Reviewed by Herb Levy
PLANET RUSH (Victory Point Games, 3 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, 30 minutes; $32.99)
Few game designers are as adept at reinventing their games as Reiner Knizia. Somehow, some way, Knizia manages to reimplement his successful designs and makes them seem a bit different while doing so. Such is the case with his Tower of Babel (featured over a decade ago in the Summer 2005 Gamers Alliance Report) which has been reimagined into Planet Rush as the setting of the ancient world has transformed into a newly discovered planet called Zenobia. Now, instead of attempting to construct the 7 Wonders of the World, players will attempt to colonize/build 7 of the 8 possible structures on Zenobia with the most successful becoming master of the planet.
All players begin with a faction card (in their chosen color) and the matching play mat which serves as both the way to track your score and a helpful play aid. The 8 structures of the game are placed in the center of the table (“under construction side” up) with one bonus tile randomly assigned to each segment at each location. (Some structures have only one segment; others have as many as four.) Each segment depicts a specific resource needed to complete it except for one structure which will be available for colonization later. The deck of cards, depicting the four resources in the game (blue Power, yellow Materials, red Robotics and green Research), is shuffled and a hand of four dealt to each player. The starting player is randomly chosen and receives the “launch” token and the spaceship.
Each turn consists of two phases: Build and Resource. For Build, a player may either draw a card from the deck OR try to build a structure or part of it. The Resource phase grants ALL players a card from the deck, ending the active player’s turn with the turn marker passed to the left. But it is the Build portion of phase one that is the crux of the game.
To build, a player identifies (using the cardboard spaceship token) a specific segment. Segments call for 1 specific type of resource and indicate how many of that resource is required. There is also some sort of bonus token available. Then, ALL other players place at least 1 card face down with all cards revealed simultaneously. Now the active player has some decisions to make.
For a build attempt to be successful, the active player must gather the EXACT number of resources needed – no more and no less. He may use the resource cards of one or more other players or, if he has enough resources, just do it himself. For example, using the building on the right, if the active player calls for blue Power resources there, he is looking for exactly FOUR. If another player has offered one of that resource in his bid, the active player may take that one card and add three of his own to close the deal. As a result, the active player will place three of his cubes in the segment (1 per card) while his deal partner will place one. The active player also claims the bonus tile there. Players shut out of the deal return any offered cards to their hands. Cards used in the deal are discarded. Faction cards, whether in the deal or not, always return to the players’ hands but things take a different turn with those faction cards.
If someone plays a faction card, the deal-making dynamics change. In the above example, should the second player have played his single resource AND his faction card with the active player closing the deal, then the active player will place his cubes on ALL 4 spaces. But the faction card allows that secondary player to claim the bonus tile as his reward. Both decisions can prove critical for several reasons.
Having cubes on a segment is a major source of funds. When a building is completely filled, all players with cubes there will score. In the area above, the player with the most cubes will score $8, second most $5, third most $2. (You can tell the values by looking at the top of the card. When completed, that card gets flipped over to its “constructed” side.) If a fourth or fifth player is there, they will score 0 (although ties are friendly with both tied players scoring the full amount). But presence, even if scoring 0, can be important for final scoring. But let’s not forget those bonus tiles.
Bonus tiles come in three varieties. The simplest are tiles that carry a dollar value. These immediately raise a player’s score by that number when collected. “Half moon” tiles are worth $7 IF you collect two of them. (A single half moon is worthless.) The stars become more valuable the more you have. The first one is worth only $1 but the second one is worth $2, the third $3 and so on.
As the game continues, more and more structures will be built until most resources of a type have been used. At this point, the structure displaying a ? for resources comes into play. Now, resources not able to be used at other segments in play can be used here. When the seventh structure is completed, play ends immediately. The eighth structure does not get finished. To each player’s running total, an additional scoring occurs rewarding players for presence throughout the planet. Those having at least 1 cube on 7 buildings will earn a bonus of $15 while 6 gets you $10 and 5 another $5 to your score. The player finishing with the highest money total is master of the planet!
Planet Rush could really have been subtitled “The Art of the Deal” for several reasons. The game balances on a fulcrum of decisions with players see-sawing between striving for a dominant presence on a structure versus collecting valuable bonus tokens – and somehow, managing to do both! Knowing when to play your faction card is important. Sometimes, the value of a bonus tile outweighs the worth of having cubes in an area, especially if you have already established a presence there. But NO deal may include TWO faction cards so, if multiple players use their faction cards at the same time, a deal may prove impossible for all. But there’s another layer of decision making here: you need to make your offer attractive.
There is no requirement that a deal MUST be made; the active player may simply decline to follow through. So you need to consider just how much is enough. You want to entice the active player so YOU are chosen to be part of a deal but not offer so much that you deplete your supply of resources to hamper your ability to make future attractive offers. This is the art behind the deal making.
As areas begin to be completed, some resources will be less in demand. The idea that one area cannot be colonized until late in the game, only available when a resource (or two) is no longer needed elsewhere, is an excellent touch that maintains the value of resource cards that would otherwise be worthless.
Reportedly, Planet Rush is the original design of the game that was later developed into what became Tower of Babel so, in effect, you are experiencing the “director’s cut” of Knizia’s vision. This is not a bad thing. Although Knizia is certainly more than capable of designing hardcore gamer’s games (think Euphrat & Tigris, for example), this outer space game seems to be in his “sweet sport”: games that are easier to learn and play with enough depth to elevate them from filler to that solid and satisfying spot in your game collection which, at least with this outer space game, is a good space to fill. – – – Herb Levy
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