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WEEKLY WHINE

An important upgrade

Hi. As you know, Solarquest is the greatest board game in the history of board games. However, it has suffered from increased knowledge. Of course, increased knowledge is normally a good thing, but when it forces us to revise our board games, it is suddenly less good.

But there is hope. It is possible to revise Solarquest to incorporate the way we currently think about our solar system. So we asked the GoobNet Special Projects Enhancement and Enforcement Division [SPEED] to review Solarquest.

We were originally hoping that this would be posted prior to our sixteenth anniversary celebrations, but the SPEEDers really have not stopped playing in that time. They have played about fifty games, and Rich has won about twenty of them. Although he totally cheated.

Anyway, here are their recommendations for bringing Solarquest into the 21st century.

PROPERTIES

In standard Solarquest, as published in 1986 and 1988, many of the Solar System’s planets and moons, as defined and known at the time, were present on the board. A number of these were also available as purchaseable properties.

Since that time, of course, Pluto has been downgraded to a dwarf planet, and many more objects have been discovered, most notably transneptunian objects and additional moons of the gas giants.

So, how do we incorporate all of these additional objects into the game? Clearly, we can easily add moons to the existing orbits of the gas giant planets. The transneptunian objects are a more difficult proposition, because that roster is more likely to be modified in the years and decades to come as more and more large objects are discovered.

We considered adding simple “Kuiper belt” and “asteroid belt” spaces to the board, but we decided against it, feeling that it was better to capture the diversity of each of those belts. We also considered a rule specifying that all objects above a certain size had to be included, but we have since decided to set a threshold for each group of objects individually.

So, we came away with twelve groups of properties. Mercury, Venus, and Earth’s Moon are still in groups by themselves. Mars and its moons, Phobos and Deimos, form the fourth group. Then come four groups representing the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. We have a ninth group comprising notable objects in the main asteroid belt, and a tenth comprising notable objects beyond Neptune. The last two groups are the Space Docks and Research Labs.

  • Mercury group
    • Mercury
  • Venus group
    • Venus
  • Earth group
    • Earth’s Moon
  • Mars group
    • Mars
    • Phobos
    • Deimos
  • Jupiter group
    • Inner moons
      • Metis
      • Adrastea
      • Amalthea
      • Thebe
    • Galilean moons
      • Io
      • Europa
      • Ganymede
      • Callisto
    • Himalia class
      • Leda
      • Himalia
      • Lysithea
      • Elara
    • Outer moons
      • Ananke
      • Carme
      • Pasiphaë
      • Sinope
  • Saturn group
    • Major moons
      • Mimas
      • Enceladus
      • Tethys
      • Dione
      • Rhea
      • Titan
      • Hyperion
      • Iapetus
    • Minor moons
      • Prometheus
      • Pandora
      • Janus
      • Epimetheus
      • Phoebe
  • Uranus group
    • Major moons
      • Miranda
      • Ariel
      • Umbriel
      • Titania
      • Oberon
    • Minor moons
      • Portia
      • Puck [designated 1985 U1 in original version]
      • Sycorax
  • Neptune group
    • Inner moons
      • Despina
      • Galatea
      • Larissa
      • Proteus
    • Outer moons
      • Triton
      • Nereid
  • Main asteroid belt group
    • 1 Ceres
    • 2 Pallas
    • 4 Vesta
  • Transneptunian object group
    • 136199 Eris
    • 134340 Pluto
    • 136472 Makemake
    • 2007 OR10
    • 136108 Haumea
    • 50000 Quaoar
    • 90377 Sedna
  • Space Dock group
    • Asteroid Belt Space Dock
    • Jupiter Space Dock
    • Saturn Space Dock
    • Uranus Space Dock
    • Neptune Space Dock
  • Research Lab group
    • Venus Research Lab
    • Earth Research Lab
    • Jupiter Research Lab
    • Saturn Research Lab
    • Uranus Research Lab
    • Neptune Research Lab
    • Kuiper Belt Research Lab

This gives us a grand total of 71 properties that can be purchased, including 59 natural objects and twelve space stations.

Note that the classes into which we placed the gas giants’ moons above have no significance in the game. We considered specifying that rent is doubled when one player owns all moons in a class, but we decided against it. We felt that this made the rent rules needlessly complex.

FUEL

One thing that bothered us about Solarquest is the fact that gravity is a binary condition: either it requires fuel to leave an object, or it doesn’t. This means, for example, that one can use up to eleven hydrons of fuel when leaving Deimos, even though its surface gravity in real life is less than .1% of Earth’s. Your spacecraft would be able to escape Deimos without expending any fuel, if it was equipped with a suitable spring.

So, we propose assigning a fuel score to each object. In order to lift off from a natural object, one must roll at least that object’s fuel score. Regardless of the number rolled, the fuel score represents the number of hydrons expended to leave an object, provided that at least that number is rolled.

Large objects, like Earth, have a fuel score of seven. Objects like Ganymede have a fuel score of six. The fuel score decreases until the smallest objects, like Deimos, which have fuel scores of 1.

If one rolls less than the fuel score, the player must remain on the object for that turn, including paying rent again if it is owned by another player. This will particularly affect the start of the game, as the players who have high rolls on their first turn will have a head start on those who have low rolls.

Fuel stations are handled just as in traditional Solarquest, with the exception that they can be placed on natural objects only when the player is on that object. This introduces additional strategy into the decision on when to place the fuel stations.

ORBITS

In traditional Solarquest, one orbits on a circular path around each gas giant until escaping on a predetermined path. We have instead settled on an alternative approach in which some of the moons are placed on a path that spirals toward the gas giant’s inner orbit. For example, the Jovian system would feature the inner and Galilean moons on the inner orbit, and the Himalia class moons would be on the approach spiral. Thus, they can only be landed on while moving toward Jupiter. This is similar to the placement of Phoebe in traditional Solarquest.

Likewise, the black dots are replaced by an outward spiral departing from each gas giant. The inner orbit around each gas giant has a minimum number that must be rolled to escape orbit. For example, if one is in orbit around Jupiter and rolls 9, the player moves directly to Ananke, assuming that the player has sufficient fuel to do so. A roll of 10 moves to Carme, and a roll of 11 moves to Pasiphaë. Sinope is the next space, but a roll of 12, of course, results in a Red Shift. The only way to land on Sinope, therefore, is by landing on one of the other three outer moons first.

Venus and Earth are still followed by one black dot, such that landing on the black dot moves one back to the planet.

FEDERATION STATIONS, DOUBLES, AND RED SHIFTS

One problem with traditional Solarquest is the disparity between the two modes of play. In standard play, a Red Shift occurs on any roll of doubles, but in advanced play, it occurs only on a roll of double sixes. We felt that one out of every six rolls was too often and that one out of every 36 was too infrequent.

Therefore, we make the following changes. Federation Stations no longer award cash. Instead, the player has an opportunity to purchase fuel stations if desired, and the player then draws a Red Shift card. If the Red Shift directs the player to a different Federation Station, another Red Shift is not drawn.

During rolls, a Red Shift occurs only on double sixes. For any other doubles, the player has the option to move any number of spaces, from one to the number rolled. Thus, on double twos, the player may move one, two, three, or four spaces. No cash is collected, and the player does not roll again.

Finally, we expand the roster of Red Shift cards. The existing cards are primarily made up of movement cards: those that send the player to another location. We reduce these cards and instead add more that either award or take away money.

LASER BATTLES

In the traditional Solarquest rules, players may shoot lasers at one another. When this happens, fuel is expended, and the player rolls the dice to determine the outcome of the attack. A roll of double sixes eliminates the opponent from the game, and a roll of lesser doubles forces the opponent to pay repair costs to the attacker.

We feel that it is too easy to attack multiple players at a time, so we recommend eliminating the multiple attack rule. When multiple players are within two spaces of the attacker, the attacker must select which opponent to attack.

MONEY

One problem we ran into in our games is the rapidly accumulating stacks of cash. This made it more and more difficult to eliminate players by bankruptcy. In addition, the additional money meant that players could afford to place more fuel stations, which made it more and more difficult to eliminate players by stranding.

The rules discussed above, which remove automatic payments from Federation Stations and from doubles, should slow the influx of cash into the game. With these changes, the only ways to increase the total amount of money in the game are Red Shifts and the automatic payment of 500 federons for passing Earth.

But the flow of money may still need to be dealt with. One possibility is to raise cash values during the game, as with the periodic raising of blinds in poker. We will require some additional play testing to determine if this approach will be needed.

So, with these changes, we believe that we have found a way to update Solarquest and improve gameplay. We look forward to determining whether Deluxe Solarquest will be as awesome as we think it will be, or even awesomer.

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