Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Monday, 3 December 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Planet

Game: Planet

Publisher: Blue Orange Games

Designer: Urtis Šulinskas

Year: 2018

Blue Orange Games publish games that range from simple kids games to some timeless family classics, such as Kingdomino and New York 1901. Planet falls into that family category, with it's amazing table appeal and simple gameplay.

We first spotted Planet at Tabletop Gaming Live convention in London where it was such a popular demo that we never got a seat at the table! That's certainly testament to it's visual presence and accessibility.

In Planet, you are presented with dodecahedrons with magnetic faces, and a bunch of magnet tiles. Over the course of the game, you'll cover your empty planet with twelve pentagonal tiles, showing five potential types of terrain. With this unique appearance, the game could easily be dismissed as a gimmick in the tile-laying world, but what does Planet have to offer in terms of gameplay?


Gameplay

At the start of the game each player is handed an empty dodecahedron, each face bearing a metal plate in the centre. Each player will also be assigned a card telling them which type of terrain they will be rewarded for collecting at the end of the game. Then the terrain tiles will be laid out into 10 rows, with 10 rows of animal cards being placed out

Each round, the 5 tiles are laid out to be picked from. Starting from the first player, each player will choose 1 tile and then add it to their personal planet, any leftover tiles are used to form the supply for rounds 11 and 12. After taking the tiles you check to see if there were any animals in the round, if there were then someone may have won the animal card. Each animal has a preferred habitat and the player who best meets these requirements will win the card, and associated points. There are 3 kinds of animals, animals that like big areas of land type A next to land type B, animals that like large areas of land type A not next to land type B, and animals that want as many different areas of their chosen terrain as possible. For example the octopus will go to the player with the largest single ocean that is touching a desert at some point along its coasts. In the case of a draw the animal moves to the next round until someone breaks the tie.


Play continues like this, with gradually more animals being available each round until round 12. At this point your planet should be completely filled with tiles and you should have a healthy number of animals in front of you, so it's time to score. Each player reveals their terrain type and then earns 1 points per animal matching their preferred terrain and 2 for each animal not matching their preferred terrain. Finally you will gain a number of bonus points based on how much of your planet you managed to cover with your terrain type. The player with the most points wins.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

There is no denying that Planet is a unique game, but the immediate question is "is it just a gimmick"? To which I answer "Not just a gimmick, but it definitely is one". You see having a 3D "spherical" surface to build your planet on isn't just for theme, each tile connects to another on 5 different spots, but importantly unlike other tile laying games your map will be complete at the end. There is no beginning or end to your creation, which makes for a very interesting spatial puzzle, and since all the animals and their requirements are available from the start of the game you can do a lot of thinking about how best to entice the lovely creatures to your side. More to the point having a 3D object makes it difficult to card count, you may remember that Derek took two big desert tiles, but if he placed one next to some wasteland then he isn't a competitor for the Fennic fox. You could just look at his planet, but half of the planet is facing away from you at any one time, so good luck trying to count up your opponents terrain before it's too late!


All of this speaks highly of the potential of Planet, but now for the reality; Planet is a really well balanced game, that is nonetheless occasionally frustrating to play. Being first player on a round where a good tile for an early animal appears feels great, being third player and getting the tile that won't help you for half the game feels a lot less interesting. All too often the best tile in a round is all too obvious, and often a lot better than even the second choice, since all the tiles are used every game the ratio of land types is fixed, but the shuffle can cause artificial scarcity. Combine this with a completely random set of animals potentially making huge terrain biases and you have a game that can easily feel unfair. While the advanced knowledge of every animal in the game should, and does, balance this out, this can also lead to moments of AP as you try and work out the best tile with the best rotation available to you.

To Planet's credit there was never a landslide winner and often the winner wasn't clear until the last moment. Even more to Planet's credit, the animal cards are all gorgeous with a significant amount of player rivalry over getting the cutest animal! The planets themselves do end up looking blocky and I feel that a softening of the borders between areas might have made the whole thing look a lot better. Overall, I don't think that Planet is a game that will keep gamers hooked for months on end. Instead it offers a unique family-weight experience which is sure to wow players with it's unique design.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

Planet is the kind of game I can see myself using to wow people. On a personal level, in a setting with work colleagues, a game like Planet can really showcase what's new and exciting about the kinds of games we play. Similarly I can see Planet working well in the board game cafe environment, where quick, easy to teach games, that can be picked up by families are exactly the right kind of game to promote.

However, in playing Planet as a gamer and with gamers, there are some flaws that seem to come up repeatedly for us. With two players, we've found that it's too easy for one player to feel really down heartened in the early game when their opponent takes the one good tile each round for some early objectives. When playing with four players, we found that there simply weren't that many objectives to go round, so it could be at least half way through the game before one player or more even got their first scoring objective, simply due to a lack of cards available. Although these situations have not seemed to affect end game scoring, they have affected the enjoyment of the 'unlucky' players during the game.

In spite of some frustrations with the intricacies and luck in the game, I really enjoy playing Planet. There's no doubt that I have been hooked by the gimmick though. I really love holding my globe in my hands, playing with the magnets and twisting this really tactile object around in my hands to figure out my best moves. There's no way that this game could be laid flat on the table - you couldn't achieve the same 5 adjacencies per tile. You'd also lose the major hook of the game. From a gameplay perspective, the globe also means that all of the information about your tiles is not laid out for all to see. There's definitely some tactics in remembering the terrain types that your opponent's are strong in, in order to inform your strategy for future turns. I really think this helps to promote player interaction in the game. On the downside, there's a certain satisfaction in tile-laying games of being able to see what you are building, laid out before you, and the nature of having a 3D object in your hands means that it is harder to admire what you've achieved.


You Might Like...
  • The game is really tactile and eye-catching with a great toy factor.
  • The hidden and open scoring combine to give an interesting mix of point scoring opportunities
  • The 3D planet itself might be a gimmick, but without it, the game wouldn't be possible - it needs to be laid out in 3D.

You Might Not Like...
  • The game is very simple, and certainly a family weight game.
  • At two players, it can feel like one person gets more early game luck.


The Verdict
6.5/10 Planet is a game that drew us in with its tactile, toy-like properties. It's a fun family-weight title with plenty of appeal on the table. It's definitely a game to help draw new people into our gaming hobby. However, for gamers, it might be a little too light, with some frustrating moments.


Planet was a review copy kindly provided to us by CoiledSpring Games.

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