Imagine waking up and simians are running the world, with us humans left as mute, downtrodden workers, slaves who are rounded up from their wilderness areas to become property owned by apes, chimpanzees and orangutans. The world’s upside down, and if you’re the kind of human who fights for your rights, well, there ain’t nothing more worth fighting for than the rights of sapiens, right?
That’s the premise of the cult classic 1968 sci-fi hit film Planet of the Apes and it’s definitely still worth watching, even all these years later. The story is, of course, a barely veiled metaphor for how we humans treat people of other races and religions, but there’s still something oddly compelling about the dated (though award-winning) makeup effects and story. In the original film it’s a group of American astronauts who return from a deep space voyage to crash land on a mysterious, Earth-like planet. But those darn apes are running things!
The star of the movie is tough guy American archetype Colonel George Taylor, as portrayed by All-American Charlton Heston. Sure his fellow astronauts Landon and Dodge survive their crash landing, but the film’s really all about Taylor, about his mute female love interest Nova (Linda Harrison) and the two chimpanzees Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) who see Taylor as more than just a “dumb human slave”.
Why am I talking so much about the 1968 movie when there were four increasingly daft sequels, two reboots, and even sequels to the most recent film that reimagines how apes became rulers of Earth? Because unlike any themed game I’ve ever played, Planet of the Apes from IDW Games is tightly tied to the source material. The more you know the movie, the better you’ll understand the story progression and gameplay.
Look at the board, you’ll see what I mean:
Planet of the Apes is a co-operative game for 1-4 players and while it’s a bit long, it’s quite fun and straightforward. But there’s lots to talk about…
Planet of the Apes breaks gameplay down into 8 stages, as represented by the 8 scenes along the top of the board. Right to left, it’s The Sinking Ship, The Forbidden Zone, The Swim, The Hunt, Caged, Escape from Ape City, The Dig Site and The Discovery. Most of these are “major scenes” and have a variety of encounters to overcome so you can move to the subsequent scene, but three are minor scenes that just advance play.
The lower 13 slots are the Fate Track. Notice that there’s a token on the 13th slot: That’s the Statue of Liberty. If it gets to zero, you’ve lost the game. Individual scenes have both Taylor (our hero) and Ape (representing those dirty, repressive apes) start at different spots on the Fate Track too, and as game play proceeds, one or both move towards zero. If Taylor gets to zero first, you win the scene, but if the Ape gets there first, dire things happen that are never good.
Also notice just above the “Planet of the Apes” name on the left is a three-entry circular track. That’s the day tracker; every sunrise bad things happen, so you want to keep an eye on that. Adjacent are the Planet of the Apes cards too, one of which is played every sunrise. They’re never good. You don’t really want that to happen!
Ah, but the most important part of the game are the player cards and the dice. Yup, dice. In fact, the game is ultimately somewhat like a really complicated version of Yahtzee, of all things. You’ll see what I mean momentarily. For now, notice there are white, grey and red dice. There are also four Taylor character cards, each of which has special powers and capabilities. Here’s an example, the defiant Taylor:
Best line of the movie, of course: “Take your stinking paws off me, you dirty ape!” More importantly, when spending sets of cards as an action, Defiant Taylor can always spend one less, a really valuable capability. His Skill is specified at the bottom: Any time a character fails an encounter, Defiant Taylor can stop them suffering whatever the failure penalty is. Again, darn useful, and the weird eye tokens keep track of how many skills are available as they’re a scarce resource.
Above the character card are Action Cards. Each has a suit (a character or pair of characters from the film) and a value. The leftmost, for example, is Dodge & Landon and grants the player an additional white die for required rolls. Finally, on the lower right is a Special Card. These are always good and often surprisingly powerful. This one lets you panic and then avoid a “sunrise” Planet of the Apes card consequence by simply moving to the next one in the deck.
Let’s jump into play, shall we? Scene 2 is The Forbidden Zone. When you get to it, here’s the card:
Major Scenes have a stack of encounter cards (we’ll get there in a sec) but they have a start and end setup too. In this instance, this scene begins by putting Taylor on Fate Track spot 13 and the Ape on Fate Track spot 7. Remember, we’re trying to get to zero before that stinkin’ dirty ape! 🙂 If we succeed, we will move straight to Scene 3, but if we fail and the Ape gets to zero first, the Statue of Liberty moves 3 spaces closer to zero (remember, if it gets to zero you lose!).
So what’s an Encounter? They’re pretty straightforward, actually. Check this:
Read along the top right: You get six white dice and have a total of three rolls (top right) to get a run of 6 dice in numerical order. Yahtzee. But… you can also play Action Cards that match either the Ape or Cornelius to improve your chance of success. That means possibly more dice, rerolls or even being able to adjust a die to the value you seek. Succeed within the three rolls and you get the green consequence which most importantly moves the Taylor figure 3 spaces on the Fate Track. Fail, however, and the Ape moves 2 and the Statue moves 1. Bad, bad, bad.
For solo play, you simply use more than a single character card. I choose two, as you can see in the very first photo. After about 30 minutes of solo play here’s where Commander Taylor was, with all his Action Cards:
Things weren’t going very well, actually. Notice on the Fate Track that the Statue is already at spot 6, while for this particular Scene (7) Taylor is at spot 5 while the Ape is at slot 1. Yikes!
More importantly, notice that Commander Taylor has seven action cards – his hand limit – encompassing two Gorilla cards, two Nova cards, a Dodge & Landon and a Cornelius & Zira card. The shortcut cards on the left show you (I know, it’s impossible to read) how sets can get you red dice, additional skills, even additional Special cards. Do I win? Nope. But I came really close!
There’s a lot I like about Planet of the Apes from IDW Games. It’s a fun and very well implemented theme that’s true to the source material, it’s easy to play once you get all the bits and pieces straight in your head, and who doesn’t love rolling dice?
It’s also long for what it is, however, with a box rating of 90-120 minutes. Less scenes that were more dramatic in outcome could make this a shorter game which would be a solid improvement. If you could play this in an hour or so with 2-3 people, this is a game I would pull onto the table as a filler or “waiting for that one perpetually late person” game. As is, however, I kept finding that I ran out of enthusiasm and interest after about an hour, even as the challenges got more difficult.
Let’s be honest, there are only so many dice patterns and sequences you can roll, whether you have two dice, six dice or ten of them. 🙂
I’m nonetheless going to recommend this game because it’s a great theme, easy to teach new players and quite kid friendly. I say, check it out before those stinkin’ apes make it illegal to own!
Disclosure: IDW Games sent me a copy of this title for the purposes of this review!