Do you want to build a whole new solar system? Welcome to Planetarium!
A new star and its four fledgeling planets are the backdrops to this very sleek game. The four planets sweep across six possible orbits collecting four basic materials (Gas, Rock, Water, Metal), the building blocks of planetary evolution and possibly even life itself. In 2016 it launched on Kickstarter had over 3000 backers, and reached the public throughout 2017. I picked up my copy as a retail release, struck by its unique premise and sleek box art.
Instructions & components
I found the instructions to be concise and clear, with a nice easy to read typeface using high contrast colours against the mainly black backgrounds. The rule book includes lots of great rendered images, from setup through various states of play and the breakdown of the point-scoring cards.
The high-quality strong, glossy box with the eye-catching image of some planetary level event happening is replicated on the front of the rules booklet, which also contains a short article on the actual science of solar system formation (that this game ‘simulates’) and another on the search for life on other worlds, both interesting while easy to read. This attention to the actual science and engineering etc is continued to each of the scoring Evolution cards, each with a small easy to read factoid.
The high quality continues with the game’s components, the card tokens (for the base materials, planets and hostile/habitual markers) are thick and glossy, the player mats (to keep what you have collected from the system for each planet) are a good size and sturdy.
But the best bit from my perspective is the glossy gem-like scoring and player markers. The scoring track uses both tens & units, so saves that sometimes awkward around the whole board style scoring track.
The cards, from which players achieve goals and score points are standard sized, (and could be sleeved as the front contains all the information) thick enough and have a smooth linen finish. The game board its self is a strong, decent sized square that folds in 4.
Setting up the solar system is quick and pretty simple. The planets have fixed starting positions and the four basic materials are fully randomised, in that you place them all facedown and then turn them over. Each player gets a mat for what they capture, and the aforementioned gem score and player markers.
The final step is the taking of the Evolution cards, two Low (fewer requirements to match, lower score), two High (harder to achieve the requirements but score more points) and a choice of two Final Evolutions.
The Final evolutions are different that they can only be scored in the final turn of the game. They have very detailed requirements to be scored. These requirements are based on all the possible variables, so a terrestrial (rather than Gaseous) planet that is Habitable (as apposed to Hostile) and in a range of orbit ranges and as you can only score a Final Evolution card on a planet you already have played a previous (Low or High) Evolution on forward planning becomes quite significant
The turns start swift and simple, you pick either a Basic Material and move it one spot along an orbit track (including changing tracks) to crash it into a planet, or take a planet either move it one spot on to another track or move it as many spots around single track orbit to collide with a Material token.
In either case that Basic Material token is placed on your player mat, in the area for that planet - you have collected that material ready for use to play an Evolution scoring card against that planet.
Then if you have a Low or High Evolution card you meet the requirements to score it, you may do so (only 1 per turn). Taking the materials and filling the next empty spaces on the Evolution track (The system-wide level of Evolution) and placing the scoring card against the planet near the main game board. You then score the points for yourself and take a replacement card. You may always pick a Low, High or 1 from 2 drawn Final Evolution cards, so your hand size is always 5 cards. Some Evolution cards will also get you a Basic material from anywhere in the system for any of the 4 planets, can have quite an impact!
You then check that the planet is either Habitable or Hostile and if the acceleration marker has been covered up on the Evolution track, as that speeds up the game, in that players now move a Basic Material token up to 2 spaces.
If the final space on the Evolution track is filled by any placement of Basic Materials, this triggers the final turns of the game. The payer triggering the effect plays any number of Final Evolution cards, then each player, in turn, gets a full normal turn and then a chance to play any number of Final Evolution cards.
Then scoring is compared, the solar system ‘engineer’ with the most points at the end of that final turn is the winner.
Player Interaction / Solo Play
In the early turns the game moves quickly, but there will be little clues around Final Evolutions your fellow players might be looking towards. As the game moves on and less Basic Material tokens are left watch for players moving planets back onto orbit tracks after you move a planet to claim a material.
The efficiency of your actions and the playing of scoring cards on to planets you will be playing Final Evolution Scoring cards on will be key in my experience, rather than interrupting other players plans
Also given it is Oct 2020 as I write this, it is worth pointing out a great little solo version is included. An AI system that provides a good time pressure, while you play as normal setting a target score to hit (which is affected by how many Basic material tokens the AI scoops up)
So it will come as no surprise that, I’m really happy with this game. It looks and plays great, it’s not complex so quick and simple to teach. It also has decent replayability given the number of Evolution cards to draw from. The unique premise and high-quality production will help it appeal to a wide range of potential players
Also if you’re a world builder be it for fiction or an RPG, if you have a terrestrial, habitable planet at the end of the game - you might have just developed a whole new system with lots of ancient celestial events already baked in!