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First Impressions : Supernova

Like London buses circa 1977 it’s very rare to see two great games closely following each other, especially so when the two games in question are Euro/Ameritrash hybrids. Perhaps this heralds a new trend in game design? If so I’m all for it. The first of these games was Age of Conan : The strategy board game , of which I have already written, the second is SupernovaValley Games sci-fi themed combat game.

Three to five players are alien races escaping a dying sun before it goes Supernova. The board is a set of modular boards that connect to the pre-partum Supernova. Players, starting from the Supernova, take it in turns placing their tiles on hexes out into space. Each player’s tiles represent their control of areas of space. Tiles have to be connected to a previous tile or the Supernova. Out in space are Planets that give you victory points and special powers, Moons that give you VPs and income and encounters that give you random stuff (mainly good, some bad).The more hexes covered at the end of the game the more VPs. You can fortify one of your tiles by placing another tile on top of it. If you are next to an opponent’s tile you can place a tile over it and then you have a battle. The comparative stack height of attacker and defender are compared to give the higher a combat modifier equal to the difference between the two stacks.

Battles are resolved quickly and elegantly by a neat little card playing sequence Attacker plays a card face down, defender does same, repeat to a max of 4 cards each. The Battle cards are in four suits numbered 2 to 5 and for a hand to be valid it must be all of one suit or all different suits there are some power cards in each suit which can mess things around. Highest value of cards (plus modifiers) wins, draws go to the defender. Managing your hand of battle cards is a key skill in the game and because you can attack the same hex or player as many times as you have tiles then there is a considerable amount of bluff and counter bluff in these contests. Plus if you blow too much good stuff in attack then what goes around may come around. If you are the attacker and you win you get a resource unit, which you can spend later of keep as a VP and you put your tile on top of your opponents to signal ownership. So it pays to attack.

Battles tend to be focused around moons and planets as these are the money and VP generators in the game, as the moons move in orbit once each turn it adds to the fluidity of the game and planning required to wrest control of a crucial spot.

Battles are modified by your tech levels, as are the numbers of tiles you get each turn and how many battle cards you can refresh your hand with. The modifiers are simple pluses or minuses and the cost of each new tech is progressively higher. Techs can be bought one a turn (better defence, better attack, more tiles (you get a base of four to lay each turn), more battle cards when you refresh you hand at the beginning of your turn. You can also spend your hard won resource units on more battle cards, Research cards (when played they give you a one off bonus or mess with the Universe).

However, don’t spend all of your ill gotten gains too quickly because you are going to bid for control for two mandatory solar flares and finally the Supernova it self. The Solar flares occurs at the end of the fourth and seventh turn and the Supernova finishes the game on the ninth turn. On the intermediate turns you flip a coin to see if a flare occurs. Flares from the Supernova are nasty he who wins the resource unit blind bid can wipe out enter stacks (2 in the first epoch, then three and finally a whopping five). Now thematically this bit does bother me as if these advanced Alien types can control the flares why are the running away in the first place? Any how, disbelief suspended it is a really tense part of the game as you can see your space empire dismembered in a flash. The other benefit of controlling the flare is that you decide who starts the next turn - a very powerful way of getting in a double turn.

Supernova combines a lot of take that, timing and planning, you can’t turtle and ignore the violent bits but if you are too focused on violence you won’t have the ability to spread your control over the uncontested parts of the board. Like my favourite games (Agricola. Le Havre to name but two) you can’t do everything you want to and how you, and your opponents, prioritise expenditure on techs and cards dictates your strategy.

Supernova could be a relatively quick game (my first four player took three hours) I’d say two hours when up to speed. There is downtime between turns (unless you are getting attacked) but it’s not a major problem. Like Conan, also released very recently, Supernova feels like a Euro/Ameritrash hybrid and as someone who comes from the Euro camp I can say I thoroughly enjoy both of these games.

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