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Planet - title

I think I'm becoming a fan of Blue Orange's line of family-friendly games. I bought Photosynthesis for my daughter several years back, and it has proven to be a hit with many of my adult friends for its fun and simple gameplay, and its lovely aesthetics! We've since bought a couple more of Blue Orange's games in the hopes of finding similarly fun and educational games that players young and old can enjoy. One such game is Planet, which is much simpler and quicker to play than Photosynthesis, but doesn't quite live up to Photosynthesis' production quality and educational value.

The core premise of Planet is that each player receives a magnetic dodecahedron that represents their barren "planet core". Each round, players select one of five possible "continents" to place on one of the surfaces of their "planet". Each continent tile is divided up into 5 parts, each with a terrain, and every continent tile has at least 2 different types of terrain on the tile.

Starting with the third round, randomly-drawn animal cards will be given to the player who has the planet that best meets each card's animal's respective habitat requirements, and each animal is worth points at the end of the game. In addition, each player is given a secret objective card that provides them bonus points at the end for covering as much of their planet as possible with a specific type of terrain.

Terrain types include green forests and jungles, brown mountains, yellow deserts, white ice, and blue ocean. Each animal has a preference for one specific type of terrain, as well as a secondary preference for adjacent terrain. By arranging your continent tiles on your planet in specific and varied configurations, your planet can hopefully attract the most animals.

Each player starts with a blank dodecahedron "planet", and builds a life-sustaining world continent by continent.

Abstract edutainment

Planet is an "edutainment" product that seems intended to teach children a little bit about animal habitats, how the relationships between different ecosystems drive animal evolution, and how biodiversity creates a healthier planet. Unfortunately, the game might be a bit too abstract in its educational endeavors, especially for a game intended for children under 12 years old.

There are a handful of animals that I don't recognize.
It would be nice if the game taught me about them.

The biggest failing (and missed opportunity) in the game, in my opinion, is that the animal cards lack any information about the animals themselves. Each card has a picture of the animal, and a graphic representing its preferred terrain types, as well as a colored border representing the animal's natural habitat. That's it. The cards don't even have the name of the animal printed on them. At bare minimum, these cards really should have had the name of each animal (and maybe also its scientific nomenclature as an added bonus for older players). As an adult, I recognize most of the animals by their picture, but there are a handful that I don't recognize. I'm guessing that a lot of young kids also have no clue what many of these animals are, or they confuse the animal with another similar animal (and the game doesn't correct their mistake).

Had I designed the game, I also would have tried to print one or more little factoid(s) about each animal on their cards. Since the game puts a focus on the habitats of each animal, I think the factoids should probably emphasize the animal's niche within that particular habitat -- where it lies on the food chain, how it promotes the growth or health of the rest of its ecosystem, that sort of thing. But nope. We get nothing but a picture and the bare essentials of gameplay requirements.

For such a short, simple game, there's not a whole lot going on in terms of strategy, so it's a real missed opportunity that the game doesn't play up its educational elements more strongly.

That being said, the artwork on the cards is all very pretty. The animal images clearly depict the animal and a backdrop of its natural habitat, and a lot of them are really cute. The colors that represent each terrain type are vibrant and distinct, so that there should be no confusion about which terrain is which (barring extenuating circumstances like major color-blindness).

The way that scoring works is that each animal who's habitat matches your objective card earns 1 point, but each animal who's habitat does not match your objective card earns 2 points. This creates a little bit of interesting conflicting pressures in your strategy. Your objective card makes you want to focus on placing as much of one terrain type as possible, but you also want to have some diversity of ecosystems that you can claim a few animals from other habitats because those are worth more points. If you have, for example, the "ice" planet objective, you fill your planet up with as much ice as possible, and only claim animals who live on ice, then you might find yourself losing to another player who has a greater diversity of animals.

The educational takeaway of the scoring system is that diverse ecosystems promote biodiversity, which creates a better, healthier planet.

I also appreciate that the scoring system is much simpler than Photosynthesis. Everything is worth one or two points, and it's all much easier to count. We're not asking our elementary school-age child to mentally add up units of 17 or 19, as is the case with Photosynthesis.

Players earn more points for having greater biodiversity.

It's also worth noting that all the animals present in the game are contemporary animals. There are no extinct prehistoric animals at all -- no trilobites, dinosaurs, whooly mammoths, or dodos. If you want to build a primeval fantasy planet populated with T-Rexes and sabertooth tigers, you're out of luck. Though a prehistoric animal pack could be a great idea for an expansion!

The game also doesn't model more complex systems at all. If you're hoping for systems that represent food chains or the evolutionary process, then you might be disappointed. Though I could definitely imagine a heavier version of this game in which you seed your planet with primordial animals like trilobytes, then gradually evolve them through dinosaurs and up to contemporary animals. If any other board game companies like Planet and want to make a more complicated, grown-up version of it, then there's an idea for you...

A tactile experience

The educational element of Planet doesn't end with its lessons on ecosystems and biodiversity, however. The use of the magnetic dodecahedrons as, essentially, each player's game board also adds a major tactile element to the game. Placing the magnetic continent tiles on the planet, and rotating the planet in your hands to find whether your planet meets the conditions necessary for a given animal, encourages the development of spatial awareness and spatial reasoning in children. Players will have to count adjacent tiles across multiple surfaces to determine if their planet is eligible to receive a given animal, and they'll have to plan the placement of future continent tiles to hopefully attract future animals as well.

Scanning the your planet for the requirements of an animal's habitat is an exercise in spatial reasoning.

This is where the game really shines as a developmental piece for late elementary school-aged children! Even some of the adult players have trouble tracing the various terrain regions around their planet and determining if their planet qualifies for a given animal. Having all the tiles wrap around your dodecahedron globe means it can be tricky to keep track of which terrains you've counted and which you haven't. If you have very poor 3-D spatial skills, this game might be very challenging for you, but the short length and simple rules might still make it an accessible way to practice and improve those spatial skills.

The game is also pretty good about teaching forward-thinking. The default rules place all the animal cards faceup on the board, so every player can see exactly which animals will be in the game, when they will be awarded to players, and what their specific habitat requirements are. The number of animals given out each round increases over the course of the game, so players are rewarded for looking ahead and building their planet from the early rounds such that they will be able to claim the animal cards in the later rounds.

Species with no eligible home are pushed back
to later rounds.

There's certainly more strategy here than in other children's tile-placing games such as Carcassone Junior, which requires almost no thought or planning at all. That extra strategy should be just enough to allow adults to appreciate and enjoy the game. It's probably not deep enough strategy for adults to want to play on their own (especially if a slightly deeper game like Photosynthesis is available instead), but if you're going to be playing a lightweight game intended for children, this is about as good and as engaging as one can expect.

Each player only claims one continent tile each round, so the turns go very quickly, and the whole game will take about 30 minutes to play. Maybe a bit longer if younger kids are taking longer (or need help) counting the terrain on their planet.

Educational strategy for children and adults alike

Overall, I like Planet. It's not nearly as compelling as Photosynthesis (which I consider to be the gold standard for board game edutainment titles), but it certainly beats other games that are designed exclusively for children. It's quick and simple to play, with relatively easy set up and tear-down, so it' great as a "warm-up" for something longer (like, say Photosynthesis or Terraforming Mars).

If each card had some little factoids about each animal, then I'd probably rate Planet just as highly as Photosynthesis in terms of being an edutainment product geared for children. The simpler rules, shorter length, and quicker turns might make Planet a better overall game for elementary school-age children, since Photosynthesis seems to be a bit much for an 8 year old to handle. The magnetic globes is also certainly a neat gimmick that will likely attract the attention of players of all ages. If the game will be mostly for young children, or you want something really quick and casual, then I highly recommend adding Planet to your collection. If you're looking for something that older teenagers and adults will mostly be playing, then I would put my money on Photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a better game, but Planet is a better kid's game.

It might be easier to remove all your continent tiles to count final score.

WHAT I LIKE

  • Lightweight strategy game for kids, which is also enjoyable for adults.
  • Simple scoring system appropriate for grade-school level children.
  • Tactile gameplay that promotes spatial coordination.
  • Rewards biodiversity.
  • Sturdy components.
  • Plastic insert for comfortably storing all components.

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Animal cards do not include the name of the animal or any facts about them.
  • Lacks prehistoric animals.
  • No tortoises!

FINAL GRADE: B-

Manufacturer(s): Manufacturer(s) / Publisher(s).
Lead Designer(s): Urtis Ĺ ulinskas
Artist(s): Sabrina Miramon
Original release: 15 June 2019
MSRP: $35 USD
Player(s): 2-4 players (best with 3 or 4)
Age Recommendation: 8 years old and up (adults will enjoy it too!)
Game Length: 30 minutes
Official site: www.blueorangegames.com/index.php/games/planet

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