Friday, November 30, 2007

A Ahort Rules Preview of Supernova

Once upon a time there was a wargame company called SPI that completely dominated the wargame field (at least in terms of numbers of games produced). When SPI got around to producing some science-fiction empire-building games, they made a couple that differed in terms of scale. Their biggest-picture game was called Outreach and the scale was so big that hexes didn’t represent star systems but rather whole chunks of the galaxy that contained dozens or hundreds of star systems. If I remember correctly (and this is a big if—I haven’t seen the game in decades), the grand scale made the game so generic and abstract that the theme was almost pointless.

I was reminded of Outreach when reading the rules for Supernova. This is not because Supernova seems likely to be a bland game. Or because the two games have the same ultra-big picture scale (Supernova has individual planets and their moons on the gameboard). Rather, Supernova recalled Outreach because Supernova is a tile-laying game, and the forces of each space empire seem to be a tad abstract. In Supernova, players don’t move plastic ships around the board, but lay tiles outward from a central sun. When a player places a tile on a hex that has been previously claimed by an opponent, combat begins.

Combat is conducted with battle cards, although fortifying a hex (adding more than one tile to a hex) helps with defense. Battle cards are either numbered or contain a special abilities. There are rules about which combination of cards can be played in each battle, but there is always going to be an element of pure guesswork because players are not going to know what is in other players’ hands.

What adds to the space theme, and makes the game less abstract, are ratings for individual player abilities which can change over the course of the game. Players have ratings for weapons (which increase combat ability), shields (which boost defense), engines (which increase the number of tiles a player can play each turn), and comms (which increase the number of battle cards a player can hold). Players may buy a technology increase each turn, but the increases become more expensive as tech levels rise. This means that players will have an incentive to develop all their technologies rather than sinking their money into one or two increasingly-expensive fields.

Players get a small resource budget each turn (resources are cash in this game), and they can increase their resources by harvesting the moons which orbit the planets. Although moons create more resources than planets, planets are worth more victory points than moons.

There is also an auction mechanism in this game. Every turn there is a chance of a sun flare erupting from the central star. Players bid for the right to control the flare, and the winning player can declare where the flare goes. Sun flares destroy hexes as they move outward from the star. Early in the game, they only destroy a couple of hexes; later in the game they become more powerful and they destroy a greater number of hexes.

Supernova (designed by Oliver Harrison and Mike Roy) seems to me to be a promising game that may give players a chance to dabble in galactic empire-building without requiring the six-hour marathon session that Twilight Imperium demands. With Galactic Emperor also on track for publication in 2008, next year may be a good year for space-game enthusiasts.

1 comment:

oliverh said...

What a great summary of Supernova. I doubt I could have done as well myself.

I'm happy to hear people are keeping it on their radar (comms?). Keep the page on BGG in your quickbar as there may be some new images soon.

Oliver