1-5 players, Cooperative, Demon Infested Tower Defense
Designer: Sandy Petersen
Artwork: Keith Thompson
Publisher: Petersen Games
Release Year: 2020
Planet Apocalypse is only the second Petersen Games game that I have played, the first being Cthulhu Wars. And to be honest I wasn’t all that thrilled about this one. I own Cthulhu Wars and spent a very good chunk of money on it based primarily on all the hoots and hollers I heard on how great it is. After playing a few times I just wasn’t overly impressed and came away feeling pretty let down. So, when the Kickstarter came rolling up for Planet Apocalypse I hesitated and eventually decided NOT to back the game. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I got my copy of the game in the mail from my FLGS. I am a sucker for apocalyptic themes and after reading up on this one more I saw that it held an interesting game mechanic that I hadn’t yet beheld in board gaming, tower defense. After playing 5 games I think I have a pretty good idea of how the game works and how much I enjoy myself while playing. Read on to see if Planet Apocalypse has revitalized me.
Overview of Gameplay
This game actually has a few different mechanics at play here other than tower defense and I’ll go into a bit more depth with each as I take you through the typical turns and rounds that players will experience in a typical game. To win the game, players will need to work together to fight their way through an onslaught of encroaching demon hordes. They will be leveling up and gaining new abilities and generally just becoming stronger as they annihilate these demons. Eventually, players will have to make the choice to face the ultimate demon lord and move in for the kill. If the players can defeat the demon lord, they win! On the flip side there are many ways for the players to lose. Every player character dies, the doom track hitting 13 or the demon lord making it all the way to the heroes starting point and moving off the end of the board. Any of these things happen and it’s game over for our powerful, yet broken heroes.
A typical round starts with all the players taking some “Team Actions” which consist of healing a point of health, recruiting some troopers to aid you in battle, gaining some upgrade cards or converting some luck tokens to courage tokens (courage is the currency you spend to gain upgrades). After all the team actions are complete the standard player actions begin with players taking turns moving around the game board, rolling attack dice to banish demons and setting up trooper ambushes. The trooper ambush is the “tower defense” mechanic I was mentioning earlier. There are five different trooper cards of varying power and cost available to recruit from your starting area and once you get some troopers you want to move forward on the board and set them up as “ambushes”. You can have up to four of the same kind of trooper in a single area on the board, with each additional trooper making the overall ambush stronger in the form of additional/bigger dice to roll. Not only that but if you are in the same area if these troopers you can effectively use them as human shields and discard to absorb some damage. Or alternatively you can just keep them with your character as you move around like body guards.
Once all the players have used up their available actions, the demons get a chance to make their move. First you have to move the Despair track forward a few notches equal to the player count. If it ever moves onto or past 1, a complete revolution, then an additional despair die gets added to the starting amount of four and the lord track moves forward 1 as well. It’s not all bad though as you also get 4 added courage tokens to your general pile for anyone to spend. Now, if that lord track ever makes a full revolution the lord will move forward and all hell breaks loose literally, I’ll go over that a bit more later. After you move the despair track and IF the lord didn’t move you will go ahead and resolve any demon attacks that are in the same area as your heroes. To do this you simply roll the posted dice that the particular demons have and if any rolled exceed your particular targeted hero’s defense value, that hero takes a hit.
After the demons resolve all their attacks, they go on the move! You will move all demons on the board forward one space, slowly moving towards the heroes starting area. If any of those suspicious looking invasion tokens happen to move into an ambush or a heroes area, you will roll those despair dice to add even more demons to the board. This is one way the Doom track can increase, if you don’t have enough demons to add to the board the Doom track increases. Also if any of the demons move OFF the board past the start point, the Doom track increases and remember, if it ever hits 13 game over. After the demons finish their movement, those troopers you placed earlier get a chance to ambush them and try to take some down for you. You will roll dice for each section there are demons and troopers based on how many of the same trooper you have in the particular area. Any kills will earn your team additional courage to the general pool. After all that the round starts anew with a new team captain and everything is repeated.
The components all around are of excellent quality with a nod to the dice. There are an abundance of dice in this game ranging from d4’s all the way up to d12’s with each batch having a different color scheme. They all have a nice heft to them and look and feel amazing, especially the d12’s. The miniatures are also very well done with some good detail and impressive size for the demons. The lord mini particularly is very imposing on the board when the character miniatures are standing up against it. I also love how they did each different set of demons in a different plastic color so you can easily tell them apart on the board, not that you need different colors to tell them apart as they have VERY unique sculpts and sizes between them.
The game board itself if actually comprised of two different U shaped pieces that you will push together to make the full board state. Once combined this board is also very imposing and will take up a decent amount of table space and I would suggest playing on a 4ft x 6ft table if playing with a full five players. At first I was a little thrown off by the shape of the board itself as it forms this kind of squiggle line pattern if playing on the standard invasion side. After getting into the game though I have come to enjoy its uniqueness and more than that, absolutely LOVE how it’s double-sided. You flip the pieces over to create a completely circular board that also introduces slightly different gameplay elements. In this mode the demons never move OFF the board, instead they will just continually circle it. Still adding Doom to the track when making a complete revolution but never leaving, making for an even more challenging game! Overall I am super impressed with both the unique board and the components. You can tell a lot of heart went into crafting this one.
The box and insert is pretty good, well above average I would say. The box itself is sturdy and large ALMOST the same size box as Twilight Imperium 4th edition. It’s the tiniest bit shorter but also a little taller. That said, it fits into a standard Kallax shelf with the greatest of ease almost looking like it was designed to fit perfectly with almost no overhang at all. The insert is comprised of two pieces, the bottom plastic portion holds most of the minis securely with a couple of large open spaces to toss the rest of the smaller minis in. The card sections have a nice “lip” that holds the cards in place very well. Sitting above that is another plastic insert that holds all the card stock such as the player mats and despair mat and instruction manual. The only slight gripe I have is you basically have to find places to stash all the cardboard tokens and plethora of dice. Luckily there are some gaps between the sides of each plastic insert you can put those.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Another attractive theme for me and what lured me in to begin with. The idea of a demon invasion of earth isn’t all that new and original but it’s done very well here. The artwork is simply fantastic, especially in relation to the miniature sculpts. Each one is VERY different from the next and they all have an interesting vibe going on. Faces all over the demons in different areas, not really knowing which way to face the things and I especially love the Lord miniature as it depicts the demon lord actually coming through a huge wall. I’m so behind on painting my minis but I can already tell that these would look absolutely incredible if painted up.
I like the way the board looks as well with one end depicting the city and as you get closer to the other end, the hellscape starts rearing its ugly head quite literally as the demon side looks like it might be a part of a massive face. It’s a very interesting and grotesque transformation and adds to the theme greatly as you KNOW you are delving even deeper into danger the more the landscape changes. Overall, excellent job with the visuals and them adding to the overall theme of the game.
The rulebook is about 50/50. I found it enjoyable to read as the way it is worded made sense but it also seemed like it was written to explain the game to players that already knew how to play. The order of the sections was jumbled, with huge explanations of various parts of the game before the setup was ever explained. Now, I know people will all differ on how they learn but I’ve always been a fan of learning while I’m doing. Give me the setup first and foremost and THEN start explaining the actions and how to complete them. Telling me how the lord works before all that stuff, even though the lord is one of the last things you will do, doesn’t make much sense to me. Because of this I had to skip around in the booklet picking and choosing stuff to learn as I was going through the game. On top of that even though there is a glossary at the beginning, I had tons of trouble actually finding little tidbits of info. The section for making an attack for example isn’t hardly explained at all. You have to find the player turn section and then it’s written in paragraph form so you have to scroll through to find any details. I think a numbered format on how to perform actions would have greatly improved this. The bottom line here is that the instruction manual is written like a BOOK, interesting to read but not the best at explaining how to do anything.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Player interaction is huge in this one. The beginning part of every round has all the players taking “Team” actions which basically allows everyone to work as a group to make decisions that will help the group as a whole. Even further though, on your individual turns you will want to coordinate and plan out the most effective ways to not only clear out demons, but set up troopers and prepare yourself for the Lord. Another aspect of interaction is the general pool of courage tokens that everyone has access to. Each player will gain courage individually when they kill a demon but whenever troopers kill demons that courage will go to the general pool as a kind of community pool. During the Team phase you could gain upgrades by spending your courage and taking some from that community batch, although the final say on that belongs to the current team captain as it should be something that works for the group, not so much the individual if you hope to win this game. It’s a nice balancing act that must be played and I enjoy it quite a bit.
As far as fun goes this game has it in spades. Moving about collecting troopers and setting up ambushes and coordinating attacks on demons. All the while you are leveling up, gaining new abilities and preparing for the oncoming battle with the lord. It’s all good and there is a nice flow to the game that just feels balanced as well. You have to be careful not to engage the lord too early in the game, for example if you do not have good enough dice to even hit the beast. Of course if you have an abundance of courage saved up you could use that to upgrade your dice for a single attack too. There are many different routes you can take, spend courage to gear up or save it for that extra bit of help you might need in a pinch. No lie though, this game is HARD and you will be struggling to find that perfect formula in order to win. Between juggling doom track and the lord movement you also have to deal with the “Legion” cards. These are extra demon abilities that are in effect from the start that add a bit of added demon salt to your wounds so to speak. If the demons themselves weren’t already a handful, now you might have demons that set you ablaze when you get hit. And those abilities will change a couple times during the course of the game as the Doom track progresses and you draw new Legion cards.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I have tried the game with 2-5 player counts and think it works best at 3 and 4. At two players you just don’t have the options you have normally at higher counts. You only have two people running around clearing out demons and placing ambushes, everything is much slower. Once you start adding in more players you can really see how certain characters mesh well with others and can use this to your advantage. At 3 and 4 player counts the downtime isn’t bad at all and you can still operate at a nice flow. The decisions come quicker and everyone is always on top of things like their life depends on it.
The replayability is pretty good with the core set. You have only a single lord to go against but two different fourth level demons that will pop out that are completely different. To be honest those aspects are rather small pieces to the overall game experience though. You spend most of your time moving about placing troopers and killing demons with the fourth level demons only coming out when the lord moves, which is only when his track makes a complete revolution. And even then you will only see the fourth levels for a few rounds until you kill it or it moves off. The big portion of replayability comes with the different board you can setup. This does change up the strategy quite a bit and makes you think differently on how you will approach the situation as you learn to adapt to the ever increasing hordes of demons that never depart. There are six completely different playable characters to choose from as well that increases the replayability and a large amount of different upgrade cards that will change up the game every time.
Also, the dice randomness has to be mentioned. It’s always exciting to see what the despair dice will bring to the table. These are really cool actually as they have different demonic symbols emblazoned on their sides. At the start you will roll four of these every time demons need to be brought in and any matching symbols will bring in that particular kind of demon. On top of that for every matched pair of dice, you will bring in a lowly larva minion to go along with the higher level demons. This always generates a crazy amount of variability to the game as you just never know what will be popping up next.
Positive Final Thoughts
The components are excellent, the double sided board states are awesome and the overall gameplay is fantastic. The way the randomness works is fun, rather than exhausting as you can always try to mitigate every situation in some way, whether it’s by spending courage for better dice to help your friend or using troopers to absorb damage or attack invading demons. I haven’t had this much fun with a dice chucking action game since Cthulhu: Death May Die.
Negative Final Thoughts
The rulebook is written more like a book than an instruction manual with some random questions not easily located and the layout is rather wonky.
The Bottom Line
I can already see that the game is improved greatly in the replayability department with expansions. After adding just one expansion the game REALLY opened up, so that is something to consider if picking this one up. That said, I absolutely love this game! It has really climbed the list of one of my favorite games now and I highly doubt that will change anytime soon. If you enjoy the action explosion dice-fest of games like Cthulhu: Death May Die then you will most certainly enjoy this one.
The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE