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Designer Diary: The Forgotten Planet

Michele Quondam
Italy
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The Forgotten Planet – a Spiel 2011 release from my own Giochix – is not an easy game for me to define.

In general, The Forgotten Planet is a tile-laying management game in which tiles represent safe areas on a planetary surface on which robots walk and take other actions. These tiles also accumulate energy from the sun, then conduct it to robots, giving them (and the player) more actions if they absorb enough energy – so naturally building and maintaining ownership of these tiles is fundamental in the game strategy. Players and robots use this energy to build new bases, discover mines, build walls to keep out other robots, push those same walls out of the way, produce more robots and much more.

If your robot falls out of contact with tiles you control, however, then it loses power and falls inactive for the round. Control of tiles is determined by the distance from a particular tile to each player's closest base; whoever is closest to the tile (with walls serving as barriers that players must "walk" around while counting distance) controls it, and the more tiles you control, the more energy you have available to you.

Thus, players need to maintain an energy connection for their robots while trying to extend their area of control on the planet's surface with their bases. They also need to control mines, of course, as that's how a player produces new resources, which are subsequently converted into new bases, sold for victory points (VPs) or converted into new robots.

The game ends when the playing area is filled with tiles or no land tiles remain in the supply. (Players can "consume metal" as one of their actions to speed along the endgame and crimp someone else's efforts to keep building.) Players then score points for the land and mines they control, with bonuses going to the player(s) with the most robots in play, the most common mines and the most bases. The player with the high score wins.

•••

The original game idea came from the movie Forbidden Planet, a science-fiction movie from 1956 with Leslie Nielsen. I'm a fan of old movies, especially horror and sci-fi, and I have the poster of that movie in my dining room! Staring at "Robby the Robot" every day, I became intrigued by the idea of using robots in a management game.

What's more, I was looking to create something with tiles, not a classic game board, as tiles let you change the game board for many scenarios – and when you explore a new scenario, the game itself changes. That aspect is fundamental in The Forgotten Planet.

(So in my design history, I started with cards, then went to boards, and now tiles. Maybe next I will make something with dice? :-)

The initial prototype of The Forgotten Planet was a classical management game with lots of different buildings, many actions, different kinds of robots, energy management, robot attacks, war, and so on – but my first romantic idea for the design (as in the movie) was quite different from this heavy strategic game. (That prototype was more similar to the StarCraft video games, and while that's not a bad idea, it's not what I wanted to do at that moment!)

So after that first try, I started again.

Aside from trying to capture that ideal spirit, my design in 2010 – Rio de la Plata – was a deep and complex game. This time I was looking for something simpler, something that I could explain in twenty minutes that more people would be open to, not only gamers. My idea (and hope) is that anyone who likes to play Chess or Bridge could be intrigued by The Forgotten Planet as it's a game in which you have to think, while being able to learn it easily.

Also, maybe this year in Essen I will be able to save my breath!

Now, after many many many plays, I have the final game and am ready to show it to the world soon. I tried to explain to the illustrators my idea of the game – mentioning the movies, discussing the theme – and I think they made a fabulous work, perfectly hitting my desires. I hope also yours!

Ciao!

Michele Quondam

P.S. Given the inspiration, why not use Forbidden Planet as the name? In fact, that was the title up to some months ago, but unfortunately the movie rights were recently bought for a remake that might be released in 2012 or 2013, although that detail is still unknown for now. Thus, I thought it better to use a different name, so I chose The Forgotten Planet.

An added bonus for a role-playing gamer like me is that the name evokes D&D's Forgotten Realms, too...
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