Exoplanets: Review

Exoplanets by Board & Dice (and soon to be published by Greater than Games) is a two to four player, solar system building game set around a distant sun. Players place planets in orbits around the sun, collect resources, and attempt to establish life. Fairway reviews this Kickstarter-funded game.

Initial Impressions ^

  • The art is fantastically cute.
  • The components are nice.
  • It implements the solar-system-building mechanism very well.
  • The game is relatively quick, easy to teach, and enjoyable, although there is a lot of things going on which might overwhelm the first time player and details which are easy to forget.

The gameplay ^

For so long as the central star still has energy to give, players place a wide range of planets in orbit around it. The planets provide resources and locations to establish and expand life and score points. The player with the most points when the star runs out of energy wins the game.

In Exoplanets, players attempt to collect three types of resources: water, air, and energy.  As players place their planets in orbit around the star, they collect one energy from the central star and two other resources indicated by the recently-placed planet and the neighboring planet.

Using the collected resources, players can establish or expand life on the planets. The requirements for life are different on each placed planet and indicated by the two icons at the top of the planet. By exchanging the required resources, players place life markers on their planets. Once a player reaches four life markers on a single planet, that life becomes dominant species on that planet and it kicks off any other would-be competitors.

Each player only has so many life tokens, so it is possible to spread your life too thin around the solar system so you need to plan carefully.

In addition, players collect space tiles used to mark the spots where planets are placed. The space tiles can either be used as objectives or one-time or permanent use actions. As objectives, the space tiles award points at the end of the game if the player can meet its objectives. As one-time or permanent use actions, the space tiles offer some special ability but often carry consequences for the player who uses them.

The game ends when the central star is out of energy. The players then count up their scores. In addition to space tiles, players get points for the amount of life and the difficulty of establishing life.  Creating a species on a planet that takes three resources is worth three times the points as one requiring only one.

The Kickstarter-edition reviewed also included a number of add-ons like Gravity and Stars which add some side complications to the base game.

On the green ^

Exoplanets really nails the solar system building game. The designers clearly shirked a lot of complexity one might consider in designing a game like this one. The deceptively simple rules provide a lot of choices.

The planets and all of the art are out-of-this-world cute. The art is reminiscent of colorful versions of computer game side-scrollers: simple and bright. You might even think the artists at Apple did these.

The components are terrific: thick heavy cardboard, interestingly shaped planet and star tiles, Petri dishes to hold crystals, and nice-sized wooden bits.

Where it comes up short ^

Exoplanets is terrific out of the box, but there are a few things that merit comment.

Space Tiles.  When a game is first set up, space tiles are placed face-down on the table in various orbits. The information on the space tiles is hidden information, but it’s unclear why that information should be hidden at all.  Simply turning the space tiles face-up means that players strategically can select which tiles and places suit them. Playing with everything face down makes the bonuses just luck of the draw.

Lots of mini-steps. The basic steps in the game are easy to learn. However, some of these simple steps come with baggage that seem like afterthoughts and aren’t integrated well into the flow of the game. For instance, players collect creation tokens when establishing life on a new planet. But, since it’s not really indicated anywhere, and there’s nothing to remind you, it’s easy to forget to collect some them. There are several examples of these sorts of steps. Even for experienced players, it’s easy to forget to take all the little steps while doing the main game objectives: placing planets, collecting resources, and establishing life.

Iconography, symbols, references.  There’s a lot of information conveyed on the planet and space tiles. This makes the player references not just helpful but necessary. Similarly, the effects of the space tiles are indexed by number on the back of the reference cards. A lot of time was spent going back and cross-referencing space and planet tiles and player references. This complexity makes for a lot neat choices, but it is somewhat daunting and involves an awful lot of reading at first.

In the hole ^

Exoplanets is a solid game with excellent components, a variety of interesting game mechanisms, and very pretty art. There is tremendous replay in this game for the light to medium gamer.

Exoplanets sinks the birdie. ^

This review was originally published on The Inquisitive Meeple.

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