Amidst the Hall Of that infernal Court
January 25, 2010 3:31 AM   Subscribe

Solium Infernum, the most recent release from indie game designer Vic Davies (and one of Eurogamer's Games of 2009), is a turn-based wargame in which the players, as members of Hell's aristocracy, vie for control of Satan's recently vacated throne employing diplomatic measures and demonic armies. Over the last couple of weeks the boys at Rock, Paper, Shotgun have posted epic turn by turn battle reports of a month-long play-by-email game undertaken by two of their own and four acquaintances, two of whom have written up their own reports. Without fail the accounts are full of twists and turns, blunders and screwups, conniving, back-stabbing and all sorts of bastardry that make them fine examples of game writing as well as gripping page-turners.

Here are links to each and every report, formatting courtesy of RPS.
Kieron/Quinns(RPS crew): [1-10] [11-20] [21-30] [31-40] [41-50] [51-60] [61-66] [Finale]
Scrofula: [1-10] [11-20] [21-30] [31-40] [41-50] [51-60] [61-66] [Grand Finale]
Poisoned Sponge: [1-10] [11-20] [21-30] [31-40] [41-50] [51-60] [61-67] [The Final]
posted by aldurtregi (45 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Heh. I was thinking about posting this. Might as well add that until Saturday, January 30th, you can use a coupon code found in the RPS post $5 Off Sol Infernum (Or Armageddon Empires) to get, well, $5 off Solium Infernum (or Armageddon Empires).
posted by Decimask at 3:44 AM on January 25, 2010

I really wanted to enjoy this game, but the interface is brutal. I can't bring myself to spend $25 on something that has such a terrible GUI...
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:05 AM on January 25, 2010

This game definitely looks to be something special for long-deprived tbs fans, I look forward to buying and learning it when a few work commitments calm down enough to allow me late nights of poring over hexes and manual.

I was riveted by the reporting of the game on RPS, the extent to which the game sunk its hooks into the players was self-evident, and gave some brilliantly telling moments where mentality and motivation of player and player-character really did start to merge into one.
posted by protorp at 4:09 AM on January 25, 2010

The interface is overly convoluted and a bit of a mess but it is, to me at least, a minor hindrance rather than game-breaking. SI is definitely not for everyone, though it has me hooked, FWIW.
posted by aldurtregi at 4:18 AM on January 25, 2010

It's a fun game, but I'm not sure $20.00 wouldn't be a better price point. It was gifted to me by a friend. It's more Video Board Game than Video Game, in a good way, and if that's your kind of thing, you'll like it. A small group of us over at MeFight Club have taken to it pretty hard.

At first, it'll seem impossibly complex. After a few hours, you realize, yeah, the game isn't that complicated: it just lacks a decent tutorial and the UI is horrendous.

However, at least there IS a demo, so you can at least see if you can handle the UI before buying.
posted by absalom at 5:20 AM on January 25, 2010

Okay, sure, but expand it to seven players and set it in WWI Europe and we're talking.
posted by cortex at 7:30 AM on January 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

I also thought about posting this. I think about posting just about every other post on Rock Paper Shotgun, to be honest.
posted by empath at 7:35 AM on January 25, 2010

picked this up from the RPS thread... mefi mail me if you want to start a game!
posted by outsider at 7:52 AM on January 25, 2010

This game is pretty great. I need to get on the ball and get involved in MeFite Club.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:53 AM on January 25, 2010

Oh wow. I'm still in the middle of the reports, but I'm going to have to check this game out. I have a feeling I'm going to be awful at it, but at least I'll enjoy being beaten (or subterfuged) to a pulp. It reminds me a bit of Chaos Overlords, but a lot more in-depth and diplomatic.
posted by This Guy at 7:54 AM on January 25, 2010

Okay, sure, but expand it to seven players and set it in WWI Europe and we're talking.

I dunno, cortex. This seems like a fine followup for Diplomacy.



That said, I'm reading the play-by-plays and they're pretty interesting. I'd check out the game itself, having never heard of it, but the qualms about the interface make me nervous. I really wanted to enjoy Dwarf Fortress, but I couldn't figure out what the hell I was doing in enough time to have some fun of my own rather than burn off the afterglow of Boatmurdered.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:54 AM on January 25, 2010

You can have Hell if you want to - it's nothing to fight over.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:05 AM on January 25, 2010

oh man, I've been following this series since it started, too. what an awesome game this seems to be. I've been suggesting it slyly to coworkers (yes, everyone I work with is a gamer, lucky me.) to see if anyone bites, because as cool as it looks, it seems like the over-email multiplayer is really wehre it's at. no takers, yet, though. sweet post.
posted by shmegegge at 8:17 AM on January 25, 2010

Solium, while cumbersome, is not in the same league as Dwarf Fortress. If Dwarf Fortress's interface is Finnegan's Wake then Solium's is Ulysses, if that makes sense.
posted by aldurtregi at 8:21 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I play Dwarf Fortress and enjoy it. Its interface is like a difficult, but rewarding cliff to climb. Solium Infernum's interface is more like a sinkhole.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:42 AM on January 25, 2010

I play Dwarf Fortress and enjoy it. Its interface is like a difficult, but rewarding cliff to climb. Solium Infernum's interface is more like a sinkhole.

Exactly. You master the DF interface and you're raining lava on terrified goblins and building towers of gold in the desert. You master the SI interface and . . . you're playing a board game. I like board games and all, but I can find a roughly equivalent board game experience with a less irritating interface.
posted by Copronymus at 9:02 AM on January 25, 2010

The summer before I started college I was washing dishes in a rural family-style chain restaurant and I had this cook friend who would come talk to me during the lulls at the grill - which of course inevitably corresponded with rushes at the washing station. His primary topic was describing, in numbing detail, the previous weekend's rounds of BattleTech. Let me tell you: to the uninitiated, this is about as thrilling as a recitation from the appendices of a statistics textbook. Of course these tales were interspersed with lively and profane descriptions of futuristic violence, but in the context it was just that much more absurd, like someone telling you about doing algebra and interjecting comments like "then I multiplied the whole thing by five and just blew the living shit out of that X variable!"

The degree to which a perusal of these reports reproduce that experience is uncanny.
posted by nanojath at 9:51 AM on January 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

If someone can tell me how to run this on a mac, i'll happily play a mefi game.
posted by empath at 10:05 AM on January 25, 2010

I downloaded the demo last night and I'll be damned if I can figure out how to do anything effectively. I'm just playing against the computer, but they all seem to have magical super armies that can take points of power without problem, and even after adding two combat cards to my army at no small expense, it gets smashed to pieces.

I guess I need to read the instruction manual more in depth, but damn if it's not almost as confusing as the interface.
posted by Caduceus at 10:07 AM on January 25, 2010

I remember fondly the marathon sessions we used to have on Into The Void, wrapped in duvets 30-hours in, building huge fleets in secret then suddenly appearing in an enemy system for a massive pitched battle. And, you know, that game was complete rubbish. The races were horribly unbalanced, we had to ban the Espionage side of things because it was too easy to exploit and wipe out even the toughest defences through piddling low-level terrorism, and diplomacy had no practical effect on what you could or couldn't do.

I can scarcely imagine the carnage to my social life that a halfway-competent game like this would have done to my social life. It looks like there are a lot of 'random event card' elements of the type that ruined Risk spinoffs like the LotR version, by making a few cards super-powered, but from the battle report this looked like the various feints and ruses they allow eventually balance out into a massive paper-scissors-stone chain. Nothing is invincible, avoiding the usual midgame shift you get in this sort of thing, where the shift in resources passes a tipping point and the last third becomes an inevitable battle of attrition. It seems to have several options for final, desperate gambits, which sounds really exciting and appropriately fiendish.

Makes me wish I had friends nerdy enough to commit to a game!
posted by RokkitNite at 10:50 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

If someone can tell me how to run this on a mac, i'll happily play a mefi game.


Dwarf Fortress is the most interesting free game I have ever played buried under the shittiest UI I have ever been bludgeoned with. Solium Infernum's UI isn't even in the same league of sadism, oddly enough.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:18 AM on January 25, 2010

Here's a funny tutorial to get you started.

that's pretty incredible. "Your struggle to understand summons oils from my pudenda," indeed.
posted by shmegegge at 11:38 AM on January 25, 2010

The game is really quite simple when you get the hang of it... yah the interface sucks and it takes 3 - 4 clicks to do something that should take 1 or 2, but once you have a few games under your belt you will figure things out.

I like that you have a whole lot of choices as to what you will do each turn (move guys, find new resources, make a sneaky attack, try to gain some information on another player, increase an attribute, issue an insult or demand of another player ect.) but you can only take 2 or 3 actions each turn...

This makes each action really count. I also like how it seems a player who is not specifically trying to be the best military powerhouse can still be beaten by a player who is sneaky and moving around behind the scenes.
posted by outsider at 12:19 PM on January 25, 2010

Wake me up when they make a Linux version.
posted by mr. strange at 1:11 PM on January 25, 2010

Unless the game teaches me how too summon real demons and cast spells, I've just got better things to do.
posted by happyroach at 1:13 PM on January 25, 2010

oh man, finally getting near the end of that series of articles.

the best thing about it is how Speedo Demon has no blogs or entries, apparently. so he's like this sauron character that you never see the internals of, he's just surprisingly powerful and kind of a perpetual bad guy in every body else's blogs. Gillen and Quinns act like they're the main story in this for the entire series, meanwhile every turn entry is like "FUCKING SPEEDO! he fucked my dudes up."

I imagine that, if speedo has blog entries for this, they're like "turn 1. gonna fuck some dudes up today. turn 10: fucked some dudes up."
posted by shmegegge at 2:26 PM on January 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

shmegegge: Yeah, I think they stocked the non-RPS staff slots with people from the forums.
posted by absalom at 2:28 PM on January 25, 2010

I think that RPS series is probably responsible for making Vic Davis, the dev, a rich man. Well, okay, Mr. Davis deserves a little bit of the credit too :)

SI is a bizarre game. It is obviously inspired by collectible card games and board games, and in fact could theoretically be remade as one, but there'd be too much book-keeping for it to be practical.

Mr. Davis doesn't care much for the programming end of things. He's learned enough to realize his design vision. SI is rough in so many ways. It's impossible to play this game without noticing a million things that could have been done better.

But ultimately, the game mechanics are better than I could have imagined possible. The mechanics address every conceivable problem with multiplayer, turn-based strategy games. I'm serious: this is the best designed game I have ever played. You know that thing where strategy games turn into resource management? Doesn't happen, because there is no simple manner to turn your resources into a victory condition. That thing where everybody gangs up on the leader at the end of the game? Doesn't matter, because the victory points are exactly what you spend to ignore challenges from other players. That thing where you lose out early, and feel the game is hopeless? You never stop generating resources, and given the right opportunity, anyone can take the game.

I know, if you haven't played this, it doesn't seem like these solutions are compatible with each other-- but somehow, it all works. And even more incredibly, it works in a way that makes you feel like an archfiend. In one multiplayer game, I'm grovelling while planning my unlikely revenge on everyone who's kicking me around. In another, I feel lordly, trying to rise above the fray, threatening enough retribution against anyone to leave myself completely off-balance against anyone who might dare to fuck with me.

So here's the important bits of advice to anybody who's having trouble with the game:

1) For your first few games, you need to start with a Charisma of 3.

2) If you're playing 1.04, your starting legion's strength is related to your infernal rank-- princes have monstrous legions, lords have weeny ones. If you're playing 1.05, your starting legion's strength is related to how many points you have put in attributes other than Charisma.

3) If you cant take a place of power, chill-- you don't need to, not early. Just make sure that you surround it with your territory, so that other people can't just take it from under your nose. If your starting legion is super wimpy, remember all the various ways you can mess with things: get another legion or two to provide flanking support; use a deceit ritual to debuff its stats; use a wickedness ritual to directly reduce it's hit points; create a combat card for your legion; buy and attach a praetor or artifact to your legion. Oh, and later, maybe a training manual.

When you've got the single-player down, it's time to move on to the multiplayer. Because of this game's rough edges, you're going to need to do the legwork to get into a game yourself. More players = more fun. And the game, managed by email, is going to take a long time: days, weeks, months. Unless you have a bunch of friends willing to plunk down $30 for a game that looks like it should cost $10, you're going to have to hunt around. I've found two games on the RPSatan group on Steam. You can find game-starting threads on the Cryptic Comet forums. I heard there's a game-starting thread at Quartertothree. I'm sure you can find a game-- the point is that you need to actually look.

Hope to see a few of y'all simpering beneath my hooves in the weeks to come :)
posted by nathan v at 3:35 PM on January 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

The thing I realized from reading the two non-RPS game diaries is that one of the players got pissy about being in last place and essentially played kingmaker.
posted by absalom at 3:54 PM on January 25, 2010

Heh. I was thinking about posting this.

Same here.

It is obviously inspired by collectible card games and board games, and in fact could theoretically be remade as one, but there'd be too much book-keeping for it to be practical.

The main other problem with this is that you'd need a GM or some kind of neutral party because with high enough deceit you can perform rituals (spells, e.g. steal something) then make it look like someone else did it.

The thing I like best about SI is the atmosphere. It steals liberally from classic depictions of hell (throwing in lots of other references including Planescape: Torment) and has brilliant artwork. But the game mechanics are also brilliantly fiendish as can be seen from the RPS game where, by the end, the pure hatred, backstabbing and plotting just drips off the page.

PS: Armageddon Empires is really good as well.
posted by Erberus at 4:14 PM on January 25, 2010

I downloaded the demo for this a while ago and played around with it for a while. I could see a really excellent game in there somewhere, but like probably 80% of the people who tried the demo I found the UI so intractable I gave up (you're telling me I can't finish my turn because I have to respond to a message, but you won't tell me what the message is or which one of the 15 different tabs I have to click on to find it?? alt-F4).

Long gone, sadly, are the days when I could spend hours doing things like working out all of the dozens of keyboard controls to X-Wing by trial and error because I, um, obtained it in circumstances which resulted in me not having a manual to look up. I decided that Solium Infernum would be a similar experience.

That said, the beautiful presentation (it looks really good) and the fact that it was developed by one guy (and I like rewarding people like that) almost got me to buy it, but the online shop only takes US$, euros and pounds. I have no idea what would happen if I put my Australian credit card details in but I doubt it would look anything like $29.99. So the demo icons sit there on my desktop, unloved and unplayed.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:19 PM on January 25, 2010

This game is made of eighty kinds of win, and the writeups are awesome. Squee!

(As a bonus, if you set SI and L4D2 windowed, while you are waiting for your l4d2 lobby to fill, you can play Solinum).

The UI is a bit rough, but as said upthread, no Dwarf Fortress.
    A short list of gamplay decisions I love:
  • Limited numbers of actions per turn: keeps game manageable, reduces micro.
  • Quantized resources
  • Actual non-ascendant militarism: victory with no battles is completely reasonable.
  • Formalized, central-to-gameply diplomacy system.
Also: MefightClub is working up to some PBEM solinum.
posted by enkiwa at 5:23 PM on January 25, 2010

The thing I realized from reading the two non-RPS game diaries is that one of the players got pissy about being in last place and essentially played kingmaker.

That's a problem inherent to multiplayer games, and I actually like that he incorporated it into the rules.

Let's compare to monopoly, where one player gets pissy and decides to sell someone all their properties for a dollar. Or Risk, where one player turns in cards and throws everything he has at another player, just to take them out.

In those cases, the kingmaker essentially gets nothing from it, in terms of game play, so there's no logical reason to do it other than being a jerk, and any player can do it at any time, and there aren't any limits to how much of his resources he can dedicate to it.

WIth this mechanic, the player that does it has to genuinely be losing, and by a lot. The only people that would benefit from this would be those that were winning or close to winning, so it actually can be thought of as an award for doing well. And in a well played game, I'd think that more than one player would swear blood vassalage once the first person did it. The fact that no one else did actually was poor strategy on the rest of the players' parts.

And it's something that everyone is aware could happen from the beginning, so smart play would include planning to recruit a blood vassal from the beginning -- ideally by giving another player the impression that you're helping them while behind the scenes working to ensure that they constantly lose territory and prestige.
posted by empath at 5:42 PM on January 25, 2010

There's a pdf presentation here about the problems of politics in multiplayer gaming.

Characteristics of Multiplayer Gaming

Basically, to solve the kingmaker problem, you have a few options. He chose 'give losing players a chance to win'.
posted by empath at 5:52 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The mechanics address every conceivable problem with multiplayer, turn-based strategy games. I'm serious: this is the best designed game I have ever played.

Okay, I'm sold. Any Mefites fancy going hoof to hoof?
posted by RokkitNite at 6:32 PM on January 25, 2010

I am interested in getting a game going... email me labimmaster at gmail dot com.
posted by outsider at 9:22 PM on January 25, 2010

empath: Characteristics of Multiplayer Gaming

Hey, that's a nice little document there. Some of it I've known for a while (but it is great to see it put into words), and some of it is new, but excellent. Thanks for the link!

It might be interesting to put, say, Puerto Rico into those race vs brawl terms. In our own games, we tend to have kingmaker situations from the most inexperienced player in the game determining the winner (sometimes on purpose, and sometimes accidentally).
posted by JHarris at 11:48 PM on January 25, 2010

I bought it tonight based on this thread. Yeah, great game design, so-so interface design. Theres a lot of great stuff here but I'm not sure I have the time to work through the ui to get to it. Oh and wake up mr strange, it runs great under Wine.
posted by BenNewman at 12:38 AM on January 26, 2010

There are games where politics are something to be avoided. First person shooters come to mind.

But there's also games where political situations are awesome. There's very little point in playing 2 person Risk, or 2 person Illuminati, or any of a number of other games, because you lose out on the whole political dimension.

Part of the fun of a game like SI is remembering that managing perceptions and attitudes is more important than managing your armies.
posted by nathan v at 12:50 AM on January 26, 2010

It should also be mentioned that "politics" can also be a great aid to the game designer, as it does lend itself to a subtle form of balancing against players who take a strong lead, since the other players will pick him as a target.
posted by JHarris at 12:55 AM on January 26, 2010

I don't personally play it, but the references to Mefight Club upthread may be obscure, so, just to be clear: there are several hundred Metafilter members over at Mefight Club playing all manner of games together on various platforms (with our tentpoles being TF2 and L4D2 on PC or Mac Parallels/Bootcamp), and there's currently a whole bunch of folks organizing and playing Solium Infernum, so if you want an easy way to get together and play this and other games, come join us.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:44 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

A wiki is starting too.
posted by patricio at 11:19 AM on January 28, 2010

*Clicks wiki Linka*

"First Playthrough," huh? perfect! this will help me get into the game!
Creating A Avatar, huh? I think not.

*edit page*

there. much better.
posted by shmegegge at 8:39 AM on January 29, 2010

There's an SI game starting over at mefight club RIGHT NOW! Go see if you want to PBEM.
posted by boo_radley at 7:29 PM on February 1, 2010

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