Updated: Sep 17, 2019
A Place in the Sun is an asymmetric card game about conquest among the stars. It features 4 unique factions each with their own deck and dial which act as a single symbiotic life-form. Let's take a look at it and see what A Place in the Sun is all about.
Within the endless void only a few planets are capable of supporting life. All of them are home to intelligent species. Perhaps stranger still, they have all reached the space age at the same time!
Now as new stars alight in the sky, remnants of attack ships meet plasma fire and acidic abominations. Giant plant life wraps around beast and cold alloy alike, whilst yet more smoldering in cold orbit among the battered remains of an orbital defense platform.
There can be no mutual understanding between intelligent species from different planets. We are all aggressive by nature. Our only common ground is the struggle for survival and expansion – our fight for a Place in the Sun!
5 Solar Boards
4 43 Card Faction Decks
65 Power Tokens
The first thing that made me look twice at this game was the quality of the artwork which really has a distinctive feel to it. The graphic design is clean and functional but the iconography is a little bit overwhelming. In addition to the dozen or so icons that are shared by all factions, each faction has another half a dozen icons that are unique to them. I recommend that before attempting to play you should print out separate copies of the rulebook pages which refer to each factions abilities unless Vermin Games end up including reference sheets for each faction in the retail version.
The turn sequence is fairly straightforward. On their turn a player must play as many cards as indicated on their planetary dial (we used a dice to track cards played as many cards allow you to play additional cards which don’t count towards the total played). They may also activate any powers on cards on the table in front of them, in any order. Finally they may also activate their Faction Skill once during their turn.
There are three types of cards Leader Cards, Orbital Cards and Action Cards. Action Cards activate and then are immediately discarded. Orbital Cards are played in defence of your planet, one may be played into your Moon slot, which typically benefits from a boost in defensive power. The others are played into your Orbital Line. They may be played in front or behind other cards in the line.
Cards in the Orbital Line must be destroyed from front to back and prevent damage being placed on your planet. Leader Cards begin the game in their own separate deck, you may play one of them as one of your card plays for the turn. Leaders cannot be destroyed by other players however you may replace them by discarding the active leader and playing a new one, either from your leader deck or from your hand.
The game continues with players playing cards and activating the powers on their orbital cards and leaders until only one player remains in the game.
There is a lot to unpack here so first I’ll talk about the game in general terms and then I’ll take a closer look at each faction.
A couple of weeks ago I gave my first impressions of this game and I said that I felt the barrier to entry was high and I want to explain why. Firstly I believe the rulebook could be clearer, with better diagrams but assuming the final rulebook will be improved here’s what I think stops this game from being simple to pick up and play.
Decisions. A Place in the Sun asks you to make decisions from the very beginning. You need to choose a faction, each of which plays completely differently to one another and I’m not sure the game features a “simple” faction, they are all pretty nuanced in how they play and how they interact with their planetary dial.
Once you have your faction you have to choose a player board, this will determine many things about your faction, such as your starting health, your chance of going first and the permanent buffs to your moon and orbital defences. That’s a lot to understand before you even begin your first game!
A second barrier to entry is the deck-dial relationship. Learning to manage that relationship is key to understanding and winning the game. This is not something that you will understand by the end of turn 1, it is something that you will learn over the course of multiple games.
All that sounds negative, but here’s the trick, all that stuff that makes this a hard game for new players to get into, is exactly what makes it an interesting game for Gamers. Each faction offers you an entirely different play style with tricks and surprises all of their own, while each board changes your starting position, health and more. Do you go for more health and fewer defences or perhaps for a low starting health but the option to go first.
Planet Arachne - The Bugs faction. The Arachne come with three leaders, each of whom is helpful at different times in the game. The Ravager Queen allows you to trade population for power, increasing your health and survivability. The Splasher Queen allows you to trade power for population, increasing the number of cards you can play on subsequent turns. The Roach Queen allows you to trade population for card draw this turn.
A large number of the bug cards feature the population (egg) symbol, allowing you to turn your dial up (increasing your population) or down, decreasing your population and thus the number of cards you will play on the next turn. Your dial position also affects what happens when you play bug cards. In position 1-3 whenever you play a bug you gain 1 power (health) however in position 4-5 you have to reduce your dial by 1.
All of this then is thematically represent by the cards. Spawning-type bugs increase your population, while playing orbital cards generally lowers your population as you spread off your planet and out into the solar system. The Arachne generally have a low damage output but they can increase in number rapidly and their biodomes allow you to keep multiple bugs in play from round to round instead of discarding them. Planet Earth - The Human are probably the most nuanced faction in the game. Your dial represents your political regime, if you are down at position one you have total control over your people but you can’t play a lot of cards, while if you are in position 4 or 5 you can play a lot of cards but many of them will cost you power. Interestingly the human dial wraps around so it is possible to go from 1 to 5 and 5 to 1, this offers a lot of versatility turn to turn.
The Human deck features negative cards that hurt you when they are played and give no further benefit, however it also features some of the most spectacular cards in the game too, like the Nuke. To play the Humans effectively you need dial control, you almost never want to play all your cards, so you need to strike a balance between having enough actions and discarding negative cards.
Fortunately the humans have access to lots of card draw, power gain and the ability to play additional cards making them a formidable opponent against any race. Their leaders also offer useful skills in the ability to control the dial. The Politician can turn the dial in either direction, the General always turns it down but allows you to discard, while the Magnate turns it up and offers card draw.
Planet Rhea - The Treepeople. The Rhea are an interesting faction because they are good all rounders. They have good dial control and healing potential. Their orbitals are the strongest in the game and can be nigh on impossible to remove without help and their damage output can be staggering.
Their balancing factor is that many of their damage cards hurt them too, but this isn’t such a setback as they have access to plenty of healing cards. They are quite a slow building faction, their biggest damage output is from the Flowers of Evil card. This card discards all Triffid cards in front of another player and deals 6 damage for each card discarded this way. However, first you have to play a triffid card, which goes into your opponent's hand, then you have to wait for them to play it, still once it goes off the resulting damage will be game changing.
The three Leaders for the Rhea faction are about controlling your deck-dial relationship. The Tree Herd allow you to turn your dial up for the cost of 3 power, the Dryad allow you to draw a card for two power and the Ancient allows you to discard a card for 2 power.
Mothership Theta - This deck is a single vast spaceship. The Theta deck is all about combo- ing your orbitals. Your orbital cards feature weapons, power generators and shields which if allowed to build up can become devastatingly powerful. The catch is that using your orbitals costs power and if you run out of power the game is over. The trick with the Theta deck is to get your economic engine running, so that your actions no longer cost you any power, before you run out.
The Theta deck features little in the way of power regeneration, dial control and extra card play but instead builds up slowly across the course of the game, until you are an unstoppable juggernaut. Their leaders help mitigate some of this through trading power for extra card play or card draw.
As you can see the factions are all unique and different. They each offer a unique style of play allowing you to have a different experience each time you sit down with the game.
This is a free for all style game and as such features player elimination. There isn’t really a way around this and if you go out early you could be waiting a while for the other players to finish the game.
Happily now though, Vermin Games has decided to include the Influence victory condition into the base game. These cards were originally planned as an expansion but are now going to be part of the core rules. At the beginning of the game three Influence Cards are dealt face up on the table. Each features an achievement and a number of influence points. If, at any time during your turn, you meet the conditions to take one of these cards you may do so and place it in front of yourself and replace it with another from the deck. The first player to reach 8 influence wins the game.
These cards offer an alternate route to victory as well as a shorter potential play time. As each card has a maximum of 3 influence on it you will definitely be playing 3 rounds, probably 5 or 6 but the game will end in about 30-60 minutes (depending on player count). If playing with just player elimination the game could take a lot longer.
The Influence cards also offer you an alternate strategy on your turn. If you can’t do enough damage to hurt another player, why not see if you can grab an influence card instead. Some of them are as simple as Play Out Your Hand or Have 5 More Health Than Any Other Player, others, such as Place 3 Orbitals are harder to trigger. Some are given for being in a better position, but equally some are given for being in a worse position. One even awards you 3 influence if you are eliminated from the game!
In addition to adding the Influence Cards to the game, Vermin Games are also including a co-op/solo variant but as I haven’t played it can’t tell you much about it.
I think the guys at Vermin Games have got something really interesting here and my only worry is that the Cards and Rulebook are not yet clear enough. I would like to see clearer diagrams in the rulebook, especially of the Solar Boards and Dials. I would also like to see the language on the cards cleaned up and made consistent through the use of keywords.
However, the gameplay is engaging and all the decks offer different strategies and paths to victory. The inclusion of the Influence Cards helps mitigate problems such as a bad card draw and early elimination and shortens playtime to really make this a fast, fun game. I have only begun to scratch the surface of the tactics and nuances of each faction and I look forward to getting the game back to the table in the near future.
A Place in the Sun will be available to back on Kickstarter on the 26th June. This review is based on a preview copy of the game supplied by the publisher.