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Solium Infernum – The Verdict

Solium Infernum – The Verdict

Solium Infernum is a new turn based strategy game from Vic Davis of Cryptic Comet, the brain behind the excellent Armageddon Empires. When I say new, I mean it in the sense that, trust me, you haven’t played a strategy game quite like this before.

Satan has vanished leaving the throne to Hell empty. It is your ambition, as one of the many Princes, Dukes and general denizens of underworld, to take the throne for yourself. To do this you will have to lie, cheat, steal, deceive and bully your opponents until you have enough Prestige to impress the all-powerful Infernal Conclave.

Here’s the rub: Hell has it’s own rules, it’s own morbid beaurocracy and a general code of conduct to which all demons of the underworld are expected to adhere. You can’t just declare war on an Archfiend who’s in your way and invade their lands without a good and proper excuse. So it’s a game of goading your foes, making demands you know they can’t meet and then using their refusal to comply as an excuse enough to declare a Vendetta.

It’s not quite as simple as that though, nothing ever is in Solium Infernum. There’s always another layer of strategy to be considered. It’s hard to ever truly know what another player is up to and there are many ways for your enemy to take your declaration of Vendetta and turn it against you, making you look foolish in front of the Infernal Conclave and losing you Prestige. This makes every encounter with your enemy a tense and fascinating exchange.

Much of the tension stems from the fact that you can only give two orders each turn. An order includes bidding on a Legion in the Infernal Bazaar, creating a Combat Card to buff a Legion, moving a Legion on the game board, casting a Ritual or even collecting resources from your minions. Being restricted in this way gives rise to an endless amount of internal debate. I need more resources to bid on a powerful Relic in the Infernal Bazaar, but I need to move my Darkwing Legion to take a place of power before Beelzebub nabs it for himself. I’m also concerned that another Archfiend is becoming a little too rich for my liking and I want to play an Event card to raise the minimum cost of all items in the Infernal Bazaar, discouraging a spending spree that might see his Military become unstoppable. Alternatively I could bully a weaker Archfiend, taking his resources and gaining Prestige at the same time. There’s so much that needs to be done, and I have to choose. Making the wrong decision can prove costly.

This is especially true in Multiplayer. You can play Solium with friends (who won’t be friends for long), by email. It’s a bit of a faff to get it working, particularly for the host who has to amalgamate all of the player’s files at the end of each turn, but if you get past that irritation there’s a superb multiplayer experience to be had. The AI works perfectly well, but isn’t a patch on a human opponent, especially one you think you know. There are many ways to gain Prestige, many ways to win the throne to Hell. Human opponents are innately more devious and unpredictable, able to use the game’s systems to create an emotional response. Having a more powerful human Archfiend demand that you hand over resources will make you angry. Knowing that you aren’t powerful enough to risk a Vendetta with that person and having to hand over those resources, that’s humiliating. But then that just makes your eventual revenge all the sweeter. Add some humans to the mix and it all gets that bit more intense. It gets personal.

All this complexity can mean that, to begin with, Solium is a confusing and slightly overwhelming game. This is the first time in many years that I’ve had to read a game manual. That pdf file tucked away in the game files is absolutely essential reading and it should be more easily accessible for new players. Even with the manual a basic tutorial or pop up help tips to introduce the player to each screen would go a long way to easing any initial frustration. It’s a testament to Solium’s originality that it needs to teach you so many new concepts, but it could definitely help the player out a little more from the get go.

Once you’ve got to grip with the mechanics Solium feels distinctly like a board game, albeit one that would have too many bits and pieces to really work as a physical product. There’s something pleasingly tactile about shuffling your resource cards around and moving your Legion tokens across the game board. There’s some great artwork, too, remeniscent of images you’d see adorning a deck of cards from Wizards of the Coast. After a while though you’ll be so focused on your grand strategy that you’ll barely notice the interface but for the essential number values that denote the effectiveness of a Legion or the competence of a Relic. It’s one of those games that will suck you in and have you falling for the age old ‘just one more turn’ schtick.

If Machiavelli were alive today, he would tell you to play Solium Infernum. As he’s probably conning Lucifer out of his throne as we speak, it’s left to me to deliver a verdict. I’ve given three vials of Ichor and a pillar of Flame to the Infernal Reviewing Machine of The Reticule and it’s still chewing quite happily on what’s left of my soul. It hath decreed, by the black fires of eternal damnation, that Solium Infernum is devilishly good.

Plotting to become Master of the Universe? Use Solium Infernum as practice.
The Magic Number – The Cost of Gaming

The Magic Number – The Cost of Gaming

Doller Coin big!

With certain new games set for release at ever higher prices, while others (such as Men of War) have a distinctly lower price point and regular sales, it seems time (as ever, I suppose though) to think about what games should cost. Rather than blathering on in an opinionated fashion, I did a little survey, firing off a short list of questions to a section of The Reticule’s eminent friends in development to see what they thought about it.

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I can’t wait for… Solium Infernum

I can’t wait for… Solium Infernum

It’s a Machiavellian style politics and strategy game set in Milton’s picture of Hell. Oh my. I think we knew Vic Davis’ next game would be good, given how excellent the last, Armageddon Empire’s was. Solium Infernum looks set to improve on what made that great, but also more importantly, deliver a totally unique game play experience if all goes to plan. But what is it exactly? I’ve set about here to put together the information released in blogs and interviews (such as our own here) to give a little preview for all those foolish enough to resist subscribing to Vic’s Blog.

The Prince of Darkness has gone for a well deserved rest, and his minions refuse to sit still. The underworld has been neatly divided into cantons/hexes, and it’s up to you to sieze ultimate power one turn at a time, using and abusing your card hand to face down your opponents . So far, so very Armageddon Empires. But this, it seems, is where similarities end. Where before, your starting position was governed by the hand you build, in Solium Infernum you start off by choosing your Archfiend Avatar, and customising his stats and perks to gain an advantage should you choose wisely.arch-fiend

Unit cards, the aptly named Legions are now gained by bidding every turn in the “Infernal Bazaar”; the agora of the Damned and the marketplace of the malevolent. But this time, you can’t simply just put together your “ultimate force” of 9 incredible cards and go on a claiming spree. You need legitmacy. And this is where diplomacy comes in; there’s a loose order of things in the plane of Hell, and you effectively  have to goad your opponents into a state of war via the means of the Conclave; the council of archfiends who you must gain prestige and supremacy over in order to be chosen the new Prince of Darkness when it convenes. This is achieved via the means of hurling abuse, making claims, and generally being an argumentative arse hole. You have to undermine your opponents via any means necessary, and force the vendetta.

At this point, you can seize territory and reduce your opponent via a number of means. First, and probably least subtle, your minions, led by a Praetor can march on the enemy’s lands and fight it out. Second, you can use Rituals Destruction to rain fire and brimstone on their lands and legions. Finally, and excitingly, you can challenge them to a one on one duel between two Praetors who act as champions for your honour. The number of options available should make for a manifold array of strategy, meaning you don’t necessarily have to invest in vast legions, instead focusing on diplomacy, fire from the sky or a brute in the arena or two. When the dust settles, the loser will lie broken and battered and the winner will occupy a larger slice of the Infernal Pit.

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Those are more or less the basics of the game. You play your cards in order to build or shatter diplomatic ties, provoke Vendettas, and then denigrate your unfitting opponents in battle or the arena. But there’s so much more to it, since there’s so many different strategies available. Take for example, the Blood Tie where you can petition an opponent to become his Blood Vassal, should you be reduced to great to remain an independent power. At this point you can’t win, but will come second if he does. At least that’s how it may seem – as a Blood Vassal, you can potentially earn the perk “The Power Behind the Throne”, effectively meaning you win if your Blood Lord does.  Another interesting feature is the Excommunication. Occasionally, and supposedly rarely, an Archfiend can be deprived of his place on the Conclave with all its benefits, such as having your turn at being the Regent, while all your opponents turn on you. All for a little attempted invasion of the neutral city, Pandemonium in order to win the game… Essentially, what all this means is there is a huge number of methods of winning. You can brute force your way through, or carefully poke and prod diplomatic affairs to victory. Alternatively you can pretend to be someones bitch while in reality you’re wispering in their ear, calling the shots. Ultimate victory is never a sure thing, and you’d best be sure you’ve got a good enough hand before you play it. Even that is no guarantee that someone else isn’t playing you.

Solium Infernum looks set to expand on the excellent Armaggedon Empires in unique and exciting ways. Certainly it holds that same charm of character coupled with complexity of mechanics that will challenge and confuse alike initially, but under the demonic clicking of a skilled Prince will reign supreme. And the best bit? I’m going to be able to kick your pale white demony arse up and down the Abyss over PBEM come late this year. Grab the Prince, summon Virgil to guide you, my legions are champing at the bit! When Dante pays a visit he’ll be entering my infernal realm…

To Reign in Hell… An Interview With Vic Davis

To Reign in Hell… An Interview With Vic Davis

Today under the spotlight, we have Vic Davis, indie game developer extraordinaire, and all around nice guy.  He’s the man responsible for the truly unique and excellent Armageddon Empires, one of the finest turn-based strategy games I think I’ve ever played. Today, he takes some time out of his busy schedule producing the brilliant looking Solium Infernum to answer some of our questions.

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