After raising almost $130,000 on Kickstarter during June of 2016 Planetarium was released at the end of March 2017. The game has players creating a unique solar system every play, with an emphasis on science. Developed with the help of a scientist working on NASA’s search for life on Mars, each and every card in the game includes thematic and scientifically accurate planetary phenomenon.
Planetarium’s board is setup with rings circling a central star. There are 4 planets, one at each corner of the board, two gaseous and two terrestrial. A Hostile Token is placed on each of the planets at the start of the game. The game’s Matter Tokens are mixed up and placed on each white dot along the board’s rings while the 4 Planetary Tokens are placed on their dedicated starting spots. At this point, the board is setup and ready to go.
As far as the players go, each gets a player mat depicting the 4 planets, a set of score markers and cubes in their color, and a starting hand of 5 cards. Each player’s hand is made up of 2 Low Evolution Cards, 2 High Evolution Cards, and a Final Evolution card. Each player actually draws two Final Evolution cards, but then must choose one to discard.
During each player’s turn, they move either a Matter Token or a Planetary Token clockwise around the board. Matter Tokens can move one space along the thicker, circular rings or along the thinner lines that connect rings. Matter Tokens can only land on an empty space or Planetary Token. Planets can move as many spaces as they want along the thicker lines as long as nothing is blocking them. They can still only move one space along the thinner lines.
If a Matter Token is moved onto a Planetary Token or vise-verse, the Matter Token is removed and placed on the current player’s mat on the corresponding Planet space. These tokens are used to play Evolution Cards. After a player makes a move they may play an Evolution Card if they’ve met all the requirements on the card. The required Matter Tokens are moved from their player mat onto the Evolution Track and the Evolution Card is played onto the planet where the Matter was taken from. The player’s score is then increased by the amount shown on the Evolution Card and draws either a new Low or High Evolution Card, or draws two Final Evolution Cards and chooses one to discard.
They may also affect the Habitability of a planet. Each Evolution Card adds to either the Hostile or Habitable score of the planet it’s played on. Whenever one score is higher than the other the Hostile/Habitable token on the planet is flipped. The state of a planet will determine what Final Evolution Cards can be played on it at the end of the game.
As the Evolution Track is filled up eventually Matter Tokens can be moved up to two spaces instead of one. One the track is filled the end-game is triggered and Final Evolution Cards may finally be played. Once all is said and done scores are tallied and the winner is the player with the most points.
There’s a bit more to gameplay, but the above is a good overview. For a full explanation, including examples of play, check out the full rules.
The artwork and iconography in Planetarium are both stunning and functional. Every detail from the board, Evolution Cards, Matter Tokens, player mats, and tokens are the highest production value. The glossy box tends to scratch easily, but a bit of extra care is all that’s needed to keep the game in good condition.
Planetarium has a lot of different pieces, takes a while to setup, and looks like a complicated game at first glance. Once you dig in, the game plays wonderfully fluid, with rules that are not only easy to grasp, but presented wonderuflly in one of the best rulebooks I’ve seen in a while.
At the start of the game, movement options are limited and resources are extremely easy to gather. This makes getting the first few Low Evolution cards on the table rather easy. As the game goes on and the resource supply diminishes is it becomes a bit harder to get exactly what you need to place any Evolution card. Smart movement and careful planning are needed to other players don’t snipe the Matter Tokens needed to keep scoring points, or setting up planets for Final Evolution Cards. In the end, that’s the real goal, getting Final Evolution Cards on the table.
The real beauty of Planetarium is the long game, trying to get planets ready, not only for the Final Evolution Card in your hand at the start of the game but for any that you draw during play. Strategies will need to be adapted as your hand of cards changes and other players foil your current plans by snagging that last Metal or changing a planet from Habitable to Hostile.
Planetarium is available through Game Salute for $39 and is worth every penny of that. While a lighter game, there’s still enough choice and options to keep multiple plays feeling fresh and enjoyable, especially in the 2-3 player range.
A copy of Planetarium was provided free for review by Game Salute.