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Digital Subscriptions > The Best Games of 2019 > The Best Games of 2019 > SOLENIA

SOLENIA

A bright and airy trip above the clouds

SOLENIA

A bright and airy trip above the clouds

As you play, Solenia floats along as gently as the plastic airship that charts its route through the centre of its stunning board. Make no mistake, though – as breezily as it moves, this is a game stuThed with clever ideas and winning execution that just refuses to be weighed down.

The action is completely card-driven: a set of just three cards in each player’s hand, drawn from an individual deck of only 16, stretching the strategy as taut as the skin of a balloon. Each numbered card – 0, 1 or 2 – either gains or delivers resources when placed on a location on the board, which can be adjacent to either the airship or another of that player’s cards. This creates a wonderfully elegant concentration of claustrophobic area control, as players gradually expand outwards from the blimp in a race to collect the goods and exchange them for points and other bonuses ahead of their rivals. The tight number of options and objectives results in a game that plays short and quickly but still feels satisfyingly strategic, with pure efficiency in the order in which you play all of your 16 cards over the course of the game determining your standing by the end.

The exceptionally stripped-back cardplay combines with Solenia’s stunning masterstroke: a day-night cycle that the board transitions through as the airship proceeds, periodically propelled by the 0-value cards of the players. The visually arresting movement from dawn to dusk across the modular strips is for more than just looks, too; the sunshine and moonlight bring with them different opportunities for players to obtain resources and deliver them to needy cities. Players have to deliver to locations during both day and night to maximise their score, requiring them to plan ahead accordingly with the changing board. It’s a gorgeous idea that’s gracefully executed, and lifts the straightforward gameplay to new heights.

The momentum of the board also grants bonuses as players’ previously placed cards reach the back edge of the flight path, handing out extra resources and points as they’re removed from the strip and the flipped section returns to the front. The combination of immediate gain and delayed benefit subtly adds an extra consideration to the placement of cards without weighing the rules down at all.

The included solo rules against a simulated opponent controlled with a die work well enough to enjoy, even if they lack much of the direct jostling for position as the result of the random rather than tactical placement of cards. On the other hand, with more players, the compact board can become crowded, diminishing the ability to fully plan ahead – two or three people is where the game works best. The optional advanced rules add a little more reward and asymmetry to the game without complexity, though the standard game has plenty to recommend it as a fast, elegant experience.

Solenia flies high, lifted by its balanced mixture of outstanding presentation and simple but meaningful gameplay. It does lose a little air with too many people, and even its slightly heavier variants will feel too lightweight for those after more substantial strategy; but taken as something that plays in under 40 minutes, looks exquisite and does something new with familiar elements, it’ll leave you feeling like you have your head in the clouds.

MATT JARVIS

WE SAY

It’s light, stunning and as fun as it is fast. Solenia puts together a tight card-driven take on area control and resource delivery with impeccable visuals and inventive ideas for something that doesn’t need to stay aloft for long to have you soaring high.

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

► Airship figurine

► Five double-sided game board strips

► 48 delivery tiles

► Star-shaped gold/ point tokens

► 15 wood tokens

► 15 wheat tokens

► 15 stone tokens

► 15 water tokens

► 64 airship cards

► Four player boards

► 24 improvement tiles

► Die (for the solitaire game)

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED… WILDLANDS

The card-driven action of both of these elegant strategy games offers up plenty of tactical decision-making without getting overly complicated.

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About The Best Games of 2019

Must Plays and more in our Best Games of 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Over the next 196 pages discover all of the most positively reviewed games of the year. With a massive 181 games reviewed, this is the definitive “what to play next” guide of 2019! Games reviewed include: Wingspan Copenhagen Hellboy: The Board Game Res Arcana Lifeform Century: A New World Megacity: Oceania Pandemic: Fall of Rome Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Rough Nights & Hard Days Azul: Stained Glass of Sinatra Tapestry Letter Jam Hako Onna Everdell Battle Ravens Dune + Many more!

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