Mart van de Wege
I bought this game about 2 months ago and had the opportunity to play it a couple of times in quick succession, explaining it to other new players at the same time. I found it to be a fairly fast-playing game that is a lot of fun to play, and is reasonably friendly to casual players
The game works as follows: In the center of the table a ring-shaped Star token is placed, and inside the ring you place 5 energy tokens (yellow plastic crystals) per player, up to 20 for the maximum for players.
Right next to the Star four randomly drawn planets are placed equidistantly, and then moving outward, starting at each Planet, making a shape of four rays pointing away from the star, between 3 and 5 (depending on number of players) Space Tiles, face down. Each player also receives three of these Space Tiles and keeps them secret from the other players. I'll cover their function later.
A Black Hole, Solar Storm, and Creation tile are placed, and markers are piled upon them depending on the number of players.
Two Planet markers are drawn and put down, forming two Planet Reserve Piles.
Finally, the remaining crystal resource markers, yellow for Energy, clear for Gas and blue for Water are laid down in piles on the table, representing the resources in the system.
Each player then proceeds with their turn. They start with adding a Planet, either taking the top one from one the Reserve Piles, or drawing two, playing one and adding the other to one of the Reserve Piles. This nets the player one Energy resource from the Star, and two resourced from the cloud, depending on what Planet is played and where it is played. The Star thus acts as a turn counter: when the final Energy marker is drawn from it, the game ends.
After placing the Planet, the player can then add Life to any planets in the system, with a resource cost between 1 and 3 resources, which ones depending on the Planet where you are placing life. Life comes in two types: simple life, netting 1 point per Life cube per resource cost, or Species cylinders, netting 5 points per per resource cost (so a planet with a Life resource cost of 3 scores 15 points with a Species on it, whereas 3 Life cubes on a 2 resource planet is 6 points, and so on). Life can be upgraded to Species at any time, subject to the rule that this cannot be done in the same turn.
The player can also play his Space Tiles in this phase, either for accomplishing the goal set out on the tile (like developing a Species on 2 water worlds) and scoring the points for that tile or for the special effect on the Tile, which ranges from 'take 2 free resources' to 'all planets in the same orbit now pay one more resource for Life'. Playing for effect is paid for by taking a Solar Flare or Black Hole token, with the last player taking such a token triggering a detrimental effect that hits all players.
Placing life also nets you a Stimulation marker from the Creation tile, and when this runs out everyone turns in their Stimulation markers for free resources at a 2:1 ratio.
Play continues until the Star runs out, after which the Life scores are totalled, the Goal points added and the highest score wins.
The hardest part, and the stumbling block for new players is keeping track of the Goals and effects of the Space tiles. Each player gets a handy reference card with these spelled out, but it takes some time to get your head around the best way to play Space Tiles. This I found to be the weak spot in the game; new players take a lot of time reading up on what they can do, and with those subject to AP this will slow things down.
Overall that's a minor nit. The reference cards themselves are models of clarity, and the icons on the action parts of the Space Tiles are clear and obvious after a few rounds.
Conclusion: a nice game that needs some care in explaining, but then is playable within an hour and is a lot of fun. There is plenty of interaction in the effects of the space tiles, and the theme is fairly unique. It also looks gorgeous in play.
Thanks for your nice review! We are glad you enjoy Exoplanets!