Planet Unkown by Adam Rehberg from Adams Apple Games is a brilliant twist on the polyominoes mechanic. Think games like Barenpark, Patchwork or Arraial. Through the innovative use of the centre piece of the game, the lazy Susan, players experience little or no downtime making this deep and tactical game so much faster than its competitors.
Gameplay…so what do you do?
Each player starts the game with their own player board featuring a planet marked out with a grid, a score track and an end game challenge card. These provide additional bonuses for completing specific goals. Players can score bonuses for completing their own and the challenge of players either side of them, another nice little twist.
The planet is one of the main places to score big. The columns and rows have different lengths and if you completely fill a row or column you score victory points; between 1 and 3 dependent on the number of squares in the row. You fill the grid with polyominoes (think Tetris shapes or Isle of Cats) drawn from the lazy Susan that sits centre stage.
The Lazy Susan is divided into 6 segments each with two available stacks of tiles. Each segment has two unique shape tiles to pick from. The tiles represent the corps you are colonising your planet with: Civilization, water, biomass, rover and tech. Each tile contains two of these resources and the resources on each tile are different each time.
Whenever you place a tile you move counters up your personal score track, for that particular resource. As you move up the tracks you receive bonuses from, victory points to wild tokens allowing advancement of another track for free. You can receive additional biomass, single tiles that allow you to fill difficult holes in your map and from the tech track, you can access additional level up bonuses.
The civilization track provides access to bonus action cards of different levels. The civilization cards are either immediate or end game bonuses. First to get to each of the cards get first pick and so on allowing you to choose the card that best suits your current playstyle and tactics. It should be noted that the water tiles add some complexity. You must place water on an area of the planet containing water, otherwise it does not allow you to advance the water track. However, the scoring bonuses available are greatest in the water track so planning where you are laying tiles is vital.
Some of the tiles have meteors printed on them and when one of these is laid on your planet you place a meteor marker. If these are still present at the end of the game, the row and column will not score. To remove them you need to use your rover: a little miniature that is released after placing your first rover tile, in fact, if you progress enough up the rover track you receive a second rover.
As you place subsequent tiles you unlock movement and your rovers can move across the planet clearing up the meteors and collecting them. The collected metrors are included in end game scoring along with the life pods that are on the planet to start with. You need to get to these before you are forced to lay a tile on them. Crushed life pods do not provide bonus scoring but any you collect can be used at the end of the game.
Once a player cannot lay a tile, or one of the stacks has been emptied, the game ends with each player completing their turn.
Final scoring happens, first calculate the points for colonzing your planet remembering only completed rows and columns score. Then add the total for all victory points gained from the five tracks, bonuses from civilization card and additional points for each life pod and every three meteors collected.
The winner is the player with the most points.
The version I played was a prototype but quality and artwork is already excellent, the design of the boards and the tracks is great and easy to understand. Utilising the lazy Susan is a stroke of genius and makes this a game, with significant depth, a quick and pacey game to play. Very little analysis paralysis here. The Kickstarter campaign includes the option to upgrade to triple layer, double sided player boards which will make the tracking much easier, counter cubes will stick in place. The asteroid markers and rover were nice additions and again there are different options available. The kickstarter also comes with reversible planets and tracks allowing for asymmetric play adding increased difficulty and replayability into what is already a great game.
I have played this game at 2 and 3 players, but at six it would still work really well. I can see how at larger player counts, competition for pieces would add some real intrigue and challenge into the game. As, each turn, the first player is able to move the lazy Susan. Here is where the game becomes far more tactical.
In the first few games we were only concerned with colonizing our own planets and focussed on ensuring that we chose the resources and shapes that allowed us to fill rows easily and advance the tracks we were seeking to gain bonuses from. However, subsequent games we became more aware of other players and were able to provide them with less choice by carefully selecting the orientation of the lazy Susan. So very quickly, this game becomes one where you need to keep your head up and your wits about you to make sure you are aware of all the other players in the game.
The number of choices make Planet Unknown a challenge, but the complexity is well hidden in a game that is simple to learn and easy to pick up.
So Many Choices
Will you chase after water to gain the most in game victory points? Or move your rover all over the planet to collect meteors and life pods to score at the end. Will you remember to build towards the goals outlined on the three challenges you have access to achieving? Or focus on levelling up through completing the tech track.
Planet unknown is just clever. This is amplified by just how simply it has been designed. It is one of those games that will suit seasoned gamers and those new to the hobby, as it can be played at a number of different levels and is so much fun.
Every time I’ve played the end game has always lead to the same comment, “right are we playing again?”
So layout the lazy Susan, pick which side of the planet you are working on and start laying tiles, colonizing that planet and seeing who can fill their space most effectively to create the greatest return on their choices. What are you waiting for, it is time to discover Planet Unknown.