Boardgame review/thoughts: Supernova (2021)

I backed Supernova on Kickstarter, and I really like the idea of it: spaceships moving inward on a spiral path, harvesting energy cubes moving outward on the same spiral path. Loosely “inspired by the ancient Egyptian game of Mehen” (which did not involve spaceships).

But Kam and I have now played it a couple of times, and our overall feeling about it is that it’s just too fiddly for our tastes.

The main issue is that to determine the outcome of any interaction between a ship and an energy cube, you have to consult the 3x3 table on a player card: three different types of energy cubes (clear, yellow, red), three different types of interactions (cube lands on ship, ship lands on cube, cube passes through the space that the ship is in but doesn’t land on it). (Ships passing through the space a cube is in have no effect.)

And some of those outcomes vary depending on which of three or four different ship formations the ship in question is part of.

Also, the player boards don’t describe what happens when one ship lands on another ship, but there are fiddly rules for that too—the landing ship moves to an open space unless the landed-on ship is part of certain formations, in which case the landing-on ship is destroyed.

And so on.

So all that is fiddly enough that the first time we played, I got confused and switched two of the outcomes, so a major part of how we were playing was completely wrong (and much easier than how it’s supposed to work). (Which is why we played a second time—to play in accordance with the real rules.)

But that’s not all the fiddliness!

For example, at the start of each turn, you have to decide which of three possible options you’re going to use for picking which subset of your ships get extra movement. (All the ships are pulled in along the spiral path by gravity on every turn, but you get to move some of them more or fewer spaces by spending extra movement points.)

Also, there’s a special rule that a given ship can’t end its turn on the same space where it started. Which means that players often try to find complicated movement paths that let two ships swap places with each other, each ending on the other’s starting space.

And there is no in-game mechanism for tracking (a) which of the three movement options you’ve chosen, (b) which subset of your ships you’re moving, (c) which ships you’ve already moved, (d) how many extra movement points you have left and which ships you can use them on, or (e) the previous locations of ships that you’re in the process of moving or have already moved (in case you change your mind about what you want your move to be, or in case you want to be sure not to end up on the space you started on).

My impression is that the designers expected that you would just keep all of that in your head, by learning “spiral thinking.”

After the severalth time that we tried to undo a move but couldn’t remember where the ships had started out, we started putting a penny under each ship before movement, to track its origin point that turn. We turned the penny face-up for powered movement and face-down for unpowered movement. We also stood ships up on their tails to indicate that we had already moved them, to make it easy to see which ships had been moved this turn and which hadn’t. (I’m leaving out fiddly details about why that was sometimes necessary despite the use of the pennies.)

We also started using coins to track how many extra movement points we had left, and which movement option we were picking that turn, and so on. (You could use any other tokens if you wanted to; coins just seemed convenient.)

All of that tracking helped a lot, but it still left us with the core fiddliness around interactions between cubes and ships.

Finally, there’s one other thing that puts me off about the game besides all the fiddliness and tracking difficulties:

At the end of each game, the thematic idea is that the sun in the middle of the board goes supernova, destroying all of the remaining ships. The ships send their harvested energy to their own civilizations before the supernova happens; but still, in the end, the ships all get destroyed. That just feels … unnecessarily grim to me. It wouldn’t have been enough to stop me from enjoying the game if I had liked the rest of it sufficiently (this is just a thematic thing, it has no effect on gameplay), but it does bug me.

So in the end, after playing twice, we gave up on the game. I’ve put it in my giveaway stack. (At some point, I will post all the stuff that’s in my giveaway stack.)

But it’s too bad—I feel like this game includes the seeds of a game that I would have really enjoyed, but those seeds are buried under the mass of complications.

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