Solium Infernum – A Hellish Management Simulator

Solium Infernum - A Hellish Management Simulator

Who would rule in Hell if The Prince of Darkness left without a trace? Solium Infernum aimed to answer that question one turn at a time back in 2009. It’s a Turn Based 4X game that not many people have heard of, myself included when it originally released all those years ago. It touted a “play-by-email” mode (no really) and a diplomatic focused experience that changed the way you thought about the genre.

After 15 years of being an unknown game with a small cult following, Australian developer League of Geeks have attempted to “Reimagine” the game in their own image. After claims that their debut title “Armello” was partially inspired by the original game, it would be interesting to see how they would add a new hellish twist to the 4X genre. With an upgrade to a set of new 3D Visual Models, and a focus on adding some more depth to the heroes (or villains in this case) it was set to be the next evolution in the 4X space.

But will Solium Infernum turn out to be a hell of a good time, or will it make me feel like I’m plummeting through all 9 circles of Hell, one arduous turn after another? Let’s find out!

So the Prince of Darkness has sodded off, leaving a power struggle more intense than my family fighting over the last chicken drumstick in a KFC bucket. Several chosen Archfiends across the infernal planes have been made aware of this, and it’s time for them to muster their legions, Insult each other religiously, stab each other in the back, and do anything they can to become the new ruler of Hell.

Right from the get-go, the game is unlike your typical 4X gameplay loop which is an interesting change of pace. You’re not starting from the Stone Age and discovering basic resources, nor are you slowly expanding the amount of things you have to manage every turn before conquering the entire world. In Solium Infernum you already have an established home base and that will be your primary source of control for the entirety of each game that you run through.

Everything that you do is tied to one of your limited actions and this makes each turn a critical decision-making tree to confirm you’re making the right move at the right time. Things that would normally be considered a trivial thing in most 4X games like moving units around or giving them new equipment, bidding on new armies, seeking extra currency, or insulting your colleagues counts towards the small action pool that you have each turn. To make matters even more interesting, all of the other players are planning their actions at the same time you are. Each turn acts more like a planning session and then it all goes off at once, in a revolving order based on who’s the Regent of the conclave at the time. This can subtly change the way each turn plays out as you move in units to attack, only for them to run away first because they had the right of way for that turn.

The mechanics do help with restricting you to a few different actions at the start of the game to make sure the players don’t just kill each other from the word go. The focus of this game of diplomacy after all, so we aren’t savages here and must conduct ourselves accordingly! Once a hexagonal territory or a Place of Power is captured, then it’s yours and no one can take it away from you, at least not initially. To invade someone else’s area of control, you first need to insult them, or demand some currency from them, and then have them refute this act, allowing you to start waving your Hellish Legion-shaped stick in their direction. 

If your target calmly accepts your insult in the eyes of the conclave, then there’s no stick waving for you and you’ll have to sit on their borders waiting for your next opportunity. To help with this, you’re rewarded with some Prestige, which is a currency that allows you to hurl more insults, level up your rank in Hell’s council, and help with winning that shiny throne at the end of each game.

It’s a slow paced affair for sure and something that can make learning more of the in depth mechanics a lot easier to grasp. Once everythings in motion, it can be a little difficult to decide what to do next. Since you only have 2 actions per turn starting out, everything feels like a slow progression for a while… and then the end of the game pops up when you aren’t expecting it. You only have 30-70 turns maximum to complete an entire game, and once you get into the flow of getting each of your turns prepared and executed, the “one more turn” mantra of the 4X genre is prevalent but short lived.

Even though a normal game only lasts 50 turns, there still feels like there’s quite a bit of down time when it comes to the gameplay, which I would assume would only be exacerbated when you’re playing online with friends. Multiple turns will have you just moving units or restricted to doing simple things like collecting currency without progressing anything. Since you don’t have the slow and steady build to something bigger like most 4X games, it’s difficult to find an aim to the game other than winning in different ways.

Each of the games I played went for a couple of hours but that’s because I was playing through each affair while versing AI opponents, and skipping a lot of the “actions” when they were executed. While combat is the most interesting part of each action phase, most of the time it’s just a basic numbers game and if you’re attacking your opponent, you usually know you’re going to win, without seeing the action play out. This isn’t always the case as various rituals and other armies can have fight altering mechanics but it seems like a rarer occurrence. Other than that though, the run through of each of the turns is quite slow and drawn out, especially once you get to the maximum number of 6 players.

Solium Infernum Powers Screen

Each Archfiend on offer here is blessed with five Powers which are upgradeable attributes that bestow unique abilities. How you level up these trees will affect what victory condition you’re going for. Wrath users want to throw around its military might. Deceit focuses on pilfering and shrouding themselves. Prophecy seeks to further knowledge and gain defensive wards. Destruction brings about hellfire & ruin, and Charisma is used for those subtle political manipulations. It’s up to you on how you choose to play your faction off the others, and this can create some tense situations as diplomacy appears to be the main driving force behind the game’s winning conditions.

After a few solo offline games, the game started to make sense and instead of being a jumble of two turn strategies that left me feeling both bored and lost, I started to get it. Each of the rulers excel in one or two areas, and playing to their strengths allows for some satisfying moments. You’re able to start your game with a plan in mind and you start to play through each match with a vision for victory. Playing as the charismatic Andromalius, you can focus on your Charisma levels and play without fighting much at all. Instead your focus is on using your duelling minions called Praetors, which is used to settle disputes between rulers.

My primary strategy was to first acquire a strong Praetor, buff it up, and then be ready to party for the rest of the game. I would throw insults left, right and centre to my opposing rulers, see what stuck, and then for anyone that snapped back, I bonked them with my Praetor in the Grand Arena. This strategy became very satisfying to pull off and made me understand the game a lot better from that perspective.

In others I focused on combat and my legion sized swinging stick was quite effective here… This was until everyone ganged up on me and I got John Wick’d off the council when a vote came through that I was going to be Excommunicated. This left a major uphill battle where I couldn’t interact with the conclave to purchase additional items, and ultimately left me ruined by the end of the game.

While these stories are ones that are going to stick with me for a while, I feel like a lot of the hidden “fun” of Solium Infernum is lost on the Offline solo gameplay where you’re only able to fight against AI opponents. This is also without offering various difficulty modes to experience either.

Much like the original game released in 2009 with its “play-by-email” mode, I feel like a lot of the fun is found in the stories that get created with friends in the Live and Asynchronous multiplayer modes that it has now. In these modes you could mess with your friends in a group chat, or form and break alliances over days or even weeks of playing a single game, turn by arduous turn. This wasn’t exactly what I experienced though. 

Through the developers I was able to dive into an Asynchronous game and play it with them over the course of a week or so. When you only have the one game to check on, it creates a situation where you’re only actually playing for 5 minutes at a time. This unintentionally  creates the feeling of diving into a mobile game that you check on every day. Tensions are definitely higher as you have to think about what your opponents actions are going to be each time, and you have to question every good intention they have towards you. It can be a great experience at times but it may only come together after a week of five minute loops. This is also assuming everyone sticks with it for the full game and doesn’t leave when they don’t get a desired result half way through.

Unless you have a few games going at once with shorter turn timers than one full day, it’s challenging to really get engaged in Solium Infernum. Instead, you and your friends get into a somewhat daily cycle of booting up the game after work, trying to remember what you did last turn, submitting your new turn, and then waiting for the rest of the players to submit theirs. This creates this start stop gameplay flow which is only exacerbated when people are playing in different timezones.

This isn’t because the game doesn’t have any deep mechanics, quite the opposite. If you and your friends are dedicated to playing or if you’re playing the Live mode, you can have a lot of fun with the unique stories that are created throughout your sessions. There are plenty of things to choose from within your turns and there’s a lot to learn from the multiple game mechanics on offer. For the die hard fans of the original game, I can see them loving this “re-imagining” as there’s a lot of new things on offer here.

Speaking of the re-imaging, All of the artwork and models have been redone and I like the style that’s been introduced here. With everything being now updated to have their own 3D models, it makes some of the archfiends more interesting to look at and it calls back to the original game quite well. It does feel a little dated and lacking in the “hellish” details here and there, but it’s a cohesive experience that doesn’t take away from the gameplay too much. We aren’t looking at beautiful vistas or seeing any recreated earthly Wonders in this one as it’s more focused on the barren wastelands of Hell which comes with its own depressing feel.

All of the artwork and models have been redone and I like the style that’s been introduced here with wonderful new cards, hellish effects for the council, and more. With each of the main Archfiends now being updated to have their own 3D models, it makes them all look more interesting to look at and it calls back to the original game quite well. It does feel a little dated and lacking in the “hellish” details here and there, but it’s a cohesive experience that doesn’t take away from the gameplay too much. We aren’t looking at beautiful vistas or seeing any recreated earthly Wonders in this one, as it’s more focused on the barren wastelands of Hell which comes with its own depressing feel.

The only issue I found with the re-imagining though are the legion models that move around the battlefield each game. Each army, regardless of their beautifully, and sometimes creepily crafted artwork cards, looks the same when placed on the battlefield. They all fight the same, with the same effects and the same looking Praetors popping up when they are added provide a little boost. While I understand the additional development work required to make each army unique, It would have been nice to see each army have their own special model and fighting style to capture the uniqueness of each faction.

To add to this, there are only 3 maps to play on and after a couple of games on each, it does start to show a lack of depth where each game, while short lived, can feel a bit samey after a while. This is especially true when you all get randomly spawned around each location and one game starts to blur into another. The areas are just background for the Archfiends to duke it out one turn at a time, but it would’ve been nice to have some additional variety when you have so much lore to dive into.

If you’re hoping for sneaky backstabs, breaking alliances because someone paid you off, and deceitful power plays a plenty, it can be a lot of fun! But only when playing with friends and only when you’re all dedicated to playing the game. If you’re playing solo against AI, there’s little challenge to be had and a lot of the victories you experience will be OK at its best, and hollow at its worst.

It’s a game where “being a dick” is both accepted and encouraged which can be an amazing experience at its peak, but most of the time, Solium Infernum ends up making you feel like you’re running around a new restrictive management circle of hell, one turn at a time. So your mileage may vary here. Maybe wait for a sale and have a nice strategic weekend with your friends.

Solium Infernum Review Box

Solium Infernum was reviewed on PC with a code kindly provided by ICOPartners

Have you seen our Merch Store?

Check out our Most Recent Video

Find us on Metacritic

Check out our Most Recent Posts