|Release Date: 2022||Players: 1-6|
|Designer: Ryan Lambert, Adam Rehberg||Length: 60-90 minutes|
|Artist: Yoma||Age: 10+|
|Publisher: Adam’s Apple Games||Complexity: 2.0 / 5|
|Plastic (by weight): 75%||Air (by volume): 25%|
It was inevitable. After decades of exploiting our home, Earth has finally run out of resources. It is time for Plan B. We have to leave and settle on a new planet. Potential targets have been selected and planeteers will be sent to develop them. Each of these adventurous heroes will be tasked with preserving the future of humanity and preparing one Planet Unknown by Ryan Lambert and Adam Rehberg from Adam’s Apple Games.
What a grand and now very cliche setting. Yes, it is up to us, one of up to six adventurous players to take on one unknown planet and make it ready to receive Earth’s refugees. No small feat indeed, but luckily, Planet Unknown translates this gargantuan task into a much simpler game. In fact, you’re faced with a Tetris puzzle rather than the much more difficult challenge of terraforming an unknown planet. That’s a good thing, because none of the planets that you can choose from is anything like Mars. Given the current AI discussion, we definitely don’t want to talk about making the planet named after the Roman god of war habitable.
Anyway. Planet Unknown is a giant game of placing polyominal shapes onto a grid representing your planet. You’re trying to seamlessly cover up the whole planet that way, ideally leaving no gaps. That’s where you get a good chunk of points from. However, it’s not quite as simple as that. You also want to improve your resources to slowly rev up your engine and make your turns more effective.
Every Tetris shape has two different resources on it. As you place the tile, you go up on the relevant tracsk. At least, that’s how it works in principle. There are a couple of exceptions, but let’s not worry about that now. Different resources give you different benefits. The tech track for example enables rule breakers that can really make your life a lot easier. Certain spots on the tracks also give you immediate one-off benefits as you reach or go past them.
There are also tokens, the so-called life pods, on your planet that you should try and collect. For that, you have rovers that you move by placing tiles with red rover resources on them. The problem with having stuff on your planet is that it will get destroyed when you place a tile over it. So you need to get your rovers to collect the life pods and then return to the safety of an already-placed tile. That way you clear the planet’s surface, ready to receive another tile.
Timing It Right
It might sound very complicated, but soon makes sense as you start playing. During your first game you will probably not be very effective, but the more you play Planet Unknown, the better you’ll get. Ultimately, it’s all about timing. You can line up really powerful combos for one mega turn and impress your fellow planeteers. Not only that, if you plan ahead and find the perfect moment, you can also put yourself in pole position for a lot of points at the end of the game.
There is another timing element in Planet Unknown. Even though play passes around the table in clockwise order, everyone actually plays at the same time. There is a Lazy Susan in the middle of the table with six sections, each of which has two compartments to hold all of the tiles of two different shapes. The active player rotates it so that the section with the two compartments that they want to choose from is in front of their player marker. Then, all players at once, choose the top tile from one of the two compartments in front of their player marker and place it on their planet grid. Then play passes clockwise to the next person who is now the active player.
It’s a really clever little mechanism that means there is never any downtime. You’re not waiting for anyone to think about which tile to take, how to rotate it and where to place it. The active player gets their choice, but everyone else still gets to place a tile. Everyone has to do the thinking at the same time to work out their best option out of the two in front of them.
Planet Multiplayer Solitaire or Solo
Of course, this mechanism also emphasises how much of a multiplayer solitaire game Planet Unknown really is. Even though you do keep an eye on what other people are doing, you can’t really influence anything outside of your own planet and resources. You do want to make sure that other players can place one of the tiles on their planet, because if they can’t, the game ends. However, that’s really only a concern near the end. Most of the time, you’re just trying to work out which tile is the best option for you. Whether other players get a really good tile or not is by the by.
Saying that, it did surprise me how much table-talk there was when playing Planet Unknown. If you’re with the right group, someone will curse the active player when they rotate the Lazy Susan to a section that leaves terrible options for the other player. Likewise, people will celebrate when the active player accidentally gives them the perfect tile. So despite everyone concentrating on what they’re doing, it’s usually not so taxing that the table falls silent. There is enough bandwidth for people to rib each other and enjoy each other’s company.
The other advantage of being such a clearly multiplayer solitaire game is that it also is possible to play solo. The game works pretty much the same, except that instead of choosing which compartment you want, the Lazy Susan just moves one section along. That still allows you to plan ahead, but can mean that sometimes you’re left with a choice between two terrible options.
There is a lot to discover in Planet Unknown. Your first few games should use the standard planet and corporation board for every player. However, as you get more adventurous, you may decide to look at the back of these. The reverse sides have unique planets and corporations on them that offer different levels of difficulty. These create new challenges and allow new players to play with seasoned planeteers. The beginners use the starting setup, while the experts can choose more difficult planets and corporations to level the playing field.
There is even more variability. The compartments in the Lazy Susan can be swapped around. That way, you won’t get used to certain shapes being next to each other. There are also optional modules included in Planet Unknown. These introduce events and objectives that vary the game even more. So, between the planets, corporations, mixing up the Lazy Susan and adding events and/or objectives, you are unlikely to get bored with this game for quite some time.
I certainly am always happy to play this fun game that scratches my tile-laying itch. I know that I can choose whether to have an easy time with the standard setup or challenge myself and my brain with one of the unique planets and/or corporations. It’s the perfect game that can adapt to every player’s mood, while allowing everyone to play at the same time.
The production quality is also very good. Yes, there is a lot of plastic. The Lazy Susan is the main plastic component here, but there are also plastic cubes. While I reckon the cubes could have been wood, I can’t imagine the Lazy Susan being made of anything other than plastic. As much as it pains me, I think using plastic was the right choice.
Planet Unknown Forever
I guess you can imagine what I think of this game. I really like it. It’s perfect for people who love multiplayer solitaire games. People who like to place Tetris shapes will love Planet Unknown. People who love puzzling out how to play a mega turn will enjoy the resource tracks. It’s an all-round wonderful game that I will always enjoy playing. I suggest you don your spacesuit and go out to find your own Planet Unknown.
- Planet Unknown: https://adamsapplegames.
- Rulebook: https://boardgamegeek.
com/ filepage/ 236957/ planet-unknown-official-rulebook
- Adam’s Apple Games: https://adamsapplegames.
- BGG listing: https://boardgamegeek.
com/ boardgame/ 258779/ planet-unknown
- Wikipedia entry for Tetris: https://en.
wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Tetris
Transparency FactsI feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.
- I played a friend's copy of the game.
- At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.
Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.
Music: “Mission”, “Destination” and “Inspiration” by AShamaluevMusic.
These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review: