Published on March 21st, 2016 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Jotune vs Synthiens in a Battle for Resources
Battle For Sularia Review
In the world of tabletop games, there are two games that are emulated more than any other: Dungeons & Dragons, and Magic the Gathering. In the years since its first print run (1993) Magic has inspired literally hundreds of CCGs, TCGs and LCGs– all of which use the Magic formula to some degree. If you have a strong dislike of certain MtG mechanics or theme, someone has made a card game that addresses that issue specifically.
On the one hand, that means that there is an absolute glut of very similar card games on the market whose main difference is in how much they change Magic’s rules. On the other hand, there are also a ton of games that built on the foundation that Magic laid and produced something unique and intriguing. The difference isn’t innovation- even the bad games had innovative ideas- it’s execution.
Battle For Sularia is a Magic-like card game by Jesse Bergman and John Kimmel, published by Punch-It Entertainment. Sularia is a dystopic, post-apocalyptic, far-future world where factions fight over the crystalline resource known as Sularium.
The box art and design of the game are top-notch. I love the artwork on the cover by Brain ‘Tots’ Valeza, as well as all of the individual card art (“Feedback” by Wizyakuza is my favorite illustration in the game). The character designs are fun and have a unique flavor to them that sets them apart from other science fiction tabletop games. The graphic design is on point, very clean and minimalist, and all of the text is easy to read.
The Age-Old Conflict of Creator vs Machine
The “Battle Begins” starter box features two factions: Jotunes and Synthiens. The rulebook explains that human society kept mining Sularia to the point of environmental catastrophe and the only people with the foresight to do anything about it was the Jotune Corp, who built big bubbles around cities to save them from radioactive fallout. Unfortunately it turns out you can’t feed people in cities without farms, so people started starving and Jotune Corp began ethnic cleansing to ensure “the unfit” didn’t survive.
environmentalist Nazis Jotunes then build robots to do a bunch of work for them, because they were totally too good for that working nonsense. The robots gained awareness and immediately asked for freedom from slavery, which the Nazis Jotunes were totally okay with. By this time the Jotunes had perfected genetic engineering so that they “literally began to evolve into the superhuman lifeforms they had always viewed themselves as being.”
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and now the Jotunes want to go beat up the Synthiens because they are running out of Solarium crystals, and supposedly the robots have some. And that’s where the game starts its conflict.
Bringing RTS into a Card Game
In Battle for Sularia’s kickstarter videos, Bergman explains that he wanted to make a game that replicated the feel of playing a Real Time Strategy (RTS) video game, like Starcraft. His focus in that regard was to try to replicate the feeling of “real time” in a strategic environment.
The main way that Sularia addresses the real time issue, according to Bergman, is by ensuring that each player has the same number of turns, regardless of life totals. This means that if you can defeat your opponent with just one more turn after you’re knocked down to zero life, then it’s a draw. Another way this is simulated is by clearly defining “command windows” and reaction rules in a basic and straight forward manner, allowing clear opportunities to respond to your opponent.
While this was touted as a way to make things feel more like an RTS game, in practice it didn’t really feel that way. While I like the defined, more restrictive way that Sularia handles instants and reactions- I don’t feel that it’s a huge difference from MtG during actual play. Additionally, in the games we played there was never a game where a defeated opponent would be able to do much of anything given another turn, so that rule never came up.
To me, the change that made Sularia feel more like an RTS game was the way it handled resources. Each turn you could play a card from your hand face-down in front of you- this is your Influence track. The more Influence you have, the more Sites (lands), Tactics (instants) and Conditions (enchantments) you can play on a turn. If you play Tactics or Conditions face-down as Influence, you can flip them over at any time and play them as if from your hand, if you have enough cards in your Influence row.
I thought that the Influence mechanic was great. It reminded me of Quests from the World of Warcraft CCG, but it essentially gives you a larger hand size (unlike Quests which were kind of a chore to deal with). It also means that even if you’re not drawing Site cards, that you can still play Tactics. Still, I would have liked to have seen more interaction with that zone- more Tactics and Conditions that do something different depending if they’re played from your hand or your Influence zone.
Speaking of Site cards, this was a mechanic I wasn’t fond of at all. Sites cost a certain amount of Influence to bring into play, they have stats like a creature (attack/defense) but can’t actually attack, only defend- and they generate a secondary resource called Sularium. This secondary resource is mainly used to bring Combatants into play, though some Tactics use it as well. In Magic terms, they’re non-tapping lands that are also creatures with “defender”, low-power/high-toughness and “always blocks if able” and creatures only use this color mana to be brought into play.
Sites caused the games we played to go in a very predictable pattern: three turns of resource building, player one gets more Sites/Solarium than player two, player one gets a Combatant out, player two loses a Site and is now permanently playing catch up, player one builds slowly and takes out opposing Sites as they come up, player one wins.
No Resources, No Army
In Sularia you are literally attacking the mana base of your opponent, crippling them so they can’t fight back. It’s an effective strategy. It’s how RTS games are played, actually, and for good reason: if you have no resources then you have no army (thanks Sun Tzu!).
The problem is that land destruction and “mana-hosing” are the most unpopular actions you can take in Magic. No one likes getting their resources blown up, because it means they literally can’t respond to anything you do. Wizards knows this, which is why land destruction cards aren’t very commonly printed- they’re a dick move and you’ll look like a dick if you rely on it too much.
Every time I was winning in Sularia I felt like “that guy” that shows up with a land destruction deck to a casual game, and every time I lost at Sularia I felt like I was playing against a ProTour champ who personally hated me. Battle for Sularia is easy to pick up and learn but, it relies heavily on getting a good set of opening cards like low costed sites, low costed characters and cards that can pad your influence or set up response tactics for a command window. That is a lot to set up first before you can seriously compete and without a come-from-behind mechanic the downtrodden player doesn’t have opportunities to turn their situation around.
For a tabletop game about Real Time Strategy video games, I would have liked to have seen the element of rock/paper/scissors that games like Starcraft bring put to more of an effect. In SC2 you know that each faction has a couple of different ways they can build at different phases of the game, and it’s your job to build the correct counter to their strategy. This means a reliance on scouting, which Sularia plays around a little bit with their “hidden” zone, and face-down Influence cards, but these mechanics could have been brought much more forward.
You can learn everything about the game and world of Battle for Sularia on their website and purchase the Battle Begins set and illustrated playmats from their store. Battle for Sularia’s first expansion, Blood, Profit and Glory, is coming to Kickstarter April 5th.