet complex” spot. Although there are hundreds of factors that go into judging the quality of a game, the “simple/complex” metric is one of the most important. Essentially, if a game can be relatively simple in its fundamentals, but profoundly deep underneath, it’s probably doing something right. For the most part, Sularia does a good job of being in that space.
Sularia, when it comes down to it, isn’t that complicated. The resource collection system is straightforward and easy to understand, and then most of the game pretty much just comes down to understanding how to attack and defend. Although there are technically nine phases of every turn, each turn really does just come down to “add +1 influence, play site card[s], play combatants, battle, rinse/repeat.” Sularia looked WAY more complicated than it actually ended up being once I learned it. When I finally got the rules down, my first thought was, “wait, that’s it?” and I mean that in a good way. I was surprised when I realized that you’re really just following the same few steps every turn, and that the cards would do the rest of the work for you. Sularia was a total pain to learn from the book (more on that later), but if you were to be taught in person how to play it, you’d have the general game down within ten minutes.
So, Sularia hits the right mark with simplicity, but what about complexity? Surely, if you’re used to playing competitive card games, then the prospect of a dumbed down game is no doubt unappealing. I’m happy to report, then, that Sularia really nails it in the “depth” department when it comes to more advanced gameplay. This game does it right–it makes the fundamental mechanics relatively simple, and adds complexity through the individual card effects.
Every type of card adds its own layer to the game. Sites can grant special actions that buff your abilities, or enhance individual units. Combatants have their own effects that can become larger than the sum of their parts when paired with complimentary cards, and then there are the tactic/condition cards that can allow you to blast your opponent with one-time actions, or give yourself passive boosts that will benefit you for the rest of the game. I’ll go more into this in the “strategy” section of this review, but it suffices to say that Sularia offers all the complexity you’d want from a good LCG, while keeping the fundamentals simple, approachable, and easy to teach.
Dual Resource System Makes Things Interesting
So, you’ve got two types of “resources” in Sularia: influence, and Sularium. Influence is not produced, per se, by any specific cards; every card that sits in the influence row counts as exactly one influence point (regardless of the contents of the card), and you can only place add one influence card per round. Sularium is the opposite; it’s generated by various cards and effect, and is used to purchase combatants.
I love the influence system because it sets the pacing for the game. Influence is used to pay for sites, which is what generates your Sularium, and Sularium is used to pay for combatants. As such, you don’t have access to the good sites until you’re farther into the game. You can’t just game the system to create a strategy that produces tons of influence, because there is simply no way to have a greater number of influence points than rounds played.
Because everybody progresses in their “power level” at the same rate, it ensures that tactics are always an important part of the game. In other words, I’m fairly confident that Sularia won’t turn into a game where building a good deck is 90-100% of the battle. Even if you have a great deck with great cards, you generally won’t be able to use your more powerful ones before your opponent, meaning that you’ll also have to focus on USING your cards well.
The dual resource system works because it introduces the fun aspect of resource management/generation, but also ensures that players progress at a relatively equal rate. I like this, because it ensures that every game of Battle for Sularia is indeed a battle. There will be no deck-cheesing here that allows for thirty second victories. To some, that might be a turnoff, but I like the assurance that it brings that there won’t be a completely one-sided victory.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
It can be one-sided
For the most part, Sularia does a good job at keeping things balanced, but there are situations where it’s easy for one player to kick the other while they’re down. The site cards generate solarium to deploy combatants, and if those sites are taken out, that leaves the player with no generation. It is, of course, the point to reduce your opponent down to nothing, but sometimes it feels like it happens way quicker than it should, and this mostly is due to the luck of the draw. Basically, it’s quite possible for a player to start off with a hand of relatively cheap cards, and for the other to start off with a more expensive hand with maybe only one or two cheap cards. If that’s the case, the former player’s cadre of weak combatants could wreak havoc against their opponent, leaving them with virtually no options until they have enough influence to play their better cards. It turns into a one-sided game when one player never quite gains the chance to produce resources. This is mostly a luck-based issue, but the mechanics of the game occasionally allow steamrolling to happen.
There’s a lot to keep track of, and nothing to do it with
Sularia needs tokens. Yes, it’s a Kickstarter game, and yes, I understand that it’s cheaper if the game can be packed into a small box, but there were some obvious repercussions to this decision. The first is the rulebook, which is too small and simple in its “basic” form to be of much real use, and the second is the lack of tokens/chits, something that I think would have really helped in moments where there’s a lot of things to keep track of.
First of all, the object of the game is to reduce your player to 0 health, down from the starting amount of 25. However, the game gives us nothing to keep track of that health, requesting instead that it be written down or tracked by dice. There are also cards that tell the player to put markers on cards to denote certain effects, but the game gives us no markers to do so.
Finally, there’s a lot going on in combat. It’s not that hard of a system to get used to, but there are a LOT of card abilities that buff the strength/defense on combatant cards, and battles are essentially a big mish-mashing of numbers. This can get needlessly complex when you have to play mental gymnastics comparing all the numbers, especially when there are various effects in play. It would’ve been nice if there was an implemented way to track all of this.
I realize that there are many CCGs that ask the player to bring their own components, but to be fair, Sularia seems to be following the LCG format, which usually tends to follow the board game release model where everything is included in the box.
Tactic Cards Can Feel Like Cheese
One thing I wasn’t a fan of in Sularia is that some tactic cards, or in other words, one-time play cards that deal a certain one-time action, can sometimes feel cheap (for lack of better phrasing). This isn’t a problem for the most part, and it IS a deliberate design decision to have cards that can be played at unexpected moments, AND there is the “command chain” which allows your opponent to react to these surprises (though not every tactic card in the game has a card that can counter it), but sometimes, just sometimes, it just feels kind of lame.
The biggest offenders here are “System Scramble” and “Sularium Tactical Assault Beam,” which can both deal direct, unblockable damage straight to the opponent, and both are tremendously cheap to play. It is hypothetically possible to have these stashed away in your influence row, and then to bust them all out and wipe out half (or more) of your opponent’s health. Site and combatant cards, the tactical essence of the whole game, are made pointless by cards such as these. I don’t like it when games encourage a certain style of play, and then pull out wildcards that invalidate your actions.
On the other hand, if both of these cards were exactly the same with the only difference being that the opponent can’t be directly targeted (sites and combatants only), these would be incredibly interesting cards that would absolutely enhance the experience.
An average game of Sularia runs between twenty and forty minutes. While you’re still learning, you might approach that 40 minute mark, but once you’ve got the game down, you’ll quite often end at 20. I enjoy Sularia’s length, because it makes the game approachable, and carries the potential to bring in players who might otherwise be intimidated. A short is always more approachable than a long one, and I think it’s great that a system as complicated as LCGs can be represented by a game that doesn’t take forever to play.
Sularia’s short length consistently makes me want to replay it right after finishing a game. This is another good thing–setting up Sularia doesn’t take long at all. Aside from prepping your actual deck (which is an activity unto its own), you simply start by dealing yourself a hand. That’s it! So, not only does Sularia play quick, but you can start a new session so easily that an instant rematch is always an enticing prospect.
Of all the things I like about Sularia, the length is high up there. It just feels right.
Sularia is not a hard game to learn or play. Like I’ve mentioned in other parts of this review, the game really isn’t that complicated–in fact, the simplicity of its core gameplay is one of its strongest selling points. But boy, do I think that Punch It could’ve done a better job conveying that in their rules. It took me hours to learn how to play Sularia correctly, and I don’t think I would have been able to do so if I was consulting the rulebook alone. I feel that, if I were taught the game in person, I never would have had a hard time learning it. The game is not very complicated, so it’s necessary to take a critical look at the rulebook.
The first problem with the rulebook is that you don’t get the whole rulebook in the box. It’s a small little book, with the words “Basic Rulebook” printed on front. Indeed, the game comes packed with a “basic” set of rules that highlight the general gameplay principles, but all complicated concepts are left to their comprehensive online ruleset, which can be found here: www.sularia.com/rules.
Okay, so there’s a more complicated version of the rules out there. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but the second problem is that the basic rules just don’t do a very good job of teaching the game. You’ve got a page that talks about the basic idea and objective of the game, but it doesn’t go into any specific details. Then there are some pages that detail some arbitrary information that isn’t really relevant yet because it requires the context of the rules to understand. After that, there is a page that details every phase of a turn. The thing is, this page feels more like a reference guide than an actual “how to play” segment. In fact, I kept flipping back, wondering if I had missed something, because I couldn’t believe that there was only that ONE page that taught the general gameplay process. This game would benefit in a huge way from a “first game” section in the rulebook.
I did eventually formulate the general gameplay from the extremely light rulebook explanation, but once I learned how to play, I was left with more questions than answers. That leads us to the fourth problem–the “Comprehensive Rules” found online also just…don’t teach the game very well. This is primarily due to the fact that the online rules feel more like a dictionary than a deliberately constructed ruleset. It functions well as a rules glossary, but is stripped of the logical presentation that you’d find in a rulebook. And I mean, that’s fine, but if the developers wanted to go the “rules reference guide” route, they should have made the basic rulebook a little more comprehensive. Finally, even AS a comprehensive guide, I was often left with many questions.
Take the “Damage Pile,” for example. In Sularia, you, the player, can take direct damage. Once “your” overall health is depleted, you lose. There is a pile called the “damage pile” where you place discarded cards. The rulebook notes that, if you lose a site to the damage pile, then you take personal damage equal to the influence cost on the card. So, wait. If site cards in the “damage pile” deal DAMAGE to myself, does that mean all of the cards do that? If sites deal direct damage to me when they’re discarded, wouldn’t that be the reason why it’s called the “damage pile?” And, if all discarded cards do indeed go into the “damage pile,” shouldn’t that imply that they, too, deal damage? If so, it would hugely change the nature of the way the game is played.
I eventually found my answer, but not through the rules–it was clarified to me by the creators when I posted in an online community inquiring about it. I can think of at least five more questions where this was the case. It feels like the developers understood their own game so well that they didn’t account for a lot of simple questions that will inevitably be asked. This isn’t usually an issue with an average board game, but competitive card games are tight, and every little keyword matters.
Also, some important information was left out in the basic rules that I think would have been well-suited to be packed in the game. Sularia, in all its promotion, advertised itself as a game with multiple play modes, increased player counts, and pre-made starting decks. None of this is in the basic rulebook. It’s all packed into the end of the comprehensive rules, seemingly as an afterthought. Who knows if their multiple modes actually WERE an afterthought, but when it’s easy to get that impression as a player, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Also, the starting decks could EASILY have been included in the book; they could have fit on half a page. I was a little confused as to why such vital information was relegated to the online resource.
Teaching and Learning By Others
All these complaints about the rulebook are painful to write out, because again, the game isn’t that complicated! Once I understood the game, and all the little nitty gritty details, I realized that it’s NOT a hard game to play. I was able to teach this game in ten minutes, and nobody thought it was terribly complex or intimidating. Similarly, I think I would have grasped the game really quickly if it were taught to me by somebody in person. So, despite the complexity of the rulebook, rest easy knowing that it’s not hard to learn or teach once the game is known.
Overall, I think Sularia would HUGELY benefit from a simple “How to play for first timers” rules tidbit, both in the rulebook and in video. The thing is, there ARE official videos, but like the rulebook, it feels like they assume that you already have the basics down. There’s a detailed turn rundown video, but it takes place several turns into the game. A new player might think, “well wait, how do I get there? Where do I even start?” And then there’s a 30 minute video of a full session, but that also feels more like a “This is us playing Sularia” video rather than “this is how you play.” I’m probably just nitpicking, but if I had these concerns, it’s possible that others will too.
Sularia isn’t arbitrary—you’re defending your own base, and attacking your opponent’s. This is clearly represented by what you’re doing on the table. You will send cards to your enemy’s space, attack with them, and hold combatants back to defend when your opponent does the same to you. In this sense, you’ll have a lot of direct interaction between players, and as with any competitive card game, you’ll most likely develop somewhat of a metagame if you consistently face the same opponent.
One thing that’s worth mentioning is the “command window.” Essentially, there are several instances within the turn process that open up a command window, and this is a moment where players can play certain actions that might appear on their cards. You might want to play a card right out of your hand, activate a card on the board to trigger its effects, or reveal one of your influence cards. In Sularia’s command window, players take turns playing actions until nobody has anything left they want to play.
After all the actions have been queued up, they play out last-in, first-out. What this means is that players have the opportunity of reacting to their opponent’s actions. Say, for example, one player activates the Synthien Tactical Assault Beam, which can target any combatant on the table and deal direct damage. The target player would have the opportunity to react to this, and he could potentially play Evasion, which cancels the beam’s effects. The Synthien player could react more still, perhaps playing a different card altogether. Players can continue reacting to each other until they pass, or have no more actions to play. This adds a fun sense of interaction into the game, as there are several windows where players can one-up each other.
How much strategy is involved? Is there a sense of variety and balance? Does the game play well no matter how many players there are? How long does it take to play?
Choosing what to play in the influence row
ANY card that you play in the influence row counts as one “influence point,” which is spent to build sites. These cards are played face down, and in the case of sites and combatants, will leave the influence row if they’re turned over and played. This leads to some interesting decisions—you HAVE to play an influence card every turn, so you have to choose wisely.
Tactic and condition cards will remain in this row (and still count as an influence point) if they’re played, so these are no-brainers. However, it gets a little stickier when you don’t have tactic or condition cards to play; it means that you’ll have to sacrifice one of your sites or combatants in your hand. You can still play them, but again, if you play them out of the influence row, you lose their influence point. As a result, it’s quite the tactical choice deciding what to put down. I like that you sometimes have to make tough decisions like this.
Strategically placing your sites
So, your sites act as the barrier between you and your opponent. If they penetrate your sites, the damage leaks onto you. What makes this mechanic interesting is that there are two rows for sites, and front sites must be destroyed before rear sites can be attacked. This means that placing your sites is a calculated decision that must be made carefully. You might want to put your weaker sites on top to create a barrier over your stronger ones. Maybe you’ve got a site that has a special action that buffs your combatants; better keep that one in the back for protection. What if your site doesn’t afford very much protection, but generates more Sularium? If you want to use your sites as efficiently as possible, these are all questions you’ve got to ask yourself, and that doesn’t even cover the half of it. Placing your sites very much feels like building your own base, and players who don’t have a vision of how to do it well will face the consequences.
To activate or not to activate, that is the question
Another big choice you have to make in Sularia is when to use your combatants. Your combatants can attack and defend for you, but not both at the same time. If you use a combatant card for one, they won’t be able to do the other. So sure, it might be tempting to launch an all-out offensive using Lord Oathki and his squad of Red Condors, but if you use all of them to assault your enemy, you’re leaving nothing at home for defense.
Likewise, spending all of your manpower to defend won’t really get you anywhere. It’ll prevent your opponent from winning, sure, but you simply CAN’T win Sularia without being offensive, so there are real important decisions to be made when you’re activating your units. Sometimes you HAVE to use them all to penetrate your enemy’s defense, while at other times it’s a waste to send too many in. There’s a delicate balance when it comes to using your combatants, and I very much enjoyed it.
The Importance of Keywords
Though this is nothing new to competitive card games, there are various keywords that change the nature of certain cards, and Sularia makes use of them well; cards that would be otherwise normal can change your game entirely if their keyword is used efficiently.
Take “Flight” for example. A combatant with the flight ability can bypass front sites (attacking the rear ones directly), and can’t be defended against unless the defender also has flight. This changes things! The defender, at this point, might opt to put their more useful, ability-granting sites in front so that their flight opponents are incentivized to attack them first, regardless of the fact that they don’t have to. At this point, the attacker can either take down the powerful site AND have to penetrate a second wall of defense, or skip to the second row and allow their enemy to keep their cool ability (like Centropolis, which allows the Synthien player to deactivate an enemy card once per round—ouch!).
There are plenty of fun keywords to play with in Sularia, and they will all add some depth to your strategy.
Actions, and when to use them
Finally, there is a plethora of useful and important actions scattered all over the cards. There are simply too many of them to make some kind of list, but the long story short is that these all add substance to the game.
Many location cards grant passive bonuses to your army, or have a special action that can be activated once per round. Combatant cards are the same; sometimes you’ll want to play a combatant just for the passive boost that it grants to the army. Other times, you’ll have to exhaust a combatant to use their ability, making you judge for yourself whether the ability is worth the opportunity cost of said combatant being unable to attack or defend.
And of course, there are tactic cards that can be played from the influence row, or directly out of your hand. While some of these can be annoying, most of them are pretty interesting.
All of this, again, is not something that’s new to card games, but it’s a familiar concept that Sularia executes well. You’ll find no shortage of tactical and strategic potential playing this game. It IS simple, but it gives you so much to do that it never feels lacking in depth.
I WILL say that, aside from the actual luck of the draw, there isn’t a whole lot of luck in this game at all. Nothing is really left to chance; everything that you do is printed on the cards, and there aren’t unexpected variables or random occurrences that happen, EXCEPT for drawing the cards. Ultimately, your deck is as good as you make it. You might, at times, draw cards that are better than others in certain contexts, but this is a given when you’re playing any kind of deck-builder.
I have one luck-based criticism, and it’s in regards to your starting hand. Sometimes, you just don’t get the right cards to start out with, and if you don’t, you run the chance of being steamrolled by your opponent. Really the only way this is possible is if you don’t draw any cheap locations from the get-go. Locations are played from your influence pool, which increases by exactly one every round. This means that a level 4 location cannot be played until at least four turns in. Locations produce Sularium, which is needed to deploy combatants. Ergo, no locations = no units = no defense or offense = loss. Basically, having a golden hand, but no locations to play early on, means you can do exactly nothing. The game’s official rules allow you to mulligan, so you have two shots at drawing a reasonable hand, but this is something that CAN happen, though it’s rare to get a starting hand that fits this criteria, and in nine times out of ten, you’ll draw what you need out of the deck in subsequent turns.
There are a lot of ways to play Sularia, and so far, I haven’t found any strategies that seem broken. Granted, competitive card games can be so deep that it’s possible I haven’t even scratched the surface. There’s just so far that you can go with strategy in these types of games that I can’t say for absolute sure if nothing is broken in this game. All I can say is that, in MY experience, everything seemed just fine.
The Jotune/Synthien factions play very differently, and I think the starter decks were constructed specifically to tease different playstyles to new players. The Synthien starter deck is very autonomous, much like an actual civilization of robotic beings would be. You don’t do a whole ton of offense with the Synthien; it’s often more beneficial to leave your best soldiers at home, and then cripple your opponent through your vast myriad of tactic cards. Playing Synthien feels like a waiting game–you build up your power, mess up your opponent remotely through various card actions, and then you send in your combatants to strike them while they’re weak. The Synthien starter deck has few combatants, lots of sites/Sularium generation, and tons of tactics cards.
Jotune, on the other hand, feels palpably different. You don’t produce a lot of Sularium with these guys, but you’ll have a field day with your combatants. Every combatant in the Jotune deck feels competent and deadly, and I’ve won many a Jotune game by building up an eleborate strike force and then launching a hyper-offensive, often dealing half the game’s damage in one round. The site tactic/condition cards, as well as various site effects, boost your combatant’s stats, making them nigh-unstoppable when effects are stacked. I’ve found many games where the Jotune flounder for most of the game, and then attack decisively at the last moment, often winning the game.
These two playstyles are remarkably different and yet, somehow, neither one feels broken. Of course, this can change radically if you build your own deck. The Synthien deck is stacked with combatants, so it’s entirely possible to make an army of Terminators (there’s literally a Synthien Terminator card) and launch an all-out offensive. Likewise, it’s possible to play a more defensive game with Jotune. Both factions have their merits. They are both wildly different, yet exciting to play in their own way. I’m pleased with the variety of flavor in this game, and the fact that it manages to work.
Look and Feel
Is the game aesthetically pleasing? Are the components made out of quality material, or do they feel cheap? Is the rulebook well-designed and easy to read? How well is theme integrated into the game?
First off, let’s talk about the artwork. It’s great! I think it does a wonderful job at capturing this new world that has been created for this game. Sularia feels original, which is great, because it’d be SO easy for Sularia to be “generic sci-fi,” which is an easy pit to fall into. No, Battle for Sularia has its own lore and mythos, and I was continually intrigued by it as I played those cards. Sure, at it’s core it’s “humans vs robots resource war,” but each side has its own unique flavor. The Jotune, for example, seem to have strong capabilities in the sky, and you have these badass sky warriors that don’t feel like they’ve just been pulled out of the latest sci-fi B-movie.
Meanwhile, the Synthien evoke their own sense of wonder as well. I particularly like the art on the Centropolis card, which depicts what I can only assume is the Synthien capitol. In the middle of everything, there’s a giant monolithic golden humanoid statue that looks like something you’d see straight from your local center for performing arts (albeit much bigger). This was intriguing to me–what if a splinter AI race, instead of being cold calculating soulless machines, actually had a sense of arts and culture? What if becoming self aware actually gave them an identity that’s not unlike human beings?
Long story short, the artwork does a great job at pulling you into the lore, for whatever that’s worth. Finally, it’s consistent, which is something I really appreciate in card games. Card games often pull from a large pool of artists, so there’s often a lot of disparity in quality. Having the variety is nice, but when cards end up looking like Dominion’s Shanty Town, it can be kind of distracting. All of the artwork in Battle for Sularia feels consistent, unified, and just overall well-done.
Since I’m not the town expert on the intricacies of card-making, I can’t really tell you what material Sularia’s cards are made of, but to be honest, they feel slightly nicer than most other cards I handle, and I handle a lot of different cards. Sularia’s cards just feel durable; they don’t scratch as easy as most Fantasy Flight cards I’ve used, and they have an ever-so-subtle glossy finish that’s a little stronger than most other cards I play with.
I mean, I don’t want to overhype it, it’s not like the cards are THAT out of the ordinary, but something about them just like a teeny, tiny bit higher quality than most typical cards.
Also, that little box is wonderful. Very well made, wonderful art, and nice and small for your shelf space. Overall, no complaints here.
So the theme is cool, but does it translate well into gameplay? I would argue that it does, if not just for the fact that the factions feel markedly different from each other in terms of the way they play. Jotune is very much suited for aggressive brawlers, and Synthien plays well for a more subtle, covert strategy.
I think this captures the two factions rather well–the Synthien are the self-aware race of artificial beings who splintered off, and who aren’t concerned by Sularia’s lack of breathable air. They’re able to dig up as much Sularium as they please, and thus have no real need to go on the offensive. And then you have the Jotune, the human (or human-like) race that can no longer sustain themselves with what they’ve got. They NEED to get their Sularium, and so they NEED to go on the offensive.
As a result, you’ve got two totally different play styles. The Synthien are ripe with disruptive strategies, packed with tactic and condition cards that can remotely disrupt their opponent. They generate much more Sularium, and are better suited to strike from the shadows in a moment of weakness, or under the leadership of the mother program, Animus Vox. Unless certain factors are in play, the elusive Synthien might not want to be overtly aggressive. Meanwhile, the Jotune are packed with combatant cards that combo together remarkably well, creating flying strike forces well-suited for hitting Synthien sites hard.
I feel like this story plays out rather well in terms of being represented through gameplay mechanics. I’m eager to see how the world of Sularia grows, and how the world will reveal itself through the design of the game.
Is it a game you can play over and over? Are there expansions available for the game, and if so, are they necessary? Does the amount of the content in the box justify the price?
The only thing that I think can really hurt a LCG’s replayability is if the game just isn’t any good. Well, I think Sularia IS good, and deck builders are sure to have a lot of fun with it. If you’re only going to stick with the pre-made decks, then yeah, it’d probably run dry after a while. In nine out of ten competitive card games, the starting decks serve little more purpose than to act as a tutorial that gives you a small, enticing taste of what the game COULD be.
Long story short, if you’re the type of person that enjoys the type of game Sularia is, then it’ll be profoundly replayable. If you absolutely hate building decks, then yeah, you might not get that much longevity out of this one.
That being said, I worry a little bit about the prospect of a competitive card game being consistently funded through Kickstarter. When you have publishers like Fantasy Flight that can push out expansions every month, Sularia’s got some pretty big competition, competition that won’t be matched if it takes three months to push out a single expansionary deck. Although you can get all kinds of mileage out of just the starting cards, dedicated fans are going to want more. Competitive games, after all, are basically another form of crack. We’ll see what the future has in store for Battle of Sularia, but whatever it is, I hope they can reach the point where they’re able to bust out expansionary content faster than what they have planned.
For those who really want to get into the game, there are also some lovely Battle for Sularia play mats that nicely lay out all of the game’s rows for you. I’m not one to buy mats for my games, but I can’t deny that these look really nice from an aesthetic standpoint.
Sularia can also be found at various retailers in the midwest, but being a post-Kickstarter game, it just hasn’t been very widely distributed. Your best bet will be getting this one online.
What I liked:
Battle for Sularia is a solid competitive card game that shows lots of promise. I liked how quick and easy it is to play, while still being deep enough to satisfy hardcore tastes. I enjoyed its dual-resource system, and the tactical importance of playing your sites in the right locations, and using your combatants in the right way. I really enjoyed its length–Sularia is shorter than your average CCG/LCG, yet still feels saturated with strategy.
The game trims down on needlessly complicated mechanics, delivering a less convoluted experience than what you might find with other games. In battle, for example, the game takes an “all or nothing” approach where you either destroy your enemy completely, or not at all, preventing the need to track damage all over the place. Sularia is ripe with little touches that make the game feel streamlined. The lore, artwork, and overall visual presentation are top-notch, and in my opinion, give other competing card games a run for their money. The theme is well-represented in the gameplay, and both of the factions feel asymmetrical enough as to both offer their own differing playstyles.
In terms of deckbuilding, Sularia implements the unique “60/90” system that ensures you have 60 cards, but the deck can’t exceed 90 “points” in value. This makes deckbuilding a creative challenge, and ensures that decks will be relatively balanced against each other, no matter the opponent. This forces the player to rely on in-game tactics just as much as good deckbuilding, and guarantees that just about every game will turn into a proper battle.
What I didn’t like:
Sularia, while not a difficult game to play, was needlessly complicated to learn due to the excessively simplified “basic” rulebook that’s included, and the disorganized, convoluted nature of its online-only comprehensive ruleset. I always left with more questions than answers when reading the rules, and wish I would have just had someone that could teach it straight to me.
While the game itself is well-balanced, it sometimes feels like it relies too much on your starting hand; a starting hand that doesn’t give you the right cards can result in you being steamrolled by your opponent without being able to put up much (if any) of a fight. Also, due to the nature of the resource generation mechanic, and the importance of said resources, this game can have “kick ’em while they’re down” moments where it’s very difficult for a player to come back if they’ve been significantly weakened.
While the production quality is indisputably high, you can definitely feel the repercussions of the game being packed in such a small box, presumably to save money. The rulebook, as I mentioned, is too small, and the game is lacking in chits or tokens that would be very handy, if not outright required. Finally, I worry about the sustainability of Sularia is an evolving card game if future updates and expansions are going to be pushed through Kickstarter over several month long periods.
Overall, I think Battle for Sularia is well worth anyone’s time who enjoys competitive card games. Furthermore, due to its streamlined nature, Sularia would actually be my top recommendation of choice for new players in the world of CCGs/LCGs. The game feels like a great starting point for people who want to explore the deckbuilding, but if you’re already in that world, the game has enough to offer to keep you hooked. I, for one, am interested in Battle for Sularia’s future.
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You enjoy competitive card games in general
- If you’re looking for a good starting point to get into competitive card games
- You like deep strategic games that can be played quickly
- You enjoy games that have rich artwork and lore
- You like the feeling of becoming progressively stronger in a game
- You like the idea of competitive card games, but feel like most of them are too complicated
- If you want a unique twist on deckbuilding
- You want a competitive card game that can be played with four players
YOU WON’T LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- Competitive card games turn you off
- You don’t like having boundaries when you build decks
- You’re learning the game on your own and don’t like learning from videos
- You’re not a fan of sci-fi
- You don’t like keeping track of things with outside components
- Fantasy Flight Living Card Games aren’t complex enough for you