Base price: $22.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 15 – 30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3
Full disclosure: A review copy of Distant Suns was provided by Flat River Games.
Last week was my birthday, so I took the now-rare Full Day Off. No work of any kind, just relaxing, hanging out, watching shows, and ordering the donuts I wanted. I’m writing this a few days before the exact date, so I haven’t actually done any of that yet, but the thought of it sounds pleasant. Either way, to get there, I need to get a few more reviews done so that I don’t fall behind before the end of the month, so let’s get to it! Next up is Distant Suns, a new “choose-and-write” from IELLO. Let’s see how it plays!
In Distant Suns, you are a bold explorer heading into the last great unknown: deep space! With the power of faster-than-light travel, you can now chart the endless expanse and see what remains to be seen out there! From worlds on the edge of space to new (and potentially unfriendly) aliens to treasures beyond your wildest comprehension, there’s a whole lot waiting just beyond the edge of what you know, so all the more reason to get there! Just watch out for the occasional black hole, you know?
First thing is setting up the Mission Control Board:
Next, shuffle the Exploration Zone tiles, placing five in the center five spaces on the board:
The Mission tiles should be split into blue and purple; shuffle one set, placing the five tiles in the zones of the same color on the Mission Control Board. Match the Mission tiles on the other side in the alternate color. There’s no difference between these; they’re just on opposite sides of the board to make it easy for players to see what the Missions are from both sides of the board.
Finally, place the Modules in a stack (1 on top; 5 on the bottom). They don’t need to have the same side up, but that will matter during gameplay; more on that later.
Each player should get a player sheet:
You can also set the matching shape tiles near the board, to help players out:
You’re ready to start!
A game of Distant Suns takes place over three rounds, as players attempt to make their mark on the wide cosmos. Each round has four or five turns, depending on how players place modules on their turn. Let’s dive into it.
To start, the active player takes the lowest unused Module and places it above or below the Mission Control board so that the two triangles on the module are in two adjacent triangle-shaped notches on the board. What you choose is important, though! The circle module points to what shape you will draw, and the octagon module points to the shape your opponents will draw. You can flip over the Module, which may afford you more flexibility. There’s also always one additional notch on the board, pointing to the black hole. More on that later. If you cannot place a Module because there are no more available or no room, the round ends.
Otherwise, now players draw hexagons on their board in the corresponding shape! The active player always draws the shape indicated by the blue circle, and the other players draw the shape indicated by the orange octagon. All players must draw the illustration inside of the shape, as well. It matters for scoring. Like many games, shapes must be placed next to any previously-drawn shape (so that they share at least one edge). On the first turn, you may start your shape in any of the three empty spaces on the bottom-left of the player sheet. You cannot go off the edge of the map or cover any yellow Treasure spaces, but otherwise you can draw over other things on the board (and probably should!). If you cannot fit a shape on your board, you do not draw anything. There are a few interesting things that can happen, as well:
- Outer Worlds: If you draw a shape next to one of the other three corners of the board, you score an Outer World! If you’re the first to draw next to that world, you gain the larger number of points and all subsequent players get the smaller number. If you’re not you get the smaller number. If multiple players get to the Outer World on the same turn, they all get the larger number.
- Upgrades: Upgrades are claimed when you draw a shape over the Upgrade space. You fill one of the circles on the top-right of your board. On a subsequent turn, you may spend one or more upgrades to draw one fewer hexagon per upgrade in your shape. You can use up to two Upgrades in one turn (and cannot split your shape into two shapes).
At the end of the round, play continues with the next active player! Take the Modules off the Mission Control Board and stack them. After three rounds, the game ends! Players then score. Each Mission has different scoring criteria:
- Black Holes: This Mission scores each time the indicated shape covers a space next to a black hole.
- Treasures: This Mission scores each time a Treasure space has the indicated shape in an adjacent space. Note that this counts per unique Treasure space, so multiple shapes of the same type near a Treasure only count once.
- Upgrades / Aliens: These Missions score each time the indicated space is covered by the indicated shape.
- Cluster: This Mission scores for each time the indicated shape appears in your biggest group of the same shape.
You get more points the more times you fulfill a Mission (3 / 6 / 10 / 15 / 20 / +5 for 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6+ instances). You also get a bonus 10 points for completely surrounding a Treasure space. Add in your points from Outer Worlds, subtract 5 points for each uncovered Alien space, and total your points. The players with the most points win!
Player Count Differences
Strangely, there’s not really much in the way of scaling around player count. You simply take turns placing the Modules that determine who draws what, and there will always be four or five Modules placed per round. This means you’ll place 12 – 15 Modules over the course of the game. This doesn’t really change with any player count, though, so this means you may end up just never getting to place the first Module of the round, depending on how things shake out. It’s not, strictly speaking, the worst thing, just an odd eccentricity of the game. Scores at higher player counts will tend to be a bit lower, as well, just because you have fewer chances to get your pick of the Modules (and there’s a higher likelihood that another player will beat you to some of the Outer Worlds, meaning you get fewer points for those, as well). Beyond that, the game fundamentally plays the same regardless of player count, so no huge preference. The lowered points generally apply to everyone equally, so I’d happily play this at any player count.
- Outpacing the other players to the various Outer Worlds can be a pretty good strategy, though they tend to catch on after the first one that that’s what you’re going for. It’s pretty obvious as soon as one player announces that they’ve reached an Outer World what their plan is, and as a result, most of the other players pretty quickly mobilize to take one of the other options. It’s tough (outside of a two-player game) to be the first to grab two, so you might want to just shoot for the far one (and the 15 points). Either way, though, once one player announces they got one, it really turns into a free-for-all.
- Upgrades are just generally useful, so even if you can’t align getting an Upgrade with the scoring bonus, you should grab them. While you are making your play area a bit smaller, you can fit those upgraded pieces into more places, which can help you fully surround Treasure spaces or get the right piece in the right place to score even more points. I generally find them useful, especially as the end of the game approaches.
- Keep in mind that there are generally larger and generally smaller pieces, so you may end up with less of the board covered by default (which will consequently reduce everyone’s score). That’s not so much strategy as it is something to know: beyond the standard Black Hole, the tiles range in size from three to five spaces, so certain games will just naturally be higher-scoring (trending towards larger tiles) or lower-scoring (tending towards smaller tiles). This means that you shouldn’t expect to get the same score between games, as a result. Keep that in mind so you also know how to plan ahead; you may not be able to rely on big tiles to cover gaps, or you might have to use more Upgrades to fit everything where you want.
- Keep in mind that you must assign yourself and opponents shapes, so you might end up giving them something useful. Try to avoid that. There’s not much you can do about it, practically, since you do have to give every player a shape to draw, but you might at least be able to give them something that’s not immediately useful right now? It’s hard to say, honestly. Try to get a sense of what your opponents are pursuing and then try to give them something … else. When all else fails, it’s generally fine to just give them a Black Hole.
- Black Holes are a great thing to give your opponents when you want to just mess with them, but keep in mind that those are the biggest features (which will cover more of their board) and they can place one shape next to Black Holes to score points. If you keep giving your opponents Black Holes, they’ll eventually figure out a way to make them useful. Instead, try to be strategic about what you give other players and when. You won’t always be the player in charge, anyways!
- Try to stay flexible; having too transparent and straightforward of a strategy means that your opponents can thwart it pretty easily. This is very much a game of flexibility, to be fair; you need to constantly be on your toes and trying new things in pursuit of a larger scoring strategy, otherwise your opponents can deny you by just giving you something inconvenient.
- Similarly, keep an eye on what your opponents are doing. This is just generally a good idea for games, to be fair; having a good sense of what your opponents need, want, and pursue can tell you what things to go after quickly, what things you can leave until later, and, in this case, what Outer Worlds aren’t really high-priority for other players. You might be able to score a few more points with some careful observation!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love a space-themed game. It’s probably my favorite “serious” theme for a game, in terms of the general theme options. I vastly prefer sci-fi to fantasy (with a few exceptions), so a cool game about exploring space is almost always going to get my attention over a fantasy game, thematically.
- Plays pretty quickly, which is always nice. This one can be done in under 30 minutes if everyone knows how to play, which is nice, given that it’s a bit more complex than, say, your Yahtzee or your Bravo! or Qwinto. That reminds me; I should play Qwinto again soon; what a good game. But yes, relatively quick game.
- Portable, too, though the additional components are something to be mindful of. The thing that can really trip you up here are the tiles and the module tokens; you don’t want to lose any of those if you can avoid it. If you take the box as-is, though, it’s still a relatively small game, which works pretty well in its favor.
- It’s not quite a roll-and-write or a flip-and-write, but it does have a nice amount of interactivity, which I was pleasantly surprised by. I guess the practical term here is a choose-and-write, which feels like we’re starting to stretch the concept a bit? I’m not particularly taxonomically-opposed to the term, though it’s a bit silly. I like how you can control what other players add to their boards each round, though, and I particularly like the adjacency of it. It makes you think a bit on your feet as you’re choosing and adds some weight to your choice. Is it really worth giving yourself something good if everyone else gets something good as well? Or do you want to lean towards something nonoptimal for you and hope that it gives all the other players something not useful, either?
- In general, games where you have to draw symbols or shapes are very fun. I like that this one has you draw the symbols inside of the shapes, as well, so that you can easily remember what you’ve done (even if you’ve used Upgrades to mess with the size). It makes scoring the game actually pretty easy?
- This seems like a pretty easy game to expand, which is nice. You could get away with just adding more shapes and already be pretty good; a more ambitious expansion could add more sheets, more tiles, and some new rules about how the tiles interact. I’d love to see it, but who knows with these games if anyone’s going to go through and add more. It would be a pleasant surprise.
- Vincent Dutrait’s artwork really shines here, as well. The cover is striking; I like it quite a bit. There are a few board game artists that just do well with space, and Vincent Dutrait is certainly one of them.
- The modularity is nice; keeps things interesting without being too predictable. I like that the game changes pretty significantly from game to game. Just enough consistency that you’re not learning new rules every time, with just enough novelty that you’re trying new strategies. That’s a nice, happy medium, and Distant Suns hits that target pretty well.
- I find the ability to just mess up the placement of the Modules so that the round is only four turns kind of amusing. It makes me laugh and feels … sub-optimal? Like it really does mess up the round for everyone if you only get to place four shapes instead of five. I suppose you could try to factor that into a strategy and try to make the big upset at the end that you prematurely end the game, but geez, that’s annoying.
- It would be nice to have a way to track how many rounds have been played; I’m surprised there isn’t one. I’ve played a few games lately that have multiple rounds but no round tracker, which is kind of odd. I suppose it just got overlooked (or players would be able to keep track of the rounds themselves?). It just seems like the kind of thing that would end up on a player sheet of some kind.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I really enjoyed Distant Suns! I don’t think I’ve played much in the “choose-and-write” genre, so it was pretty nice to have something to try out here. Distant Suns also got me on both theme and art, so it was easy to get hooked and stay invested through the game. Drawing shapes is a lot of fun, and drawing them towards a strategic purpose was entertaining (and challenging). I particularly like that Distant Suns manages to (mostly) avoid the now-somewhat-tired trope of the only interactivity in the “-and-write” genre being racing towards a goal. It still has that, but I think there’s enough clear interactivity in the core of the game that the racing element isn’t the only thing it’s got going on. It’s worth mentioning here, actually; each round, since you choose what shape you draw and which adjacent shape your opponents draw, you can start considering the strategy of what’s best for you or what’s less good for your opponents, which actually forces me as a player to look at other players’ boards and think a bit more critically. I like that! It feels smart. That said, you can’t ever completely clown another player; you might just force them to delay a big play or large scoring move or settle for fewer points. It’s nice in that it rarely feels zero-sum, even though you’re playing adversarially against other players. I also enjoy Distant Suns’s modularity; I like that there are a variety of different shapes available each game and the Mission Tiles get randomized so that you always have new choices when it comes to how the modules are placed. It’s a nice innovation in the genre, and it makes me hope that this isn’t the only thing we see from Distant Suns. I’d love to see more shapes, more modules, or more complex sheets, and hopefully that’s in the cards for the future. Plus, if they make more sheets, they could include a round tracker or something; it still strikes me as odd that even though the game is three rounds, there’s no place to track the current round in the game. Weird. Either way, if you’re a fan of the roll-and-write (and adjacent) genre, you love a space game, or you’re looking for something a bit modular but also pretty quick to play, I’d recommend Distant Suns! I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!