Sunday, 11 March 2018

Sidereal Confluence

Plays: 6Px1.

The Game

Sidereal Confluence is a complex negotiation game with a sci-fi setting. You are all alien races which have just met one another. You are colonising new planets, developing new technologies. Having met one another, you are now able to trade, and also learn from one another. This game is not about wars and aggressions. It is about interstellar cooperation and shared prosperity. You compete to contribute most to these, and your success is measured by victory points. VP's come from various actions, the most important of which is developing new technologies and sharing them with your friends.

The game is played over 6 rounds. Every interstellar civilisation starts with some planets, some resources and some technologies. Every alien race is very different. There are nine races to choose from, and they play very differently. This is one of the game's strengths. There is a big incentive to trade, because you don't produce enough of what you want, and you produce stuff you don't want which others do. You do get to develop your production and cube conversion abilities, but they likely won't be enough to meet your needs even by game end. Big research projects require a lot of resources of the same type. You need to trade a lot, and hope by cutting good deals you ultimately position yourself to be greatest contributor to intergalactic cooperation.

This is a technology card. Most technologies are conversion powers, converting resources on the left side of the arrow to those on the right side. Input and output. The tiny 5-17 means you are converting resources of roughly 5 value points to resources of 17 value points. The value point system is just a rough guide for players, based on the rarity of resources. The various resources will have different values to different players, under different situations.

This is one of the race cards. It's huge, about A4 size. It describes the race's unique abilities, and even comes with strategy tips. Before a game starts, it is best that everyone gives a short introduction of his race. The race I played was a plant based race. Planets I colonised produced double the resources, but to colonise I needed to spend double the spaceships normally needed.

Top left: Start card of a race, specifying starting resources, techs and planets. Bottom left: Reference card outlining the 3 phases of a round. The right half of the card is a donation area. Sometimes you produce goods which must be given away and cannot be used by yourself. You either trade them away, or if you fail to do so, you donate them. Top right: This is your personal deck of tech cards. Some are start techs. The rest can be developed, or learned from other races. Mostly the latter.

My four start techs. Techs are double-sided, a basic side and an advanced side. These are all on the basic side. At the bottom of each card you can see two ways to flip it to the advanced side. For my particular race, option 1 is to destroy a jungle planet and some resources, turning them into one victory point and another resource. Option 2 (which is the more common way) is to sacrifice another specific tech card. Flipping to the advanced side always gives you a better conversion power, but you need to consider whether the cost is justified.

The common area looks like this. The setup depends on the number of players. The top row consists of planets, and the bottom row the research teams. Every round you bid for these using spaceships, essentially just another currency. When you win (i.e. colonise) a planet, it produces resources for you every round. When you win (i.e. employ) a research team, you earn the exclusive right to develop a new technology. You don't immediately develop the new tech. You still need to give the research team the resources they require before you get the new tech and score.

One important concept in the bidding mechanism is the minimum bid. Each item has a minimum bid, and some are higher than others. If you bid low, there is a risk that the higher bidders (who get to pick earlier) claim items with low minimum bids, leaving behind only items with high minimum bids which you don't qualify for. You not only have to consider bidding high enough so that you get to pick what you really like, you also have to bid high enough so that you reduce the risk of leaving empty handed.

That's my planet on the left. It has a x2 marker, which is unique for my race. This planet produces double the resources.

A round consists of three phases. The first is the trading phase, where everyone engages in trading simultaneously. It is a free-for-all. You can trade resources, spaceships, planets, even promises. Promises are binding in this game. Some special actions are allowed in the trading phase, e.g. upgrading techs, upgrading planets, developing techs. When you do these, the upgraded versions become available to you in the current round, starting from the next phase, which is the economy phase. The economy phase is all about production and conversion. You produce resources to be used in future rounds. The third phase is the confluence phase, in which everyone learns new techs developed by any race in Phase 1. This is also when you bid for planets and research teams. The round structure is pretty straightforward, but execution can be time-consuming because there is a lot to digest, many deals to consider, pros and cons to weigh, and upgrades to plan. Haggling can take time, sometimes going back and forth between potential trade partners, trying to iron out a deal.

The Play

Most victory points come from developing techs. There are two parts to this. You get VP for discovering the tech itself. Simple techs in the early game are worth little, but complex ones later on can be worth a lot. The other part is the VP for sharing a tech. This depends on which round you develop the tech in. The sharing VP is high in the earlier rounds, because it is not easy to have developed techs so early. When you plan your research, you should consider both types of VP's.

Developing techs require a lot of resources, so you must develop your little empire. The hunger for resources keeps increasing and your empire must keep up. You have to decide which planets and techs to upgrade, and which techs you can afford to sacrifice. You will likely have to decide some resource types to specialise in, i.e. to be able to produce or manufacture a large amount of. You try to be self sufficient, producing the raw materials for your factories which will eventually manufacture the end products you want.

The research teams come up mostly randomly. They need different types of resources. You need to adapt to the situation. You must watch what your opponents are specialising in, whether they already have research teams they are committed to, whether they will compete with you for specific resources, planets or new research teams.

Increasing your production and manufacturing capacity, supplementing and supporting them through trading, and eventually completing massive research projects - these are the core of the game.

My race was a vegetable race, and colonisation was particularly challenging. The race card had explicitly advised that I needed to trade for spaceships early to stay in the colonisation race, but somehow I managed to fail doing so. I never had many planets. One unique ability I had was to destroy jungle planets to advance my starting techs. I traded with Allen for jungle planets. He could colonise them easily from a private deck of planets. That was his unique ability. Advancing my starting techs was nice. I earned 1VP each time I did it. However later on I wasn't sure whether it was worthwhile. I had destroyed planets for it, and 1VP seemed measly compared to VP from developing techs. I decided to switch my focus to research projects.

Tim played an unusual race, a nasty one, essentially a blackmailing syndicate. It could spend resources to steal resources from another race. Such powers were best used as threats, to convince others to cut him better deals, sometimes downright extorting them. Whoever had traded with him was immune from his stealing powers for the round, so trading with him was akin to paying a protection fee. His was a scary power. If everyone gave in to him, he would grow very powerful. So I tried to convince everyone that we should not give in to terrorism. It was easier said than done. Sometimes I too gave in, especially when I was just a small step away from completing a major project, and didn't want to risk it being delayed another round.

Another one of Tim's abilities was a poisoned gift. He could produce a set of goods, which must be given away together with a spy. Once he had planted enough spies in an empire, his stealing actions would become more damaging. This meant he had to focus on just a few empires to send spies to, so that he could sufficiently build up. Allen was the main victim of this. However he happily accepted the goods up front, spending them on his infrastructure. Ironically these resources helped Allen greatly towards self sufficiency. He built a strong production engine, and became the eventual winner. He turned to be more beneficiary than victim.

Of my four start techs, I had upgraded two of them, bottom left and top right. The advanced sides no longer showed the upgrade criteria. The tech at the top right had no resources to the left of the arrow, which meant it was a pure production tech needing no input. It was like a planet.

The game takes up a lot of space. The common area does not take up much, but each player needs much space. Every time someone researches a new tech, everyone else will benefit from it and will need to play that tech card into his area. This table we played at was not big enough. Sinbad had to place some of his cards on the low table on the left. We put some common game components there too.

During the trade phase, I prepared for the economy phase by placing resources I needed onto the tech cards where I would be using them as input. This helped me reserve resources I needed for myself. Also I could easily see which techs did not have the required raw materials yet, which I might want to trade for. The conversions (or manufacturing) during the economy phase are simultaneous. You cannot take the output from one tech card and feed it as input to another tech card. Outputs can only be used as input in the next round. So you don't get to chain your tech cards like a factory line.

This is a research team. Their name is at the top, the tech they are working on is at the bottom. This particular team needs either 18 green resources or 18 white resources. The conversion in the white box is what the new tech does.

This is one of my start techs. It has a star icon at the top left.

The Thoughts

Sidereal Confluence is a trading and negotiation game, but it is also more than that. The trading is a basic building block, a means to an end. The end is, of course, victory points. To get there, you need to work on profitable research projects. To complete many research projects, you need resources. To have many resources you need to keep developing your empire. So to me this is also very much a development game, just that trading is one of your basic tools when developing your empire and completing your research projects.

There is a lot of cube conversion. I never really got into calling the coloured cubes what they were meant to be. I just called them small green cubes, or big yellow cubes, and so on. This sounds bad because it means the theme doesn't come through, but after a while it doesn't really matter. The game is enjoyable even if I call the cubes just cubes.

It is a complex game. With 6 of us, it took about 3 hours. I'm not sure whether we were just slow. I think the game needs at least 5 or 6 to be fun. With more players, there will be more possibilities. There will be more options in the common area too - the planets and the research teams.


BomberMouse said...

Did you like it though? This seems very interesting but I'm not sure how enjoyable this is.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

For me personally it was just OK - willing to play but not actively seeking it out. I can't help thinking if I want to play a negotiation game, I'd pick Bohnanza which is much simpler and shorter. Not as rich, but there's plenty of negotiation.

Sidereal Confluence has a heavy dose of development, and is quite complex. If you want to do negotiations AND have a more involved experience, it will be better than Bohnanza.