Vanished Planet is a cooperative board game in which players struggle to prevent an ever-growing, inky-black entity from enveloping the galaxy.
At the start of the game the Earth has been consumed by the entity, and has apparently been transferred to another dimension. The creature has already begun expanding beyond the Sol system, and it is only a matter of time until it envelops all of Earth’s allies as well. But all is not lost — the Earth may be gone, but she hasn’t been destroyed. Her scientists have discovered a way to communicate with those remaining in our galaxy, and have come up with a plan to defeat the entity and return Earth to normal space. Now all the allies have to do is complete Earth’s missions before their own worlds are consumed by the entity.
Talking with the Earth That Was
Vanished Planet is played on a hex-based board, with the vanished Earth at the very center of the board, and the six allies scattered around the outer edge of the board. At the beginning of the game Earth and the six hexes surrounding it are covered by black discs representing the entity. Each player is assigned a home world, as well as a colored disc representing that person’s home world.
As play progresses, players move their ships to different resources scattered around the galaxy. These resources produce raw materials for each player’s home world — colonies produce colonists, asteroids are used to mine ore, nebulas are harnessed for energy, trade stations produce money, and research stations generate, well, research.
When a player leaves a resource, a small wooden chit is left behind to indicate that it’s been “tagged”. On subsequent turns, the tagged resource produces goods for the race that controls it. Resources are used to produce the personnel (like diplomats, doctors and engineers) and technology (fusion reactors, meta-translators, and dimensional shifters) needed to combat the entity.
Exactly how they’re used depends on the missions issued by Earth via satellites scattered around the maps. Players visit the satellites with their ships, and then draw a card from a Goal Deck. Each Goal card is worth a certain number of points, and specifies exactly what a player needs to do to achieve those points. Some missions are travel-oriented, and require players to visit one of several anomalies (like a black hole, pulsar, quasar and red dwarf) located around the map, or to visit all of the alien home worlds. Others require players to assemble specific types of technology and deposit them — along with certain personnel — at one of the alien home worlds.
The goal of the game is for players to collectively complete a certain number of goal points before the entity engulfs all of the player home worlds. This goal can be helped or hindered by cards pulled from an “Event” deck. Some cards, like Population Boom, eat up a player’s resources but can be prevented if the player has the right personal on hand. Others, like “Free Ship”, give players advantages that help them complete their missions.
What the Hell is a “Cooperative” Game?
The Blackrazors (my gaming group) aren’t known for “cooperative” play. In role-playing games, we can pull it together just long enough to take down an exceptionally dangerous enemy, but for the most part, chaos rules. In all other games, we are notoriously cutthroat. Our games of Risk 2210, Illuminati, Munchkin and Settlers of Catan feature all manner of temporary alliances broken by backstabbing assaults. The closest we come to teamwork is when we’re playing Risk 2210, and gang up on Bob (experience has proven that he’s always the real enemy).
So when I got Vanished Planet, and described it to the group, the response was a collective “what the hell is a ‘cooperative’ game?” Actually working together to win a game? To share a victory among friends? It was an alien concept, and not just for us — prior to this game I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cooperative board game.
We were skeptical as we began playing, but as the turns proceeded and the entity grew, we found ourselves coming together as a team. By the final turns we were desperately trading resources in an effort to build the devices we needed to achieve our goals or to build space mines capable of slowing (but not stopping) the creature’s advance. We were actually enjoying the game!
The game’s best mechanic is the unrelenting growth of the entity, which provides a very real source of tension, especially as it moves within a hex or two of players’ homeworlds. It’s made even better by the fact that there are “entity grows” cards that can be added to the Event deck to make the monster grow faster and game play harder.
It’s a cool idea, but it would have been even cooler if the monster didn’t always progress in a straight line toward the alien homeworlds. I’d love to have seen could have caused the entity to grown another tentacle or to have an existing tentacle randomly shift directions. As is, the growth of the monster is predictable, and its threat against resources are well known. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for your first few games, but I could see it easily becoming old hat for experienced gamers.
The goal cards are straight forward, and consist mostly of “errand-type” missions, where players must travel to a certain destination and drop off some combination of personnel and technology. The tasks are challenging, but my playtesters and I were itching for something a little more compelling. For example, we would like to have seen complex goals that required two or more players to work on simultaneously or several smaller goals that could have been combined to unlock some new technology to deal with the entity. As is, the goals were fine … but they could have been better.
The resource management aspect of the game is attractive, and familiar to those who’ve played Settlers of Catan. It’s more complicated than Settlers though, requiring players to use resources to buy personnel, which are then combined with more resources to build technology, which are then combined with more resources and more personnel to build upgrades. That’s quite a development tree for a board game, and while it can occasionally slow things down, its still a heck of a lot of fun.
I enjoyed how having certain personnel on hand could negate the negative effects of the Event cards, but my playtesters and I wish that thinking had been extended to technology items (cryo generators, dimensional shifters, etc.) As is, they are only useful as building blocks for more advanced upgrades, which is ok, but a dual-role would have been better.
The production value of the game’s board, playing pieces and cards is impressive for a small gaming company, and I liked how the simple wooden playing pieces for ships and “tags” showed up well against the black board. It’s a sturdy, solid game, and that’s something I’m appreciating more and more as my daughter turns 1 year old.
The 16-page instruction book is definitely the Vanished Planet’s weak point. The layout is rudimentary, with too much white space and strange-looking bullets used to highlight important items. The instructions themselves are fairly easy to follow, though it helped that there was a supplemental color-photocopied tutorial demonstrating exactly how to play the game.
The instruction book’s illustrations are like something I would have drawn in high school during my doodling phase. Now my doodles weren’t half bad, but they weren’t anything I’d actually want published. In posts at boardgamegeek.com the designers explain that the illustrations were prototypes for the game’s cards, and that they though people would enjoy seeing the game’s evolution. That is something I’d be interested in, but I’d rather have seen that as a web site extra, not as something included in the actual game. One final note on the instructions — half of the book was given over to the first chapter of a novel detailing the story of Vanished Planet. People who like deep background might appreciate having it, but I’d rather have seen the tutorial folded into the instruction book, and the chapter posted to the VP web site.
A minor disappointment was the game’s “race” mechanic (or lack there of) The outside of the box lists the characteristics of each race, with some being brilliant scientists while others are exceptional engineers. It had a nice Master of Orion feel to it, but unfortunately none of that was translated into the game itself. I asked the game’s designers about that after the playtest, and they said that originally they had planned to include those characteristics, but found they interfered with game balance and ended up dropping them. I’m hoping they find a way to re-incorporate those rules in some sort of expansion.
And what of that cooperative angle? Some of my libertarian readers might wonder if this is an attempt to slip some backdoor socialism into the world of gaming, but that’s not the case. It’s more a question of divergent individuals coming together to face a common threat, and it’s done in a way that isn’t preachy, and isn’t antithetical to libertarian ethics. Heck, trading and commerce are important components of the game, so even on the eve of the apocalypse, you can still turn a profit.
What my playtesters and I liked most about Vanished Planet game was how different it is. The cooperative aspect, combined with the relentlyess growth of the entity, makes for a game unlike anything else in my game closet.
- Vanished Planet
- For 1-6 players
- Vanished Planet Games
- MSRP: $39.95
- Web: www.vanishedplanet.com (Internet Archive)