Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Solium Infernum Beginner's Guide (Part Two: Creating A Game)

If you haven't downloaded the demo, please do so here, and start with part one of this guide here.

Today, we'll create a new game in Solium Infernum and discuss how the different setup options affect gameplay. So from the opening menu, go Single Player/Normal Game/New Game. When you do, you'll see this screen:

Like everything else in Solium Infernum (and this is what makes the game so good), every decision you make on this screen is going to signicantly affect your strategy during the game.

Let's start with map size. Choosing a small map gives you a 12x12 hex playing field. Normal is 14x12. A large map is 16x12. Those differences might not sound like much, but a large map has 48 more hexes (33%) than a small map, which is substantial.

Here's a good example of how game options make the game play very differently. On a large map, with a small number of opponents, you'll be able to claim a sizable number of cantons over the course of several turns before you reach an opponent's border. On a small map, with the maximum number of opponents (five), your borders might be only two or three hexes from your place of power.

Why does this matter? Let's look at some of the unique elements of the small map:
--the fewer hexes you control, the fewer Places Of Power you'll have inside your borders. If you control a Place Of Power (they must be conquered), you get a prestige bonus on every turn. Controlling a few Places Of Power early and gaining the prestige bonus for the rest of the game is often the difference between winning and losing.
--at the end of the game, you're given a one-time bonus of +1 for each hex you control.
--you need fewer legions to maintain strong control of your borders.
--combat is much more likely, because in many cases, a few players will be in such a desperate position in regards to prestige that they will be forced to attack.
--combat is also much more likely to involve Places Of Power or Legions instead of just occupying Cantons (empty hexes).
--turtling is much less effective. There's almost no way to hide from other players for the course of the game and still win.

That's the kind of effect that changing map size can have on the game, and like I said, it's indicative of how differently the game can play depending on how it's set up, and why it's so engaging.

My goal in setting up a game of SI is to maximize potential chaos--this is, after all, Hell. So I always choose a small map and the highest number of opponents, because far more disruptive events events seem to happen when opponents are more concentrated.

Map Type is next, and you can choose from four: Great Rivers, Acheron's Locks, Dante's Peaks, The Lake Of Fire. Here are Vic's comments on how the maps affect play:
The Acheron's Lochs compartmentalizes the map so that you have more choke points and can block yourself off from your opponents more easily. The Great Rivers is bounded by the rivers, but the interior is very open, so you get the illusion of having a flank secured (but it's not always). The Dante's Peak map uses the chasms to channel conflict. The Palace on the Lake of Fire map has the special Place Of Power, but the terrain besides the lake is pretty open.

It's another good example of every setup option changing game strategy. Let's go with Great Rivers, just so we can move on.

Places Of Power has four potential settings: none, rare, uncommon, and common (uncommon is the default). They are landmarks on the map, and each one you control gives various bonuses, so they are highly desirable. They also have defenses, and the better the bonuses, the stiffer the defense.

Places Of Power also, critically, also give Prestige bonuses, and even better, you get this bonus on every turn that you control the PoP. Since having the highest Prestige at the end of the game is generally how the game will be won, that means controlling PoP is a critical part of a successful strategy.

More frequent PoP means that that controlling them will potentially play a larger role as a game evolves. I like the "Uncommon" setting, because on a small map, that usually means each player will have 1-2 PoP inside their borders. If you want to control more than that, you have to start kicking some doors down--but politely, as we'll discuss later.

The next option is Game Length, and (I'm a broken record in Hell, aren't I?) different game lengths greatly affect your strategy.

The basic concept of game length is that it revolves around the drawing of "Conclave Tokens," which happen with enough variability that you never know exactly when a game will end. There is also a special event a player may control that can force the drawing of a Conclave Token. The number of tokens that have already been drawn is shown on the game screen, so you can get a general idea for the game's progress without knowing exactly how many turns are left. Here's the length breakdown:
Short: 10 Tokens
Normal: 15 Tokens
Long: 20 Tokens
Epic: 25 Tokens

I'd give you an idea (in hours) of how long these various-length games last, but I don't know--I get so involved when I'm playing the game that I totally forget about time. I do know, though, that I play a Short game much differently than a Long game, as certain strategies (like starting off with very low Avatar attributes and improving them through the course of the game) are much less effective in Short games.

Let's choose Long length, just for the purposes of this guide. That's generally my favorite game length, because I think it makes the widest range of strategies viable.

The avatar you created should be used in the "Select An Arch Fiend Avatar" box. Just click on the wax seal (very cool) and you'll see a list of avatars that you've created.

When it comes to selecting opponents, following the maximum chaos theory, I always choose to have a full slate (five). However, when first learning the game, it can be useful to limit the number of opponents to make it easier to follow the flow of play. Click on the wax seal and either select a specific Arch Fiend or choose "Random" for each opponent you want to include.

One way that I think the game could improve would be for the individual Arch Fiends to have more readily distinguishable personalities. I haven't been able to identify unique styles with individual Arch Fiends, which would be very entertaining.

When you finish selecting your opponents, just hit the "Start Game" button. The game world will be created and the game will begin. That's where we'll start tomorrow.

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