The first thing that caught my attention about Zafty Games’ Somnium: Rise of Laputa was the manga-esque artwork by Davy Wagnarok on the box, showing an assortment of characters ready for adventure. Turning over the box, I then read the back blurb, “As the Aether swells, the Skyles descend toward Somnium, the unknown world below. Old foes arise, and with them, emerges a new nation; one ripe for the taking.” My immediate thought was: Cool, a Steampunk game! I was hooked. When the rest of the description mentioned that it was a game of political intrigue and fighting for influence, I was worried it would be a complex, rules-heavy game like Heart of Crown, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how fast and simple the game is to play.
Before anything else, let’s deal with the name. I saw on the internet that some Spanish-speaking people disliked the game, due to the fact that “la puta” is Spanish for, umm, let’s just say “a word used to insult women”. However, in this case, Laputa is a literary reference, being the name of the floating island from Gulliver’s Travels. Although I can’t prove it, there may be another literary connection in the name. Somnium, in addition to being Latin for “dream”, is also the title of a 17th century novel by astronomer Johannes Kepler, in which a young boy and a witch travel to the moon, which is also described as an island. This could be a coincidence, but if it isn’t, then I am impressed by the work of Zafty’s “lore keeper”.
Inside the box, there is a deck of 53 cards, 44 Influence tokens (divided into 1 point and 5 point tokens) and rules that fill a single sheet of paper. The game is described as being for 2 – 4 players, ages 13 and up, playable in 15 minutes. For the first time, I would consider the game time to be an over-estimate. This is a fast little game. Gameplay is simple, shuffle the cards, deal three cards to each player, and begin. You are allowed to play one card on your turn, unless a card’s special ability tells you otherwise. At the end of your turn, you draw back to your hand size of three cards. There is no suggestion of how to choose the first player. The Game ends when a player gains 20 Influence points.
The cards in the deck are divided into two types, Characters, and Events. Characters are worth a certain number of Influence, which you keep as long as you control that Character. Most (but not all) Characters have special abilities, which can be one time only (symbolized by a star) or recurring (symbolized by an Ouroboros snake). Some abilities are simple, such as the Assasin’s “destroy one card” or the Propagandist’s “All opponents lose one Influence”. Others are more complex, such as the Miner’s recurring “at the start of your turn, gain one Influence” or the Queen’s “an opponent may destroy 2 cards on their turn to destroy this card”. There are also Characters that interact with other Characters. For example, the Influence gained from the Diplomat depends on the number of other Diplomats in play. There are even a few cards that completely change the rules of the game. For example, if one player controls both the Prince and Princess, they win, regardless of their Influence points.
Event cards, represented as headlines from the “Terminus Gazette”, are single-use actions that resolve immediately. Many of the Events directly change players’ Influence points, such as Profit’s “player gains 3 Influence” or Call To Arms’ “Gain one Influence for each card you have in play”. Other Events affect gameplay, such as Imprisoned, which destroys one card, or Clear Skies, which allows a player to play 2 extra cards this turn.
Besides the word Fast, the other adjective I would use to describe this game is Vicious. Somnium pulls no punches, there are no neutral cards. Every card either gives you points, gives you an advantage, or attacks one of your opponents. For my first game, I looked at my opening hand of three cards, and two of them were already a combo. The first allowed me to play a second card, the second let me steal a card from my opponent and play it immediately. As I said, a vicious, vicious game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Vicious can be fun.
I have a few very minor complaints about this game. First of all, other than the artwork and some of the card names, the game really doesn’t do very much with its Flying Island setting/theme. I would have liked to have seen something exciting to differentiate Somnium from other point-based games.
Secondly, in their effort to streamline their rules, the designers left a few questions unanswered. For example, the Spy says “play a card from an opponent’s hand”. Neither the card text nor the rules specify whether this is a card taken randomly, or if the player can look at the opponent’s hand and choose a specific card.
My final complaint may just be because I am a more mature player. All of the Character cards include “flavour text”, but the font size is so tiny that it was impossible for me to read. The card title and ability descriptions are already printed quite small, but the flavour text is even smaller than that. I love the little details that designers add to their games, but this time they took that “little” to an extreme.
Somnium fits all my defining traits for a pocket game. It’s compact, fast-paced and most importantly, it’s a game you want to play over and over. Take it with you to have something to do while you are waiting in line or between events. Keep it on your shelf to play as a break from more complicated games. This is definitely going to be on my list of “go-to games”.