Soulaween Game Review


31 May 2024
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Designed by Taiwanese designer Shi Chen, Soulaween is fast and intense, an abstract game where the aim is scoring four colours in a row. It feels a little like a hybrid of Othello, Chess and Connect 4; it’s zero luck and quite cerebral, but also passes so quickly that it doesn’t hurt too much when you lose.

Written by Chris Lowry

What is Soulaween?

Soulaween is a pocket-sized two player battle that’s as pretty as a pin, and it’s got the softest board I’ve ever held.

Players take turns to place double-sided wooden pieces on a 4x4 board. If they place it orthogonally adjacent (vertical or horizontal) to any other piece, the other pieces are flipped over. So place a red next to a green, the green flips over to red; or, even better, place a green between two reds leaves you with three green pieces in a row.

This leads to a dance between the players, placing one token and causing a fluttering of flips around the piece just placed. The board state can change dramatically in just a few turns, and a tiny mistake may lead to an opponent’s victory.

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Soulaween Gameplay

At points Soulaween has the feeling of a solved game—one where there is an unstoppable path to success—but I can’t find any evidence that such a solution exists online. You do certainly start to recognise patterns; two reds with a green on one end means that placing a red will always form four reds in a row; but identifying optimal moves is a feature of experience in any game.

Soulaween comes in a neat little box in the traditional of many Taiwanese and Japanese designers. The fabric board, familiar to players of Onitama or Royal Visit, could be a shade thicker, but I appreciate how petite it makes the whole package.

Alongside the basic game, there’s an advanced mode where players have different goals or actions, adding twists that increase the brain-bending required. ‘Wuchang’, in a manner very reminiscent of Cairn, allows a player to choose between flipping tiles that are adjacent orthogonally or adjacent diagonally; whilst ‘Papa Death’ requires the player to score 4 pieces in one of three shapes, rather than simply in a straight line. The advanced variant is a little more uneven than the base game, and some of the roles are definitely stronger than others—playing as ‘Anubis’/’Osiris’ forces the other player to only capture one colour, and controls that colour for an entire game - which is hugely limiting to play against. That said, the obvious solution to imbalance in asymmetric games is to play twice, alternating roles so both get to experience the same advantages and disadvantages, and Soulaween’s five minute play length lends itself to repeat games extremely well.

Soulaween's Looks

I’ve mentioned Soulaween’s visual presentation being great; if I’m completely honest, form has been prioritised over function when it comes to the advanced role cards. There are six of these large, beautiful cards that players draw randomly to determine roles—but their illustrations are pretty unclear as to what they actually represent. I’m rarely a fan of ruining a beautiful picture with icons or text, but I also need to refer to the rules sheet every single time we use these cards; that’s too impractical for me. The “collecting souls in a chain” theme of Soulaween is an unnecessary veneer and disrupts the clarity that such a tightly designed game deserves.

Is Soulaween Good?

Minor quibbles aside, Soulaween is a feisty little experience, and its two play modes mean you can happily have fun with a ten year old or shift into a more challenging experience with your grandmaster friends.

Related article: Best Board Games for Kids

Should you play Soulaween?

Yes

Everyone needs some small box abstract games, and Soulaween is guaranteed to fill minutes in a very pleasing way. The advanced mode adds a variability that means you’ll want to play it just one more time…

You can play Soulaween on Board Game Arena

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED… Onitama

…both have players deciding what advantages to hand to their opponent, and both set up on the table in moments. Onitama is slightly more complicated, and uses a board one space wider in each direction, but both will scratch the same Chess-lite itch.

Designer: Shi Chen

Publisher: Play With Us Design

Time: 10m

Players: 1-4

Ages: 14+

Price: £35

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