The Search for Planet X
At the edge of our solar system, a dark planet may lurk. In 2015, astronomers estimated a large distant planet could explain the unique orbits of dwarf planets and other objects. Since then, astronomers have been scanning the sky, hoping to find this planet.
The Search for Planet X is a board game from Foxtrot Games. Players take on the role of astronomers, using observations and logical deductions to search for this hypothetical planet. Each game, the companion app randomly selects an arrangement of objects and a location for Planet X following predefined logic rules.
Each round, as the earth travels around the sun, players will use the app to perform scans and attend conferences. As they gain information about the location of the objects, they'll mark that information on their deduction sheets. As players learn the locations of the various objects, they can start publishing theories. This is the way that players score points.
As more and more objects are found, players will narrow down the possible locations for Planet X. Once a player believes they know its location and the objects on either side of it, they use the app to conduct a search. The game ends when a player successfully locates Planet X, and all players have a final chance to score some additional points.
The Search for Planet X captures the thrill of discovery, the puzzly-nature of astronomical investigation, and the competition inherent in the scientific process. Can you be the first to find Planet X?
Deduction, App-driven play
The Search for Planet X is a new deduction game, co-published by Foxtrot Games and Renegade Game Studios. (This pair also published the popular Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.) The Search for Planet X is guided by a smartphone app, which provides players the information they need to make deductions about the location of objects in the night sky. With a cool theme and a clever puzzle, it is a good choice for those who like mental challenges in games.
Deduction is one of my favorite game mechanisms. In particular, I love logic puzzle games like Sleuth, Cryptid, and Awkward Guests, the kinds of experiences that make players feel like detectives. The Search for Planet X is the latest game of this type, and it puts players in the roles of scientists searching for a hulking planet beyond our solar system.
The goal of the game is to earn the most points, a task players accomplish by submitting scientific theories based on their research, and yes, by finding Planet X.
The game is played out on a board representing the solar system. In a hole in the center sits a raised wooden disc, representing the sun. A tile representing earth sits in the middle as well, notched into the sun piece, such that the earth tile turns using the sun disc as its vertex of rotation.
The sky is divided into 12 sectors (18 in the advanced game), and at any given time, only half of them are visible. This is because, true to the theme, the earth spins, which changes the parts of the sky the astronomers can see.
Each player also gets a note sheet, on which they will record the information they learn throughout the game.
The Search for Planet X is app-driven, and the majority of the information comes from the app. At the beginning of the game, the app gives each player some starting information, such as in the example below:
This helps players to get started with their deductions. From there, players take turns selecting an action from the following 4 available:
- SURVEY: Select a type of object and a visible range (e.g. how many asteroids are in sectors 3-7?). The app will list how many of the chosen object are in that range.
- TARGET: Select a sector, and the app will list what is there. Each player can only do this twice ever! (If the sector actually contains Planet X, it will show up as “appears empty.”)
- RESEARCH: Select a topic from the app (e.g. gas clouds), and the app will list the logic rule that applies to that topic (e.g. “All gas clouds are within a range of 3 sectors or less).
- LOCATE PLANET X: When a player thinks he/she knows the location of Planet X, AND the objects that occupy its 2 adjacent sectors, he/she can attempt to solve the puzzle and end the game. (Locating the planet is worth a ton of points, obviously.)
Each action takes a certain amount of time to execute. When a player takes an action, his/her telescope pawn is moved along the outer ring of the board that many sectors/spaces. This “time track” system determines the turn order – the player farthest behind on the time track is the active player. (This is similar to games like Thebes or Patchwork.)
The visible portion of the sky always begins with the sector where the pawn in last place on the time track resides. Whenever the last-place pawn moves, leaving its space empty, the earth rotates to the sector where the new last-place pawn sits.
Some sectors bear special icons, and whenever the earth board passes one, its effect is triggered. The first type of icon is a “Conference,” which gives all players a new piece of information. The other, more common icon is “Research,” which allows players to submit theories about what they believe to be true. When a research icon is triggered, all players may place a face-down token in any sector, with the underside showing the item they believe to reside in that sector.
These theories are said to be under “peer review.” Each successive research icon advances them down their tracks toward the end. When a theory reaches the final space, it is revealed and the app tells players if it is correct or not. Players earn points for submitting correct theories, but when they are revealed, they may give other players helpful information!
At the end of the game, players total up their points, and the player with the highest score wins!
The Search for Planet X is a solid deduction game. The theme of planet hunting is really fresh and interesting, and the way it is integrated into the game system totally brings it to life. For example, the fact that only half the sky is ever visible due to the earth’s rotation is perfectly thematic, and the notion of the scientific community submitting theories about the locations of celestial bodies fits with the players making their deductions.
Like I said earlier, I really like games in this genre, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy The Search for Planet X. This game is well-designed, and it produces those “a-ha!” moments that make me love deduction so much. The game’s logic puzzle is tough on the normal difficulty, and downright brain-burning on the advanced difficulty, so I definitely recommend it for players who, like myself, love those super-thinky puzzles.
The app integrates nicely into the game. Its 1.0 version has a couple of issues, but they are actively being addressed and should be cleaned up in time for retail release. If app-driven play is a turn-off for you, this game will not change your mind about it, but for those who enjoy it (or at least don’t dislike) it, I think it works well.
The Search for Planet X is one of Renegade’s and Foxtrot’s best offerings yet. With a fresh theme and an engaging puzzle, it’s an experience that a lot of folks are going to like.
A review copy was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
+ Fresh, unique theme
+ Amazing thematic integration
+ Clever deduction puzzle, requires lots of brainpower
+ App works well
+ Variable difficulty makes it accessible
- Deduction may be too brain-burning for some
- Note sheets could have been formatted slightly better