RogerBW's Blog

Exoplanets 27 February 2016

ExoPlanets, designed by Przemysław Świerczyński, is a tile-placement game of developing life on alien planets for 2-4 players.

Play is fairly simple: draw two planets from the bag and discard one, or take a planet off one of the discard piles. Place it on a space tile (which gives you resources), and take that tile into your hand. Then, as often as you like, create or promote life (which costs resources); claim goals on space tiles from your hand; or discard those tiles for an immediate effect, which brings various bad things closer.

It's not a hugely complex game, but the devils are in the details. Immediate effects can be as simple as "take two resources"; or they may be "every planet in this orbit now needs an extra Gas for the creation of life". Scoring is one per life cube, multiplied by the basic resource cost of creating that life, but if you get up to four cubes you replace them with a "species" cylinder that's worth a basic five. There's a fair bit to keep track of; the game claims a playing time of 30 minutes, but I think this is extremely optimistic. A first game, with four reasonably experienced boardgamers, took around two hours, though it'll certainly be quicker next time. There are plenty of opportunities for a player to hold up the game by thinking over his options, at multiple points during his turn (for example, you only find out what new star tile you've drawn after you've placed a planet, which in itself is a decision requiring thought).

There are translation and layout problems too. The yellow, clear and pale blue "crystals" (for energy, gas and water) are sometimes hard to distinguish from each other, especially on a yellowish table. The goals on the star tiles are only named rather than laid out in detail, and one has to look up a player reference card to get the specific rules (this is mostly to make the game language-independent, but it makes it harder to keep track of what you're trying for). The icons and type are frankly a bit small for ageing gamers to see readily. "Species" is an odd choice of name for the highest form of life you can create, and "stimulation" as a side-effect of life-creation doesn't seem to make sense at all. And is it legitimate to reduce the cost of creating life on a planet to zero? I think I may well write up a rules sheet in more idiomatic English, or a player reference card.

In spite of that, though, I rather enjoyed it. It's clearly in the eurogame style, but doesn't follow that mould slavishly: there are plenty of opportunities for messing up other players, and few chances to recover. With a strict limit of five turns per player, there isn't much scope for building up a strategy, particularly since the goals are typically worth two or three points each where high-value life might easily be worth six or ten.

Perhaps there's more luck involved than I'd ideally like, but I definitely want to keep playing this.

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