If you visit your local game store, you’ll find “out of stock,” “backorder,” and “pre-order” a common theme for this game. The first print of the English Edition sold out in less than a week, and it’s on the highly recommended list for “Kennerspiel des Jahres” for 2013 games, so what’s the all the hype about? Thanks to Z-Man Games, we here at BOP can dive into Terra Mystica full throttle and let you know exactly what the hype is all about.
I’ll start by saying, It’s a heck of a game given there are none of the typical game elements such as dice or cards. That being said, there are none of the typical game elements such as dice or cards :) The components consist of 7 double sided faction boards, a central game board, a cult board track, a bunch of nice sturdy matte chits of various sizes, and various wooden pieces including 7 colors of player pieces.
This is a monstrosity of a game to break down and explain. In fact, the rules even give you starting suggestions and walk you through an entire game basically. It’s complicated with lots of moving parts, but after a full play, you should be able to get along on your own without too much referencing. In order to break down this review I think the best way is to actually talk about the components believe it or not. Then after you get the gist of how the game works, I’ll of course explore my personal thoughts about the game and why I find it quite unique from other games out there.
Lets look at the board first. The main board itself doesn’t change. It’s a map composed of 7 different terrain types broken up into sections by water. The are numerous actions you can take during a round. One of which could be from the communal actions at the bottom of the board, which we will get into detail about later.
You begin the game obviously by setting up. But there are some important set up elements that effect the rest of the game. First there are the scoring tiles. You randomly choose 6 out of the included 8 and place them on the space provided on the left side of the board. These are really cool because even though the board itself doesn’t change, the scoring elements of each game do. There are 6 scoring rounds and they greatly effect how you’ll choose your actions and in what order. Each scoring tile has an in round victory point bonus, and an after round cult bonus. For example, the first tile in the figure to the left shows a trading house (or city for you Catanians) bonus of 3 victory points if placed during that scoring round. So every trading house you place during that scoring round gains you 3 victory points. Whereas normal placement of structures give no victory points. The after round bonus is shown with four blue circles representing water, and a shovel. This is a cult bonus a player can receive at the end of the round if they have the appropriate cult requirements.
Separate from the main board is a cult track board. This board is composed of 4 tracts, fire, water, earth, and air. In addition to end game point bonuses, these cult tracks can also give you in game bonus. Such as with that first scoring tile. If you have attained at least four water (blue circles) you get a free shovel. If you have 8 water, you’d get two shovels. Shovels are very awesome and very important. But we’ll talk about those later in my action portion :) So anyway, that is scoring tiles.
After set up, you’ll choose a Faction. This can be done using the rules suggestion of picking based on the initial scoring set up, or randomly. What’s nice about choosing your faction, is some factions play better with the scoring tiles than others. For simplicity, even though it’s much more complicated, If you see a lot of water bonuses in the scoring tile set up (blue circles), then mermaids might be one of the better options to choose to play for that particular game set up.
After over 15 plays, my game group sometimes even likes to choose randomly, just to try to make the best of what your dealt, which can be a lot of fun. Bonus tidbit, Terra Mystica also sorta breaks those players with color picky habits. depending on which faction you get, that is the color you are stuck with.
After you choose your faction, then you choose your starting bonus. There are 9 starting bonuses tiles (shown left) which are also selected at random for each game equal the number of players plus three. Usually the last person to choose a faction gets to pick their bonus tile first. The bonus tiles are rotating, and the first person to pass for that round, gets to to choose a new bonus tile for the next round from those available. This is also really neat, because sometimes you pass in a way to get a particular bonus tile you want for the next round. May not sound cool until you play, but trust me, its very, very, cool. And really adds to the strategy of the game.
Okay, before I get into factions, lets talk actions. There are TONS of things you can do on your turn, and i’m only going to breeze through them since you have a rule book you can read. One neat aspect is you get to do as many actions as you want per round until your funds/resources are exhausted or if you just want to pass. To dive into actions, lets first reference a player board.
Every faction has normal actions they can take. The main and most important being building structures. Structures include dwellings, trading houses, sanctuaries and strongholds. The cost for these vary from faction to faction but always cost a combination of cubes (workers) and coins. All structures start as dwellings and can be upgraded. Each time you build a structure, it takes an action. You’ll notice when you build different structures, you uncover different icons. These icons, have little hands under them, these hands = income. Income could include coins, or meeples (priests), additonal workers (cubes) or even special actions. You get this income at the beginning of each round. In order to build a structure, you must build on your appropriate landscape. The Nomads, above, can only build on desert and may only build on adjacent spaces. Which bring me to the next available action – terraforming!!! Terraforming is changing another landscape into one you can build on. Each faction has easier landscapes they are able to terraform. For the Nomads, Brown Plains, and Red Wastelands are the easiest. To terrform one of these lanscapes you’d need one shovel! The hardest for Nomads being Green Forest, and Blue Lakes, these would cost three shovels!! And shovels aren’t Cheap! If you notice on in the upper right corner, it takes 3 cubes (workers) for one shovel. This track can be upgraded using appropriate costs, which make terraforming future lanscapes cheaper. Other actions include upgrading your shipping track so you can build across water, and manipulating your power to take additional actions.
POWER you say?…yes power :) okay, so this is one of the neatest parts about Terra Mystica. You have this little 3 shades-of-purple-bowl power-pots. Everywhere in the above pictures you’ll notice a purple icon with a number in it. That is power you gain immediately or as income. On the cult track as you move up, you gain immediate power. Some of the rotating starting tiles can give you power income, and when you build structures, they can give you power income. Power, Power, POWER!
You can spend or permanently burn power to take additional actions. These actions could be as simple as gaining more money, or as powerful as free shovels. On the main player board, I spoke about communal actions, these communal actions cost power. But they are really awesome actions. Some of the more popular being gaining 7 coin, or 2 terraform shovels. Power you’ll find is a constant manipulation and opens up a lots of additional possibilities to develop your faction more efficiently.
Actually, the entire game is playing your actions in the right order, and most efficiently for your particular faction, it’s a crazy balancing act of building up your structures and cults and focusing on whatever gives you the most points each scoring round. And in the end, the player who has built up their faction gaining the most points each round and at the end of the game will win.
So in addition to some unique mechanics and overwhelming action combos, there is high re-playabilty too. There are 7 double sided faction boards amounting to 14 different characters you can play. That is plenty to keep you busy for quite awhile, and i’m sure it leaves a lot of room for expansions with more factions too. One thing that keeps this game from being a perfect gamin in my opinion are the faction powers. Although I also understand how difficult it probably was to make the factions as balanced as possible, I feel some are definitely stronger than others.
My favorite right now is the Nomads (The gold icon with the dude on the camel). I really like how they get to place 3 dwelling at the start of the game. It makes it easier to spread out and shoot for the end game largest settlement bonus. I also really like how once you build their stronghold you get a free terraform each round on ANY adjacent landscape! It’s wicked cool. My least favorite right now are the Cultists. Their special action is honestly kinda lame and only plays moderately well with lots of players.
The only other complaint I might have is the static board. I know some people on BGG have really broken open this game and know exactly the best spots to play for certain factions. So maybe some new maps might be nice :)
Overall, I love, love, love this game. If you are super into winning, this game might not be very fun for you. A lot of the pleasure is just exploring the different factions and doing the best you can with them. It is pretty heavy and really gets those synapses firing plus it has ubber amounts of strategy which I really love about it. I feel like I get to really use my multi-tasking skills to their fullest potential :) Plus there is very little downtime, unless you pass early, you are constantly planning out your actions for the round.
So the biggest problem is, it’s sold out. Unless you are lucky enough to be in my gaming group (hehe) or one that has it, you’ll have to wait to get your copy. I’d suggest pre-ordering a copy now, you aren’t gonna want to bum a spot in someone else’s game at game night, because I can attest there is going to be serious competition to play it. If you have you’re own copy, you can guarantee you’re spot plus you’re gonna want to own a copy all to yourself, believe me :)
Overall: A Whopping 9.0!