Coming Soon: Invisible Sun (as a game and social artifact)

As Google Plus was dying, I thought long and hard about how to carry the Indie Game Reading Club forward. I joked in passing about writing an in-depth series about Invisible Sun, infamous for being $250, huge, and intimidating. And then a patron stepped forward and very generously offered to back it for me. This was how I was able to move the Club to its own blog, and start our very active and energetic Slack community.

The box arrived here at IGRC Intergalactic Operations yesterday. I’ve looked inside. My mind and body are ready.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be writing about Invisible Sun along with my normal stuff, both short-form thoughts and long-form breakdowns. I will clearly tag posts as “spoilers” or not, since it appears the game is largely comprised of spoilers nested inside spoilers, Russian doll-style. I’ll be talking to players who have already gotten into it and folks I know and respect who have their own thoughts on this, both as pure game design and as a social artifact of this golden age of gaming we’re living/surviving through. And with that, here’s my first round.

Opening the Box

28.9 lbs. It says so right there.

I can’t help but think proudly announcing the weight of the box you’re about to throw your back out trying to carry inside is the first bit of over-the-top theatrics Invisible Sun has in store for me. They announce it everywhere, as if dollars-per-pound is some kind of value metric. We’re dumb monkeys, though, and most definitely value weight. The box is nearly 30 lbs and packed like you’re about to open a rare vase.

I’ve seen organ donation coolers less well packed than this.

Every step of receiving and opening the box for the first time is about the theatrics of presentation. You’ve spent more money in one go on a game than you probably ever have or ever will, so expectations are already pretty high. Then you open the box, and continue opening, and opening, and opening. You can pack a lot of stuff into 28.9 pounds.

I mean, Jesus.

There are two pull-out drawers and a third open-faced storage area. Each drawer has…stuff. Stuff and stuff and stuff. The last time I took a swing at a ttrpg with so much stuff central to the play experience was FFG’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, 3rd edition. I’ve got a pretty big table, but damn, I’m going to need to think through how to put stuff out that everyone will need. But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are drawers to open.

That would be the hand.

Any gamer who hasn’t been living under a rock has almost certainly seen the Invisible Sun hand sculpture. It’s the main thing in the top drawer, along with some cards and colored cubes. It’s supposed to hold a little round card from something called the Sooth deck. It is ostentatious, ridiculous, utterly unnecessary. But I can tell it’s a powerful visual focus. I’m a big believer in having something to focus on at the table — usually it’s a situation map in the games I typically run — but I suppose a card holding bit of sculpture isn’t bad. On to the next drawer.

That is a lot of cards. A. Lot.

The second drawer feels pretty consequential. It’s filled with a nice bits organizer, boardgame style. Under the organizer is a sheet of chits to punch out, which will sit in those curved grooves. Dozens of chits. Everything about the presentation so far screams boardgame at me. But then there’s a deep pocket there, and there are two cloth mappy things folded up inside. Double chin for scale:

No idea what we’ll do with this.

The wildest thing about opening this box is that everything I’m looking at is coming at me context-free. What are those round cards for? Why are there four sizes of “Vance Spell” cards? Are we expected to actually use this map? What even is the premise of the game?

This was one of the draws of the original Kickstarter, if memory serves: folks were asked to plop down $250 with no hint of what they’d actually be getting inside the giant black cube. No idea of the game’s premise. No idea about the props. Nothing. Who does that? I can’t wait to find out. Onward!

The bottom zone of the box is packed with lots of bits and bobs — folders for the players, folder for the GM, a little spiral bound notebook, and four breathtaking hardback rulebooks with accompanying bookmarks.

That’s a lot of rulebooks.

This zone is also the first time you come across the “You Have Summoned The Black Cube” document. It’s a nine-point breakdown of how to unpack and organize your box, and allegedly start playing kind of right away. Terrific choice to bury the breakdown in the last place you’ll look, and that’s not snark. I’ve just touched everything for at least 30 minutes, and finally I’m told that, yes, there is a rational way to get through all this.

What I’m not showing here is the rather extensive digital support that comes with the game. Shortly after the Kickstarter closed out, Monte Cook Games emailed a coupon for their Introduction and Rules Primer PDFs. I glanced through those and it was, of course, one long tease of what’s to come. The Rules Primer at least gives you a hint of the game’s premise, as well as a taste of some unique aspects of play. Shortly before the box arrived, I also got hyperlinked PDFs of all four of those books, as well as a “prop crafting kit” filled with goodies you can use to make handouts. I’m not a props guy but, given the theatrical emphasis of every part of the game…I might become one!

Oh yeah and there’s an app. Because sometimes you play on your own, away from the table. For real!

Looking forward to seeing what you actually get when you buy into Invisible Sun, as well as what others have gotten (and whether it was worth it). See you in the coming weeks.

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