Humanity has discovered the rare atlum crystals in the six planets of the Abyssi Cluster, and has rushed there to form alliances … and gain access to this powerful energy source. Launch your ships, construct bases, and befriend powerful senators in Sovereign Skies.
What Is Sovereign Skies?
Sovereign Skies is a sci-fi strategy game by Aaron Wilson for 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $29 (plus shipping) for a copy of the base game or $69 (plus shipping) for the deluxe game, which will include two mini expansions, a playmat, and additional deluxe components.
Update 9/24/19: Sovereign Skies originally launched in June 2019, but the project was canceled and relaunched in September 2019. The pledge level has been dropped from $39 to $29.
Sovereign Skies Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. In particular, the wooden motherships in the final game will be smaller than the laser-cut acrylic motherships in my photos. My prototype also includes only the base game; see the Kickstarter page for more about the deluxe edition. The ships will be wooden cubes instead of the plastic ships, though there is a stretch goal to replace them with custom meeples.
Here’s what comes in the base game:
- 6 Board tiles
- 4 Player boards
- 24 Bases (6 each in 4 player colors)
- 4 Motherships (in 4 player colors)
- 64 Wooden Ship cubes (16 each in 4 player colors)
- Senator board
- 15 Senator cards
- 9 Senator Influence tokens
- Pledge board
- 6 Pledge tokens
- Base Influence board
- 9 Base Influence tokens
- 15 Politic cards
- 40 Energy tokens
- 30 Standard Influence Point tokens (in values 1 and 3)
- First Player marker
The board tiles fit together to form a hexagon, making a rondel of 6 planets that your mothership will travel around, taking different actions. The board is modular so that the setup is random each time, though currently there are just the six planets, so the randomization only affects the order of the planets, not the actions available throughout the game. I did notice that the starfield in the background of the tiles does fit together in a certain way, which implies a “default” configuration—it seemed a little odd that the backgrounds would line up like that given that it’s intended to be a random setup. At any rate, the tiles are nice to look at: each has a planet with a name, a slot on the outer edge for the politic cards, and some other information like the planet’s politic icon, the actions available at that planet, and how many ships you need to construct a base on that planet.
The senator cards (which also include positions other than senators) each depict a member of an alien species. Each one has two politic icons at the top left, and two ability icons at the bottom, along with its name. I enjoyed these illustrations—it seems from the Kickstarter page that there has been a bit of world-building about this system of planets and the aliens who live there, though that was mostly absent from the prototype rulebook.
The politic cards are clean and simple: each one simply has a large icon in the center, along with a name like “Courageous” or “Strategic.” The only problem I found was that, unlike most cards that work better for right-handed players, these have a color bar on the right side only, so if you’re right-handed and you don’t splay them far enough, then all you get is a blank grey corner, which seems like a strange choice. But, hey, if you’re a lefty and you splay your cards to the left, maybe this will work out in your favor!
The rest of the components are fine: easily legible, with icons that quickly become intuitive, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary, either.
How to Play Sovereign Skies
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points through activating bases, recruiting senators, and pledging your loyalty to the different factions in the senate.
Randomize the planet tiles and place them in a hexagon. Nearby, set the pledge board with the six politic influence tokens on it, with 1 energy next to each one. Place the senator influence board nearby; the senator influence tokens should be placed on the corresponding spaces (marked with 1, 2, or 3 dots), in increasing order so the highest values are at the top of each stack. The base influence tokens are placed on the base influence board, also in increasing order; the influence tokens are separated by planet color: green, purple, and orange. Place the energy and the general influence point tokens in a supply.
Next to each planet, place the politic cards matching that planet in a face-up stack. There should be one card per player in each stack.
Each player takes six bases, 16 ships, and a mothership of matching colors, as well as a player mat and 3 energy.
To set up the ships, shuffle the senator cards and deal one to each player, who places 1 ship on each planet matching the icons on the senator card. Then, these senator cards are returned to the deck. The senator cards should be separated into 1, 2, and 3 dots, and placed in face-up stacks next to the senator influence board. (Personally, I think it’s strange to shuffle all the senator cards together for this random setup, and then have to separate them back out into piles, so I’ve just been using senators from one of the stacks for setup instead.)
Choose a starting player and give them the first player marker. In turn order, each player places 1 ship on a planet that they do not already occupy. Then, in reverse turn order, each player places their mothership on a planet, pointing clockwise or counterclockwise. For setup, motherships must be at different locations, though they may share spaces during the game.
On your turn, you must move your mothership, and then you get to take up to 3 actions.
By default, your mothership will move one planet in the direction it is pointing. However, you may spend energy to move additional planets. You may also spend 2 energy to turn your ship around and reverse direction, which includes moving one space in the opposite direction (and you may spend additional energy to move more spaces in that direction as well).
After you stop, check to see who has majority on the planet. Majority is determined by the most activated bases, then the most unactivated bases, then the most ships. (For instance, a single activated base will win majority over any number of unactivated bases or ships.) If another player (not you) has the majority, then they receive 1 energy from the supply.
You may take up to 3 actions per turn—no actions may be repeated. If you take 1 action, you will earn 1 fuel; if you take 3 actions, you will spend 1 fuel.
Every planet has two actions in common: add a ship to that planet from your supply, or draw a politic card from that planet. (Note that you may never have more than 1 copy of each politic card.)
The third action is specific to the planet.
Wyrne: Relocate: Move any 2 of your ships to any location(s).
Solenmere: Refuel: Take 2 energy, plus 1 energy per base you’ve constructed anywhere in the system.
Miroga: Pledge: You may discard 1 to 3 politic cards (back to their planets) in order to score 1 to 3 general influence points. In addition, you might be able to earn politic influence tokens. If the token matching your card is still on the pledge board, you take it (and the energy next to it). If the token has already been claimed by another player, you may take it from them if you have majority over that player on the corresponding planet.
Mayhearth: Construct: Each planet shows a number of ships (from 2 to 4) required to build a base there. Remove the required ships from a planet to place a base there. The base should be placed unactivated (with the icon side down) on that planet. On your player board, there are three icons below the bases—you gain a bonus when you build a base from that column: gain 2 energy, place 1 ship anywhere, or take 1 politic card.
Hreja: Activate: Flip over one of your built, unactivated bases to its activated side (so the icon is showing). Then you take a scoring token that matches the planet where the base was activated.
Fallfar: Recruit: Discard the two politic cards (back to their planets) that match a senator card from one of the three stacks. Take the senator card, as well as the corresponding influence token. You may play one senator card per turn, any time during your turn; it does not count as one of your actions. You choose one of the two abilities to use, and then remove the card from the game. Senators have various effects, including adding or relocating ships, swapping politic cards, and building bases.
After you have completed your actions, the next player takes their turn.
The game end is triggered when two of the influence token stacks are emptied. Finish the current round so that all players have had the same number of turns, and then the game ends.
Add up your points:
- All of your influence tokens: base influence, senator influence, and politic influence
- All of your general influence tokens (earned from the Pledge action)
- 1 point per 3 energy
The highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most activated bases, then the most senator influence, then most majorities on the board, and then by the most energy remaining. (Wow, that’s a lot of tie-breakers!)
There are solo variant rules in the draft rulebook, though they haven’t been fully edited yet. Essentially, the robot player has a “brain,” a deck of cards made from 2 of each politic card—this is separate from its “hand” of politic cards. On the robot’s turn, it will flip the top card from its brain and place a ship there, and take a card from that planet into its hand (or gain energy for each of these actions it is unable to do). Then, it will attempt to do various special actions (regardless of which planet was played) until it finds an action it can accomplish.
At the end of the game, you compare your score to the robot, who also scores for leftover energy at different rates depending on the difficulty level.
The deluxe edition will include two expansions. On the Kickstarter comments section, Deep Water Games said this about the two expansions:
Tides of Triumph
In this expansion, one event will be active at all times. The event shown above will be active for three rounds. These events are nearly always good for all players, and will affect some game element. You might find yourself with bonus energy, or being able to freeze in orbit, repeating a planet. Adding this expansion in will accelerate gameplay, so if you’re looking for a shorter game, this is how you should do it!
In this expansion, players will have additional ways to score points by aiding the citizens of the Abyssi Cluster in various, non-nefarious ways. There are some events that are detrimental if not finished. Some events are investment opportunities, or achieving tasks.
This expansion opens up the options that players can do to provide variety for those who need or want it.
Why You Should Play Sovereign Skies
The driving mechanism in Sovereign Skies is the rondel of planets, where you have to be at the right planet in order to take one of the special actions. Many of your decisions are driven by your position in this orbit: do you just take the default movement and go to the next planet, or do you spend precious energy to fly farther or reverse course? Is it worth stopping at a planet if a rival has majority there because they’ll gain energy from the bank? Once there, you’ll need to decide between actions and energy.
All of these different decisions make for an interesting brew, as you work out the best way to score points. If you want to score points by activating bases, then you’ll need to first place ships on a planet, and then construct it, and then activate it. The higher-value planets require more ships, which will take more turns to build up. You could use the relocate action on Wyrne to move a few existing ships there, or you could spend a lot of fuel to reach the planet several times to drop ships there, or perhaps there’s a senator you could recruit that lets you add a few ships. And, of course, to recruit a senator, you’ll need to travel to at least two planets to pick up politic cards, and then take the recruit action on Fallfar. Recruiting senators is also not a bad way to earn some points, either: if you’re the first person to recruit a 3-dot senator, that’s worth 8 points, which isn’t shabby, plus the abilities can be great if you use them at the right time.
Finally, pledging will score you a few points guaranteed, but can earn a lot more if you also earn the politic influence tokens. That tug-of-war between those influence tokens can drive a lot of the competition for majority on the planets, aside from the energy bonus earned when somebody lands there. The first person to pledge for a particular planet will always get the politic influence token from the board (plus a free energy!), but after that everyone else needs to have majority over that player to steal it away. That can lead to a massive build-up of ships and bases on a planet that otherwise wouldn’t have attracted as much attention. Even though there’s no combat or destruction, there can still be intense competition for majority control.
I’ve only gotten to play a few times so far, but I can tell that choosing where to build up ships (and then bases) can have a big impact on your energy economy. For instance, in the times I’ve played, everyone is interested in constructing and activating, but not so much pledging. That means that Mayhearth and Hreja were visited quite often, and Miroja was often skipped over—so then the player who started off building a base on Miroja wasn’t earning as much energy as the players who camped out on the other planets.
I like the energy/action trade-off: you can always build up energy by taking only 1 action per turn, or you can get a lot more done if you spend energy each turn. The trick is figuring out that balance, so that you have energy to spend when you really need it.
As I said before, the prototype rulebook doesn’t have a lot of details about the world and the inhabitants of these planets, but even so, it was easy to get personally invested in the various planets. Solenmere, with the refuel action, became the gas station: “Last rest stop for six planets!” Mayhearth’s construction companies were always in demand. The use of the cards to sway senators or gain the support of various planets felt a bit like political campaigning, the way you had to stop and visit the planet to get the corresponding cards, and that investment in a planet (in the form of ships and bases) gave you a better chance at winning that influence token. It does feel a little colonialist, though I don’t know if the back story has some other explanation for what’s going on.
I think my only concern is whether the game will feel a little repetitive after multiple plays. The configuration of the planets changes each time you play, but the available actions are always the same—so that means it might be more or less efficient to construct and then activate bases, for instance, but players will still want to take those actions. It’s hard to say whether a different planet layout would make players more likely to switch to pledging or recruiting more, or if it just changes up the energy economy and the number of turns it takes to do the same things. I’m really curious about the Cosmic Calamity mini-expansion, because I think that would change up the feel of the game a little bit more than the randomized planet setup.
That said, I did enjoy playing Sovereign Skies. I’m finding that I like games that use rondels to choose actions, because of the way you have to think about where you are and whether it’s worth traveling farther to take a particular action. I gave the solo mode a try as well, and it felt a lot like playing against another player, though the robot’s destination was a little less predictable. There are still some clarifications for the rules that are needed, but overall it worked pretty well and provided me with pretty good competition.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Sovereign Skies Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype copy of this game for review purposes.