Solarquest: The Space-Age Real Estate Game

Players: 2 to 6
Age: 8 and up
Play Time: Extremely variable depending on the rules. 1-4 hours.

I sit here with the open box of a game that I played endlessly as a child. Not always with someone else either: in fact, it was usually by myself. There is something about unexplored places and rocket shaped pieces of plastic that captures the mind of a child no matter the circumstances--outer space, underwater, underground. Solarquest opens up the fantasy of colonizing outer space in a not-so-simple Monopoly rip-off.

Despite the initial similarities in game type, Solarquest and Monopoly actually play quite differently, especially when you play with some of the special rules. In general, Solarquest is Monopoly on steroids--in space. There are 48 buyable properties as opposed to Monopoly's 28 and the board itself is much larger with 91 spaces to land on: Monopoly has 38. There are many different paths of travel around the board with a main path between the planets but also paths which carry your ship through an orbit around planets. Instead of properties like in Monopoly, you can buy entire planets, moons, space docks, and research labs. There are 11 possible 'monopolies' you can complete by buying planets and moons:

The Moon  Mercurial  Jovian       Uranian    Plutonian    Martian    Venusian    Saturnian    Neptunian

The Moon Mercury Ganymede 1985 U1 Pluto Mars Venus Janus Nereid Sinope Miranda Charon Phobos Phoebe Triton Metis Ariel Deimos Hyperion Adrastea Umbriel Mimas Thebe Titania Enceladus Elara Oberon Dione Himalia Tethys Amalthea Iapetus Europa Rhea Io Titan Callisto

There are also 5 Space Docks and 6 Research Labs that can be bought, usually one in each system.

One of the twists added to Solarquest is the addition of fuel. Outer space isn't quite as easy to travel as walking through Atlantic City so it's necessary to manage your fuel consumption. At the beginning of the game, all the players start out on Earth with 25 units of fuel. Every time they blast off from a planet or a moon, fuel is consumed: one unit for each space of movement. So if you roll 7 when you blast off from Earth, you must use 7 units of fuel. If a player runs out of fuel, they are stranded and lose the game, all their properties going back to the bank (Federation League). Because of this, players have to buy fuel frequently either from space docks or fuel stations. You start the game with 3 fuel stations which you can place to either refuel your own ship for free or to be a 'gas station', charging opponents rent for landing on your property and for fueling up at your fuel station.

Another space-themed addition are the different colored spots between planets and moons on the board which symbolize a planet's gravity well and open space. If players make a roll that would land them on a black spot--representing the gravity well--they are pulled backwards and must continue in their orbit around the planet.

An even better addition is combat. When you land within 2 spaces as another player, you have the option of firing on them with your ship's lasers. Once they're damaged, they must pay the attacker 100 times the roll on the dice. If the attacker rolls 12 (double sixes) the defender's ship is destroyed and they lose the game. The attacker then gets to keep all the defender's properties and cash.

The 1985 version is rather dated both with the names of many of the moons and the fact sheets on the back of the property cards, not to mention the fact that Pluto is no longer an official planet. Its publication predates the Voyager flybys of the outer planets Uranus and Neptune and as a result, neither planet has many moons in the game. Then again, if Solarquest were to be remade today with complete accuracy it would be a rather ambitious undertaking (Jupiter has 63 satellites at last count and Saturn 61). By and large, Solarquest is a game nearly as easy as monopoly but with much more complex game dynamics. I seriously doubt the labeling on the box as I can't see an 8 year old staying focused on the game long enough to see it through. However, it's a great game, superior to the American favorite, Monopoly, by far.

A Java version of the game can be downloaded from Sourceforge here.

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