I have a confession to make. As much as I may enjoy playing them, when it comes to those types of games where you make a deck prior to playing (such as Magic: The Gathering, or Doomtown: Reloaded) I am absolute rubbish. I can construct what I consider a well balanced, playable deck- only to find that it doesn’t behave the way I need it to. As far as my mind can understand it, the process of deck construction may as well be advanced trigonometry. However, when it comes to deck-building games like Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game or Dominion- games where you construct your deck as the game progresses, well those I not only enjoy but can comprehend, as well. This week’s review, Helionox: The Last Sunset, falls squarely into that latter category.
Helionox: The Last Sunset is a deck-building strategy game from Mr. B Games and designed by Taran Lewis Kratz. Games are played with two players (or up to four if playing with two copies of the game) with games lasting typically 20 minutes or so (but longer if playing with more than two players.) The game is structured in a fairly straightforward way: players compete to attain influence points. Once the last card in the event deck is drawn (one is drawn each round) then whomever has the most influence wins.
So, how does one gain influence? Well, on the table are five cards, each signifying a location within our solar system. Each player will fly their own ship from location to location to either take advantage of the unique actions available at each location, or to place an embassy (which not only gives the player access to even better unique actions, but also awards them influence.) In addition, each round an event card will be taken from the top of the deck and placed at a corresponding location. If the event is not dealt with, then at the start of the next round the card is flipped and that location is now no longer giving any of those helpful actions and in addition, players are prohibited from constructing an embassy at that location. But by dealing with the event, either before or after the card is flipped, a player gains more influence. (Two players can actually team up to defeat an event together and split the resulting influence between them.)
So how does one deal with these catastrophic events? Well, this is where your deck comes in. There are two main currencies in this game: credits and defense. Credits are used to purchase new cards from a marketplace to add to the top of your deck and also to move from location to location. Defense is used to defeat those events. Spend enough cards with a defense value from your hand to equal the number on the event (while being at that event’s location) and hey presto, you just earned yourself some influence. It’s not obligatory to deal with these events, but each one is a fat pile of points ripe for the taking. Furthermore, as these events pile up, they’ll make the system harder to navigate and block off your access to those unique actions.
Now, as I said, credits are how you buy new cards and woah mama, there are a lot of options to choose from. In the center of the table is the marketplace, four small stacks of cards, each representing a different faction (along with another stack that is nothing but upgraded versions of your starting cards that produce credits.) Each of these factions’ cards specialize in different areas. Some focus on defense, others on credits, others on messing with the other players, and so on. In addition, many of these cards award influence if in a player’s deck at the end of the game. Each stack will only ever have the top card visible, but players can once per turn cycle a stack (moving the top card to the bottom and revealing the one now on the top) to give themselves a new option to choose from. By strategically choosing what cards to buy, one can really control how their deck plays.
I still haven’t touched on the aspects of replayability in this game (a favorite aspect of mine.) Each player has an Architect card separate from their deck. There are a total of six different Architects, each with their own special ability, meaning each plays distinctly different from one another. What’s more, there are four different game modes. One of these adds a long term goal for pleasing each faction, thereby awarding precious end of game influence. These goals also can provide players with some guidance, if they choose to accept it- helping them to focus on what cards to purchase and choices to make.
So Helionox: The Last Sunset turned out to be a lovely surprise for me. It’s a tightly constructed little deck builder with plenty of different ways to play and tons of player interaction, without feeling too vindictive. What’s more, the art on the cards is really interesting, but not too distracting. Luke Green II did a great job with his art design and I really look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. So where is Helionox: The Last Sunset lacking? Well personally, I’m not a big fan of the idea of needing two copies of the game to play with more than two people. However, in the area of design, I can see where this was a necessary decision, considering the length of the game. Which leads me to a second complaint- this game is very short. Just when you start to feel that you have your little engine of a deck working how you want, the last event card is drawn, the game ends, and everyone totals up their scores. I would love to see this game last longer- and I’m pleased to say that I’ve found out that an expansion titled Helionox: Mercury Protocol launched only a couple months ago, adding many more cards and options to the game and also allowing it to expand to a four player experience. Hopefully, I’ll be able to review it soon- but on its own, Helionox: The Last Sunset is a well designed little deckbuilding game and I recommend it to anyone who is either looking for a small deckbuilder to get into, or is looking for another two-player game to add to their collection.