Solium infernum is a board game that you play with a mouse. Continuing the long tradition of appealing to nerds with dark, gritty, badassedness in a fantasy setting SI is a battle for the Infernal Throne Of Hell, fought between characters with names like Lilith, Asmodeus, and Balphegor and a large part of the game involves collectable cards. Now where did I leave me D20?
Here's the gist of how it works. First you design your character, distributing attribute points to achieve the specific build you're after. I rolled a "Lord Of Hell" which I named Fluffykins and his high Martial Skill - to the detriment of Cunning, Intellect, Wickedness, and Charisma - meant that Fluffykins was not someone you'd want to bump into in a dark alley unless you were in the mood for an evisceration.
The next step is creating your game. The first choice you're given here is that of whether you'd like a normal or "Iron Man" game; the latter limiting your ability to save and reload to retry an unfortunate dice roll. After selecting your game parameters - map size, length of game, etc - you land on a hex grid, dotted with "Places Of Power" and an assortment of rivals for their control.
The goal of Solium Infernum is to prove yourself to be the baddest motherlover in Hell and this can be achieved in three ways: accumulating the greatest number of "Prestige Points" by the end of the game, through political backstabbery, or by seizing Hell's capital city. Prestige points are gathered by marching your legions into Places Of Power to take control of them and by out-doing your opponents on the battlefield or in the board room. A surprising amount of the game is dependent on sending emissaries backwards and forwards declaring political intent and offering tribute - the game won't even allow you to attack another player's units until diplomacy has failed and the Infernal Conclave sanctions the conflict. For an unholy warzone there sure is a lot of paperwork!
I personally preferred the idea of getting away from all of that red tape in favour of brute forcing my way to the throne by capturing the capital of Hell. This was mainly because it put an image in my head of Hell having an administrative centre full of office workers and politicians trying to solve the problem of traffic congestion on the river Styx. I also enjoyed the way that conquering the city resulted in excommunication from the Conclave, as if Satan was quite put out that I hadn't adhered to the rules (and sent in all of the appropriate forms).
The trouble is that in that five paragraph summary I've barely scratched the surface of what goes on in Solium Infernum. There's a certain appeal to a game with a complicated ruleset but SI really doesn't make it easy to familiarise yourself with its workings. There is no tutorial, a bit of a faux pas in this day and age, and the manual is a challenge by itself. By page five it's already throwing in invented technical terms that aren't defined until page 15. By page 30 you're juggling so many new concepts that you're overwhelmed and quickly losing the desire to find out how the tome ends.
The other problem with Solium Infernum is that it probably shouldn't be a video game. The developers, Cryptic Comet, do in fact describe their releases as "computer board games" and at times I felt that I'd rather be dealing with a game board, counters, and cards than a GUI on a monitor. I don't mean to indicate that all board games should know their place and stay away from our PCs - I personally prefer the PC adaptation of Blood Bowl to the original board game, for example - but I'm struggling to see many advantages to committing Solium Infernum to zeroes and ones as opposed to printing it on card.
Solium Infernum doesn't really make the best use of the platform it inhabits. The interface is locked at 1024x768 and doesn't scale when in full screen mode; instead filling the extra space with a thick, grey, and entirely useless frame. I just can't work it out. Why would you design a PC game to run only at 1024x768 when 76% of people are running at a significantly higher resolution? Thanks, Wikipedia.
I wouldn't be so concerned by the visual size of the game if it weren't for the number of elements that would greatly benefit by using some of that vacant monitor real estate. The obvious one is the way that the small viewable area limits how much of the board you can see at any one time but what irked me the most was the auction screen. Bidding in auctions for extra troops and special items is a very important part of the game and involves shuffling through your stack of resource cards to find the specific kinds to offer up. The area your cards occupy is tiny and they all overlap with each other, obscuring the icons that indicate what each card represents. If I'd had those cards in my hand it'd take me no more than a few seconds to pick out what I needed but on the screen I'd spend a good minute dragging cards around the space to see the ones underneath, only to cover up another few cards as I moved the first one. A little more space would have made it a much happier experience.
On the bright side Solium Infernum runs, well thanks to its simple graphics, and AI calculation time between turns never outstays its welcome. I suppose that's one advantage over waiting for your mate to make his bloody mind up and pass the dice. If, on the other hand, you do wish to play with other human players there are options for hotseat multiplayer and even play by email!
There's definitely an audience for Solium Infernum but it's not particularly accessible unless you have experience with tabletop strategy games and a fierce desire to play one on your PC. If that sounds like you then give the demo a go.