Planet of the Apes (IDW, 2017)

Date played: November 30, 2019

Gist of the game: In this cooperative game for 1-4 players, you essentially reenact the original Planet of the Apes movie, working your way through the most notable scenes. You’re in a race against fate, which marches steadily ahead through the progression of time. So fate is meta, across the different scenes. You also have to outpace the apes within each scene and reach the finish line before them to advance (ok, you can also eventually advance even if the apes finish first, but you suffer a number of nasty consequences if that’s the case). There are 8 total scenes to work through (3 minor, 4 major, and the final “The Discovery” scene. Each scene involves a number of adventures that you embark on to try to successfully resolve the scene.

Each character plays one aspect of Col. Taylor’s (i.e., Charlton Heston’s) personality: clever, commander, cynical, and defiant. Each facet comes with its own strengths. Players are “defeated” when they accumulate 5 damage tokens (at which point they can still play and contribute, but with more limited capability). When all characters are “defeated,” the players collectively lose and the game ends. Only by successfully completing all scenes, including The Discovery, can players win the game.

Color commentary: Ok. So the rule book was intimidating, and I feel like not everything was adequately explained. For instance, when trying to resolve adventures, you can discard particular card colors, but it’s not clear what doing so gets you. Casually reflecting on it hours later, I have a plausible explanation (discard a single card and use the symbol on that card, usually involving the re-rolling of a single die or adding a die you can use for any purpose), but is that correct? Hard to say. More than anything, it might have been helpful to have a dungeon master or similar manager-type whose task was to keep track of things like advancing the day token (because arriving back at sunrise always results in some unpleasantness, first through mandatory cards that are revealed and also possibly depending on what open adventures there are in the current scene) and helping keep track of each character’s special capabilities and the assistance available through the use of Special cards, etc. It was a lot to keep track of. We realized part way through Scene 4 (“The Hunt”) that we had been doing the sunrise token incorrectly. It’s not clear how much earlier we would have lost, but since we didn’t make it past Scene 4 and it was only the second major scene, I’d say having played correctly from the beginning probably wouldn’t have helped us.

This is the first cooperative game of this type that I’ve played, and losing was an incredibly anticlimactic way to end the game. It’s a strange letdown when everyone loses and an inanimate object wins. It’s also hard for me to envision a scenario in which it would be possible to win. The adventures involve dice accomplishments that are often much closer to 10/90 than 50/50 propositions and again, had we been playing correctly from the beginning, we would have lost even sooner. Perhaps it would be different with four players (or at least four characters, perhaps with each player responsible for more than one character) to absorb some damage more? M was defeated on damage tokens, but we lost in the end by me simultaneously being defeated and the Statue of Liberty standee crossing the finish line. Also, those damn, dirty apes always start ahead of you on the track during an adventure, providing another disadvantage. And to add additional insult to all those injuries, when the Taylor standee reaches particular rungs on the track, characters are dealt more damage and/or the ape and/or the Statue of Liberty standees advance further, too. I understand that the apes definitely had the advantage in the movie, but I want to know that if I played this game something shy of an infinite number of times we’d be likely to win at least once.

M wants me to stress how spectacular (his literal word choice) the artwork is. I’m doing so, but I also want to make clear that it could have been stick figure apes and we still would have purchased it, because M is bonkers about the original Planet of the Apes movie. Also, the game comes with plastic miniatures that serve no purpose other than to bring joy. Maybe they’re supposed to distract you from the game being actually impossible to win?

M’s thoughts: There’s an awful lot going on, to the point that I can’t even really envision a strategy. There’s probably something to managing your skill tokens and when to heal damage, but on the whole, my impression is that it is very complicated for a game that doesn’t really involve a ton of skill and is mostly reliant on luck. Also, I felt very conflicted about not being on the side of the apes. I saw the film as a young child and vowed that, if and when the time comes, I would betray humanity.

2 thoughts on “Planet of the Apes (IDW, 2017)

  1. There are a number of cooperative games that technically CAN be played without a “dungeon master” … buuut, where it might actually be helpful to have someone in the role of “rulekeeper” as you put it. (I like that phrase, actually.) It sounds like this is one of them.

    I’m a little intrigued by the “racing fate” aspect of the game. A lot of publishing roleplaying scenarios nominally give the players choices but involve more or less “railroading” to keep them onto a pre-determined plotline. It sounds like, first of all, this game is entirely upfront and honest about what it’s doing. Secondly, instead of just “you will play this plot, the game will be over when you finish” it gives you a ticking clock to race against. It sounds like that clock is pretty difficult to beat, so maybe that could have used more calibration, but I like the general idea.

    The thing where each player is a different part of one guy’s psyche sounds like kind of a bad fit though. I mean, I get that there was only one guy in the movie, so it would be slightly unfaithful to that to give the other players human characters, but also, that one guy didn’t have multiple personalities, he didn’t have some “Inside Out” psychodrama playing out inside his head, so it’s also slightly unfaithful to introduce THAT as the core player experience. By contrast “what if a couple other astronauts also landed on the Planet too?” seems like a much less destabilizing question.


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