Full disclosure: A preview copy of Stonehenge and the Sun was provided by itten. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
More Kickstarter games! This week we’re looking at Stonehenge and the Sun, coming to us from itten in Japan, the creators of the phenomenal Tokyo Highway (among others, but that’s the one I own). This is … gonna be a strange game, so buckle up friends; here we go.
In Stonehenge and the Sun, you’re helping to build the great stone monument and tracking the movement of the sun across the heavens. Why was it built? What purpose did it serve? These are questions you have, but you won’t get the answer. It’s tough work moving these giant rocks, and by the time it’s all over, you fear that even the sun will betray you. Will you be able to hold your own against your opponents, or will everything you’ve built just end up being ashes on the ground?
Regardless, there’s both a lot of and not very much setup. As you’ll notice, there’s a large metal ball you need to figure out how to suspend about a centimeter above this board:
I use a c-stand and wrap the included nylon line around it, but you can also attach it to a light fixture or suspend it from a banister or something; honestly, whatever works. I’d love to see what you do, once you’re ready to do it.
Once you’ve done that, set the pieces around:
Give each player their player markers:
If you’re playing the standard game, you’ll want to set one piece from each player sorta equidistant around the circumference of the board; if you’re playing Orbit Mode, set two pieces on opposite sides for each player; you’ll want those to be equidistant from the other pairs, as well.
Once you’ve done that, you’re all ready to start!
Two modes! I’ll explain each in turn.
During the Standard Game, you’re trying to build up Stonehenge without knocking anything over. This works as follows. On your turn, you can do one of two things:
- Place a piece. You may take any piece not on the board and add it to the outer edge of the board or on top of an existing piece, so long as there are no blocks below that piece (max two stories). You must do this in a way that creates what’s called a new marker area, or an area between two pieces that’s not occupied by an opponent’s marker. Generally, placing a piece creates two areas; one on either side. You must move, but you may move to either, provided a few things:
- The ball must be able to swing through the gap between pieces.
- Your opponent’s markers are not present in that area.
- Your marker is not present in that area.
- Build a gate. You may take one of the available pieces on the board and move it such that it lies flat across two other pieces to form a gate. If you do, proceed to the next step without moving your marker. As you might guess, if your marker is currently blocked, you cannot build a gate.
Once you’ve taken that action, it’s time to believe in yourself. Pull the ball backwards and release it, with the following conditions:
- The ball must be pulled back far. Generally, like, six inches or about the length of your hand is fine, but it’s gotta be pulled back a decent amount.
- The ball must either be pulled back through or swing through your marker area. Your choice, honestly. I usually just pick whichever side I’m already on.
- The ball only swings once. As soon as it passes over the board, the player on the other side should catch it and stop its movement. Do not let it swing backwards. That can cause you problems.
If the ball collides with any pieces and knocks them off the board, take them as a penalty. Play continues until all pieces have been played or taken, at which point the person with the fewest penalty pieces wins!
If you thought that was wild, wait until you try Orbit Mode! It’s a speed-dexterity game with a real-time component. All you do is this: spin the ball around the board until it can make at least a few full revolutions untouched. Count to three; on three, go. Each player goes simultaneously trying to build up 10 pieces between their two player markers. They must be in one tower by each marker, but beyond that whatever works, works. If you touch the ball or string, you lose a point. If you build all 10, you gain a point. First player to three points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is just that you personally make fewer swings each round and your placements are a bit more challenging in the standard game; since there are more players, there are more pieces going up between your turns and more spots where you can’t go. On the plus side, there are more people swinging so the odds of a mistake happening also increase. I have no real preference for this one as far as player count, though I might say it’s worth playing at higher player counts just to show off the game, which I respect.
For Orbit Mode, there are a lot of hands flying around as player count increases. It’s very much a novelty, but I’d still probably only play it at two players, just for safety reasons, to be honest.
- Move your marker close to the block you placed. If you do, it gives you a lot of space to place another on your next turn. The problem is that that is also true for your opponent, and they may happily take some of the space you vacated. If that happens, just take the spot they left behind, unless it sucks. Generally you should be able to hop around a bit.
- If you’re not sure what to do, just add another story. If you build upwards, you can move to spots that are sometimes much better than the spot you’re in now! If you try to add a new piece to the ground level you may end up cutting off your only available path for the ball, which is, as you might surmise, a particularly bad idea, strategically.
- Try to avoid setting your opponents up for gates. Generally it’s really good to make a gate, since you can remove a piece from the board and then you have even more space and you don’t have to move your marker. It’s essentially a win-win for the player who makes it. If you give them that, they’ll usually take it, so try to keep your pieces decently far apart on placement.
- I find it helpful to pull the ball through the narrowest spot first, rather than trying to aim for it. I’m usually hoping that gravity does the work and brings it through just fine. If I’m trying to aim for it, it’s much farther away and harder to sight, so I often just end up smacking over some blocks, which, again, is not particularly ideal.
- Honestly? In Orbit Mode, just build quickly. Use two hands, make sure it’s stable, and move your body in time with the sun’s rotations. You don’t want to get hit; trust me. Just try and move your body with the rhythm, if that makes sense. Also, using two hands will help a lot both for stability and for like, being able to hold two pieces. I assume short pieces are also the way to go, since they have a lower center of gravity, but if I’m being real if you’re thinking this strategically about the game it might not be a good fit for you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- This is the exact kind of game Kickstarter was made for. A weird, highly experimental game with a lot of impractical components that’s almost as much of a novelty as it is a game? You betcha. I love it.
- Such a neat idea. It’s Stonehenge construction with an actual wrecking ball. Sign me up. I’ve just never seen anything like it, and half the reason I started reviewing games was to broaden my horizons.
- Good component quality. It’s got hefty blocks, a solid base, some good fishing line, and a solid ball; that’s all very nice. To be fair, this is coming from the Tokyo Highway folks, so I’d expect nothing less.
- Pretty family-friendly. There’s not a ton of rules overhead (beyond how marker placement works, which is a bit confusing), and I’m sure kids would love (but slightly miss the point of) smashing Stonehenge with a do-it-yourself wrecking ball, so that’s also good. To be fair, I also miss the point and occasionally just power through Stonehenge with the ball, so, whatever.
- Fairly short game. It’s only about 30m, even less in Orbit Mode, so that’s always nice.
- Having two different modes is pretty fun. One’s more about strategic dexterity, the other is about real-time dexterity. It’s a good way to show off the various things that the system can do.
- The first couple turns are a bit confusing from a rules standpoint. I think that will get a bit less murky with time and some errata, but, it does make for some slightly confusing play, at the beginning. I’ve been playing that you only move your marker once it’s possible to do so (after a couple plays). EDITOR’S NOTE: Ask and you shall receive! I’ve been informed that this was just missing from the rules I was provided — the rules are as I suspected; you only move the marker once it’s possible to do so; before that you’ll just swing the ball.
- Slightly weird box size. That happens; it would be nice if it were a bit taller so I didn’t have to put the ball in the corner and end up with a weirdly-weighted box, but what can you do.
- How are you actually going to suspend this ball? Seriously; you’re gonna have to drill a hole in your ceiling, hang it from a lamp, or use some special equipment (I have a c-stand, so I’ve been using that). It’s uh, wildly impractical and I kind of love it? But you might not, so it’s getting listed here. I’m really hoping the fix is to have it be some kind of stand that comes with the game, but, I mean, it’s definitely an experimental game, so, that kind of comes with the territory. EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve been told that an adhesive hook will likely come with the Kickstarter game, so, that’s a positive for most people and a slight negative for people looking for an excuse to put a hole in their ceilings.
- I think Orbit Mode might be actively dangerous? I’ve reviewed several games for What’s Eric Playing?, and I think I’ve never actually had to say this before, but I genuinely think you could get hurt playing Orbit Mode. I’m legitimately afraid of getting hurt given the momentum of the ball, especially getting hit in the mouth or something if you’re bent over to put down a piece. It’s … kind of amazing, but also be careful? You are spinning a metal ball around at a reasonable speed. You might be able to tone down the speed a bit, too. Or up; I’m not gonna tell you how to live your life.
Overall: 8 / 10
Honestly, my score for this is going to be pretty similar to my score for DropMix, because I think they’re both similar in spirit. They’re both just wild, off-beat ideas that shouldn’t work in any way, and they both kind of do? Are they perfect games that I’m always getting off the shelf to play by myself? No. Are they the first two games that I would show to someone who asks why modern board games are interesting? They’re in the top five, easily. Stonehenge and the Sun is a daring concept that’s just … honestly, it’s very strange, but I kind of love it. When I first was asked to potentially preview this game, they asked if it was possible for me to drill a hole in my ceiling. That’s an incredible question to be asked about a board game. How is that not the entire pitch? I was sold, and the game lived up to my expectations. If you’re looking for a dexterity game you can play with the whole family, there’s a solid one here. I worry that, perhaps, it’s a bit too simple, so it may not necessarily stand up to repeated plays, but even then it’s definitely a game that I think needs to exist, and I’m glad that itten is making that happen. If you’re looking for a dexterity game that’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, Stonehenge and the Sun is definitely worth checking out!