Colonize a new solar system before your time and resources run out.
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
Solar Settlers is an original Euro-style solo game from Brain Good Games. In the game, players must attempt to colonize a solar system to prove its viability in sustaining life long term. The game features a mixture of route optimization, worker placement, city-building, engine building, and resource management as you explore and settle from a small initial area around your ship. Games are won or lost based on whether or not you can settle the required number of habitats before time runs out, a game typically takes about 15 minutes.
Games are played on a gridded board and start with your ship at the center with the four non-diagonal adjacent sectors revealed. You are given three colonists and a target number of habits those colonists must settle to win the game. Settling simply involves moving a colonist to a space with an open habitat and taking a settle action, at that point the colonist is removed from the game and you are one habitat closer to winning.
Play starts by moving a colonist to an adjacent sector on the board. When doing so, you must move to an explored sector and after you move you explore an adjacent sector if possible. Exploring reveals the card for the sector, which can be of a few different types, ranging from planets, to stations or open spaces. Planets (or worlds) generally have two abilities specified, one which is taken when one colonist is present, and a second which is taken when two or more colonists are present. The abilities generally provide some resources, cards, more colonists, or the chance to make specific resource trades. Planets might also provide some start-of-turn resource production. Some cards will provide habitats, which are the key to winning the game, you can’t settle N habitats without discovering/building N habitats, after all.
The resources in the game are as follows: hydrogen, oxygen, metal, card, and colonist. Hydrogen powers colonists to move, with each movement costing one hydrogen. Oxygen keeps colonists alive, you must have one oxygen per active colonist when you end your turn or you will lose colonists. Metal is used for building things. Cards are held in a hand and allow you to build on top of explored sectors to alter the effects of a space. A Waystation card, for example, can be played onto an open space at the cost of one metal. It provides the ability to trade a hydrogen for a colonist and allows for free movement off of itself. Cards may also be discarded in exchange for one resource, as specified below each card.
The final major rule wrinkle is military. The sectors toward the edges of the board are dangerous and require you to possess a certain minimum amount of military before exploring.
The game is a balancing act. You need to explore early, keep colonists alive, and keep enough hydrogen in stock to move. Your turn can last as long as you wish, with colonists able to move until they take an action (not a move), provided you have the resources to keep moving. You will most likely need to build up military as you go and eventually must work towards getting some habitats on the map. Habitats can be discovered through normal exploration or built if you have a habitat card in your hand. Where you build them is important as you won’t want them far away from your colonist-producing sectors, optimizing the quickest paths helps ensure you save valuable resources and can finish before the time runs out. The time in the game is marked by the total number of turns you are given.
I only briefly touched on playing cards from your hand, but they are a critical piece of the strategy. Replacing unnecessary sectors with a more valuable ability set, or a sector that produces some resource each turn will be vital to winning. And, as touched on with the habitat discussion, the spatial aspect of where you place them is very important to success in Solar Settles.
I think this is a really slick game. It mixes a variety of different mechanics to the point where it will all feel somewhat familiar to people with Euro game experience and it manages to do so in interesting ways so as not to feel like a direct copy of anything that I’ve played. Each new game is a puzzle to solve and you start with a blank slate, which makes the choices feel important.
Barrier to Entry
Solar Settlers is case of a game that is much more difficult to explain than it is to play. Once you understand the few factors in play, the game is fairly straightforward, but getting to that point does take some work. The game features a tutorial which steps you through a couple of full turns, introducing the basics. The tutorial covers the full game, but it breezes by so quickly that I was quite confused trying to play a game afterwards. I read the text rules (which are nicely written and concise, but strangely only available via in-game menu) and then played the tutorial again which got me familiar enough to start a real game. Tutorials aren’t easy, and this certainly isn’t the best example I’ve seen, but there was enough there to get me started after a couple of tries.
What really could use a better explanation is how the progression/ranking system works in relation to the procedural level generation (we’ll explain more about this later). It’s mentioned in the app store listings and there are some small mentions of it in the game, but it’s a pretty big component of the game, and not fully explained anywhere in the app. Play enough games and you’ll see what kind of difficulty is added, but a simple explanation within the app would be nice. The same goes for the different races and the unique cards they add.
Starting the tutorial
Early in a game
Look and Feel
Solar Settlers has very simple controls that work well. Click a settler, then click to move, explore, take an action, etc… It’s simple and it works. The game also features an undo button which is always nice, but it is very limited in scope, essentially only allowing you to deselect a colonist. The other misfires here small issues. Some of the menu options are difficult to click on a phone with some requiring precise clicks in small areas. Elsewhere, you are able to click actions behind menus at certain points.
On the visual side, the app isn’t going to blow anybody away. Everything looks fine and is functional, but the in-game visuals all look a bit plain. There are some pop-ups which are a bit difficult to get rid of, an apparent artifact from porting a mouse-based PC game, but this is a minor annoyance and hopefully one that gets cleaned up in a future update. The iconography is well done and mostly easy to distinguish even on phones, so the game doesn’t really suffer from the visuals, just don’t expect anything overly striking in this department. I could see the potential for some of the graphics to be too small on small phones and for people who have trouble with things like this. On a large phone it is functional for me, but your results may vary, it certainly works well on a tablet.
This is strictly a solo game, there is no multiplayer online or off. However, the game does feature weekly challenges and online leaderboards. Weekly challenges are a single game setup that all players can play and compare high scores against. This locks in the home world, goal cards, and player cards for all players. The leaderboards cover XP, rank, wins, and high scores for each race.
Being a solo game, the longevity of Solar Settlers is its ability to provide ongoing difficulty even after 1,247 plays. The developer tackled this by using procedurally-generated levels in conjunction with a ranking system. The game takes your rank and generates an appropriately difficult level for you to go up against. Playing, and winning, earns you points towards your rank so you can move up and the levels will get tougher, and so on. There is also an option to skip some of the easier stuff and have a placement match which will try to put you directly into a more appropriate level.
The first handful of ranks act as an introduction to the game, think of it is a platformer where the game teaches you how to run, jump, and do a few cool tricks before really making it tough on you. Sure, you might lose as you get your footing, but once the basics start to sink it, it will become easier. The game really starts to clamp down on you as the number of turns drop, the number of habitats required climbs, and the number of sectors requiring military to explore go up. Overall, I was pretty happy with the challenge level after approaching my apparent skill ceiling.
In addition to ramping up the difficulty to match your rank, the game offers seven different races to unlock and play as. You start as lowly humans, and unlock the rest by either playing enough games or winning a game at a certain rank. The different races provide a few unique cards based on their theme. These are great to add twists to the basic game and keep you coming back.
Not much else to discuss here, so I’ll point out that Brain Good Games has released a handful of titles, and some of them look like they might be fairly interesting to readers of this site. Check them out here.
The Wrap Up
I really like the Solar Settlers offers. It is a fun mix of classic Euro mechanics that extends its lifespan with scaling difficulty and a handful of races which offer unique changes to the standard game. The app is well made overall. There are some quirks here and there and the visuals won’t stun you, but it’s functional.
The potential downsides here are mostly tied to your enjoyment of the game. The solo Euro is a very specific thing in the board game world. Solar Settlers won’t change your mind if you dislike them, it will be a fantastic addition to your digital library if you love them, and it is a great trial or entry point if you’re not sure. The various races and scaling difficulty work to fight against the “solving the same puzzle over and over” feel, but if you are vehemently against this type of game, I don’t see this one changing your mind. On the implementation side, a better tutorial and a more functional undo button end up as the biggest wish list items.
In short, if the mash up of mechanics and the solo-Euro premise appeals to you, Solar Settlers should very much hit the mark.