Recently, we played a game of Planet of the Apes, by IDW Games. Although there have been reboots and reimaginings, this one is based on the classic 1968 film with Charleton Heston. It is a cooperative game for up to 4 people, in which you all play, rather than different characters, different aspects of Taylor’s personality. Each one has a different special ability and a special skill that you can use during the game. For example, “Clever Taylor” has an ability that allows you to get a free reroll of a die and a skill that allows you to spend a skill token to modify a die roll by 1, either up or down. Naturally, I played this character, as I find the ability to manipulate dice very useful!
The game is laid out on a long board, with a stack of cards for each of 8 scenes from the film on top of it. You start at “Sinking Ship”, and must progress to “The Discovery” before the Statue of Liberty standee gets there. Why a Statue of Liberty standee? Should I spoil a 50-year old film for you? If you don’t know, you should watch it. You pass through scenes such as “The Forbidden Zone”, “The Hunt”, Escape from Ape City”, and “The Dig Site” by resolving encounters within those scenes.
Also not wanting to spoil much about the game, I didn’t take many pictures, and won’t describe in detail what’s on the cards. Part of the fun is turning over encounter cards, remembering that part in the film, and then seeing what you need to do to complete the encounter. So, if you find the descriptions here lacking in detail, that’s why. We found that a fun aspect of this game was flipping over the cards to see what was to happen next!
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the board. On the board beside the Scene cards is a progress track with the numbers 13 to 0. This tracks the progress of the Statue of Liberty for the game (if it gets to the 0 space, you lose!), and your progress through each scene. A scene card tells you where to start Taylor on the track, and also where to start a standee of a gorilla on a horse. The goal is to complete encounters to move Taylor forward. You need to get him to the 0 spot to complete the scene and move onto the next one before the gorilla gets there, otherwise bad stuff happens, usually involving advancing the Statue of Liberty along the track.
The gorilla generally moves along the track when you fail an attempt to complete an encounter.
So how do you complete an encounter then? Well, once you’ve read the scene card to find out where Taylor and the gorilla start, plus looked at the penalties for failing to get to the end of the scene first (and read the flavour text and reminisced about that scene in the film), you draw 3 cards from the encounter pile for that scene, and put them alongside the board where indicated. The first player then gets 3 actions, one of which can be to attempt the encounter.
Encounters are normally resolved by having a player roll the dice to achieve a certain goal, such as rolling specific numbers, totals, or combinations. The card itself tells you which dice to use (either grey or white dice), the goal, and how many rerolls you get. In this respect it reminded me a bit of King of Tokyo, with a number of dice rolled, choosing the results you wanted to keep and rerolling the rest a given number of times. If you meet the goal, you get the reward (moving Taylor along the progress track, plus sometimes an additional bonus), and if you fail to meet the goal, you suffer the penalty (get wounds, progress the gorilla or Statue of Liberty, or some combination of those).
To help players out, they can collect and use Action cards. Action cards can be drawn as an action either from the top of the draw deck, or from one of the two face-up Action cards beside the deck, which are replaced every time someone takes one. The cards have multiple uses, in an encounter and outside of them. You can use actions to trade in cards of the same suit to heal wounds, for example. The suits are Taylor, Nova, Dodge and Langdon, Zira and Cornelius, Gorilla, and Dr. Zaius. In addition to having suits to be collected to trade in, each card also has a bonus that can be used during encounters, such as an extra reroll of a single die, or an extra die of a specific colour (white, grey, or red, which can count as either white or grey (some encounters specify which colour dice need to have a certain result to meet the goal, where in others it doesn’t matter what colour the dice are, as long as the show the proper result)). The encounters specify which suits can be used to get the bonus, so when choosing which encounter to attempt, it’s prudent to see which cards you have, or use an action or two to draw more cards to help you. When you decide to attempt the encounter, the cards need to be traded in for the bonus before any rolls are made so you can’t make a roll and then decide you need some bonuses. You’ll need to estimate which will be helpful, and you don’t get them back if you don’t use the bonus! There were a couple of times when I needed to get a run of 5 consecutive dice and made the roll in a single toss, wasting the card I’d turned in for a reroll.
After you have completed your actions, move the time tracker one space. The time tracker is just 3 spots: Sunrise, Day, Night. After Night, the sun time token goes back to Sunrise. If it reaches sunrise and any of the encounters that are still face up at the side of the board have the Sunrise symbol on them, the group suffers the penalties indicated on that section of the encounters.
Playing different aspects of Taylor was a neat idea, and although you take wounds separately, any time someone gets wounds, they can be given to any player. If a player receives 5 wounds, they are “Defeated”, which doesn’t mean out of the game, but just no longer able to use their special abilities, making the game more challenging, as the abilities can be very helpful.
Andrew and I played this once a couple of days before he brought it over and we played it again with Rhiannon, and in that game we barely squeaked out a win, beating the Statue of Liberty to the end of the progress track by 1 space. But, we did inadvertently play on “Hard Mode”, by forgetting that the slash “/” between the symbols that indicate penalties meant “OR”, and instead applied all the penalties rather than choosing one where applicable for the first 75% of the game.
In our next game, we won a bit more handily, although the final encounter can defeat you even if the Statue of Liberty isn’t near the end of the track!
Once we played this the first time, I knew we were going to have to play it again, as we both enjoyed how it played quite a bit. The setting was great, as we are both old sci-fi nerds, and the mechanics fit quite well. Putting the Planet of the Apes soundtrack on in the background helped, and the day before we played, I made Rhiannon watch the movie. We actually watch the second movie “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” as well. At the end of that one, (Spoiler Alert!) the Doomsday bomb goes off, the screen goes black and the narrator says that the world is dead. I mentioned that there was a sequel, and Rhiannon said “So, what… did they stick the Earth back together, with Gorilla Glue or something?” The best part was that it wasn’t until right after she said it did she realize the pun!
Because you generally don’t get through all of the encounter cards in a scene before resolving it, you won’t see all of the cards in a single game, making each play slightly different. Attempting the encounters presented interesting choices, as we looked at which encounter allowed us to use which cards, which had the most useful bonuses at that moment if we succeeded, and which had the least harmful penalties if we failed. Sometimes it was about weighing the odds of succeeding with whatever bonuses we had, be they rerolls or extra dice. It was definitely a cooperative endeavour as some of the abilities and special cards could affect any player, not just the player who had the card or ability.
Yes, we had fun with this one, and I would certainly play it again.
This game was cool. I played Commander Taylor as he was able to take 4 actions in a turn instead of 3. I tend to take characters like that because I think they’ll be useful.
I was doing most of the work completing the encounters because dad and Andrew were rolling horribly. I only ever failed an encounter once at the end when my luck started to run out. During the game dad started to get better and somehow Andrew got worse. And of course I teased him heavily over this. That’s my job when he comes over.
Watching the movie the day before was cool cause I got the overall theme of the game. It was a cool game and I felt it captured the essence of the movie.