One of the better Monopoly wannabes around, Solar Quest is a board game where you, as an interplanetary entrepreneur, travel around the solar system in your little plastic rocket ship buying up moons and smaller planets, charging the other players rent, and generally making a nuisance of yourself.

A few differences exist between this and all the Monopoly clones out there. First is the added challenge of managing a fuel supply. Your fuel runs out as you move around the board, and you must purchase more from other players or by setting up your own fuel depots on your property. Add that to the fact that, due to the layout of the board, you are not always able to leave the orbit of particular planets due to gravitational forces (When leaving Jupiter, there are 4 spaces that you may not land on... you must either roll high enough to bypass all those spaces to proceed to Saturn, or continue in Jupiter's orbit,) keeping enough fuel around to stay in the game becomes quite a challenge.

The game also includes such features as the ability to shoot lasers at your opponents to blow them up and steal their properties, a huge number of properties, unique "Red Shift" cards which impose special conditions (not unlike community chest and chance cards from Monopoly) and the opportunity to study the solar system as it was known in 1989.

This is a fun game that I would recommend to anybody. I played it a lot when I was a kid and can thank it for much of my current knowledge of the solar system. It educates you without you even knowing it! Wow! If only everything could be so devious.

Solar Quest was an old vector arcade game released by Cinematronics way back in 1981 (and was ported to the Vectrex home vector console a few years later). This title was designed by Scott Boden and was the last of the Cinematronics black and white vector games.

In the future hats will be made out of meat! No, wait thats not it. Let me start over. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise ..., no thats no it either. This game doesn't really seem to have a proper plot to it. You simply pilot your spaceship around, blasting the bad guys and avoiding the sun. Pick up survivors from the enemy ships to gain extra lives.

The game

You control a spaceship in a field of stars. In the center of the field is a small yellow vector sun. The ship has a similar feel to the one in in Asteroids, but it stops almost immediately after you stop thrusting. The graphics are done with a 64 intensity black and white vector system, combined with a color overlay. They looked great for 1981, but are beginning to show their age today.

Your enemies consist of hordes of spaceships that have to be blasted. The game starts out rather easy, the opposing ships don't fire, and they seldom attempt to run into you. You can blast them with your main weapon which is a laser, or you can use your nuke which is capable of taking out several enemy ships at once. If you get into a tight spot you can escape using your hyperspace button. Each killed ship will leave behind a survivor that you can either shoot, pick up, or simply ignore. Picking up the survivors scores the most points, and is the only way to earn an extra man. On factory settings you get an extra man for every 25 survivors. If you ignore the survivors they will quickly fall into the sun and be destroyed, but they were bad guys anyway, so you don't have to feel so bad.

The game slowly ramps up in difficulty, sending more ships that are smaller, move faster, and attempt to ram you. Eventually the enemy ships finally figure out how to fire back at you, making the game even more difficult.

The Machine

Solar Quest machines came in a white upright cabinet with a black front section. The sideart covered the top half of the machine, and showed a scene of a white spaceship and a sun on a blue background, along with the title. The marquee was black and had the Solar Quest logo superimposed over a multicolored explosion. The control panel and monitor bezel were blue and decorated with small spacecraft zooming to and fro.

The control panel has no joystick. Play is instead controlled with six buttons, thrust, fire, hyperspace, nuke, rotate left, and rotate right. It seems that most vector games had buttons instead of joysticks, they were probably just following what Asteroids did.

This game uses a black and white vector open frame monitor, but it has several color overlays installed to make the sun yellow, and the top of the screen red. The monitor is actually installed deep inside the machine, and the player views a reflection of it, instead of the actual screen.

Where to play

This title is supported by 3 emulators; MAME, CINEMU, and Retrocade. Gameplay is perfect, but you lose the nice effects of having an X-Y monitor displayed on a mirror. If you own a Vectrex you can play this title in true vector style, but you will have to locate the cart for it.

I usually warn people away from games that use X-Y monitors, because of their high cost, and high failure rate. This game is fun, but it really doesn't have anything truly stunning to justify the high cost of ownership associated with titles that use X-Y monitors. My suggestion is to avoid it, unless you find a working one for under $200. Do not purchase one of these with a dead monitor. A replacement monitor will quickly turn that $100 "needs work" game into a $500 game.

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