Watch the Treehouse burn itself in hell in Solium Infernum
It took all of one turn before the insults started flying in our Solium Infernum multiplayer preview session this week. Specifically, they’d been launched straight into the court of League Of Geeks co-founder and studio director Trent Kusters, who was attempting to show us how the game’s asynchronous multiplayer mode worked in a six-player match-up – the public playtest for which goes live today, Thursday January 11th, over on Steam. Moments earlier, he’d been walking myself, deputy editor Alice Bee and guides editor Ollie through the basics of this strategy game from hell, telling us about the importance of claiming territory, seeking out places of power to bolster our domain, and how to do battle with our hive-like legion units. But just as we were watching our individual turn orders play out, Kusters announced that Ollie had given him the digital equivalent of a demonic slap in the face, demanding he pay tribute to him, or else…
To his credit, Kusters took it with good humour. “This is the beautiful thing about this game – it’s petty high school politics in Hell,” he said laughing before graciously deciding to accept the insult at the cost of some of his prestige – the all-important hallmark of how you’re perceived within this conclave of warring demons fighting for Satan’s empty throne. Personally, I think Ollie’s insult would have pierced my exceedingly thin skin instantly if I’d been in the same position, and I’d probably have been torn between declaring a vendetta against Ollie’s unjustified affront, or challenging him to a Praetor duel to exact some (hopefully) righteous vengeance. Alas, since we were literally only a turn into this game, none of us were in any position to make good on those options, leaving the only possible outcome as eating it and moving on. It was a smart move on Ollie’s part, and one that makes me both terrified and excited to see how our own team multiplayer sessions will play out in the run-up to Solium Infernum’s full release on February 14th.
Those shenanigans are still playing out behind the scenes at the moment (rest assured, Ollie’s talent for immediate and merciless insults continues to be truly alive and kicking in our game so far), though I should note that, due to League Of Geeks being based in Australia, Kusters has now bowed out in favour of our news editor Edwin, who’s joined us to make up the necessary minimum of four budding hellraisers. We’ll do our best to chronicle our journey of deceit and betrayal as we go (following in the hallowed footsteps of former RPSers Quinns and Kieron, RPS in peace, who infamously gave the original 2009 version of Solium Infernum exactly the same treatment in their extensive Gameboys From Hell diary series). As soon as we come up with an appropriate name for it, we’ll get right on it.
Of course, us playing Solium Infernum’s multiplayer mode in the first place is down to the public multiplayer playtest taking place this weekend on Steam, which will let folks get to grips with both its live, single session games (which Kusters likens to sitting down for a good old tabletop board game session with a bunch of mates for a day), and its longer form asynchronous mode, which is the version we’re currently playing. The latter offers the best of both worlds, says Kusters, as asynchronous games can be played either altogether for a couple of hours, or turn-by-turn on an individual basis. You can simply submit your turn, quit the game, wait for everyone else to do the same, then boot it back up, watch the results play out and make your next move. Rinse and repeat. As a result, asynchronous games can theoretically last for weeks, months or even a year, says Kusters, just like they often would (and still do) for players of the original Solium.
In League Of Geek’s remake of this cult strategy game, however, the asynchronous multiplayer mode brings the old play-by-email format bang up to date, making excellent use of Steam’s built-in notification systems to let you know when a new turn’s available. Similarly, if you also have the Steam mobile app installed on your phone, you’ll get a ping there too, saying, ‘HEY, YOUR TURN NOW’. It’s very slick, and with the option to create private and public matches alike, do online match-making and fill any of the remaining player slots with AI demon lords to meet that four-player minimum, it should be a heck of a lot easier to find and maintain a game of Solium Infernum than ever before.
When you first create a game, you can set the map size, how many Places Of Power appear on the board, and, of course, your turn timer. The minimum for this is 24 hours, but you can also set it to only tick over once a week if you’re in it for the long haul. Last but not least, you can also customise the length of your game, which is measured in turns. Very Long games, for example, will last around 60 turns, says Kusters, but you can also have shorter ones that only stretch to 30. Once your game hits this turn limit, you’ll all enter The Trial Of The Chosen, which is essentially the final 5-10 turn crunch zone where you’ll need to make every last ditch attempt to seize the throne and get the all-seeing Infernal Conclave of Hell to declare you the winner.
Naturally, the person who creates the game gets first dibs on their demon of choice. You’ll be able to play with all eight of Solium’s available archfiends in the playtest, including the new (and very literal) Lord Of The Flies Beelzebub, who could quite honestly be described as the cursed hellspawn of a Xenomorph and a giant horsefly. Seriously, that giant fly head on top of his regular human face, and that gaping maw of double-rowed teeth with chittering flies legs grasping around it right in the centre of his stomach? Actual nightmare fuel. Really. Don’t set up a game while eating your dinner. You’ll likely lose it before you even begin.
Horrifying designs aside, though, the presence of these set archfields are actually one of the more major (and welcome) departures from the original Solium. Back then, you were tasked with picking from an almost infinite number of stats, character portraits, flaws, schemes and powers to create your own personal fiend – a bit like a pen and paper character sheet for a TTRPG. “It was insanity,” as Kusters puts it. “It was like a 40-foot vertical wall of friction to get into the game. You had no idea what any of these things mean, because the game was so singular [and] unlike anything else that had come before it that you just didn’t know what you were putting stats into or why.”
Thanks to their work on their much beloved tactical card RPG Armello, however, League Of Geeks are well-versed in making bespoke and balanced hero characters, and Kusters says they planned to take exactly the same route when it came to designing their version of Solium Infernum “right from the start”. He appreciates that their crop archfiends might not necessarily be characters you can, err, “fall in love with”, per se (at least not like Armello’s fantasy animal leaders), but the hope is that players will still be able to roleplay and project themselves onto these lost souls regardless. And lemme tell you, we’ve already mashed up their names with our own in our new game of Solium Infernum, and if we could alter our game titles to have “Kastaroth”, “Alice Bellzebub”, “Oliverzsebet” and “Edwandromalius” in there, we absolutely would.
The main goal of giving players a distinct group of archfiends to pick from, though, is to simply “help step [players] in to what would be quite a complex game,” Kusters says. “We’ve tried to wrangle it as much as possible to pull it out of the really intense, hardcore end of strategy back into a solid mid-core strategy game that can be accessed by as many players as possible hopefully.” As such, each archfiend will come with their own set of unique stats, stronghold base and starting legion, which will always respawn after four turns in case of them being defeated, as well as their own special power, or Dark Art, they can unleash on the battlefield.
That said, League Of Geeks still wanted to preserve at least some of the mystery and customisation options that made the original so thrilling, which is why they’ve also brought forward the buff-giving rings and amulets (and now also crowns) system from Armello in the form of the Reliquary. Each archfield will have their own default set of rings to start with, but you’ll also be able to mix and match from a (blissfully) limited set of trinkets yourself, as long as you can fit them on its limited 1×3 grid space, that is. For Kusters, these changes hopefully represent “a bunch of improvements to not only kill some of the friction, but also add a bunch of flavour and context here, and still keep that magic of surprising people with your really weird fucked up archfiends that you want to bring to the game and backstab everyone with.”
It’s certainly set the stage for what looks to be a devious game of duplicitous double-crossing based on the handful of turns we’ve played so far, and I look forward to relaying our adventures through hell in some future posts. Will Oliverzsebet insult us all into the ground with his spiteful hunger for prestige? Will Alice Bellzebub secretly colonise the whole map and corner off the throne of Pandemonium while we’re all too busy declaring vendettas on each other and challenging each other to death duels? Personally, I think Edwandromalius is the one to watch, as he’s already made a play to capture various Places Of Power on the map, and even sneaking a legion bid out from under me in the silent auction. I’ll need to keep my wits about me going forward, maybe cook up a scheme or two with a special colossus summoning ritual if I play my cards right. That’ll teach Ollie to spit on my front door and demand tribute. Mark my words… The GameFolks From Hell are back.