What's Eric Playing? #181 - Planet of the Apes
Full disclosure: A review copy of Planet of the Apes was provided by IDW Games.
Mild warning: Plot details for the original Planet of the Apes movie are revealed in this review. If you don’t want spoilers for a movie that came out, like, 50 years ago, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
I’m generally kind of suspicious of tie-in video games, as I’ve played a lot and they haven’t been particularly good as a rule. There are some exceptions (GoldenEye 007 + Spider-Man 2), but generally speaking, not the best. I hadn’t seen a ton of tie-in board games until I started doing more reviews of IDW Games products (since I assume from their library they just have an overwhelming number of licenses). Vaguely intrigued, I offered to give it a whirl, and here we are.
In the Planet of the Apes board game, you play as Commander George Taylor, a man who has arrived on the Planet of the Apes after hibernating in space for a couple thousand years. His comrades are killed or captured and he’s forced to fight for his survival. Will you and your co-players be able to survive?
So, first thing is gonna be to set out the board:
It’s kind of heinously long, but just do what you can with it. Next, choose your character. When I said you were playing as Commander Taylor, I meant that you are all playing as Commander Taylor:
Or, at least, some aspect of his personality. Weird conceit but I’m not gonna get into commentary, here. It’s recommended that you play as more than one, even if you’re only playing solo. If you want to play with just one, well, pick the one you like and hope for the best. I’ll refer to some changes that this causes with “Solo Mode” later in the review. You should also get out the various standees:
They’re the Sinking Ship, the Ape, Taylor, and the Statue of Liberty (oops there’s a spoiler). If you’re not much for cardboard standees, there are also miniatures, in the first print run:
Now, take out the damage tokens and put those near the board but far away from you. You’ll also want the Skill tokens:
Give each player two, to start. Also shuffle and give each player a Special Card:
You can shuffle the Action cards and add two next to the deck on the spaces indicated on the board:
Shuffle the Planet of the Apes cards, as well:
Now, the game takes place over 8 Scenes, each with Encounters. The grey Scenes are Minor, and they have no Encounters; the not-grey Scenes are Major, and they have Encounters. Shuffle the Encounter cards and place them below the Major Scenes:
Don’t look at any of the Intros or the Encounters until you need to do so, for gameplay and spoiler reasons.
Set the dice nearby:
The colors are for reasons I’ll explain later. Put the Day track token on the sun on the Day Track, and give the Active Character token to the start player:
At this point, you’re ready to start!
So, Planet of the Apes is a purely cooperative game. As mentioned previously, you’re playing as different aspects of Commander Taylor’s personality, guiding him through his journey and trying to survive the Planet of the Apes. How do you do that? Well, surprisingly, it’s a lot like Yahtzee, but with a lot more luck mitigation techniques.
The game is composed of 8 Scenes; some are Major Scenes, in which you will have to resolve Encounters in order to escape, and some are Minor Scenes, brief interludes before the next big chapter of your journey. Should you make it all the way to The Discovery (Scene 8) and survive with at least one aspect not defeated, you win! If all of your characters are defeated or if the Statue of Liberty tracker hits 0, you lose. Thankfully, there are other ways to lose, as well, so keep an eye out for that. Each Scene has an Intro, then a set of Player Turns, and then an End Scene phase. Let’s talk about each.
So, for Scenes 1 – 7, you’ll flip the Intro card of that scene:
You’ll then place it next to the top-left of the board. It’ll have some text and usually present you with some options. Some Scenes are helpful and give you a break, others give you instructions on how to set up.
For Minor Scenes, you’ll resolve the scene and move on to the next scene, which is a Major Scene.
Major Scenes will have specific conditions on them, telling you where to place the Taylor and Ape Standees on the board as well as telling you what happens if either Standee reaches 0. Generally if Taylor does, good! If the Ape does, that’s very bad. In Scenes 6 and 7, you instantly lose if that happens. Not good!
After you’ve done that, you’ll draw X Encounter Cards (it’s always 3, but the Intro card makes doubly sure to let you know that it hasn’t changed). Once you’ve done that you’re ready to take your turn!
So players take turns in clockwise order until the Scene ends with either Taylor or the Ape making it to 0 on the board. On your turn, you can take up to 3 Actions unless otherwise stated. Some card effects can give you additional actions.
- Reset Action cards. You can discard the two face-up Action cards and replace them. I generally don’t do this, but you could.
- Contemplate. Pass one of your Action cards to another player.
- Minor Healing. Discard a set of 2 matching Action cards (they match if they feature the same character) to remove one Damage token from your character card.
- Major Healing. Discard a set of 4 matching Action cards (they match if they feature the same character) to remove three Damage tokens from your character card.
- Allies. Discard any combination of 4 Nova / Zira & Cornelius cards to move the Ape standee backwards by one space (so, up one point away from 0).
- Adventure. Attempt to resolve one of the three Encounter cards. More on this in a hot second.
You may also take any number of Free Actions:
- Prepare. Discard any 3 matching Action cards to gain a red die on your next Encounter attempt.
- Learn. Discard any 3 matching Action cards to gain a Skill token.
- Adapt. Discard any 4 matching Action cards to draw a Special card.
Before we move on in the turn order, let’s talk about Adventuring.
ADVENTURING AND YOU: RESOLVING ENCOUNTERS
So, let’s say you just got into an Encounter:
These have certain things on the right side you should care about. Generally, they have some kind of requirement, which is either discarding some set of Action cards or rolling some combination of dice. In this case, it’s roll three white dice showing a 5 or 6. Near the center, it’ll tell you how many dice and which kind of dice you get for this Encounter (3, in this case, though that can change) and what Action cards you can play to aid you during this Encounter. In the top right, it shows you how many total rolls (not re-rolls) you can make before you fail.
Some Action cards will allow you to gain dice (they have a picture of the type of die on them), but be careful! White dice and grey dice are not interchangeable, and if the Encounter requests a specific type, you must use that type. If it doesn’t, you’re fine. This means that for this Encounter, you should not gain grey dice. Red dice, on the other hand, can be used as either type. Some Encounters limit the number of dice you can gain — it’ll say “max X” if that’s the case.
Now, you can roll! Remember, Yahtzee rules apply, here. If you’ve never played Yahtzee, I mean that you roll all your dice, and then you choose which dice you’d like to re-roll. You may choose not to re-roll a dice and then change your mind, but that counts as an additional roll, so be careful. You do not need to use all your rolls, as once you’ve passed the check you’re fine. Action cards, special cards, and skills may allow you to re-roll dice before checking for success.
If you passed the Encounter, great! You gain the rewards in the green box. If you did not, well, you gain the penalties in the red box. Typically these involve moving the Ape, Taylor, or Statue of Liberty standees forward or backwards, but some Encounters reward you by not advancing the Day tracker (more on that later), giving you Special or Action cards, or even removing Damage! Similarly, some punish you by damaging you or all players. If you move the Taylor standee onto a space with some sort of effect, you resolve that effect (usually moving the Ape or Statue of Liberty tracker or receiving damage). If you receive rewards or penalties, you may distribute them among the players as you’d like.
If any character receives a 5th Damage token, they become Defeated! Flip their card over to indicate this. You may not damage a character that’s already been defeated, though; you must pass that damage on to other players. If all Characters become Defeated, you lose! Try to avoid that, too.
After the encounter’s success, you may have some condition that lets you discard cards to trigger some effect. If you’re playing Solo Mode, you discard one fewer than the card requires. If you failed it, leave the Encounter in its place; otherwise, discard it and fill it with a new Encounter.
Anyways, once you’ve done that, your turn’s probably over. Perform the rest of the stuff you’re going to do on your turn, then do the following:
- Check End of Scene / Game Loss. If any tracker hits 0, the Action Phase immediately ends. If it’s Taylor or the Ape, check the Intro card to see what to do next (and go to the End Scene Phase). If it’s the Statue of Liberty, you lose immediately! Bummer.
- Advance the Day Track. Move the Day Tracker clockwise by one space.
- Check Hand Limit. If you have more than 7 Action cards in your hand, discard or take Free Actions (we’re not monsters) until you have 7 Action cards left in your hand.
- Pass Active Character Token. Pass the Active Character token to the player on your left; it’s their turn next!
- Resolve Sunrise Effects, if any. If you just moved the Day Tracker onto Sunrise, you’ll need to check for and resolve two things:
- Active Encounter Sunrise Effects. Resolve the Sunrise Effect on each Active Encounter (yup) with a Sunrise Effect. As you might guess, you really want to clear those out before they all pile up on you.
- Resolve a new Planet of the Apes card. Flip the top card of the Planet of the Apes deck and resolve it. It’s usually something bad and occasionally also something good. But usually bad.
Continue playing turns until any Standee hits the 0 on the tracker. Again, if it’s Taylor or the Ape, check the Intro card to see what to do next (and go to the End Scene Phase). If it’s the Statue of Liberty, you lose immediately!
END OF SCENE PHASE
So, you’ve made it to the end of the Scene, congrats! Resolve the card effect depending on which Standee made it to the 0, and then you’ll likely begin the next scene via the Start Scene Phase. You can return the used cards from this Scene to the box, but I generally just leave them underneath of the flipped-up Intro Card; lets me know where I’ve been. I find it helpful.
Once you’ve completed Scene 7, you’ve escaped from Ape City and made it to the last revelation of your journey. Draw one of the three The Discovery cards (not pictured because you should get to discover them on your own) and resolve it. If you survive, then you win!
If you’d like to make the game easier or harder, you should some or all of the following:
- Easier Game
- Players may take an extra Action each turn.
- Start the Ape Standee one space higher on the tracker than specified by the Intro card each scene.
- You do not need to resolve any Discovery card. If you make it through Scene 7, you win!
- Harder Game
- Characters become Defeated at 4 Damage (6 if Solo Mode).
- Start the Ape Standee 2 spaces lower on the tracker than specified by the Intro card each scene.
- Each Character begins the game with only 1 Skill token.
- Each Character begins the game without a Special card.
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
I’ve tried it at a few different levels of controlled characters. At higher player counts, it’s a bit easier, since you have more damage sponges (players can still each take four damage before being Defeated), and you can spread that damage around a bit if you’re unlucky on Encounters. That said, you lose a bit of control over gameplay because you have more things happening before you personally get another turn. At one player you have to tweak the game so that you don’t get slaughtered, so, uh, my general recommendation is probably to play this at two or three players. If you want, at two, you can have each player control two Taylors. Whatever works, really.
- Be mindful of all the actions you can do. Don’t forget you can discard groups of the same action card type for extra dice, extra health, or even to push the Ape Tracker back a space or two. These are all good reasons to use it, but I have often found myself overlooking them when I play.
- Honestly, most of my turns I spend doing Draw Action Card -> Draw Action Card -> Attempt Encounter. It’s the easiest way to set yourself up for success since you might draw the cards that you need to make the encounter easier. I’ll occasionally use free actions in between those to add additional dice or Skill tokens, but rarely do the other actions, to be honest.
- Use your abilities. As with almost all games with variable player powers, if you’re not using your abilities you’re going to have a bad time (because it means you’re blatantly ignoring a bonus). Special notes for the Clever and Defiant Taylors, as those are, in my opinion, two of the more useful abilities in the game.
- Red dice are your friend. Since they can be used as white or grey dice, well, you’re in luck. You should try to acquire them whenever possible, especially for color-specific challenges.
- Save Nova / Zira & Cornelius cards. I don’t think they’re that useful for a fair number of the Encounters specifically (those there are some), but they’re handy for spending for free actions.
- Focus on Encounters with sunrise effects and Encounters that reward you by having time not pass. You really do not want to take a bunch of sunrise effects simultaneously, as that can start Defeating your characters. If you’re getting close to the end of the night, you should probably focus on those encounters, first. Encounters with a “No Time Passes” bonus are just useful because then you get fewer Planet of the Apes card draws. They’re generally bad (though they occasionally have some beneficial effect), so, drawing fewer of them will probably help you win.
- Don’t hold on to Special Cards. If you can win an Encounter by playing a Special card or using a Skill token, do it. There will be plenty more of those coming your way as the game progresses, and they’re not terribly difficult to buy / obtain. You don’t want to lose Encounters, obviously, so you gain very little by holding on to them. That said, don’t just waste them for no reason.
- If you’re manipulating dice, remember your probabilities (and remember how dice work). Some cards / skills will let you raise or lower a die value by 1. If you can do that, you should try to shoot for dice values that aren’t 1 or 6 — if you want a 4, you can roll a 3 / 4 / 5 and get it. If you want a 1, you can only roll a 1 / 2. You’re 50% more likely to get what you need if you target a number that’s not the minimum or maximum die value.
- You’re going to need to take risks to survive. You should be doing an Encounter every turn, if you can. To that end, it helps having The Defiant Taylor, a lot, since their skill can negate Encounter Penalties. You should make sure that that character always has at least one Skill Token, lest you really get punished on a bad roll and, you know, die.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- The art is really sharp. I’m not sure if there was like a Planet of the Apes comic or something that came before this, but they did a really good job conveying the story without having to rely on movie stills or having questionable art assets. It turned out quite nicely.
- Good quality pieces. The tokens have a nice weight, the dice are solid, the board is thick; the whole thing is a nice quality level.
- Solid amount of luck mitigation. It’s still a dice-chucking game, but I feel like it’s possible to be strategic and win; you just have to know when to play cards and which cards to gain as well as which Encounters to do.
- If you know a Planet of the Apes fan who likes board games, they’ll probably love this. The gameplay isn’t connected to the theme whatsoever, but the art assets and the approaching dread make it feel theme-y, and that’s nice. I mean, it’s essentially Difficult Co-Op Yahtzee but with a good sense of narrative progression, and while it doesn’t make me feel like I’m fighting for my life on a post-apocalyptic planet, I certainly understand Commander Taylor’s frustration when I miss a roll by one pip. That said, it seems like kind of an “out-there” theme to theme a game after a 50-year-old movie, but what do I know?
- Satisfyingly difficult. Sure, sometimes you’ll barely miss a roll and get very angry (as previously mentioned), but it’s a tough game to manage all the different things gunning for you. Winning feels like an achievement. That said, it’s not incredibly heavy; it’s just hard, at times.
- Definitely feels like more of a solo game. There’s not much cognitive load, here, so you could very easily have one player just tell everyone what to do and lead to some quarterbacking. That said, if you’re looking for a reasonably strategic solo dice game, this is not a bad option, especially if you’re okay with the length.
- The board is kind of comically long. I don’t understand, to be quite honest. I get the need to include all the cards on there, but man, it’s a very long board. Maybe as long as Tokaidobut not as wide? It’s just odd to see.
- I strongly disagree with the use of the re-roll symbol to mean Total Rolls on the Encounter cards. It means that I always have one fewer roll than I expect, which messes with my planning. I’d just use some other symbol, there, personally, or use it to mean “re-rolls” and just subtract 1 from it. Either works, but I make this mistake on pretty much the first Encounter of every game, so it’s gotten kind of frustrating, by now.
- It’s long. It doesn’t feel long (I never am like “why am I still playing this game”), but it’s hard to convince myself to get it to the table over One Deck Dungeon, which is just faster even if it’s not quite as good in the luck mitigation department. Unbroken is also a solid solo game (coming to Kickstarter in March 2018; more on that later).
- It’s also fairly random, given its length. It’s kind of an oddity — like I said, it’s essentially a heavier Yahtzee with a strong overarching narrative. Trying to get six dice in a row is tough, though. Even with a lot of Action cards, it depends on you getting the right Action cards and still getting lucky on some rolls, which doesn’t always happen.
OVERALL: 7 / 10
Overall, I like Planet of the Apes! Sure, I might prefer other, shorter games, but honestly it’s not a bad solo game at all! I feel like more players might give rise to some opportunities for especially unproductive quarterbacking (since there’s not an awful lot to do when it’s not your turn and, worse yet, there aren’t always obviously optimal plays given how random dice can be). That said, if you’re a huge Planet of the Apes buff or you’re looking for a dicey solo game, this might be a pretty solid one to check out! Or if you’ve always wanted a busted Statue of Liberty miniature, which, honestly, isn’t a terrible reason to take a look at it, either.