The Search for Planet X Review
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Good deduction games are hard to come by, with most titles struggling to balance complexity with fun. The Search for Planet X is undoubtedly one of the best games in the genre, balancing all the important aspects near-perfectly.
With every game, you’re set on an exciting and theory-filled path to discover this new planet as you try to be the better explorer than others, or to just beat your personal record!
Brief Overview of The Search for Planet X
The Seach for Planet X (I’ll refer to it as Planet X from now on) is a game of observation and logical deduction. Think Battleship, but on a completely different level.
The game uses a large board game that depicts the solar system, divided into sectors. Players will explore these sectors in search of the new planet, but also chart the maps with asteroids, comets, and other objects that may be found within them.
The general concepts of Planet X are very easy to grasp, but figuring out the rules and mechanics may take some effort, so keep that in mind. The game also uses a phone assistant app which isn’t disruptive to the gameplay and actually enhances it.
Planet X is definitely worth trying if you’re looking for mental exercise! It can be played by one to four players, with game time being just over an hour long.
Unboxing The Search for Planet X
Planet X is fairly light on components, using only the following pieces:
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Solar System Board
- 1 Earth Board
- 1 Wooden Sun Disc
- 48 Theory Tokens
- 8 Target Tokens
- 4 Player Screens
- 4 Player Pawns
- 4 Expert Panels
- 1 Pad of Note Sheets
- Free App
The biggest piece in the box is the double-sided game board. It seems unusually large for a game that doesn’t necessarily need a board at all, but it does help visualize what’s going on and help keep track of the gameplay. One side is divided into 8 sectors while the other has 12 for a more complex experience.
Large plastic pawns are used to track the movements of players, with the interesting bit being that they’re shaped like observatories.
Most of what you do in Planet X should remain hidden from other players and staying secretive is greatly aided by the screens. The interior side is filled with turn and rules overview, which can come in quite handy.
I’m most impressed by the large stack of single-use sheets used for tracking actions, objectives, and points. The print is good to the point where I felt bad about doodling on them.
However, because of the specific markings on them, they can’t be substituted with a piece of paper, so the best way to preserve them is to either laminate them or use a pencil.
Next to these pieces, there are some punchout cardboard tokens, reference cards, and spare baggies for the loose components. The rulebook is well written, taking only a few pages for the rules and order of play, leaving plenty of room for examples.
The companion app is available on mobile and as a website, and it’s completely free to use — you can even test it without owning the game. It has a simplistic design, but it works well and has the option to either share one device or have everyone connect with their devices.
How to Play The Search for Planet X
Understanding the actions and game loop of Planet X is quite easy, but to get there, let’s review the key concepts and terms used in the game.
The game board represents the solar system, divided into 12 or 18 sectors, depending on the side you’re playing on. Comets, asteroids, gas clouds, dwarf planets, and Planet X represent the 5 object types in the game. A sector can contain a single object, appear empty, or be truly empty with no object inside it.
Going back to the game board, a smaller round board is placed in the middle of it, with an illustration of the Sun in the Center and the Earth on one edge.
As the Sun shines toward the Earth, half of the solar board becomes visible, while the other half is in the dark. Time will pass and the Earth board will turn, revealing some sectors while temporarily hiding others.
The four squares found in every sector serve as peer review tracks. Basically, a player can submit their theory about the contents of a sector and place a marker on the other edge, then move inward until it reaches the end, at which point it gets peer-reviewed.
To set up a game of Planet X, you must first select which side of the board you want to play on. The Standard mode has 8 sectors and is recommended for the first few games, while the Expert mode features 12 sectors and is much more challenging.
Solar and Earth boards are placed on the table, with large yellow symbols facing players. The visible sky starts with sector 1, where all players will place their pawns in random order.
Players will need a note sheet with the icon matching the symbol directly in front of them on the solar board, with player screens obscuring the sheets. Sets of tokens are distributed among players, and that concludes the physical part of the setup!
Setting up the app is just as easy, all you need to do is generate a room and pick the options based on the options chosen during the physical setup. You share one phone around or use everyone can use theirs with the access code.
Playing the Game
Players will investigate the solar system by taking actions, with the order of play determined by the position of the pawns. The last pawn always gets to go first, so if an action moves you forward a large number of spaces, you may not get to go again for a while.
During your turn, you can take one of four actions:
- Survey for an object
- Research a topic
- Target a sector
- Locate Planet X
These are the mechanisms at your disposal to help you figure out where Planet X and other objects are located.
Survey is done over selected consecutive sectors and reveals how many of the chosen objects are found within it (e.g., in these 4 sectors, there are 2 comets).
Research provides a logic rule that can be applied to the whole game. When you select it in the app, you get a range of topics to choose from. Based on your selection, you get the rule (e.g., asteroids — all the asteroids are in a band of 6 sectors or less).
Target will immediately tell what object is found within a sector, or if it appears empty (e.g., there is an asteroid in sector 1). Keep in mind that sectors that appear empty may contain Planet X!
Locate Planet X can be a game-end or a last-ditch action, depending on the situation. You need to guess the sector Planet X is located in, as well as what’s inside the adjacent sectors (e.g., Planet X is in sector 5, an asteroid is in sector 6, and a comet is in sector 4).
Game End & Scoring
Even though the main goal of the game is to find Planet X and whoever finds it has a high chance of winning, this is not the only way to win the game.
Depending on how you did with your theories, you can score a lot of points:
- The first to find Planet X — 10 points.
- Asteroids — 2 points each.
- Comets — 3 points each.
- Gas Clouds — 4 points each.
- Dwarf Planets — 4 points (standard) or 2 points each (expert).
The player with the most points is declared the winner, with ties broken by whoever found Planet X. If both players have found it, then whoever scored the most points for leader bonuses (being first to submit a correct theory) wins.
Your First Game of The Search for Planet X
You definitely want to play your first game of Planet X on the standard board to minimize confusion and downtime. Once everyone has gotten the hang of the game, you can switch to the expert board.
There are extremely efficient ways to play this game, but I’m not going to share those with you as all they do is limit the scope of strategies you’d be willing to take. Instead, I’ll talk you through the actions on a more basic level, and explain some common mistakes new players make.
Research is a powerful action that is cheap to use and gives you a broad scan of the game. If you use it in combination with logic rules and research action, you can quickly isolate certain objects and develop further theories. Don’t be afraid to throw out theories, but try to be as certain as possible that they’re correct.
Don’t mind much what the other players are doing, unless you’re in a 2-player game or you’ve got the mental capacity to keep track. You will be working with limited information, knowing only what action they took, but not the outcome, so it can lead you to false assumptions.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules and know exactly what you can and can’t show other players. Most of the information you’ll come across, you get to keep for yourself. Once revealed, theories are public knowledge and everyone can take advantage of their outcome.
Pros & Cons
- Brilliant Deduction Gameplay
- Balanced Complexity
- Limitless Replayability
Making a solid logic deduction game is arguably harder than making a Euro game because there is no room for insignificant actions. Everything you do in a deduction game should lead you closer to the answers, even if it’s not an optimal action to take.
The Search for Planet X handles this better than almost any game I’ve seen, with its simple set of actions accompanied by consistent and changing logic rules.
The thing is, none of what you’re doing in Planet X is overwhelming. Actions serve just enough information that you’re able to process it and think of what to do next by the time it’s your turn again. You may not be the first to find the missing planet, but you’ll certainly feel like you were on the right track.
A game like this needs a fresh template with every game, as you don’t want to encounter the same object layout twice. Fortunately, the app guarantees a large number of combinations to make every game feel different and fresh.
- Low Interactivity
- Optimal Strategies
The low interactivity argument doesn’t apply to everyone — at the highest level of play, you can keep track of what other players are doing and make assumptions and deductions based on their actions.
However, 90% of players will find this to be too challenging, or simply too much work. And without it, you’re kind of left playing a solo game with a group of friends. What you do will rarely be influenced by others, with theories and turn order being the only real point of contact.
I don’t see this necessarily a bad thing, as I certainly prefer to have the peace of mind to craft my own strategy and theories, but it’s definitely worth pointing out.
The second point is something I’m not going to delve too much into. Long story short, there are certain strategies and moves that are objectively better than others, and significantly diminish creativity.
Depending on when/if you discover these strategies, they can have an effect on how you experience the game. I didn’t personally come across them but I wanted to research them for the review. My advice is: If you want to play this game don’t look up any tips & tricks online!
The Search for Planet X Review (TL;DR)
The Search for Planet X provides an amazing mental exercise and a very satisfying experience that is fun both solo and with friends or family.
With only a handful of rules and actions, the game puts most of the focus on your thinking, rather than worrying about which action to take and when. If you know what you’re trying to achieve, the game simply provides a mechanism to get there.
I highly recommend it!
The most challenging part of reviewing board games is learning and playing them enough to truly figure out the gameplay, or at the very least discover its potential. Even though I love Euro games, when I get one with a ton of actions and mechanics, it can be quite tiresome to go through all of it.
With The Search for Planet X, I fully understood what the game is about before even having my first crack at it. It’s so intuitive and easy to grasp and I can’t describe how satisfying it is to just know how the game is played instantly, rather than go through the task of learning dozens of actions, turn steps, mechanics, and exceptions.
You start the game of Planet X, you don’t think about the actions. Instead, you think about your goal and just pick one of four actions that will give you the best result, with locate Planet X action rarely being used.
Correctly charting your map feels very satisfying and these small achievements are what make the game fun. In my opinion, the best kind of board games are those where on the final turn, win or lose, you can say you had a lot of fun and would gladly play it again.
The Search for Planet X does exactly that for me, which is why I’ll be more than happy to play more of it in the future.
We hope you enjoyed our The Search for Planet X review! Have you tried this awesome space-themed deduction and puzzle game? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.