Review of Terra Mystica

game setup

setting up the board

This week begun my journey into Terra Mystica. I’ll start this impression by saying that i loved this game even before the second playthrough.  It was like Hansa Teutonica, but even more advanced!! I love the use of non-randomized favor pools, asynchronous play with different factions, and many paths to victory. This one is going in my plus column, so i’m not going to be objective.

The nitty gritty:
Theme: 9/10  I love how each race has their own strategy and motivation. No one faction feels out of balance with the rest of the game. It has been so much fun just to discover all the different races(i’ve played 7 out of the 14 so far) and try to best compliment their strengths while slowing down my opponents.
Components: 8/10 Big, chunky wooden bits and beautiful player boards/maps. My only complaint was my box splitting down the side after a week. Purple duct tape to the rescue!!
Length: 40 minutes per player the box says 30, but it’s going to take some time to get to that point. Most plays will include one or more new players, playing new factions.
Mechanics : 9/10 What a lovely dance!! The motivation for players to directly compete for space  is great. Each action seems to serve a great purpose. The rivalrous nature of the power actions as well as the map make for tense sessions.

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a look at the player board (a little messy, whoops!)

A little explanation of gameplay: The game involves a number of cultures, each of whom would like to expand their home territory. Each faction has a kind of terrain and the power to terraform surrounding terrains into their own. Each faction also has an inherent ability. This ability ranges from where they build, how they build, and methods of moving up in the temples of various cults.

The game takes place over six rounds. Players spend each turn taking one of seven available actions until they pass. Once a player has passed, they will choose a bonus for the next round and wait until all other players have also passed. Each faction is trying to expand from their initial placements by creating new dwellings, houses and temples. Each new building has a power value. Towns are founded when a player creates a group worth seven points. Towns net an immediate bonus of some victory points and a resource bump.

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mid-game in the first playthrough

In our second game, we used the recommended beginner’s setup. This means we had halflings, mermaids, nomads, and witches. The halflings’ strategies seemed pretty straight forward. The halfling player wanted to terraform and soak up each bonus victory point that they could. The Nomads had an advantage of a free terraform each turn; He went to set up many different townships to turn them into cities in the last few turns. The witches get to set out dwellings on an extra green space each turn. He spammed out the board and worked toward bonuses on the cult track. The mermaids can make cities over river spots. I floundered a lot. I needed to spread out quickly and then work on making cities. I worked on leveling up my player board first, allowing my fellows to corner me out of much of the map.

 When a player builds adjacent to an established building or buildings, the established player will have an opportunity to exchange victory points for power. Power is used to gather any of the basic resources, or to take special actions. This keeps players interested in cozying up to the other players, so they can glom some free stuff as players work on establishing their towns.

 The six rounds of the game feel as if they fly by. Each is marked at the beginning of the game with a bonus marker. Bonus’ are accrued by some means during the turn(such as 2 points for building dwellings) and a cult-track bonus at the end of the round(a worker for every space climbed in the air cult). The end of the game replaces the resource bonus with the end-game scoring for the most connected structures on the map and the highest levels achieved for each cult.

Why is this game so special?

TM is reminiscent of Hansa Teutonica, Eclipse (and a little Settlers thrown in

the cult track to begin

the cult track to begin

for good measure). Terra Mystica still stands on its own, giving players neat interactive play. The 14 different races included are so well-designed. There are literally 100’s of ways to play it.

What’s the rub?

A game with this many decisions can lead to long decision-making. A group prone to analysis-paralysis should be weary. That and my poor, poor game box splitting is the only thing i can fault TM for.

Whatever its faults, this is one of the best designs I’ve played in a while. I cannot recommend this game enough. From what i’ve seen it is selling out everywhere so pick it up if you see it in the wild!!

Lords of Waterdeep

Wizards of the Coast surprised everyone this year in making the Lords of Waterdeep. It is a worker-placement game which takes place in the city of Waterdeep. Players are wealthy lords, hiring the locals, and completing quests for cash and privilege  Each lord has a specialty which is kept secret from the other players. These are used to net them bonus points at the end of the game. Waterdeep plays 2-5 players and takes around an hour to complete.

The board itself is beautiful, large and detailed. Great care was taken in choosing what the agents, money and markers would look like. This gives great contrast to the fact that your knights, rogues, clerics, and wizards are generic square cubes. Customized meeples aren’t necessary for most board games; Waterdeep’s choice of plain squares is directly contradictory to the flavor and theme of this game. Once playing, i insist that my players keep with the theme and ‘hire two rogues’ rather than ‘gaining two black cubes’. This is where the fun of questing and intrigue can be found.

On a turn, players can send their agents out into the world to inquire after new quests, hire various characters to complete active quests, or build new buildings in the city. This is done in turn order, first player being one thing that agents can acquire. Waterdeep’s harbor can also be used to play “intrigue” cards on fellow Lords. These cards can be anything from innocuous, to annoying, to downright mean. After each move of an agent, players can complete any one quest that they might have the resources for. Quests are either flipped over and points recorded, or they may carry an ongoing benefit.

There are eight rounds to the game. Each round, one new building(sans special powers) can be purchased and built by players. Use of player-owned buildings will also net some small benefit for the builder. Getting your hands on a desirable building is ideal early game, so that you can sop up the owner benefit as often as possible.

  • Components: gets high marks for originality and sturdiness.
  • Gameplay: is light, interactive and immersive. There are no ~bad~ plays, even a throw-away agent spent at the end of a turn nets you a small something.
  • Replayability:  After a few plays with the same group, you’re going to feel like you know how any game might end. The design fights this idea with the randomized quests and intrigue cards. An experienced board-gamer will want less obvious and more abundant choices. This may be what the upcoming expansion will fix.
  • Biggest downside? There are no deterrents in this game. Everything on the board gets you ~something~, even if it’s small. Players not being able to use their own buildings might be an idea. Re-placing after everyone else has played if you went to the harbor also seems very powerful.

Overall, Waterdeep can be taught to just about any kind of player. It uses a light system of optimizing every move, planning the next couple of turns and fun interactive cards which throw wrenches in gamers’ plans. I cannot commend Wizard’s enough for making such a fine game. They realize the power that European-style games have on the market and they want to make their mark as well.

Tokaido… after 5 plays

components

Tokaido is the stunningly beautiful game from game designer Antoine Bauza. Up to 5 players take a meandering vacation through Japan. Along the way they meet the locals, eat some good meals and take some pictures. Players with the most prolific vacation win the game. yup, a competitive  game about vacationing with your friends.

The first thing people notice about this game is the stark, colorful packaging. Tokaido uses a lot of very saturated color on a bright white background. The pieces, though small, evoke the Japanese theme and draw the eye. The board is a linear design, with various buildings, temples and hot springs notated by colored dots. There are several inns where the players will meet along the way to share a meal before continuing on their journey.

The game play is slightly asymmetrical, if you are the player furthest from the inn, it’s your turn. This means that if players jump ahead to pick up their most-wanted items/activities, their less hurried opponents have the opportunity to scoop up some free actions on their way to catch up. The game flow is quite relaxed the only real interaction players use is in taking up actions their opponents may have wanted. There are only a few ways of earning more than your initial startup money, so the farms (which pay out three coins) seem to be the hot ticket in the way of bugging your friends.

In the 2-player variant, the neutral “third player” makes the usually friendly game much more confrontational. The game really sings at 3 or 4 players. This is a game I would play on a sleepy morning over bagels or with the in-laws when they’re in town.

There are not a lot of bad plays you can make so each place on the board will probably net you some points, the most difficult choice a player will make is in spending money on souvenirs, which can net big points if found in sets of four unique kinds, or paying money at the temple, which can be worth 10 points at the end of the game.

The biggest downside to the game to is an unfortunately large box, with very shallow wells for the cards and bits. Shaking the box just a little bit will spill the contents around everywhere. Also the size of the scoring pawns is almost ludicrously small. This can all be remedied by a little ingenuity, or just don’t shake the box…

Antoine Bauza is quickly becoming one of the most prolific game makers. His games rarely share mechanics, themes or even color-schemes. It’s exciting to see his name pop up on an upcoming release list and Tokaido will prove to be a great seller over time.
I’ve  given Tokaido 7.5 out of ten, for being pretty and fun and light.