Full disclosure: A preview copy of Sovereign Skies was provided by Deep Water Games. 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. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
Alright, we’re back on Kickstarter! After, you know, a one-week break. Very serious lapse, timewise. Thankfully, we’ve got two new Kickstarter games to talk about. One’s an expansion to Assembly, and the other is the first of Deep Water Games’s original titles, Sovereign Skies! Naturally, that’s exciting, and the art is impeccable, so it caught my eye pretty quickly. Let’s dive right into it.
In Sovereign Skies, you play as sovereign houses within the newly-formed Planetary Senate along the Edge Planets. Naturally, since it’s new, you can probably get in there with the right people and bend it to your will. Or promote democracy. There’s no reason it can’t be both things, you tell yourself. Either way, hop on your mothership and get ready to amass some power. Will you manage to rise above your opponents as the most influential house in the stars?
Setup is a bit involved, so stick with me. First, set out the planet tiles:
Shuffle them beforehand, of course, but they will form the game board. Now, you’ve got Base Influence (for activating bases):
Split them up by color and sort them so the highest value is on top (Orange is 9, Purple is 7, Green is 5). Place them on the Base Influence Mat:
There are also six Politic Influence Chits:
Place them on the Politic Influence Mat; this time, the order doesn’t matter.
Each planet has their own Politic Cards; separate them out and place one per player face-up in a stack in the indented part of the tile:
Give each player 3 Energy and put the rest in a pile:
Set the Standard Influence tokens aside, for now:
Have each player choose a player color, and take the Mothership in that color:
I imagine those aren’t the final version, but they very much remind me of FlickFleet. Take the ships in your color, too:
Take a Player Board:
Now, take the bases and put them on the six spots on your player board for bases, Active side down:
Determine the player order, and also your starting ships. You do the latter by shuffling the Senator Cards and flipping one face-up per player. Each player puts one ship on the two planets indicated in the top-left of the Senator Card:
Then, take all the Senator Cards (including the ones you dealt out) and reorganize them by the number of dots in the top-right corner. There should be three stacks; shuffle them and place them above the Senator Influence Mat:
Like the other Influence Chits, there are also Senator Influence chits. Put them in order based on the dots on the chit and place them on the Senator Influence Mat with the highest value on top:
Going back to ships, players must now, in player order, add one ship to any planet that doesn’t already have one of their ships. Once you’ve done that, in reverse player order, each player must place their Mothership on a planet with no Motherships facing either clockwise or counterclockwise.
That’s the last step, so once you’ve done that you’re ready to start!
So, your goal here is to gain influence throughout the galaxy by moving between planets, performing actions, and gaining favors from Senators (as one does). Along the way, your control of planets will be contested by other players, so you’ll need to make sure you can take what’s yours. Do that, and maybe the galaxy will look to you for leadership? Or at the very least you’ll get the “local” discount on more than one planet, so, I mean, that’s also nice.
On your turn, you’ll first move your Mothership and then perform up to three actions. To move your Mothership, you move it one space in the direction it’s currently facing. If you’d like to reverse it, you may turn it around for 2 Energy. If you’d like to go further, you may spend one Energy per planet tile to move additional spaces. Unlike the beginning of the game, multiple Motherships may be on the same tile facing the same direction.
When you move your Mothership onto a planet, if any other player has a Majority, they gain one energy. A Majority, here, is tiered. First, the player with the most activated Bases has the majority. If no player has activated Bases, then the player with the most inactive Bases has the majority. If no player has any bases at all, the player with the most Ships has the majority. If multiple players are tied at any of these levels, check the next tier. If players are completely tied, nobody gets anything. This is a bit tricky, so think of it as 1 activated Base is better than any number of inactive Bases, and 1 inactive base is better than any number of Ships.
Now, you’re on a Planet, and you may take up to three actions. If you take one action, gain an energy. If you take three actions, pay one energy. The actions you may take are as follows:
- Add 1 Ship to the planet. Place it from your Supply. If you have no Ships, you can’t do this.
- Take a Politic Card. Take the Politic Card for this planet and add it to your Supply. You cannot take the Politic Card for this planet if you already have one; no hoarding.
- Special Actions. Each planet has a unique special action. Let’s talk about those:
- Recruit: You may spend two Politic Cards matching the icons on any face-up Senator to take that Senator’s card and add it to your supply. Take the topmost Senator Influence chit for that stack, as well.
- Construct: If you have enough ships on a planet (see the planet), you may remove some of them and place one base, Activated side down, on the planet. When you do, you may choose any base from your player board; depending on what column you pull from, you get a bonus!
- Add a ship to any planet.
- Gain 2 Energy.
- Take any Politic Card.
- Activate: Choose any of your inactive bases and flip one to its active side. Take a Base Influence chit corresponding to the planet’s color.
- Pledge: Discard up to three Politic Cards from your hand. Gain one point per Politic Card discarded. If the Politic Influence chits corresponding to those cards are still on the board, take them. If they have been claimed by another player, claim them if you have the majority on the corresponding planet.
- Relocate: Move up to two ships from any planet(s) to any other planet(s). They do not have to be the same or different planets.
- Refuel: Gain 2 Energy, and then gain an additional energy for every Base you’ve placed (active or inactive).
Additionally, as a free action, if you’ve Recruited a Senator, you may call in a favor with one of them per turn. They generally allow you to do slightly-limited versions of the special actions:
- Gain 3 Energy.
- Pay 2 Energy to use the Construct action.
- Use the Pledge Action, but pay 1 Energy per Politic Card discarded.
- You may Relocate up to 3 Ships, but you must pay 1 Energy per Ship moved.
- Trade one of your Politic Cards for any other Politic Card.
- Add a Ship to any world.
End of Game
The game ends when any two stacks of Senator or Base Influence Chits run out. When that happens, finish the round so that every player gets an equal number of turns, and then tally your scores:
- Chit Points
- Standard Influence Points
- 3 Energy = 1 Point
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
So I’m gonna get weird, here, which is exciting. I’ve tried it at 2, 3, and 4 (which is surprising; I had a really good Monday). At 2, I felt like the board was a bit empty. The other player and I carved out our three planets, nodded sagely at each other, and generally got within about two points of each other. Very pleasant. At 4, it was almost hard to see everything that was going on between ships and bases and active bases, so some players were missing things like majorities or tokens or things they should grab. Personally, I’d love to see smaller / larger boards for those player counts so that you can scale the game, but I’m also not a designer so I’m not sure how feasible that actually is. Either way, that makes the game sit pretty comfortably at 3, in my opinion. There’s enough that players likely won’t be fighting too much over control of planets, but there will be some contesting, which is good for everyone. It also prevents the game from getting too tit-for-tat, as I feel like it does at two players. That’s not to say I disliked either of those modes, but I definitely have a solid preference for this one at three players. I’ll be interested to see how much the game changes via the Kickstarter process and whether or not some of these pieces of the game are tweaked, though. Who knows how it’ll turn out?
- You really want to go for high-value targets first. This is especially true for recruiting Senators, because they’re easy enough for everyone to get, especially if one player got lucky on the modular board. Make sure that you beat them to those high-value targets, if you can.
- At higher player counts, early Pledge actions may not be contested. This is because there are more players fighting for majority on any one planet, which means that it’s increasingly likely that a given planet will not have any majority, so players will not be able to reclaim the 3-point chit from you, provided you’ve gotten it early. The worst outcome is that other players do the same to you, and you can’t steal those chits back. That can be a powerful turn if done well! If not done well, well, at least you got 1 – 3 points.
- If you’ve got multiple options, choose ones that will help you or screw your opponent. If you can recruit multiple Senators, go after the one your opponent(s) can also get. Now, they have to pick something else (and may end up skipping the Recruit step, you jerk). If you are trying to figure out which base to place or activate, pick the one directly in front of your opponent’s next move. That’ll force them (if they move to that space) to allow you to earn energy from the bank, which helps you!
- Doubling back isn’t the worst. It might be the only thing useful for you to do on certain turns, depending on the configuration of the board (or if you use Senators to build bases more quickly than just hitting the Construct module every time you’re bored. It’s unlikely that the board tiles will be laid out in a perfectly pleasing organization, so doubling back every now and then might be the only thing you can do to accomplish your goals.
- Place a bunch of ships. They go back to your Supply when you build bases, so it’s fine. Plus, you can use the Relocate action to prep yourself another Construct Action, which is a pretty easy way to earn points (once you activate). A lot of players get psyched out during their first game because they think ships are a lot more precious than they actually are.
- Watch out for the end of the game. If you suspect it’s coming, using a Senator to get a final Pledge would be particularly helpful (as a bonus, especially if you can steal the chits from other players). If you can’t make that work, just hustle to Activate or Recruit something to get a few more points before the game ends on you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is super good. I absolutely love the box art and the art on the rondel. The planets look incredible. I’m really excited to see how the ships and motherships end up, too.
- I really enjoy games where you move in circles. There’s something fundamentally very peaceful about that. I do appreciate that in this one, you can also reverse your course and go backwards, if you want to, for a price. It makes me feel like I have even more control over my boat than I do in, say, Sol: Last Days of a Star.
- The modular board is pretty cool, also. I love modular boards! As I’ll say elsewhere in the review, I’m hoping that these aren’t the only modules, but I’ll be fascinated to see how they end up extending the existing concept if they do decide to make additional content for the game.
- Once you’re familiar with it, it doesn’t take too long to play. It may take a few games to really achieve that comfort, but after 3, I feel like I understand how to play pretty well.
- I also really like space games. It’s just such a fun theme, always, for me, and occasionally it’s super colorful. Thankfully, this is definitely one of the “colorful space” times.
- Final Scoring is very easy. You just add up all the chits and then 3 Energy = 1 Point. it’s nice when things are straightforward like that.
- Setup is a tiny bit complicated. There are lots of things that rely on other pieces of information or need to happen first, and it feels like it could use additional streamlining. You have to shuffle the Senators twice, choose player order, choose where your extra ship goes, reverse player order to choose the Mothership starting locations, then put the Senators in their places, and I only remember that because I’m looking at the rules right now. Even for a game that’s slightly longer than a light game, it’s worth focusing on making the game’s setup as simple as humanly possible.
- Currently, the motherships are way too big. I’m giving this a Meh because I think that’s more of a Game Crafter thing than a “this is the final version” thing. Having the motherships be large enough that they need to be stacked means that you’re spending a decent bit of time just shifting them around, which is annoying. I’m assuming that will be changed for the final version, but it’s worth mentioning anyways.
- I’m hoping that the modular board means that we’ll see other potential special actions emerge. I think I’d really like it if there were variations along the lines of actions you could take. It adds expansion potential, and also makes the game more variable, as those actions exist in conversation with each other (and collectively inform the gameplay). As it stands, these six are a good mix, but I’m not positive how they’ll hold up to long-term play. They feel a bit basic, and I’d love some advanced options that are more challenging to use (but potentially award better payoffs).
- There are a few instances where paths evolve that all players might end up on, making the game feel a bit mechanical. For instance, the “Relocate -> Construct -> Activate” loop is pretty strong, as is the “Recruit -> Pledge” loop. If those all happen to be in clockwise order, you’ll likely find players not changing direction all that often (as happened in two of my games). The worst outcome of this is that all players will end up on the same path (or worse, same space) without really any variation in the turns.
- At higher player counts, the board becomes pretty dense. It’s often got enough ships that it becomes hard to track who has control of which locations without having to get in there, which can slow the game down. For new players, that amount of visual information is often a bit overwhelming. This may also be a problem that can be solved by unique ship shapes for each player, but it often leads to players correcting a turn because they noticed that a different player had the majority (because they missed a base) or something, which can be frustrating (especially if you were working on a multi-turn strategy which this now messes up completely). It almost makes me wish that the board were more pieces (maybe 7 – 9 at higher player counts) so that there weren’t as many tokens on each individual piece.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I’ve had fun with Sovereign Skies! This is one of those places that I get a bit confused by Kickstarter games, though. The core is interesting, but it makes me want to see expansion content to change up actions or add more interactions to keep the gameplay variable, and I’m not sure if that’s on the roadmap or not. If it is, awesome! Looking forward to it. If it’s not, well, that’s okay, too. Either way, this game’s got a fair bit going for it, especially in the art department. It’s lighter than the other “move ships in a circle” game that I’ve played, Sol: Last Days of a Star, but I think I like Sol’s depth for what it’s trying to do. That one focuses much more on building paths rather than area control, anyways, and this one’s got the area control part down pretty well. I do appreciate how you have to gradually upgrade your stuff to stay competitive, but it can start to feel repetitive if you get into a groove and just kinda keep executing that pattern for the rest of the game. I’d even appreciate something that causes the planet orderings to be switched around, to keep that from happening, but I’m not sure what that would do to the game proper. I think that this game does take a full play or so to “get”, as everyone I played with noted that they better understood the game after playing it once and seeing how everything ended up shaking out, so make sure to keep that in mind, as well. That also tracks with me, as I generally enjoyed the game more as I played through it. Either way, if you’re looking for a game of orbiting, influencing, and politicking, Sovereign Skies might be for you!