04 October 2022
A big bang for your bucks
The (sort of) roll and write Distant Suns presents a 1960s vision of the future, where a race to the stars is on. Players have only a hexagon-littered sheet and Ikea pencil to map their way across the universe, where there are many victory points to be won by completing as many objectives as possible. These objectives come from a shared mission board that has five randomly paired mission and exploration tiles that make for great replayability. Each tile has a shape or icon that, when used together correctly will earn points. Everyone takes turns to pick a shape, as well as an adjacent one for the other players, and goes about drawing it on their maps – ideally in the best places to score and win.
Pleasingly, there is an imaginative variety for how to score points. Combining certain shapes pushes scores up, as do ship upgrades, discovering planets, killing aliens, treasure bonuses (and more), with a nice twist of deductions for any aliens left alive at the end. It would seem we don’t come in peace, after all. Some missions are worth more than others, meaning there’s a satisfying degree of cognitive challenge too.
Not that you’ll really have chance to notice. The total of three rounds means play moves at lightspeed. There’s still enough time to tick off your to-do list, with perhaps only a couple of actions left unfulfilled. Out of interest, and at the request of a younger player who loved the game so much they felt it was too short, a session was trialled with an extra spin around the galaxy. The result of this fourth round was lots of missed turns and bored, “I can’t go” sighs, so three is definitely the magic number in space as well as on terra firma.
One personalisation that did work, however, was the introduction of colouring pencils. This appealed to the more-artistic types at the table, and introduced a mindful dimension. It also made it easier to spot shapes when it came to the end tot-up. Another successful house rule was devising a space-themed shorthand for describing the symbols – think ‘Jupiter’, ‘TIE fighter’ and, the somewhat lamer, ‘zigzag’.
As for the shapes, anyone lacking tessellation skills (I write, before raising my own hand) will benefit from the exploration templates that allow theories to be tested before committing pencil to paper. It may not seem much, but it enables non-maths types to keep up with the spatially aware. Whether you need the templates or not, it’s still possible to accidentally create awkward nooks and crannies that can’t be filled on the map – or even funky shapes that block a path and point-scoring opportunities – adding a level of challenge to puzzle wannabe Brian Coxes.
For such a small quick-play, Distant Suns has megaparsecs of style. Retro illustrations pop through a vibrantly atomic palette; too often are space-theme titles dark and stark. The die-cut mission board is a real elevator, and it’s easy to see how mission tiles may have fallen out without it. Flip it over and – oh my – there’s even artwork on the back, which there needn’t be because who would even see it? But that’s the level of care here. The pad of playing sheets is not only thick and plentiful, it’s double-sided. Such panache isn’t expected at this price point, but it’s extremely appreciated.
While the Musks and Bezos of this world compete for intergalactic dominance, there is something innocent and nostalgic about this game. Sure, it isn’t as ground-breaking as games that have boldly opened new horizons, but it does what it does very well. Putting it in NASA terms, Distant Suns confidently passes the go/no go test.
PLAY IT? YES
Distant Suns is a stylishly executed space race that can be decided in under 30 mins. Its combination of classy components, strong replayability and varied ways to win soars at just £25.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Cartographers
Although less sketchy, Distant Suns is a not-so distant relative of the similarly shape-based Cartographers. Both share grid coverage mechs, plus a chance to exercise artistic expression.
Designer: Gary Kim & Yeon-Min Jung
Time: 25 minutes
What’s in the box?
- Mission control board
- 10 Exploration zone tiles
- 10 Mission tiles
- 5 Module tiles
- Pad of cosmos sheets
- 4 pencils
- 11 Exploration templates
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This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
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