It’d be pretty easy to just compare Battle for Sularia – from designers Jesse Bergman and John Kimmel, and publisher Punch-It Entertainment – to Magic: The Gathering (only it’s all spacy and futuristic) and call it a day, honestly. I mean I could do that, but it would be doing Sularia a disservice by ignoring a few key differences that make the gameplay unique. Plus it’d be really of lazy of me, and the review would be pretty short.
The one-sentence summary is that Battle for Sularia is a 2-player head-to-head card battle game featuring a cool sci-fi theme and constructed decks. You play cards to generate resources (referred to as “sularium”) that are needed to play better cards, generate more resources and play even better cards, and trade blows with your opponent in an attempt to wipe out their defenders or take them out directly. Sularia also uses a few recognizable terminology and special card abilities – such as flying attackers being able to bypass defenders, unless a defender has a specific skill. I really don’t intend on making this an “It’s like Magic, but” review, though. I mean the similarities are there, and I wanted to get them out of the way, but there are a fair few differences that I think make for an interesting card battler.
Diana: None of those words mean anything to me. They also make things sound complicated.
Rob: I know, but it’s the sort of comparison that anyone who’s ever played Magic is bound to make and I just wanted to get it out of the way.
Diana: I’m going to have a hard time with this one, aren’t I?
Rob: I promise it’ll be easier than Bios Megafauna.
Diana: That doesn’t fill me with confidence…
The most interesting mechanic for me has to be the idea of Influence. Influence is generated by playing a card from your hand face-down. It can be any kind of card, but you have to play one every turn no matter what. This intrigues me because one way to lose a game of Sularia is to run out of cards, and being required to spend at least one every single turn means you can’t just turtle and hope for the best. It’s also kind of neat because the number of Influence cards you have will determine how much Influence you can spend on a given turn in order to play other cards that will generate the resources you need to put out Combatants (i.e. the kinds of cards you need in order to take out your opponent).
What’s more, you can also flip over one of these cards during your turn to activate it. So if, for example, you played a resource-generating “site” card to your Influence zone/row/whatever and then revealed it on a later turn, you’d be able to pay the influence to activate it and move it to your Site area – with the trade-off being that you have to remove the revealed Site from your Influence area, thus reducing your influence by one. Then there are other cards that actually remain in the Influence row once revealed, continually giving you bonuses or other beneficial stuff until they’re destroyed (if they’re able to be destroyed). The whole idea of Influence creates a really interesting dynamic.
Diana: All that Influence stuff kept giving me problems. It’s like there are two different kinds of resources we have to keep track of, and we can only spend certain ones on certain things. It felt unnecessarily complicated.
Rob: Granted, I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone who’s at least somewhat familiar with games like it, but I can see where you’re coming from. Having to keep track of Influence for placing sites and Sularium for hiring combatants does seem like the kind of thing that might be tough for newcomers to get used to.
Rob: When you put it like that, not really. But go find your own review!
Another interesting element is how damage is handled. Unlike other similar card games, any damage dealt that exceeds a defender’s health/defensive power is carried over. This means that a powerful enough attack could destroy a defender and the site they’re protecting. It also means that excess damage can carry over to your opponent. It’s not a special card ability or anything – it just happens. In addition to this, players also take damage equal to a destroyed Site’s Influence cost. It’s a system that encourages more aggressive play, and keeps the average game from running too long. I can appreciate that.
I was honestly surprised to find myself enjoying Sularia’s approach to a fairly classic card battling system. There was strategy in using various cards together and building up a bunch of resource generators, but the limitations imposed by Influence and the ever-present threat of running out of cards added an enjoyable extra layer to it all.
There are still points of contention, though, to be sure. The rules as written in the book aren’t entirely clear on certain rather important things, for example. An extended set of rules is available online, but I’m not really a fan of having to look things up anywhere but in the instructions when I’m trying to learn a new game. The lack of counters is also disappointing, seeing as the game relies so heavily on them for tracking health, influence, sularium, and card abilities. I get that it saves on costs but having to dig out random stuff to use as counters still stinks. We also had an unfortunate mishap in one of our plays where some bad luck shuffling resulted in one player getting hand after hand of high-cost cards that couldn’t be played – thus making it all but impossible for them to get up to speed, but of course that’s sometimes just the way the cards get dealt (literally). And, as you might have already guessed, the actual strategies of the various cards feel pretty familiar to similar games of this type.
None of this means that I think Battle for Sularia is a bad game, though. Stuff like the push and pull of using Influence, the emphasis on aggression, and the way you need to be mindful of the number of cards you play – lest you run out and lose, or end up with an extremely tiny and unhelpful hand – go a long way in making it an exciting, interesting constructed deck card game. It’s a good game that will most likely appeal to fans of the genre, though I’m not so sure it will pry them away from what they’re already playing.
Thank you to Punch-It Entertainment for providing us our copy of Battle for Sularia to review. Their generosity didn’t influence our opinions…nor did it let us spend that influence to put out any cards.