I still don’t really feel like I’ve played enough games about space (or at least I didn’t, when I wrote this; I’ve played a bunch more now). There’s Roll for the Galaxy, of course, and I played Stellar Armada a while back, but my space game knowledge seemed painfully limited. Thankfully, I’ve been working to expand it. Sol: Last Days of a Star was incredible, and I need to try playing Stellar Leap, again. I bought Terraforming Mars for my birthday last year, so I guess I’m working actively to fix that problem, but even then. I backed a couple space games on Kickstarter and they’ve since arrived, so here we go. Just in time for its expansion, though, I thought it’d be fitting to take a look at Planetarium!
In Planetarium, you play as some kind of entities within a solar system watching it grow and helping shape four planets within it as they begin, accrete matter, and ultimately go through their final stages of evolution. Sure, it’s a lonely business, but you gotta keep yourself busy until entropy finally consumes everything, otherwise, you know, what’s the point?
First rule of business is that this is a game with an actual board (which is beautiful, by the way), so set it out in the center:
Next, give each player a player board:
While the other players are trying to figure out why it’s ACBD, set out the Matter tokens:
Put one randomly on each space, face up, that isn’t the A, B, C, or D space. Good work. Now, take out and shuffle each set of the Evolution Cards:
There are three types. Low:
and Final Evolution cards:
Now, give each player two Low Evolution cards, two High Evolution Cards, and two Final Evolution cards. They must discard one Final Evolution card.
You’ll also find some tokens that correspond to the planets and have a green symbol (Habitable) and a grey symbol (Hostile) on them.
Now, add the planet tokens to the A, B, C, and D spaces, and once you’ve done that you should be ready to begin! The player who was last consumed by an all-encompassing existential dread should probably go first.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward, here. You have two things to do each turn:
- Move a Token
- (Optional) Play a Card
I’ll explain each in turn.
Move A Token
On your turn, you can move either a Matter or a Planet token. If you move a Matter token, you may move it one space along the solid or purple tracks. If it collides with a planet, add the Matter token to your player board on that planet’s corner. If you move the Planet token, you can also move it along the thin purple line or along the large solid grey track, but you can perform an action called “Sweeping the Orbit” to move it to the next available Matter token along the grey track.
At a certain point in the game, enough Matter tokens will have made their way onto the Evolution Tracker (the grey circles around the main board) such that an acceleration of the solar system’s evolution will occur:
When this happens, Matter tokens can be moved two spaces per turn, not just one. That might be useful to you. But what’s the point of collecting Matter tokens anyways?
Play A Card
Well, I’m glad you asked. Or at least I’m willing to fake it convincingly. When you’ve accreted enough Matter tokens onto your Player Board, you can spend it to play a Low or High Evolution card:
Certain cards have certain requirements, and you must meet all of them to play a card:
- Matter Tokens – If a Matter token is pictured, you must spend that Matter token from the planet you would like to evolve on your Player Board, putting it on the Evolution Track. All Matter tokens must, unless otherwise stated, come from the same planet.
- Range – If the Evolution card has a range on it, such as III – V, the planet you are trying to evolve must be on orbit III, IV, or V. It’s an inclusive range.
- Terrestrial or Gas Giant – If the icon has rings, then it can only be played on C or D. If it’s rocky, it can only be played on A or B.
- Hostile or Habitable – If it shows a Hostile Symbol, this Evolution can only be played on a Hostile planet. Same for Habitable.
- Not Final Evolution – You can only play Final Evolution cards during the last turn of the game. Hence the Final.
Once you fulfill the requirements, spend the requisite Matter tokens from a planet on your Player Board and add the Evolution card to that planet’s side of the board. Put one of your color tokens on it and score the number of points indicated in the top-right corner. If you have no tokens left of your color, you may move a token from another Evolution card to this one or leave it blank. Next, check to see if that changes the status of the planet. If your card has a green ring around the points and there are more green-ringed Evolutions than grey-ringed, the planet turns Habitable (if it were Hostile). If there are more grey than green, it turns Hostile. It has to be strictly more to flip the planet’s status.
Some planets also have this symbol on the card, next to the points:
This symbol allows you to discard this card in lieu of playing a card on your turn to draw a Low Evolution card, instead. Useful if you have too many cards you don’t want.
You may also see cards with this symbol, below the Downgrade:
When you play an Evolution with this symbol, you can take a Matter token from anywhere on the board and add it to any planet on your Player Board. It’s gravity at its most convenient.
Check for End of Game
If you successfully added a Matter token to the big circle at the end of the Evolution Track, the game has entered its final stage. You may now play any number of Final Evolution cards, provided you satisfy the requirements, with one caveat: You must remove one of your tokens from a card on that planet to play a Final Evolution card on that planet. Basically, this means that you must have evolved this planet somewhat in the past to have a stake in its Final Evolution.
Each other player now gets an additional turn, complete with playing any Final Evolution cards that they want at the end of it. If they play any Matter tokens, just stack them on the big circle.
End of Turn
If you played a card this turn, draw either a Low Evolution, a High Evolution, or two Final Evolutions and discard one. You may only ever have four Final Evolution cards in your hand.
Actual End of Game
Once that’s done, tally up the number of points that everyone has. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
At higher player counts, you’re getting fewer turns (since the Matter Tokens played by all players go onto the Evolution Track) and you have a higher chance of interference from other player with planets. So I’d say player interaction increases with player count. Personally, that’s why I like it at 3 — it’s still pretty serene with a bit of player interaction, but nothing too aggressive. 2 is probably my second-favorite, and 4 is my least favorite, but I still would happily play it at 4.
- Focus on your Final Evolution Cards. They’re essentially free points, especially if you can get the right stuff aggregated for them, so go go go for it. It might be more difficult to do (especially if you have the 10+ point ones that require very specific things), but it’s got a high payoff.
- Make sure you can play your Final Evolution Cards. Remember that you need to already have evolved a planet once for each Final Evolution card you want to play, so don’t mess that up.
- I’m not sure blocking other players is a super good strategy. You might just not need to. This shouldn’t impede you from doing what you need to do, but it might not be super advisable to just … aggressively try to block other players, unless you’re playing a 2-player game, and even then… it might not be super useful.
- It’s possible to be super helpful to other players by mistake. The perfect synergy is to inadvertently have similar plans to another player. If both of you want Planet C between orbits III and V, then it’s highly likely that you two will both try to correct C if it ever exits that orbit. This is mutually beneficial.
- Try not to telegraph your plans. If other players figure out that you need to have a planet rotating in orbit I for your Final Evolution, they may move it out of orbit to spite you if they can’t do anything else useful on their last turn. Keep that in mind when you’re moving planets onto blank spots; other players are probably watching your turn.
- I generally focus on Low Evolutions and Final Evolutions. Low Evolutions are fast and occasionally give you Gravity, which you can use to accrue resources for high-value Final Evolutions. It’s good to draw a High Evolution every now and then for the points, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
- Metal is pretty hard to get. It’s just scarce. If you have Gravity, that’s usually what I grab, just in case I get the 2- or 3-metal Final Evolution (or need it for something else). It’s also nice to grab it before someone else can, though you might end up irritating them. A lot.
- Be careful with drawing Final Evolutions too early. If you get unlucky, you might end up with the maximum of 4 (in a 5-card hand), and if they lack Downgrade you might not be able to get rid of them. This would make the game a bit tougher to play, since you now will lack options.
- Make your last turn count. Generally, you can play one Evolution card and as many Final Evolutions as you want, so you might as well go crazy, if possible.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is unbelievable. It’s super nice and very space-y. I absolutely love it.
- Has a nice serene feel to it. It’s very well-made within its theme of just planets orbiting and gathering mass. The planets move slowly, and it’s all kind of ethereal. I like it.
- Decently easy to learn. It’s just “move a token, play a card if you can”, basically. Not rocket science.
- Seems family-friendly enough. It seems like the kind of game you could play with pretty much anyone, even if they don’t quite get what the words on the cards mean. The symbols are clear, the graphic design is nice and crisp, and the whole thing works pretty well.
- The ACBD choice for organizing the planets on the player board is a bit confusing. I kind of wish they had just named the planets instead, so that it was a bit less generic, as well, but every time I look at the player boards my brain gets a bit angry.
- Setup is a tiny bit of a pain. Getting all the Matter tokens placed isn’t an exact science, and it can be a bit time-consuming.
- Pretty easy to get your plans wrecked. If someone sees what you’re planning and figures out what Final Evolution you’re likely to have, all it takes is them moving the planet you want somewhere else and it might totally screw you over. It’s a game built around semi-unintentional blocking, which might be frustrating.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Planetarium is solid! I really like the theme and the overall serenity of playing it, even if I get kind of mad when people block or move the planet I was trying to evolve. The major selling point for me when I first backed it was the art, and I’m pleased to see I made the right call — I want to reiterate how good it is. It’s just really, really good art. I would recommend it for all space games. Either way, if you like space games or just like really pretty games, I would recommend checking out Planetarium (and hopefully its expansion on Kickstarter adds to the fun)! I really enjoyed my plays of it.