The Search for Planet X is a deduction-style board game currently funding on Kickstarter in which you play as a team of scientists on the hunt for the fabled Planet X, lurking somewhere on the edge of our solar system. Players will conduct research, publish theories, attend conferences, and use the information they learn in a race to correctly identify where Planet X is hiding in the night sky and score the most points.
In addition to the components listed above, players will also require writing implements and at least one electronic device with The Search for Planet X app installed. We would strongly recommend that each player has their own device to make play easier.
How Do You Play The Search for Planet X?
In The Search for Planet X, you are racing against one to three other players to find the location of Planet X which is hidden in one of the 12 (18 in expert mode) sectors of the night sky. The location of Planet X is randomly determined by the app and will change with each game. Players score points for being the first to locate Planet X but can also score points for publishing correct theories about other kinds of objects in the sky, and the player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner. This means that being the first player to locate Planet X does not necessarily signify that you win the game.
Before beginning setup, players must decide whether they wish to play a Standard or Expert Mode game. In Standard Mode, the board has 12 sectors of the sky to search, while in Expert Mode there are 18. For the rest of this review, I will refer to a Standard Mode game, but please note that numbers of objects and some other events and details will differ for Expert Mode games.
The solar system board is placed in the center of the table with the correct side (Standard or Expert) facing up. The board should be orientated so that one side is facing each player. The wooden Sun Disc is then placed in the hole at the center of the board and the Sun Board placed so that the Sun Disc goes through the hole at its middle, this allows the Sun Board to rotate freely. The Sun Board should be rotated so that sectors one through six forms the visible sky (the numbers should be visible on the inner ring).
Each player is given a Note Sheet that matches the side of the board they are facing (Autumn Equinox, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, and Summer Solstice) so that their note sheet and perspective match. The players also each need:
One Player Pawn
Two Target Tokens
One Player Screen
A Pen or Pencil
12 Theory Tokens (only one Dwarf Planet Token should be used in Standard Mode, the remaining three should be left in the box)
The Player Pawns are placed on sector one of the Time Track on the outer edge of the board and each player should set up their screen so that it shields the player’s note sheet from view by all opponents.
One player then uses their electronic device to generate a game code. On the app, they should press “Start New Game”, select “Standard Mode” then, “Start New Game”. This will generate a game code. Players using other electronic devices can then open their own copies of the app, press “Enter Game Code”, type in the code generated by the initial player, and press “Join Game”. Once all players have verified that they are using the same game code, they all press “Continue”.
Each player then receives their starting information from the app. This is different for each player and should be kept secret. Players select their chosen color (this will match their Player Pawn on the board, Player Screen, and Theory Tokens) and their experience level from Youth to Mastermind, every player can choose their own experience level, they do not need to match. The experience level selected dictates how much starting information the player receives:
Youth = 12 Clues
Beginner = 8 Clues
Experienced = 4 Clues
Mastermind = 0 Clues
The app will then reveal the starting information that players should use to begin writing on their Note Sheet.
If multiple players are sharing an electronic device to play, the first player can select “Add Another Player” when they reach the bottom of their starting information. The next player then selects their color and gets to see their own starting information.
Once everybody has received their starting information, the game is ready to begin.
The Principals of Astronomy
In order to play The Search for Planet X, it is vitally important to know the Principals of Astronomy in the game. These are the logic rules that will help you determine the location of Planet X and other objects in the sky. Remember that these rules apply to Standard Mode games and differ for Expert Mode.
In The Search for Planet X, the night sky is divided into 12 sectors. Each sector contains one object OR is truly empty. There are five kinds of objects:
Comets: Two total, each located in a prime sector (2, 3, 5, 7, or 11).
Gas Clouds: Two total, each located adjacent to at least one truly empty sector
Dwarf Planets: One total, cannot be adjacent to Planet X
Asteroid Fields: Four Total, each is adjacent to at least one other asteroid field, located either in two pairs or one band of four sectors
Planet X: One total, not adjacent to a Dwarf Planet. Appears empty in scans.
Additionally, there are two Truly Empty sectors. It is very important to note the difference between a sector that is Truly Empty and one which Appears Empty. When performing a scan, the scan in which Planet X is located will “Appear Empty” but is not.
The Visible Sky
At any time during a game of The Search for Planet X, only half the board will be “visible”. These six sectors form the Visible Sky. The Sun Board will rotate during the game to hide and reveal sector numbers on the inner ring of the solar system. Only sectors whose numbers are visible in the inner ring can be “seen” so Scans and Targets can only be used on visible sectors.
The Search for Planet X Gameplay
The gameplay does not occur in a fixed order in The Search for Planet X. Instead, the order of play is always determined by the order of Player Pawns on the time track with the player furthest back on the track going next. This player is the Active Player. This system can mean than a player can have multiple turns in a row.
The Active Player always carries out three steps during their turn:
Take One Action
Advance Pawn Along the Time Track
Rotate the Sun Board (if Required)
Additionally, if the Sun Board reaches the symbols for either a Theory or Conference Phase, these should be immediately performed before the next player’s turn begins.
Taking an Action
There are four available actions for the Active Player to choose from. Each action has a Time Cost which is the number of sectors the player’s pawn must move around the Time Track after performing that action.
1. Scan For an Object
Using the app, the player scans a range of sectors to look for a specific type of object (Asteroid Fields, Comets, Dwarf Planets, Gas Clouds, or Empty Sectors). The Active Player decides which object type they want to scan for and how many sectors they want to scan (between one and six, all of which must be part of the Visible Sky). They then announce this information to the other players and input their scan details into the app. The information they learn from their scan is private and not announced to the other players but is recorded on their note sheet.
The Time Cost for a scan is four for a scan spanning between one and three sectors, or three for a scan spanning between four and six sectors.
2. Target a Sector
This action allows a player to target a single, specific sector and discover what is located in it. To Target a sector, players must have a Target Token available, only two Target Tokens are given to each player at the start of the game and they cannot be won back, so use your two Target actions wisely.
The Active Player announces which sector they will target to the other players and returns a Target Token to the box. They then select Target on the app and input the sector they want. The app will reveal what object is located in that sector, or that it Appears Empty. This information is not shared with the other players.
The Time Cost for targeting a sector is four.
Research allows you to learn an additional logic rule which is unique to your game. There are six research fields to pick from:
Dwarf Planets and Comets
Comets and Asteroid Fields
Asteroid Fields and Dwarf Planets
Comets and Gas Clouds
Players announce to the other players that they will be researching and which of the six options they have chosen, but not what the results are. You cannot research two turns in a row so you must pick another action on your next turn.
The Time Cost of research is one.
4. Locate Planet X
When you have been searching for a while, you might decide that you know where Planet X is located. You may then choose to search for it. Choosing to Locate Planet X is similar to targeting, however, you must also correctly input the objects in the sectors either side of your chosen sector. For example, if you believe that Planet X is located in Sector Four, you must correctly identify the objects in sectors three and five. As usual, a player choosing this action must announce that they will be attempting to Locate Planet X to the other players then input all the information into the app.
If you are incorrect, you announce this to the other players.
If you are correct, you announce that you located Planet X but NOT where you located it. This then triggers the end of the game.
Advancing Your Pawn
Once the Active Player has taken an action, they move their Player Pawn around the Time Track. The number of spaces moved is equal to the Time Cost of the action they just chose to perform.
There may be multiple Player Pawns in the same sector. If the Active Player is directed to place their Player Pawn on a sector already containing another pawn, they should always place their own pawn ahead of any existing ones in a clockwise direction.
Rotating the Sun Board
After moving their Player Pawn, the Active Player checks if the Sun Board needs to be rotated. The arrow on the Sun Board should be pointing at the sector containing the next player’s pawn. If another player’s pawn was sitting in the same sector as the Active Player, then the Sun Board will not need to be moved, however, if there is no Player Pawn in that sector anymore, then the Sun Board should be rotated.
If during its rotation, the arrow on the Sun Board points to either a Theory Icon or Conference Icon, the Active Player should immediately stop rotating the board and begin that phase. If there are multiple icons, the outer one should be performed first, then the following icons moving inwards. After completing these phases, the Active Player should continue to rotate the Sun Board until it is pointing at the sector containing the next player’s pawn
The Theory Phase is indicated by a document icon. During this phase, players may submit their theories regarding what objects a sector contains. If they are revealed to be correct, they will score points. Theories are guesses about what object a certain sector of the board contains. While they will score you points, they may also reveal extra information to your rivals, so you must decide if you want to risk placing many theories or limit your sharing and also your potential points.
Each sector of the board contains four square spaces leading from the outer edge of the board to the inner. A Theory Phase progresses over four stages:
Select Theories: Each player chooses up to one theory and places it face down in front of their Player Screen.
Place Theories: In upcoming turn order, players place their theory tokens on the outer most square of their chosen sector. Theories can be placed in any sector whose content has not already been revealed. If a player wishes to place a theory in the same sector on the same turn as a previous player, their theory token is stacked on top of any existing ones.
Advance Theories: Once all players have placed any theories they wish to, all the theory tokens advance one square toward the center of the board.
Peer Review: If a theory token reaches the final square, it is Peer-Reviewed. The Theory Token(s) in the inner space are flipped over to reveal what the player who placed it there believes is hidden in that sector. One player then selects Peer Review from the app and enters the information to check if the theory is correct, revealing the information given to them by the app to all the other players. Any other Theory Tokens in that sector are now flipped over.
If a Theory Token is correct, it is left face-up where it was for final scoring later on.
If a Theory Token is incorrect, it is removed from the game and the player who placed it receive a time penalty of one.
Once per game (twice in expert mode) players will attend a Planet X conference. One player will select “Planet X Conference” from the app and read aloud the information revealed to all other players. This phase is similar to a Research action but has no time cost.
Game End and Final Scoring
Once a player has successfully located Planet X, they trigger the end of the game. They move their player token five spaces on the time track and rotate the Sun Board if required. All the other players then get one final choice depending on how far behind the successful player they are.
Players who are between one and three sectors behind the player who located Planet X may either submit a single theory or attempt to locate Planet X themselves.
Players who are four or more sectors behind, may submit two theories or attempt to locate Planet X for themselves.
Players who attempt to locate Planet X and are successful will score two points for each sector they are behind the first successful player.
Once every player has had their final turn, all players with a device should select “End Game” on the app. This reveals the correct content of every sector in that game. It is now time for final scoring.
First, all theory tokens on the board are turned face up but left in their current position, any incorrect Theory Tokens should be removed, leaving only correct tokens on the board in the order in which they were placed.
Each player has a score chart at the bottom of their note sheet where they can work out their final score as follows:
One point for each sector where the player was first (or tied for first) to submit a correct theory.
Two points for placing a correct Asteroid Field theory.
Four points for placing a correct Dwarf Planet theory.
Three Points for placing a correct Comet theory.
Four points for placing a correct Gas Cloud theory.
Additionally, the player who first correctly located Planet X receives 10 points and any other players to successfully locate it receive points based on their relative location, as noted above.
After all the points have been added up, the player with the highest amount of points is the winner.
Why Should You Play The Search for Planet X?
The Search for Planet X has become something of an obsession in our house over the last few weeks with all of us playing multiple games at any chance we get. Before I get too far into this verdict, I want to remind you that we were playing with a prototype so I will not be referring to quality, and some details may change before final production.
The Search for Planet X could be thought of as an advanced form of Clue, with players working in secret and using the clues they uncover through Scans, Research and correct Theories submitted by other players to deduce the location of all the objects on the board, including Planet X. However, there is far more to this than a simple re-skin of a decades-old game. There is so much going on during every game that you will quickly begin to really feel like a detective (or more accurately, a scientist) sifting through information to find the clues that will help you solve the puzzle. There is nothing so satisfying as receiving a new piece of information that causes a domino effect of “if sector one is this then sector three must be this and sector four has to be this,” and suddenly leaping from no concrete theories to half a board filled with definite answers. Conversely, there is little so frustrating as sitting at the table with a note sheet full of research but nothing that can yet be pulled together into a conclusive result.
In terms of difficulty, I loved how well you can adjust the difficulty level to suit each member of a group individually. By playing with my husband and myself on the Experienced level and my ten-year-old son on the Youth level, we all ended the game within five points of one another with no one left behind unable to score many points and feeling unhappy with their final score. This personal adjustability levels the playing field beautifully for groups and also provides a useful learning curve for new players.
Another really helpful feature was the inclusion of four different note sheet designs. While the sheets are mostly identical, the image of the board on each of the four note sheet styles is rotated in four different ways to match the view of the board you would see when sitting around it. This means that every player sitting around the square board will have a picture on their note sheet that exactly matches what they can see in front of them, with no players having to try and work with an upside-down image of the board. This is incredibly helpful when so much of the game is about the relative locations of objects to one another.
The biggest issue we came across whilst playing was in final scoring. The first player to identify Planet X wins 10 points, however, other players can also receive up to ten points for coming in second, third, or even fourth if they happen to be far enough behind the first player on the Time Track. This means that actually identifying Planet X first is sometimes of no benefit whatsoever which feels wrong given the title of the game. I’d love to see the points for identifying Planet X altered slightly so that the player to identify it first always receives at least a few extra points, even if it is only a couple.
The Search for Planet X is already a strong contender for my game of the year, even playing with only a prototype, and I cannot wait to see a finished production quality copy. While this is far from the casual and family-friendly titles our family has been sticking to of late, we have fallen in love with this game both through its theme (as a former astrophysics student the theme was an instant draw to me) and its gameplay which is complex enough to require real thought and concentration to win, but simple enough to learn in a single game. The box art is stunning enough that I’d consider framing it, and the board itself is one of the most innovative I’ve come across in the last few years.