Planet Defenders from EmperorS4 Games designed by Wei-Min Ling was a release at Essen that seemed to fly under peoples radar, mine included.
The theme didn’t really grab me, but when I saw the game on the demo table it caught my attention, as did one of their other offerings Round House. I got to try a shortened game at the booth and that was enough. I thought it was thoroughly enjoyable, but would it have the Simurgh effect? Last year I got to try Simurgh at Essen and liked it but after I got it home and played a full game, it fell significantly short. Read on and find out…..
The game box
The game is based in the future where society have been discarding all sorts of weird and wonderful machinery in space and these robots are now starting to come back to life and cause havoc and we need the help of the Planet Defenders to capture these robots. This will get you research points (RP’s). The person with the most RP’s at the end of the game wins. So RP’s = VP’s for those who have played games before. The planet defenders are for all players to use and the type you can use depends on the available movement cards next to the board.
What’s in the box?
The board is made up of 9 small square tiles laid out in a 3 x 3 formation. And the three Planet Defenders start on the centre square. Next to the 3 x 3 grid that makes up the game board are 3 movement cards that depict pictures of the Planet defenders with a figure 1 or a 2 next to it. This is the number of tiles the pictured defender can move orthogonally and it has to be the exact amount. It costs a battery to activate a defender, which you place on the movement card. You then carry out the action that the tile had depicted on it. You then have the option of making a second move with one of the 2 movement cards that you have not used this turn. This however costs you 2 additional batteries. You then execute the action on the tile where the defender has landed. The batteries you use are placed on the relevant movement card as you may need to reference which defenders you moved in the next phase.
There are 4 different resources in the game, batteries that are smaller yellow transparent cubes and Orange, Blue and Green energy that are larger transparent cubes. If you run out of batteries, do not fear as instead of moving a defender you can choose to rest instead of activating a defender and gain batteries so you will have a total of 3 at the end of your turn. You are also only allowed to have 5 energy cubes at the end of your turn, so there is no hoarding.
Game in progress
The actions on the tiles are very straight forward, for example gain an orange energy and a battery or spend an energy to gain 5 batteries. The iconography is very clear and easy to understand.
In addition to moving the defenders you need to know how to capture those pesky robots that are starting to cause trouble in space. Well there are 4 piles of 5 cards that are the robots and they are placed next to the middle tile at each of the 4 outer edges of the boards. It is probably easier if you have a quick look at the picture to see what I mean. At the end of your turn you have the option of capturing one of the defenders, which will cost you a certain amount of energy shown on the card, however you have to make the capture using one of the defenders you activated this turn. This is why you leave the batteries on the movement card, so those with bad memories – including myself – don’t have to remember. The location of the defenders dictates which robot it can capture, as it can only capture the robot that is next to the edge the defender finished on. Hold on, I hear you cry, what if it finishes in a corner? Yep I am about to get to that, you can capture either robot next to either of the edges. However you can only capture one. But what about the centre square? Well if you get a defender to activate the centre tile then you can capture any robot as it is a ranged turret and can get any of them.
I need a playmat like this!
If you didn’t capture a robot you can choose to buy an upgrade card. There are three available and they cost batteries, energy or a combination of the two. They allow you to do certain things like make 2 colours of energy interchangeable, so orange can become blue and vice versa. There are a number of different cards in the upgrade card deck, plus if you get a number of them, they are worth points too.
When you have completed your turn you flip over the movement card(s) that you used this turn. On the reverse of the card is a picture of a different defender and a different number, so on the reverse of the yellow defender 1 card is a red 2, so you can end up moving the same defender twice on the same turn if the cards allow. This is one of the very neat ideas that the designer has done here. It would have been very easy to just put a blue 2 on the reverse of a blue 1, but the way the mechanism is designed the colour defenders you are moving are always changing. The movement card also tells you what is on the reverse of the card too, so you know what you are leaving the next player.
Someone liked making stacks out of the energy cubes. It was a shame to take one from the bottom.
The game ends when two of the stacks of robots have depleted and everyone has had an equal amount of turns. You get points for the robots captured and upgrade cards you have purchased. You also get points for the different colours of robots you capture as all the 5 point robots are red, yellow robots are 4 etc.
Having got a number of plays under my belt now, does this suffer from the Simurgh effect? No. I sold my copy of Simurgh. There is no way I will get rid of this. It plays in under an hour comfortably, maybe around 40 minutes. It takes about 3 minutes to teach to new players and is very easy to pick up.
The upgrade cards display
It is hard to plan for your turn in advance as when it comes to you, you may not be able to move the defender you wanted to and it may be in the wrong location anyway, or even worse some bugger has captured the robot you were after. However unlike games that suffer with this issue, like Five Tribes, which ruins the game, as the options are so straight forward, it doesn’t take long to figure out what you want.
The components are delicious. I love the energy cubes, they remind me of sweets when I was a kid all those years back. The artwork is clear and distinctive and the iconography is clear. I would consider this a gateway game, so good for non-gamers, but as a gamer I love it, so good for gamers too.
Planet Defenders ready for the off.
Now, the real issue with the game – getting hold of a copy! I can’t find a retailer who is carrying this in the UK. There are a couple of copies in the EU on the Boardgamegeek marketplace. There is a store at the publishers website http://store.boardgamelove.com.tw/ you can contact them via facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/EmperorS4/?fref=ts I contacted them about one of their other games, Round House which was amazing, but unfortunately had sold out by the time I got to try it and they responded almost immediately.
EmperorS4 games are a publisher that I will be keeping a keen eye out for in the future. Both of their games I have tried have been excellent. Fingers crossed future releases will be just as good.
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Very good indeed
A very good gateway game that is aesthetically pleasing and is well produced. Everyone who sat down to play it has liked it and it is definitely a keeper.