#512 – The Search for Planet X [Preview]

Base price: $34.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ~60 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 4

Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Search for Planet X was provided by Foxtrot Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. 

And we’re back with another Foxtrot title! I’m super excited about this one, since it’s their Big Release (Spy Club being their previous Big Release, and I loved that one). They tend to do one every year or two, so I generally try to keep an eye out for them. Love an infrequent release. Anyways, let’s dig into The Search for Planet X and see what’s going on there.

In The Search for Planet X, players take on the roles of astronomers … doing just that. They know Planet X is out there, and they have some idea of the rules about where it appears relative to other things, so they’re going to go find the darn thing. Naturally, there’s some prestige to being the person who finds it first, but you’re scientists; you can’t help sharing theories and speculating. You’ll have to suppress that urge a bit if you want to be the first to make this massive discovery and cement your place in cosmological history, though. Will you be able to find the legendary Planet X?

Contents

Setup

The game isn’t too challenging to set up. Set the board out in the center. It has two sides, one of which is the Standard Side:

Standard Board

The other is the Expert Side:

Expert Board

Once you’ve set that up, have each player sit on one side of the board, and give them a player screen;

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The screens have a specific insert for Expert Mode, also:

Player Shield Open Expert

Give each player a set of Theory Tokens in their chosen color:

Theory Tokens

And give them an Observatory Marker. These are 3D-printed ones for the preview, but who knows what the final version may have?

Player Tokens

Place the Sun Board and Sun Token in the middle of the board so that half of the board is uncovered, starting at 1:

Visible Sky Dial

Place the markers on the space above the 1 (not the squares; place them on the ovals). Give each player a set of two Target Tokens:

Target Tokens

Finally, give each player a note sheet corresponding to the side of the board they’re on. They’ll note Equinox or Solstices, make sure the symbol you have on your sheet is also on the side of the board facing you; it’ll make your life much easier.

Screenshot_20191003-142333.png

The last thing to do is to set up the game; have all players download the The Search for Planet X App, available on both of your large-scale app stores. Configure the game as you would in the app, but try to avoid using the game code that you can see on the photos that I’m using for this review unless you really want to know where Planet X is before you play.

Screenshot_20191003-142622.png

One important thing is that players should set their own difficulty level; the app will then provide hints (unless you picked Mastermind) that other players don’t get to necessarily know, which may become crucial as your deduction starts.

It’s Tokaido rules for movement, so the player with the piece that’s furthest back in the order (farthest from the 2) will start!

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

So, The Search for Planet X is a competitive deduction game; to win, you need to make sure that you’re correct about the state of the cosmos. Finding Planet X may not be enough if you’re wrong about enough things, but locating Planet X will initiate the end of the game. Sort of a Viktor Krum catches the Snitch situation. So deduct to your hearts’ content, but make sure you know what you’re doing!

On your turn you can take a variety of actions, but all actions cost Time, which will cause you to advance along the board clockwise. The Sun Board also tracks time, and it always follows the player that’s farthest back. When that player moves, the Sun Board also advances until it hits the same space as another player. When that happens, other events may activate, and I’ll talk more about Theories and Conferences in a bit.

Scan (2 – 4 Time)

When you Scan, you must note what area of the sky you’re scanning and what you’re looking for. Enter those parameters into the app, and the app will tell you how many of what you’re looking for is within that region. It will not tell you where they are, though. Note that you can only scan within the visible sky, so regions that do not appear on the board currently are not scannable. Keep in mind that using this consumes time, and how much you use depends on how much you scan:

  • 1 – 3 Sectors: 4 time
  • 4 – 6 Sectors: 3 time
  • 7 – 9 Sectors (Expert Mode only): 2 time

Advance your token accordingly.

Gameplay 2

Target (4 Time)

To Target, you choose a sector in the visible sky and enter that into the app. Let your opponents know you are targeting that sector. When you do, the app will tell you what’s there. Keep in mind that just because it tells you that a sector is empty, doesn’t mean that it is! Either way, discard one of your Target tokens. If you have none left, you cannot use the Target action.

Research (1 Time)

To Research, tap Research into the app and choose options A – F. Let your opponents know that you are Researching and what option you chose. The tough one here is that you should record the information you’re given on your player sheet under the corresponding option. Most players forget this and instead just put it on one of the Research boxes, which leads to confusion later.

Research generally tells you a relationship between two of the objects in the night sky. It doesn’t take much time, but you cannot use Research twice in a row. On your next turn, you must choose a different action.

LOCATED

Locate Planet X (5 Time)

If you’re sure, you may attempt to Locate Planet X on your turn for 5 Time. Be careful, though, as knowing where Planet X is isn’t enough! You need to be able to triangulate it by also knowing what is in the two sectors adjacent to Planet X. If all three pieces of information are correct, you end the game! If any piece of information you provide is incorrect, you do not find Planet X. Either way, advance 5 time.

Gameplay 3

Theories

When the Sun Board passes or ends up on a space with a Theory Icon, all players may submit theories on what’s located in the sky. When that happens, in player order, each player may place one Theory Token (up to two in Expert Mode) face-down on the outermost square space of a sector that doesn’t already have a revealed Theory Token (face-down ones are fine). If two players place in the same sector, place them on top of each other.

Once all Theory Tokens are placed, advance all theories one space towards the center. If any unrevealed Theory Token is now on the red boxes at the center, it’s time for Peer Review! Have one player reveal the token and then hit the Peer Review button on the app to verify that token. If it’s correct, reveal all other tokens in that sector. If it (or any revealed tokens) is incorrect, remove it from the game and advance the player who placed the incorrect token 1 time. Correct theories will be worth points at the end of the game, so it’s always good to submit!

Gameplay 4

Planet X Conference

At the halfway point on the board (and at the top of the board again in Expert Mode), players will be invited to the Planet X Conference, where leading researchers will share their findings on Planet X. This allows players to learn about how Planet X relates to other objects in the sky, and in doing so learn a bit more about where it could possibly be. For the first conference, write the information down under X1 on your Note Sheet; for the second (Expert Mode only), write the information under X2. After that, no more conferences!

Gameplay 5

End of Game

Once a player locates Planet X, every other player gets one more turn. They may do one of two things:

  • Locate Planet X: If you want, you may also attempt to Locate Planet X using the action as though it were your turn action. Whether you find it or not, don’t advance additional time, but do not if you found it.
  • Place Theories: If you don’t want to try to Locate Planet X, you may add one or two Theory Tokens depending on how far behind the player who located Planet X you are:
    • 1 – 3 Time: You may place 1 Theory Token.
    • 4 – 5 Time: You may place 2 Theory Tokens.

Once every player has done so, the game is over! Reveal all Theory Tokens and remove incorrect ones (no penalty), and then score:

  • First Bonus: 1 point for each sector where you submitted the correct Theory Token first (or you’re tied). All tied players will get the point.
  • Asteroid Fields: 2 points for each correct Theory Token.
  • Dwarf Planets: 
    • Standard Mode: 4 points for each correct Theory Token.
    • Expert Mode: 2 points for each correct Theory Token.
  • Comets: 3 points for each correct Theory Token.
  • Gas Clouds: 4 points for each correct Theory Token.
  • Planet X: 10 points for locating Planet X first.
    • If you didn’t locate Planet X first, gain 2 points for every sector behind the first player you are. (1 sector = 2 points, 5 sectors = 10 points).

The player who scored the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

Gameplay 6

I think the major difference is that at higher player counts you’re having to do a bit more deduction based on other players’ actions than just on your own. You should always be on the lookout for leaked information, sure, but when you have players accruing information three times faster (some napkin math since there are two additional players in a four-player game), you’ll need to keep an eye on not just what they theorize, but also what their actions are. Lower player counts tend to be a more personally active game, so I slightly prefer that, but I really have no problem with it at higher player counts, either; it’s a blast.

Strategy

  • Use your Note Sheet well. This mostly goes back to me complaining about people putting their Research in the correct spot, because otherwise you get confused, but also I think making sure you have a plan for marking objects as “here”, “not here”, “maybe here”, and “here, depending on what’s adjacent” is going to be pretty critical. You don’t want to have to go back and try to fix your entire deduction pathway if you mess up.
  • Track your opponents’ moves. This one is super important. If you see a player scan for Asteroid Fields twice and then they put down a Theory Token, there’s some weight to the idea that they found an Asteroid Field.
  • Make logical deductions. That said, if the two tokens aren’t adjacent and / or you already know where the Asteroid Fields are, it may not be an Asteroid Field that they found (or they might be incorrect). Either way, use your own logic to try and figure out why your opponents took the actions that they took. This will help with the Theory Phases.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your Target actions. People tend to hold on to these because they’re powerful, but honestly, they’re very useful early-game since they allow you to eliminate a lot of contentious options. I generally recommend using them on prime-numbered sectors, since that lets you potentially find a Comet, as well. If you end up hitting an Empty Sector, just remember: Planet X appears empty. Maybe you found it!
  • Try to piggyback on Theory Token placements. So let’s say your opponent searches for only Asteroid Fields and then places two Theory Tokens adjacent to each other. It’s your turn to place Theory Tokens and you don’t know anything, so, why not take a risk and assume your opponent just placed two Asteroid Fields! It’s a bit slimy but it works, sometimes.
  • Remember that Planet X always appears to be empty, but it’s not. This can be huge if you, say, have a Gas Cloud next to it. If there’s a Gas Cloud, it’s always adjacent to at least one Truly Empty Sector. So if you suspect one side is Planet X, there better be an Empty Sector on the other side, or you’re wrong about Planet X’s location.
  • Also remember the relationships for different kinds of objects in the sky. Research will help you a lot with this, but also keep in mind things like Dwarf Planets appearing in a band of 6 (in Expert Mode) or Planet X never appearing next to a Dwarf Planet. This stuff will eventually make it so that Planet X has to be in one location, and then you’ve found it!
  • Plan around the movement of the Sun Board. It limits where you can Scan and what you can Target, so be careful!
  • If you’re not sure where Planet X is on the last turn, place some good theories instead. Better to get 4 – 6 points from getting correct Theory Tokens than to get a 0 because you messed up and guessed the wrong location for Planet X. Plus, you get even more points if you’re first to guess correctly.
  • You’ll need to get a few theories right if you want to actually win the game. As I mentioned, you can Viktor Krum the game if you aren’t the leader on Theory Tokens and you guess Planet X’s location; it’s only 10 points, which is the same as guessing two Gas Clouds first. If you’re not careful, you can end the game and let someone else win!

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Love the art. James did an excellent job on this; the board is absolutely beautiful. His work on War Co. and Dreams of Tomorrow really was excellent, but this is also superb.
  • Love the theme. Astronomy is so cool! Plus it fits in well with the gameplay and the theorizing and research-sharing and conferencing and just how awesome finding an exoplanet would be.
  • The app integration is really cool! It’s a neat little app. I appreciate that you can get secret information from it.
  • I particularly like that you can toggle the difficulty level of the game. This is the highlight of the game, for me, in that you can get additional information for players who are newer to the game. It means that new players aren’t necessarily going to be stomped by experienced players, and you can do a bit of pre-game balancing to reflect that, which I think is great.
  • Turns aren’t particularly long, either. Most people do the logic puzzling when it’s not their turn so they’re ready to act when it actually comes back around to them. That usually helps keep the game moving at a good pace, which I really appreciate; these games can tend to run long.
  • The shifting of the Sun Board can be frustrating, but I like that it restricts where you can look at any given time. That restriction forces players to roll with the punches of the game, which can be super interesting. Nothing more frustrating than wanting to Target a spot that you can’t see and having to wait for it to come back around.
  • I’m really hoping for expansions. I think making it modular is going to be the way to go; add in different objects in the sky and you can swap them out to get the breakdown of what you want to play with. I’d love to see black holes, though I worry about the effects of having a black hole in our solar system. I’d be interested in seeing what they can come up with.
  • It’s a bit heavier than Foxtrot’s usual, but it’s not overwhelmingly dense. It’s a strategy game for sure, but it’s definitely not complex or anything; I’d call it mid-weight.
  • Surprisingly not too difficult to teach. This was a real highlight of the game, for me; I taught it to two people very quickly and played some rapid games against them to great success.
  • Also I just really enjoy the deduction / logic puzzle elements of it. It reminds me so much of The Shipwreck Arcana, and I love that. It’s a bit of deduction, yeah, but I think the logic puzzle of the game is its best part, and it makes sure to highlight it.

Mehs

  • It would be nice if the app were a bit smarter about restrictions. I’m not sure how much they’re going to do to polish up the app before the game releases, but it would be nice if it tracked game state a bit more thoroughly (prevented you from repeating actions, disallowed two consecutive Researches, stuff like that). Right now, it doesn’t do an especially good job of that, which is unfortunate but not totally surprising.
  • I wonder a smidge about the game’s longevity. I know it’s randomly generated every time, which is interesting, but I also wonder if that will be enough for it to consistently hit the table upwards of 10 or 20 plays without feeling like it’s getting a bit samey? This is a reason I’d really love to start reading reviews from someone who’s actually dug deep into one game for 1 / 3 / 10 / 20 plays and noted how the game changes, but alas, haven’t seen much of that. As someone who goes a bit wide, I’d love to know more about how games hold up against a player going deep; could be cool.

Cons

  • Being able to piggyback on other players’ Theory Token placement feels a bit cheap. It’s strategically a very good idea but it can feel unearned. On one hand, the player should be wiser about the information they’re inadvertently leaking, but on the other hand, it’s a bit more satisfying when you learn the fact yourself rather than taking a guess based on someone else’s placement. It does speed up the game, though.

Overall: 9.25 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I think The Search for Planet X is the real deal. For me, it’s easily one of my favorite games I’ve played this year, combining deduction, logic puzzles, and app integration into a cool product that’s got great art, fun gameplay, and honestly just a super cool theme. I’ll be interested most in seeing how it holds up to longer-term play, but frankly I think I’m going to be playing this preview copy until they make me give it up (a truly sad day). It really cemented my love for logic games, like The Shipwreck Arcana, but I appreciate that it’s longer-form and competitive to provide a unique experience that also is rooted in a theme I’m really excited about. Astronomy in general is something I think is really cool, and taking the scientist-centered approach to it is a fun spin that I haven’t seen a lot of in games. Naturally, I’d love to see a really polished app for the final game, mostly one that saves more state so I can use it as a reference along with my Note Sheet, but I’m very satisfied with the product as-is. I’m particularly pleased with the baked-in difficulty levels; I think making games playable with many different experience levels is a really cool accessibility feature and I’m glad they included it in the game (and I think the way they’ve done so is very smart). My only real complaint beyond that is that I won’t get to see the final product until 2020, and I think it’s an awesome game, so I guess I’ll be taking it with me to conventions for the near future. We’ll see what happens. Anyways, if you’re a fan of deduction, space, or logic puzzles, I’d highly recommend The Search for Planet X, and even if you’re not, I’d still say check it out! I really did have an awesome time playing it.

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