Hell Or High Water: A Solium Infernum Diary (part 1)

You can read part 2 here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I’ve written about Solium Infernum before. At length. That was three years ago, and I haven’t played Solium Infernum since. Until now, that is. Over the winter holidays, I realized I had a hankering for its long-form, slow burn brand of strategy and treachery. But the group I used to play with had long since disbanded, so I needed to find some new opponents. I tried the Cryptic Comet forums, which were historically the best place to find other players, but it seemed no one visits them anymore. Without much hope, I dropped by the RPS Solium Infernum Steam group and left a message in the void.

I heard nothing for a couple of days, and was certain that everyone who used to play Solium Infernum had moved on. It was a complete surprise when I finally got a response. And then another, and another. And some of them knew other people who might be interested. Soon, I was starting a brand new game of Solium Infernum against five strangers from different places across the globe.

Now, two months later, that game is finished. This is the first of a series of posts detailing the game turn by turn, inspired by the Gameboys From Hell series on Rock, Paper, Shotgun that originally inspired me to buy Solium Infernum way back in 2010. Before getting started, I recommend you read my earlier post about the game, to give you an idea of what it’s about.

If you can’t be bothered to read through that massive post, here’s a very brief overview. Solium Infernum casts players as archfiends vying for the throne in Hell. It is a turn-based, play by email strategy game, where players each take their turns, then send them to the host player to be processed. This means it runs very slowly, often with only one turn every day or two, which ends up perfectly suiting its emphasis on scheming, politicking, and treachery. Players will collude with each other constantly between turns, second- and third-guessing each other’s motives before committing their orders. Strict rules of conduct in Hell encourage this behavior over open conflict, while a large array of options paired with a harsh limit on actions per turn means there’s huge possibility for different strategies without players feeling constantly overwhelmed. Maneuvers and schemes can take days or weeks of real time to reach fruition, and are all the sweeter for it. The resulting struggle can be truly epic and glorious.

It all begins with designing one’s archfiend. Here’s mine:

There are a few options for portraits, all suitably odd and sinister, but I’ve always been intrigued by this one. The game’s flavor text makes it clear that demons and fiends can take any shape they choose, leading me to wonder which figure here is the archfiend: the shadowy humanoid with the sword, or the huge griffon-like creature? Well, why not both of them? Meet Rufus and Big Beak, who jointly rule one of Hell’s great houses.

I have a pool of points to spend when creating my avatar, and a lot of things I could spend them on. I could boost Rufus and Big Beak’s infernal rank, which would let them push other archfiends around in diplomatic actions, making it easier to arrange vendettas and jockey for influence. There are five infernal attributes I could boost, which allow casting various infernal rituals and unlock other useful abilities. And there are perks, special abilities that provide an array of advantages (or disadvantages, if I’d like some extra points to spend elsewhere). With Rufus and Big Beak, I’d like to try a strategy that doesn’t use military action at all. I decide I’ll focus on earning Prestige (the game’s victory points) in the arena instead. This means hiring demon commanders called praetors, but instead of having them command my legions, I’ll train them and have them fight my opponents’ praetors in single combat in the arena of Pandemonium. It’s not until later that I realize I’m imitating one of my favorite board games, Spartacus (which I really should write about at some point). I’m turning Rufus and Big Beak into lanistas, using any and all manner of backhanded tactics to get ahead.

I pick the Arena Gambler perk, which doubles the Prestige earned from single combat duels. I also raise Rufus and Big Beak’s Charisma attribute to 3, since they’ll need a steady flow of resources to buy and train praetors. One of Solium Infernum’s most inspired features is that resources are not related to the map or one’s territory in Hell. This is why non-military strategies can actually be viable. To gain resources, one simply uses an order slot to demand tribute from one’s minions, the quality of which depends on one’s Charisma attribute. The quality increases exponentially, so it’s important to boost Charisma during avatar creation; practically, values of 2 or 3 are the only viable options.

Next, I’d like to boost Rufus and Big Beak’s infernal rank as high as possible, so they can force their opponents into single combat duels. But I don’t have enough points left to go all the way to Prince, so I settle for Duke, one rank down. I haven’t worried about the other attributes, since they can be raised later during the game; the only reason to raise them now would be to boost the strength of my starting legion, but since I’m not planning to take military actions, I don’t care about that. I do have a few points left, however, so I boost Intellect to 1, for an extra ritual slot (letting me cast more rituals per turn).

After the other players send me their (secret) avatars, it’s time to begin.

On the first turn, I have to take stock of a lot of things. First, I take a look at my opponents, using the Diplomacy screen. They are arrayed around a circle, which will soon be interspersed with colored lines indicating who has made demands of whom, who is in vendetta with another, and more, as shown by that key above. I can take a closer look at each archfiend, but this doesn’t do me much good. For example, here’s one of my opponents, Inquis:

I know next to nothing about him. I don’t know what his attributes are. I don’t know how many resources he has. Pretty much the only thing I know is his infernal rank, Marquis — one rank below my Duke. In fact, all my opponents are Marquis, which means I only have one rank worth of advantage over them in diplomacy. Sigh. One of the strengths of Solium Infernum is that it constantly keeps you guessing about your opponents. It’s possible to learn more about them during the game, but it’s not easy. I can glean a little more information from Inquis’ starting legion, however. Its combat stats give me some insight into how many points he put into non-Charisma attributes during avatar creation. This suggests that he’s spent a decent amount on his stats, either raising several of them to 1 or a few to higher numbers. Except for one detail, that’s much more important: his legion only has one move point, instead of two. This means Inquis has chosen the Slothful perk, which reduces all his legions’ movement points in exchange for a lot more points to spend on other aspects of his avatar. He probably spent them on some other dangerous perks. Yikes.

I check the map to see where everyone is. My stronghold is in an awkward position between mountains and a river, so it can only be accessed by three hexes (instead of six). This may help if I have to defend it, but it will make it harder to go on offense. Which is fine, since I’m not planning to. That red figurine on the bridge south of my stronghold represents my personal legion. It’s going to be worthless in a fight, but I can still march it around to claim territory if necessary.

To the south, across the bridge that my legion is guarding, is Xaklyth. His stronghold sits in an open area with several neutral Places of Power nearby. Places of Power are special sites with defensive garrisons that can be conquered, and will generate Prestige every turn for their owners. This is the most direct way to earn Prestige, and I expect most of my opponents will fight over Places of Power. Xaklyth’s legion is decently strong, implying a similar amount spent on attributes to Inquis, but without the Slothful perk. Hopefully he’ll head towards those Places of Power instead of messing with me.

Inquis is to the west, and north of him, Baleyolfynn. You’ll notice that their legions and territory borders are, like Xaklyth’s, black. One annoyance of Solium Infernum’s interface is that it’s hard to tell opponents apart just by looking at their holdings on the map; with mouse-over tooltips it’s not too bad, but it will be hard to follow in screenshots. I’ll try to annotate them to help. Anyway, Baleyolfynn’s legion is a total monster, with a massive 10 melee stat. He must have put a lot of points into his attributes, and probably doesn’t have any perks. He’ll certainly start marching around the map capturing Places of Power.

North of Baleyolfynn, trapped between some mountains and a chasm, is Nameless ex-autocrat, who also has a decently powerful legion. He’ll probably take a military focus as well, although his cramped starting position may mean he’ll have a slower start.

North of Nameless ex-autocrat is my final opponent, Beowulf. Note that, because the Solium Infernum map wraps around in all directions, he’s also south of Inquis and east of Xaklyth (who is south of me). I must remember that archfiends can approach me from different directions. Beowulf doesn’t have a particularly powerful legion, indicating he has spent points on other things… like a perk or two. I’ll have to keep an eye on him. Especially since he’s close to Pandemonium, the capital city of Hell. A particularly desperate (or devious) archfiend could try to take the city by force instead of playing by the rules.

Now that I have a sense of the map, I take a look at what’s on offer in the Infernal Bazaar. Here, one can hire new legions and praetors, buy demonic artifacts and relics, or purchase manuscripts, which allow training preators and legions as well as boosting an archfiend’s power or lowering all other archfiends’ power. Everything is up for blind auction, and stock is only replaced if purchased, so it’s important to keep an eye on what’s available. The early offerings can define the first stages of the game, as archfiends vie for control of particularly powerful items.

For example, the Gorgons are available for hire. Most legions in Solium Infernum aren’t very powerful, requiring praetor commanders, unholy artifacts, and demonic rituals to boost their strength for any serious military actions. But the Gorgons are one of the few exceptions. They’re absurdly powerful, but expensive, and require an upkeep of 2 darkness to be paid every turn or they will return to the bazaar. Since I’m not going for military might, I won’t compete for their services, but I expect my opponents will.

Much more interesting to me is that the praetor Morax is also available. Morax is modestly useful as a commander, boosting a legion or Place of Power’s infernal stat, and making the infernal round of combat happen twice. But his real strength is in the arena. See those 12 infernal orbs he has? With the right training, he can use those for devastating special combat moves, making mincemeat out of his opponent. I want him. Hiring Morax is my highest priority.

There’s another good praetor available too: Temeluchas. He doesn’t have great infernal power, but has lots of attack and defense, making him a good duelist, especially early on before anyone has any special moves. And he’s a lot cheaper. But if I buy him now, I’ll have to save up even longer for Morax, and someone else may snatch him up. I decide to focus on getting Morax as soon as possible.

I look over the artifacts and relics on sale, but none are immediately appealing. Of more interest are the manuscripts. One of them will teach a praetor the Piercing Lunge combat move, and unlike many manuscripts it does not require finding multiple pieces. It’s also really cheap, so I consider buying it. But I’m afraid of giving away my praetor-focused strategy too soon, so I decide to wait until I actually have a praetor. It’s unlikely my opponents will bid on it, unless they’re also planning on lots of praetor duels. Also of note is that two of the three parts of the Rite of Blood are available. If I could get my hands on all three, I could perform the rite and increase Rufus and Big Beak’s Wickedness attribute by 2 points. Normally that would cost a lot of resources over multiple turns. Wickedness is useful because it allows rituals that directly damage opponents, provided we are in a vendetta or blood feud. Since my military is weak, some Destruction rituals will be useful for defense. I’ll keep those manuscripts in mind.

Lastly, I look over my initial offerings of tribute. Since I have a Charisma attribute of 3, each offering contains four cards with various resources on them, and I can choose three of them. I prioritize souls and ichor, since these are what I need to hire Morax. Unfortunately it’s not quite enough, so I’ll need to collect more tribute as soon as I can.

That’s a lot to take in right at the start, but once Solium Infernum gets going, turns are very simple. I only have two order slots at the beginning. I need more resources to hire Morax, so one of my order slots will be a demand for tribute. Each subsequent demand for tribute comes with a penalty to its quality, so I consider using my second order slot for something else, like purchasing a manuscript. But that would actually drain my resources, further delaying my bid for Morax. I decide that two tribute calls are better. I commit my orders, and await those of my opponents.

In part 2, the game gets underway in earnest.

Solium Infernum is available directly from developers Cryptic Comet.

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3 Responses to Hell Or High Water: A Solium Infernum Diary (part 1)

  1. Looking forward to this. Good luck.

    Also looking forward to read your thoughts on the Spartacus boardgame.

    • waltorious says:

      I’ve been meaning to write about several board games for a while, but never got around to it because 1) I keep forgetting to take photos of them when I’m playing them, and 2) I’m lazy. I will write about them one day!

      The rest of the Solium Infernum diary will surely come first, however. Glad you’re enjoying it so far!

  2. Entertaining as always!
    Planescape: Torment reference in Morax description made me chuckle.

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