Boardhammer: The Search for Planet X

An article by    Boardhammer Gaming Reviews        0

From the Publisher:

At the edge of our solar system, a dark planet may lurk. In 2015, astronomers estimated a large distant planet could explain the unique orbits of dwarf planets and other objects. Since then, astronomers have been scanning the sky, hoping to find this planet.

The Search for Planet X is a board game where players take on the role of astronomers, using observations and logical deductions to search for this hypothetical planet. Each game, the companion app randomly selects an arrangement of objects and a location for Planet X following predefined logic rules.

‘We’re in the pipe, five by five.’ Corporal Ferro, Aliens

Intro:

The Search for Planet X puts you in the role of an astronomer who is trying to find the rumored Planet X before your fellow astronomers can. In this sleuth-type game, you will be working behind a player screen trying to detect the location of the mysterious planet, and gleam information from the other players to be the first to claim the location. Each turn has 3 actions available to each player, and play continues until the planet has been discovered. Note that the game does require at least 1 mobile or tablet device to run an app which is available in both app stores.

Year Published: 2019

Number of players: 1-4

Playing Time: 60-75 minutes

Ages: 13+

Game Setup & Rules Overview

Each player will need to go to their respective App Store in their mobile (or tablet) device and download the app called ‘The Search for Planet X’ (same as the game itself) made by Foxtrot Games. While a single device can be used between all the players, and passed around, it does run best if there are multiple devices to play.

Once the app is installed, you will want to setup the game board. Determine if you want to play standard mode (12 sectors) or Expert mode (18 sectors). The overall game space consists of 3 different pieces: the game board, a yellow token that represents the sun, and a half-moon board that goes in the middle representing the earth’s core and its view of the sky.

Place the game board in the middle and place the sun token in the middle. Now place the earth board with the sun in the middle and have the indicator pointing to sector 1. Ask each player to pick a color and matching components of that color (token count will vary based on standard or expert mode). Each player then places their pawns in sector 1 on the outer edge in any order. I will call out that order of pawns does matter, with the furthest back always going next, and while the rules just have you place them in any order here, it’s best to find a random way to select the starting order (trying to stay thematic, I used the method of ‘who looked at a star or moon for more than 3 seconds last’ to help determine it (surprisingly, 3 seconds is a long time for a lot of people)).

The Earth Core board in the middle is what will indicate the number of visible sector’s and will change as players move around the board. There is a visual indicator on the left edge that should always be pointing to the sector that has the furthest back player token on it, and as player move around the board, this will move with them, always staying the with furthest back player.

‘Space, the final frontier’ – James Kirk, Star Trek

Each player will now look at their location space for an icon and take a player sheet from the notepad that matches that icon (autumn, winter, spring, summer). This is important, and the app will provide information based on that location’s view. You will need a writing utensil for this.

Once this is all complete, the only thing left is to setup the app for the game. Have one player start the app and select ‘Start New Game’. The app will then prompt for you to select the game mode (Standard vs Export) then provide you a 4-digit code. This code will allow all the other players to enter it in their devices to ensure the same rules are being used. Select the icon matching your player sheet, and then the difficulty level. The only difference in difficulties are the number of hints the games provides at this point.

A quick word on the player sheet. You will notice that the player sheet has 2 very distinct sides to the sheet (the left side of shows the different sectors, the right shows the spaces to capture your findings). The right side of the sheet will not be enough space to capture the data (unless you write really small). Coming up with a method of shorthand or abbreviations is highly recommended. I found using the first few letters of the words and objects are enough as they are unique (Com for Comet, DP for Dwarf Planet, GC for Gas Clouds, etc). On the left side of the sheet, you will be crossing out any icons that have been eliminated, but may also want to be able to circle or add question marks around other findings or guesses.

The app will now provide each player with starting information, which they can mark on their sheet. Each player should determine a method that works for them to mark off as they are discovered or guessed throughout the game, along with notations.

If you are sharing the device, you have an option at the bottom of this screen to ‘Add Another Player’. You would press that then pass the phone to the next player, and allow them to capture their starting information, then do the same for the remaining players. Once all players have been ‘logged’ into the game, press ‘Start Game’.

Game Mechanics

The app will now provide the Research & Conferences that are going to be available for the game. This is general knowledge for all players and should be shared and noted on the player sheet in the section with the same name. Once that has been captured the game will present the player with the options available on their turn.

‘Well on my planet, there’s a legend about people like you. It’s called… Footloose. And in it, a great hero named Kevin Bacon, teaches an entire city full of people with sticks up their butts that dancing is the greatest thing there is.’ – Peter Quill, Guardians of the Galaxy

Each player has 3 actions they can take on their turn. Those are ‘Take One Action’, ‘Advance your token’, and ‘Rotate the Earth Core Board’. Turn order is variable; who is furthest behind on the track will take an action and it’s possible to act multiple times in a row. Each action costs a different amount of time. Within the app, the actions and what they do are as follows:

  • Survey – The player selects what they are searching for, and what sectors they want to search in. This information is not shared between the players. The player will write their findings under the action section. This costs 3-4 time units.
  • Target – When selected, this will show you exactly what is in the sector. This costs 4 time units.
  • Research – This gives you specific information on a planetary body (comet, gas cloud, asteroid, dwarf planet, empty sector, or Planet X). It can only be used every other turn and costs 1 time unit.
  • The above items are what you will normally use on your turn. When any player feels that they have discovered Planet X and the information for it, they can select the next option and will be prompted to enter their findings.
  • Locate Planet X – Select the sector and say what is adjacent on both sides. It will tell you whether you are correct or incorrect. The requirement to enter 2 pieces of information along with the sector is a way to ensure that this is not a blind guess for the planet. This will cost 5 time units.

In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. – Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

As mentioned before, the time units dictated by the app will determine how many spaces you move forward. The player furthest back will always go first, followed by the next furthest, and so on until the end of the game. If other players are in the sector already, you will move to the front of the line, and they will still be considered behind you. If the Earth board is pointing towards an empty sector after a player’s turn, it rotates forward to point at the sector containing the player at the end of the line. This will cover some and expose other sectors on the board, allowing more research to be done.

The final action, where you rotate the board, can reveal 2 different icons on the boards that trigger additional phases.

Theory Phase – When the Earth Core points to sectors 3, 6, 9 or 12 and is about to advance, it will stop at the icon near the bottom of that sector to allow players to submit their theory on what objects are within the sectors. Theory Tokens are used when you believe you know what celestial body is in that sector and want to claim that discovery. You will be making that decision based on your findings from having used the Research action on your turn. Each player will place their hand down outside from behind their screen and have either 0 or 1 (or up to 2 in expert mode) theory token under it. When all players are ready, all will reveal, and those that have a theory token down will place it in the sector they believe it is in. You will notice that each sector has several boxes on it. You will be placing these in the outermost box, and as the earth core reaches each additional icon, you will move the theories in each sector closer to the middle. As play moves onward, additional players can place their token on the same sector’s as they try to deduce what is in each one, always starting in the outermost box. At the start of each Theory Phase, each token will move closer to the center of the board.

Peer Review Phase – Once the theory marker reaches the final icon, you will begin the Peer Review. Turn over the tokens that have made it to the center and go back to the app. Have a player select ‘Peer Review’ and enter the sector and object that is on the back of the token. The app will tell you if this is correct or not. Correct theories will stay on the board, incorrect ones are removed from the game. Additionally, the player who had an incorrect theory get penalized 1 time, and most move forward a single sector. Once a correct theory has been proven, all remaining markers will be turned over, with the same penalties for correct and incorrect theories. Important to note that once a theory has been proven correct, no further tokens will be allowed in that sector.

Planet X Conference (Sector 10) – When this menu option is selected, the app will provide information available to all users. This is used a single time (the first time the icon is reached) and all subsequent turns this will not be used.

‘Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.’ – Dave, 2001 A Space Odyssey

End game (Location of Planet X) – If any player believes that they have found Planet X they will enter their hypothesis in the app, and if correct, the End Game phase begins. Once the planet has been discovered, only the players who are behind the player who found the planet will have a few remaining plays available. This goes in hand with any player who is the in the same sector as the one who found the planet. Those players who are behind the player who made the discovery can do the following: Locate Planet X or submit up to 2 theories, depending on how far back they are on the game board. Once that is complete, you will go back to the app and select ‘End Game and Submit Theories’ to see the boards results. Score out your points based on the track on the bottom of your note sheet to see who wins!

The game supports two additional modes outside of the Standard – an Expert mode and a Solo mode. Below is a brief description of the differences in game setup and play.

Expert Mode – The game will have 18 sectors vs 12. The main board will be flipped to show the additional sectors, as will the player sheets. Each player will get all their theory tokens for their color and will place an ‘export’ panel on their player sheet. Submitted theories can now be up to 2, and the Planet X Conference option in the app now has 2 choices available.

Solo Mode – For the Box, select a color and provide all 12 theory tokens and 12 additional tokens (face up) from a different color, which will be used to verify the bot’s choices. Select in app solo mode. Game play continues like normal, and the app will provide the bot’s options.

Game Play

Search for Planet X relies heavily on 2 things – the app to provide all the information, and the ability of the player to capture information logically on paper. The game board is only there to keep track of the player order and show the icons that you can see on your player sheet. The important part really has to do with the capturing and tracking of data on the individual player sheets. If you are really good at keeping track of data and being able to keep track of your notes, then you’ll do great at the game. The reverse is true, in that if you are not good at keeping track and organizing your notes, then you may have a hard time with the game.

The good thing is the game is not timed; there is no need to be rushed to keep track of anything. The only real limitation that you have is the limited space on the sheets. The publisher has made additional sheets available on their webpage so you can download and print on a full sheet of paper if you have players who take lots of notes, but that might not be completely hidden from play behind the screens.

App utilization is very high in the game. You will be using the app for everything in the game, and for all clues. While this is great as it takes a lot of guess work, setup of the game and management of game state data out of the hands of the players, and lets you get the game going faster, it also means that you have no idea where you might miss on your theories, or when you may have made a bad guess. After a number of games, you’ll learn that it’s easier for each player to have their own device with the app. This does introduce a few issues, specifically any player can go straight to endgame once they join in, see all the results, enter them and go to end game. Or even play a few turns in a row without telling anyone and just recording the data. Of course, if you are playing games with people like that, the question as to why they’re playing a board game meant to have fun comes into question but let us not go down that rabbit hole. We all have our Timmy, Johnny and Spike’s in our groups.

Expansions

Currently, there are no expansions for the game.

Artwork & Component Quality

As expected from Renegade and Foxtrot Games, the game components are made of sturdy board for the game board, high quality player boards, easy to read player sheets and good-sized tokens. With very few colors that can impact the game-play, the colors used for the player tokens (and each player screen) are easily identified for those with color restrictions.

As mentioned earlier in the article, you will want to go to the website and download the player sheet used and print additional ones. While the game comes with a solid amount (I’m guessing around 100 sheets, double sided), it’s always good to have a file you can print if you need larger print for some players.

What Works

The game is quite easy to setup and start playing as the app does all of the hard work for you. You can have a 4-player game up and running in less than 5 minutes, with the hardest part being the selection of the player color and decision of where to be seated. Letting the app manage the ‘world’ and setup the location of all the celestial bodies takes all that setup out of your hands. Rules are very easy, and the app has some help on each screen if a player is not sure of what the option means, or what the answer provided is trying to tell them. The player screens provided have good are clear, have the icons clearly defined in each section that talks about it, and has any hints you may need to play the game. The other thing I love is how the game includes the plastic bags you will need to keep all the tokens once the game is complete. Sometimes it is the little things like that which make it all feel like a well-thought out product.

What doesn’t work

Not that it does not work, but the heavy dependence upon an app that each player should be using on their device just takes away from the ‘traditional’ feel of a boardgame. Realizing that not all games need piles of cards, or dice rolling, it works for this game; honestly without the app to do the management and setup of the game, you would need to have many piles of cards, and rules galore to try and play that style. There is also no control within the app to make sure that a player has not clicked ahead a few turns on their end to try and get ahead of the game. When using a single device, it’s not that much of a problem, but if multiple players have their phones, there’s no way to stop someone from just going to end the game, get all the results while the rest play, and then just somewhere down the road end the game by ‘guessing’ correctly. Of course, the ‘work-around’ that the app developer was that it has annoying ‘ding’ sounds when a button is pressed, but you can just lower the volume and get around that. The lack of synchronization between the players on the phone does take a bit away from it, but functionally, the app does what it is mean to do.

‘We’ve just landed on Klendathu on an area they call Big K with the 6th Mobile Infantry Division. It’s an ugly planet, a Bug planet!’ – News reporter – Starship Troopers

Final Thoughts

10 plays in and still willing to keep going with it, the game will keep your interest if you are into sleuth-and-deductive types of games. There is a lot of variation in the game, and with it being driving by an app, it allows for more combinations to be made available for play without needing additional components to be bought. High quality boards and components, the game does show a quality to it that most games do not have but is what you would expect from these two companies. I also want to call out that this is based on real-world theories surrounding another planet in our solar system. And they include an awesome sheet that tells you about The Planetary Society, a group that is all advocating for more exploration in space. Now if you are looking for that super-crunchy 4x Space Game that takes a full day to play, we can talk that outside of this article, as this isn’t that. But you want to talk a great, space exploration game that you can play with your family, or between other gaming sessions, then this will fit that gap.

 

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