Overall Score 63%
By the developerís own admission, Xeno Sola is a PC adaptation of the German tabletop card game Carcassonne; a game that has a solid fan base and has been established for many years now. Xeno Sola adds a dash of science fiction flavouring into this already successful formula.
The game is for between 2 and 4 players that can be toggled between either human or AI control. Multiplayer is available via a hotseat arrangement on the same PC, but network play is not supported. Each game can be set up to play with a deck of 40, 60 or 80 cards, which results in games of generally 5 to 10 minutes. There are not many other options to customise the game, but then by the nature of the gameplay each round will play out slightly differently.
Players take turns to draw tiles and place them on the playfield to create a giant space station. There are 3 types of structural elements used to create the station, and each tile may have a combination of landing pad, power line or power node. Tiles need to be arranged in lattice formation such that all adjacent edges match up. As you might imagine, the combinations are just about limitless.
After placing a tile, the player is free to make a bet on the tile played on any feature depicted on it. If that particular feature is subsequently completed (by any playerís tiles) then points are awarded to the holder of the bet. Points are a product of the value of the betting token, value of the feature bet on and the size of the completed feature. If that sounds a little complicated, itís because it is, and the fact that the game ships with no manual or strategy guide does not help one iota.
In fact, if youíve never played Carcassonne (and I haven't), you should probably set aside an hour or so just to get a grip on the rules; discovering just what you can and canít get away with. For example, only one player may place a bet on any one feature, something that had me scratching my head for my first few games. Also confusing was the fact that players are allowed multiple bets on the same tile, as long as each covered a different feature. The lack of any documentation at all is inexcusable.
Another sore point is that the tile graphics and colours make it difficult to quickly discern how and where tiles may be placed, and I found myself relying on the red hint outlines far too often. These cannot be toggled off and somewhat detract from the challenge of the game, since all possible placement positions are highlighted as the tiles in hand are rotated. I feel like Iím being spoon fed, but then without the hint outlines I never would have been able to work the game out at all, so I guess that they are serving at least one purpose.
Finally, after a good few games under my belt (around 10) I had a fair idea of what I should be doing in terms of overall game strategy, and finally won a few games against the AI. Now that Iím familiar with the rules, I have to admit that the game is quite addictive and even (dare I say it) fun to play. Luck does tend to play a fairly large part in determining the outcome of most games, but player skill is still a significant factor. Think of the game as a replacement for a quick game of solitaire, and you wonít be disappointed.
The cell shaded character portraits do not animate, but still I found myself building up rivalries with the AI - especially the red guy, Ptole, who takes glee in reminding you that your challenge was pathetic every time he wins. The game can be run in full screen or windowed mode and the size of the playfield can also be adjusted through the options menu. There is one looping background music track and a few sound effects for various actions in the game.
The game requires online activation, which is a sore point for players who might want to run their copy on a computer that is not connected to the Internet. Even more annoying was the fact that the game seemed to require a key check every single time it was run on my laptop PC. Whether this is an issue with Windows Vista, I donít know, but it got old very quickly.
A clever game that could entertain for a good few hours, but I fear that most gamers will take far too long to work out how to play and simply toss the game aside before they reach the point where they start to enjoy it.
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