App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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Space is a cold and uncaring void, but there are certain pockets of it capable of sustaining life. Solar Settlers is a solo card game that underscores this reality as it challenges you to harness the resources of inhospitable solar systems to transform them into sustainable colonies. Much like its setting, Solar Settlers may not seem like the most approachable experience, but as you explore it, the game rewards you with a vast amount of variety and new things to discover.
Each game of Solar Settlers puts you in control of an intrepid squad of explorers just as they’ve been dumped off on an unexplored star system. With your small team, you need to do whatever it takes to create a certain amount of settlements within a limited amount of turns. You can’t just focus on colony-building, though. Your team is operating in a hazardous environment, and so they need things like air to breathe and fuel to travel the solar system as they identify places for settlement, gather resources to build habitats, and—eventually—establish a colony.
The push and pull between team survival and colony-building is the core challenge in Solar Settlers. As a card game, this dilemma plays out on grid of cards that represent each sector of a solar system. Your settlers (represented by little green avatars) begin their mission at an established base of operations card. Sectors immediately surrounding this base are visible, but the rest of the cards (representing further reaches of the system) are face down. Sending explorers out to sectors bordering the unknown can flip over these cards, and using whatever revealed cards you can to stay alive is your first step at completing a game of Solar Settlers successfully.
Solar systems can consist of all sorts of sectors. Jungle worlds might be rich in oxygen, while gas planets can be harvested for fuel. Rock planets can provide raw materials to build habitats, and open voids of space can yield opportunities for mining asteroids or even building your own, artificial worlds. To take advantage of any of these things, you need to send your explorers to the appropriate sector (which costs fuel) and exhaust them, which ends your ability to use them until the next turn. If you want to continue using these explorers next turn, you also need to make sure you have enough oxygen for them to survive into the next round.
Taking advantage of your immediate surroundings helps you keep your team alive in Solar Settlers, but the game also provides you with a hand of cards that lets you modify the environment around you. Of immediate and obvious interest are cards that may let you build habitats for settlers, but you can also create military camps to let you explore more hostile sectors, build infrastructure that lets planets produce resources automatically, and more. Each of these cards has their own associated cost to build, and cards you don’t need can be discarded for bonus resources that may better suit your needs.
If this sounds like a lot of moving parts, that’s because it is. Solar Settlers does a pretty good job of keeping the gameplay simple, though. You really only need to focus on moving your team between systems to gather resources, and the game takes care of the rest, including difficulty. Each time you complete a game of Solar Settlers, the game adjusts the challenge based on your performance to make sure you’re never too frustrated or bored the next time you play.
Although Solar Settlers provides an astounding amount of variety through sector cards, infrastructure cards, and even different modes (in the form of a weekly challenge and unlockable races to play as), the game struggles to present everything it has going on in it into an easy-to-read package. Every screen is a clutter of information, and it doesn’t help that Solar Settlers also has some bugs that can make playing it a bit unwieldy.
The bottom line
Digging in to Solar Settlers can seem daunting, but it’s absolutely worth playing. There are few other digital card games available that provide a similar amount of depth, creativity, and variety, all without imposing too many complicated rules. In short, don't judge Solar Settler by its looks. This exploration game is well worth exploring.