Solo Gaming: Planet Unknown

Planet Unknown has been hitting my table quite a bit as I’ve discovered I love the combination of polyomino-placement and track movement this one offers. In the game, you are terraforming a planet by placing large pieces of land which will help you increase your civilization level, improve your water and plant quality, drive rovers around to collect lifepods and clean up meteorite strikes, and beef up your technology.

In the solo version, you try to beat a target score based on the composition of an event deck. Below I describe how the game changes for the solo game and how it worked for me, but I don’t go in-depth into the basic game play. For that, check out one of the many reviews or play throughs on YouTube.

Game play

The game set-up is largely the same as it would be for the multi-player game: you set out the lazy susan (and shuffle the tiles if you want to), take two civilization cards of each level (number of players plus one), and make the supply of biomass patches and meteorites. You’ll choose a planet and corporation board, choose a side for each, and put out the lifepods on the planet and track markers on the corporation board. You’ll also take the number of rovers for your corporation, and place them near your board.

The big difference in set-up is in the objective cards and the event deck. for the objective cards, you’ll draw four at random from the deck of objectives, look at the “Private Objective” side of the cards, and choose one to discard. The other three are ones you’ll be working toward throughout the game.

The event deck will be crafted by first dividing the event cards into their three types: green, orange, and red alert. Then you’ll shuffle each type and choose a number of each based on how hard you would like to make the game until you have a deck of 20 cards. However, the number of each card you choose will also affect how many points you need to score in the game. The base score to reach is 60. If you have a lot of green alert cards, that will add to the target score, but you can balance those out with red and orange alerts.

The game-play is very similar to the multiplayer game with two differences: the event cards and the movement of the lazy susan. At the beginning of each turn, you’ll turn the lazy susan by one depot — you always turn it just one depot, so you generally know which tiles you’ll have access to next, but you can never choose your active depot like you can in the multi-player (this is also how the 2-player game plays).

Then you’ll draw and resolve the next event card. This is often advancing or regressing on a track. They can also include boons like placing another rover or disadvantages like restrictions on the types of tiles you can place that round. After resolving the event, your turn proceeds as normal, choosing and placing a tile from your active depot and then moving up on the appropriate tracks.

The last round of the game is signaled with either one of the usual triggers — if you’re unable to legally place a tile from your active depot or if both stacks of tiles are depleted from any depot — or if you draw the last card of the event deck. Then you’ll score as usual, tallying up points from completed rows and columns on your planet board, from each track on your corporation board, from collected lifepods and meteorites, civ cards, and private objectives. Then, if you’ve beaten the target score (which was set by the components of the event deck), you’ll win.

How did it work?

I’ve been enjoying my solo plays of Planet Unknown. The event deck set-up is maybe the most annoying part, but that’s partly because I’m agonizing over how many of each color I want. Do I want to go on the easy-side? But then I need a higher score! Or maybe I go all-in on the hard ones, but that can feel very punishing during the game. Typically I’ve been going bout half green, and then some combination of red and orange.

Moving the lazy susan just one depot at a time is very familiar to me, since many of my plays has been at 2-players, so that didn’t take much getting used to. And with the programmed movement of the tiles, you always know which shapes will be available in your next turns, so you can plan ahead. The only problem is when you want two or more of the same tile — you have to wait a long time for that depot to come back. But I just see that as part of the challenge of the game.

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about the event cards. Some of them do a good job emulating a multi-player game, like civ cards disappearing or depleting an entire stack of tiles. However, others just feel like they are there to punish the player, like when it has you regress a tracker or two. It does mean you can get bonuses again on those tracks, but have to work back up to where you were.

All-in-all, though, I find the solo game of Planet Unknown to be an enjoyable experiece, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take it out to play a game or two by myself.

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