The game board of Solarquest
|Setup time||5–15 minutes|
|Playing time||about 3 hours|
|Random chance||medium-dice, cards|
|Skill(s) required||Simple mathematics, such as counting, finding percentages and multiplication; Tactics; Strategy; Social skills; and Negotiation|
Solarquest is a space-age real estate trading game published in 1985 and developed by Valen Brost. Patterned after Monopoly, the game replaces pewter tokens with rocketships and hotels with metallic fuel stations. Players travel around the sun acquiring monopolies and fending off attacks. They seek to knock their opponents out of the game through a combination of bankruptcy, laser blasts, and dwindling fuel supplies.
Renowned for its playability and appealing design, this board game developed a devoted fan base before going out of print in the late 1990s. The company that introduced it, Golden Press/Western Publishing Company, is now a part of Random House. Solarquest has attracted a renewed following in recent years due to its availability on eBay and other auction sites.
Players travel through the solar system acquiring properties, charging rent, and building fuel stations within individual planetary systems. The player who builds the greatest financial empire and survives the perils of space travel to become the last player on the board wins the game, according to the 1986 Solarquest rules.
A journey around the Sun encompasses:
- 33 moons;
- 9 planets, of which 5 can be landed on;
- 9 federation stations;
- 6 research labs; and
- 5 space docks.
Players roll dice and travel along a blue flight path from planet to planet. There are also Red Shift cards directing players to specific destinations (e.g. Advance to Mars).
Players can buy planets and moons, and trade with one another to acquire monopolies. They can also build fuel stations on these bodies, and charge fees for refueling. Each planet has a deed card with instructions on rent and fuel costs.
Research labs and space docks are similar to the utilities in Monopoly. Federation stations cannot be owned, but offer an opportunity to collect cash and purchase spare fuel stations.
There are also 16 black dots, representing planets' gravity, and 17 blue dots, representing floating in space. Altogether, the board has a total of 91 spaces (compared to Monopoly's 40).
The color groups are:
- Orange (Jupiter's moons): Callisto, Ganymede, Io, Europa, Amalthea, Himalia, Elara, Thebe, Metis, Adrastea, Sinope.
- Yellow (Saturn's moons): Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, Dione, Tethys, Enceladus, Mimas, Hyperion, Phoebe, Janus.
- Turquoise (Uranus' moons): Oberon, Titania, Ariel, Umbriel, Miranda, 1985 U1.
- Red: Mars, Phobos, Deimos.
- Pink: Pluto, Charon.
- Blue (Neptune's moons): Triton, Nereid.
- Purple: Venus.
- Gold: Mercury.
- Green: Earth (cannot be purchased), Moon.
- Grey: Earth Research Lab, Neptune Research Lab, Uranus Research Lab, Venus Research Lab, Jupiter Research Lab, Saturn Research Lab.
- White: Solar Space Dock, Neptune Space Dock, Saturn Space Dock, Uranus Space Dock, Jupiter Space Dock.
Players have to watch their fuel level carefully since getting stranded with no way to refuel means the loss of the game. Fuel is only used when leaving a planet or moon. According to the rules, "This occurs because the ship must escape the gravitational pull of the planet or moon." Thus, fuel is not used when leaving a manmade satellite or an empty space.
It is always good to have spare fuel stations on hand. If a player runs out of fuel after landing on a planet that has no fuel station, he can force the sale of the property, build a fuel station, and replenish his fuel tank.
A suggested variation is that players who are close enough to each other can fire lasers. A roll of doubles damages the ship, allowing the aggressor to charge for repairs. A roll of double sixes completely destroys the opposing ship, knocking them out of the game.
A Red Shift card is drawn when a player rolls doubles. These are similar to the Chance or Community Chest cards in Monopoly. The 36 Red Shift cards consist of:
- 25 cards directing the player to a specific destination (e.g. Advance to Federation Station II orbiting Jupiter – Use 1 hydron of fuel)
- 3 cards in the Red Shift series (e.g. Red Shift 4 – Roll dice – Move 4 times the number rolled – Use 4 hydrons of fuel)
- 5 cards awarding or taking away property (e.g. You WIN a dispute with the Federation League – Choose any unowned property and assume ownership from the Federation)
- 3 miscellaneous cards (e.g. Discover new comet – Collect $400 (Roll Again)).
The rules also provide for an "Advanced Play" variant known as Strategic Solarquest in which Red Shift cards are only drawn if double sixes are rolled. If another set of doubles is rolled (e.g. 1-1, 2-2, etc.) the player collects 100 federons, moves the number of spaces corresponding to the pips on the dice, and then has the option of either landing on that space or "bypassing" it and rolling again. Bypassing it means that the player does not pay rent, expend fuel when leaving the space, or do the other usual things associated with landing; instead, he continues his turn, rolling the dice and moving again from the bypassed space. Lasers can be fired when bypassing.
In Strategic Solarquest, the players' mobility is diminished because most Red Shift cards cause the player to jump around the board to a different location. This can be good or bad – good, if the player is trying to continue orbiting a planet, buying up properties; bad, if the player ends up paying high rents because he is stuck in orbit around a planet whose moons are mostly owned by another player.
Comparison with Monopoly
Solarquest is a relatively complex game, with 48 properties available for purchase (compared to Monopoly's 28), and the additional considerations of fuel and lasers. The player's path is not as linear as in Monopoly, since it is possible to continue travelling around a planet for several orbits before finally escaping its gravity. Still, the basic concepts are the same, and experience shows it is easy to learn for anyone who has played Monopoly.
Like Monopoly, this game can theoretically go on indefinitely as cash accumulates and it becomes difficult to force bankruptcy.
1986 and 1988 editions
Solarquest was published by Golden/Western Publishing Company circa 1985. Minor rule revisions were made in the 1988 edition. For instance, in the 1986 edition, refueling on earth cost $25 per hydron; the 1988 rules provided, "If you land on Earth you may also refuel for free as a welcome home gift from the Federation." Another example is that the 1986 rules allowed the player to collect $500 for passing on Earth and $1,000 for landing on Earth; the 1988 rules provided that "Every time you land on or pass Earth you collect $500 Federons from the bank."
Solarquest subsequently went out of print until 1995.
Apollo 13 edition
- A slightly smaller playing board that now folds into a square instead of into a rectangle.
- New red shift cards allowing three free laser bursts at any player on the board.
- Elimination of refueling on an unowned planet that's been sold back to the Federation with a fuel station on it; under the new rules, you cannot refuel unless you purchase the property from the Federation for the deed price plus $500 for the fuel station placed by the previous owner.
- Six more moons to buy around Neptune.
- Increased purchase costs for most moons.
- For several planets, a reduction in rent when many moons are owned (for example, rent on Ganymede if you have eleven moons of Jupiter is $4630, instead of $7400).
- At several Federation Stations, an increase in the amount of Federons you collect (for example, $800 instead of $200 at Federation Station II).
- Red shifts occur only when the player rolls a three and a one on two dice.
A highly simplified spinoff called Spaceopoly was published in 1997 by Valen Brost Game Co. Similar to Risk, this game has secret mission cards specifying an assignment that the player can complete to win the game. The rules contained quirky provisions such as the last sentence of the rule on laser battles: "If an opponent fires a laser at your ship and rolls 12 (i.e., double sixes), your ship is totally disabled and you are out of the game. Your attacker wins all of your money and property. Exception: If you hold the “Invented a new force field” mission card you survive the attack and automatically win the game!" Spaceopoly is apparently now owned by John N. Hansen Co.
There have been several proposals to create a computerized version of the game, most notably from Darkbasic guru Jonathan S. Harbour. Although Harbour and others on the Visual Basic Forum conducted preliminary planning for this project, Harbour suspended his involvement in order to work on more lucrative projects, citing the need to support his family. The thread subsequently died. Nicholas Bostaph of Nightscape Creations Software created an adware version that was, unfortunately, buggy to the point of unplayability.
On September 14, 2007, Maryland programmer Zac Gochenour remarked, "Ultimately, I think this would also be a cool game to port to the Wii, because you have the hands-on feel of a board game. And with WiiWare coming soon, that could happen." In spring 2008, Game Institute instructor Brian Hall announced that a Microsoft XNA adaptation was in active development. In April 2009, a version of the game was released through sourceforge.