Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why you should probably get Solium Infernum

Solium Inferum is a turn based strategy game produced by Cryptic Comet, a one man indie outfit. It is seriously addictive and the more you play of it, the more you appreciate the beauty of the design. Every little thing is connected to seemingly everything else, nothing is without its caveats and no decision is straight forward.

The basic premise of the game is that you are in Hell, the devil has gone away and someone needs to rule. You and up to 5 other archfiends must compete to build up prestige prestige through insults, demands, vendettas, surprises and general nastiness. The winner is the person with the most prestige when the game ends. Unless someone storms the capital of hell and holds it for 5 turns. (I told you everything had a caveat)

First off, I'll mention some of the things that are drastically different from any game I've played. Firstly, you can only do two things per turn. Unless you capture certain places or buy certain things (Getting the idea? Always with the caveats). This includes gathering resources, purchasing new units, initiating diplomatic actions and of course, moving and fighting. This means that for every thing you choose to do, there are countless other things that you would quite like to do. As a result, every decision requires deep thinking and planning.

Another really noteworthy feature is the diplomacy. As the game is set in hell, everything is very cut-throat. However, it is also heavily regulated. You cannot simply march in to someone else's territory and claim it as your own (yup, you guessed it, another caveat: unless you have played a specific event that means they are excommunicated from the council). You must either make a demand or insult them. If you make a demand, then they can either refuse, at which point you can declare war. However, they can just concede to the demand, and there is nothing you can do and you must wait a couple of turns before you can make another demand. If you insult them, the ball is in their court, they can either accept the insult or refuse it and then they can choose the terms of the vendetta.

Even the vendetta is not as simple as it sounds. You can choose a straight vendetta, where you then set your objective (capture X hexes, destroy X legions or capture X places of power). However, you can also challenge them to one on one combat. One of the things you can bid on at the market (yes, you can't buy anything, it is all a massive auction open to all players with only one of each unit, relic, manuscript etc.) is a hero unit called a Praetor. These can be attached to your legions to make them powerful or used in one on one combat. This means you can have no army, no adjoining borders and still crush the opponent. As the game is a battle for prestige rather than territory, the fact that you won't capture any territory is not an issue.

Now no doubt you found all that very confusing. That is because there is too much for me to explain in a single post. Instead, what I hoped to have done was revealed the strategic depth that this game has. It is not without its flaws. The AI is not very challenging at the moment (although it has already had improvements since the game came out last week!) and the multiplayer is limited to Play be Email, which is OK, but a bit of hassle. It also has no in game tutorial, few hotkeys and even fewer tooltips which makes learning the game a pain.

Having said that and despite what everyone else is saying, I didn't actually find the game that difficult to get the basics down. Unlike Hearts of Iron 3, where I felt simply overwhelmed by everything I didn't understand, this game allowed me to introduce myself to new concepts when I felt ready. Sure, some things are weird and very different from many other games. However, the games theme is so interesting and so effectively spread throughout the whole game, from the flavour text to the artwork, the names and places, that it is a real joy to spend time in the game learning things. At the very least you should download the demo, it runs under Windows and Linux. Vic, the developer, has said he trying to get a Mac version out, but can't guarantee it.

So please, go ahead, download the demo. I might try to do a beginners guide to it at some point, but I want to feel like I understand everything before I try to do that.

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