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Damon Asher
United States
Jefferson
MA
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The very first thing that occurs in this game is that due to an experiment gone wrong, Earth disappears, replaced by a Creature of darkness that devours whole worlds in its path. Ah, the hubris of man! Will he never learn? Well, now mankind has not only doomed itself, but has also placed in jeopardy six other races whose homeworlds happen to be located at the ends of equally spaced sextants on the galactic map. You and your friends play the role of these other races as they attempt collect resources and accomplish the tasks needed to fight back the darkness. In fact, you don’t need to have any friends, as the game is playable by 1 to 6 players. But if you do have friends, you probably won’t lose them over a contentious game of Vanished Planet, as this game is cooperative. Either you all win, or you all lose. The publishers have a well-produced web site at www.VanishedPlanet.com. There you can download the rulebook, tutorial, and FAQ.

I have some good and bad things to say about this game. However, if you just want the punchline, I'll tell you that this game is my single most disappointing game purchase, and I couldn't get it eBayed off fast enough. Here's the long version:

Gameplay is straightforward. You move your spaceships three hexes per turn on the galactic map. As you pass various planets, nebulae, asteroids, and space stations, you “tag” them with one of your race’s 10 markers. Each type of feature yields a different type of resource. For example, planets produce colonists, asteroids produce ore, and trade stations generate money. You collect the resources for that feature every turn, and being a cooperative game, more than one player can collect from each space. It’s nice to share! You can also trade one resource or technology to any other player once a turn. If you’re really desperate, you can trade 4 of one resource to the bank for 1 of another. Talk about markup!

The reason you’re dutifully collecting these resources is to allow you to generate the personnel, technologies, and upgrades you’ll need accomplish your goals. When you take you ship to a satellite space, you may draw a goal card. You need to get to the satellites quickly, because they will be rapidly consumed by the Creature. After that, you need to pay to build a Comm Replay on your planet to get new goals. These goals usually involve things like tagging a certain number of asteroids, or taking a certain technology to a certain game space. It’s unclear how accomplishing these random tasks damages the Creature, but since I’ve never actually encountered an all-devouring blackness unleashed from another dimension, who am I to say what might kill such a thing?

Each goal has a point value, and once the group achieves enough points (the target scales with the number of players) you win! On average you’ll need to complete two goals. However, this needs to be accomplished before the Creature reaches your homeworld. The Creature begins 9 spaces from your planet, and advances one space every turn. The map becomes more difficult to navigate as the Creature expands, as you cannot cross its path unless you buy the Phase Shield ship upgrade. You can slow the Creature’s advance by placing mines in its path, but mines are expensive (as is anything of any use in this game), so this is a delaying tactic at best. Once the creature gets to your homeworld, you’re out! Fortunately, your group retains the points for any goals you accomplished prior to your race’s unfortunate extinction. A fitting legacy indeed! You can increase the difficulty of the game by mixing in a variable number of event cards that send the creature an extra step toward your homeworld.

I’d like to devote a few words to discussing the components. While gameplay is King, nice bits are Queen, or at least the King’s Royal Consort. Only the first 7 pages of the, large (11”x11”) 18 page rulebook are game rules. The rest is the first chapter of “The Vanished Planet” novel. The rest of the novel will supposedly be available on the publisher’s web site (so far only Chapter 2 is there). The game rules read more like a glossary than an actual description of game play. Thankfully, included in the box was a color printout of the game tutorial, which really helped me figure out how to begin playing.

The components are a mixed bag, but generally are pretty good. The game box and board are heavy stock and should hold up well over time. The game board folds out to a 22” x 22” hexagonal map, decorated with various galactic features and some art of the game races, as well as a helpful rundown of technology and equipment building costs in each corner.

Your space ships are represented by small painted wooden disks. While little plastic spaceships would have been more interesting to look at, I have a hard time arguing with wood bits. I have a deep-engrained childhood affinity based on playing with my Dad’s old Risk set which had wooden cubes and beads for armies, so the wooden spaceships work fine for me. If you have a problem with them, just tell yourself it’s ALIEN wood. Smaller wood disks are used to mark your resource locations. A score pad to help you track your resources is a nice pack-in. You also get a bunch of thick black cardboard disks to mark the progress of the creature. Thoughtfully, enough ziplock bags are included to keep each player’s components separate as well as store the Creature disks. If only those alien races could develop ziplock bag technology, their fight to contain the Creature would be much less costly! The universe taunts us with its delicious irony.

Every card as well as the game board is covered with colorful art depicting various events and alien races from the game. The art flavor is very Saturday-morning cartoonish, and while I’m not repulsed by it, it’s not my favorite style. The flavor text on the cards however is excellent and likely to be enjoyed by most players who take the time to read it. I’m actually tempted to read the novel when it is completed based on the interesting prose on the cards.

The game cards are a little smallish for my taste (2” x 3”) and are printed on thin, but sufficient card stock. Shuffle carefully. The cards are used to keep track of your resources, personnel, technologies, and equipment. The cards are also used to deliver goals and the various random events that occur at the beginning of each turn. There are really only a few types of events and goals, each repeated several times to apply to each home planet, type of game space, or resource type. This lack of variety is a point against the game. Similarly, despite the text around the outside of the box, every race plays identically. A special power or two for each race would have been welcome.

This brings me to a discussion of the gameplay mechanics. One of the simultaneously best and worst aspects of the game is the “building” feature. As you collect resources, you can trade them up in what I think of as “Amusement Park Prize Swap” fashion. You trade a certain number of resources of various types for each personnel character. Spending these personnel along with more resources allows you to buy technologies. Combine the right technologies, and you get a ship upgrade or a Creature-busting mine. Trading of elements to build higher components can be done at any time, which is a nice way to keep players busy when it isn’t their turn. However, there is little incentive to build until you are ready to buy the final piece of technology. The intermediate personnel and technologies are pretty much just a complicated way to make change in reverse for the game currency, as they don't do much at all on their own except protect against some rare random events. This makes what could have been a cool game element ultimately tedious and disappointing.

This leads into the main problem with this game. The gameplay is very tight. Barring a few random or planned events that can delay or hurry the Creature’s advance by a turn or two, nine turns is all you are going to get. You are generally going to win or lose by one turn. So here's the problem: Once you get a goal card you can more or less definitively determine whether or not you can complete it in time. First, however, you need spend five minutes or so calculating all the resources you can acquire over the next several turns, and how much the necessary personnel, technologies, and upgrades will cost. Consequently, about a third of the way into the game you already know whether you will win or not! The whole process is as fun and inevitable as doing your income taxes. I need to stress this point, because I'm surprised that I haven't seen others make many comments on it. Once you get the goal card, you can pre-play pretty much the rest of the game in your head or on paper and determine if you can win. At that point, barring some random event, actually playing the game out is only good for seeing if you did your homework correctly. In my opinion, this is Not Fun.

To the game's credit, making it cooperative was a good design decision. If you determine that you are doomed you can then at least attempt to aid some of your more fortuitously predestined teammates. If you just play from turn to turn, you might have some fun helping your friends and watching the game play out. However, in the co-op game arena, Vanished Planet is no Lord of the Rings Boardgame (which is one of my favorites), but it is easier to explain to non-German gamers so you can get your co-op game on with a minimum of resistance. VP, while less atmospheric than LOTR, shares a lot of the sense of impending doom and also occasionally encourages valiant acts of self sacrifice in order to save the group. This game would probably serve as a decent gateway to LOTR if you are so inclined to steer your friends in that direction.

What Vanished Planet has done here is taken a fundamentally economic game, given it cooperative gameplay, added a high-pressure time limit, and wrapped the whole deal in an outer space theme. The key to winning is to carefully decide where to invest your resources, as equipment is expensive and time is very limited. As the goal cards will dictate which technologies you need to concentrate on, deciding which goals to keep and which to discard is a crucial element. However, because the turn limits are so tight, taking an extra turn to exchange goals will likely sink you.

For the “think-ahead” type gamer, Vanished Planet boils down to being a fairly simple, moderately tedious, ultimately pointless game. More easy going players who don’t burn any brain over the game may enjoy the experience. VP may even be pleasant in small doses to veteran gamers if they are willing to shut down parts of their brains. However, if you overdo it, you'll probably soon decide you'd rather play "Vanished Game".

- Damon Asher
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Eric Raabe
United States
Green Bay
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Re:User Review
Yes those goals are a tad mysterious. Appearantly the limited communication with Earth doesn't allow for an explanation of the goals. And how exactly are these doctors and engineers being "discarded" at various points? It seems that the only way to defeat the darkness is through human(oid) sacrifice.
 
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Tristin Deveau
Canada
Edmonton
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Re:User Review
dead jawa (#33077),


I think that the "Dicarding" of people can be thought of as their time being used up. You get rid of your engineer because he is busy building whatever device, or is being used for research something. If you what to create something else, then you need new personel since the others are on different projects.
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John Haley
United States
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You nailed my biggest problem with the game - the fact that so much of the stuff you buy is simply non-functional pieces used to build comm relays or mines. The fact that most of the technology doesn't actually *do* anything left me feeling pretty flat about the game. Very little that gets built truly facilitates your play or gives you additional options for action.
 
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M King
United States
Wilder
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Quote:
Once you get a goal card you can more or less definitively determine whether or not you can complete it in time. First, however, you need spend five minutes or so calculating all the resources you can acquire over the next several turns, and how much the necessary personnel, technologies, and upgrades will cost. Consequently, about a third of the way into the game you already know whether you will win or not!


I strongly disagree with this statement. Each turn you draw a random event card which will either help you or hinder you in achieving your goal. Since it takes 3-5 turns to accomplish most goals, that's 3-5 random events. There's no way to include this in your calculations unless you're Hari Seldon. And besides, who whips out their calculator in the middle of a game to do this kind of analysis? Why not just play the game?

Quote:
Yes those goals are a tad mysterious. Appearantly the limited communication with Earth doesn't allow for an explanation of the goals. And how exactly are these doctors and engineers being "discarded" at various points? It seems that the only way to defeat the darkness is through human(oid) sacrifice.


Of course the goals are mysterious. They are absolutely keeping with the sci-fi theme. On Star Trek it never makes any sense that "reversing the polarity of the quantum phase shift in the shield array" will save the Enterprise. surprise It's just a plot point. And obviously the crew members aren't being jettisoned into space, but dropped at planets or space stations to carry out their mission.

I have enjoyed this game immensely. It has been a hit with both my family and my more serious gamer friends. And none of them are the kind of brain-deficient gamers which this review implies are the only ones who can enjoy this game. The time limit mechanism makes for a tense, pulse-pounding experience fairly rare in boardgaming, the cooperative element is a welcome relief from the tensions of cutthroat gaming, and the game is aesthetically pleasing far beyond what you'd expect for $20. The designers have supported the game with a free expansion and a great deal of labor and love.

Quote:
For the “think-ahead” type gamer, Vanished Planet boils down to being a fairly simple, moderately tedious, ultimately pointless game.


Simple...no. Tedious...no way. Pointless...What game isn't pointless? That's why we play games. What game has a point? If we wanted to do an activity with a point, we wouldn't be gaming.
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