Review: Terra Mystica

Game Name: Terra Mystica Published Year: 2012
Game Publisher: Z-Man Games Player Scale: 2 – 5
Game Designer: Jens Drögemüller & Helge Ostertag Run Time: 30 mins per player

In Terra Mystica, you’ll take on one of seven fantasy races and attempt to dominate the landscape with your mighty Stronghold, splendid Sanctuary, your Temples, Trading Posts and Dwellings, and after six turns, the player with the greatest dominance (or Victory Points) is the winner.

This is a serious Euro game; with elegant, fantasy-classic artwork and theme, this is Boxresource management and area control at its finest.  Elements of chance are marginalised and only appear at the game set up, which; with the diverse and carefully balanced asymmetric roles, this game is compelling, complex and worthy of returning to your gaming table over-and-over again

If you haven’t gathered already, this is a deeply strategic game, made up of compound choices after compounded choices.  Workers, Gold, Priests, and Power are the four resources and you will have to carefully balance their generation and expenditure if you aim to continually grow your civilisation.  However; not only do you have to contend with what to do, you’ll also have to consider when to do it.  Yes you could upgrade your Dwelling into a Trading Post this turn, but if you do it next turn you’ll get extra Victory Points, but you’re running out of gold this turn and need a Trading Post to bring some more gold in next turn so you can…

Each and every decision you make in Terra Mystica will have to be carefully weighed and measured, and sometimes, as you terraform, build and develop it will feel that you aren’t moving forward, and yet two turns later you’ll be reaping the rewards of your forward planning.  This is a key feature in this game, you kind of have to plan ahead; you’ll still be reacting to your opponent’s choices, but still with your plan in mind.

Player BoardsThere is a lot to take in when you read the rulebook, and yes it is a little confusing at times, but it has plenty of diagrams and examples to help guide you through it – scattered throughout are wonderful little character flourishes about the races you’ll be playing in the game too.  Also, when you lay this out for the first time (which is a little time consuming) you’ll realise that you’ve got a big game and a lot of bang-for-your-buck.  The player boards are brilliantly designed, and once you understand the user interface and the iconography you’ll be flying through it, and truth be told it is actually pretty simple, but this is a case of seeing the wood for the trees.

Every game will be slightly different, the few random elements of this game all occur during the set-up, and these boil down to turn scoring, bonuses and races.  Yet, even if you kept them all for a replay you’ll find that you’ll play completely differently.  There is no Game In Play 2dominant strategy in this game, no obvious route to starting and winning the game.  A lot of the strategy feels like it happens above the board, by you the player, much like in chess; you’ll be out-thinking and out manoeuvring your opponents.  Winning not only feels great, but it feels hard-won and earned, but losing doesn’t have that bitter twang of defeat, instead, you’ll look back at the board and see with the glorious power of hindsight what you could have/should done differently.  Whatever the outcome, with the end of every game you’ll find yourself staring at the board wondering how you could have done better, or just how close the victory was.

This game won’t take you long to learn, once you get through the rule book and start playing, in fact, you’ll probably get a couple of turns in and it will all fall into place, so it might even be worth calling a Mulligan once everyone has gotten the swing of the game.  After that the learning curve is pretty gentle, you’ll get better every game, and you’ll notice your improvement too – which is something quite rare.  This, of course, means that even after just a few games, playing someone who is having their first go at Terra Mystica will be at a significant disadvantage.

Player Board Set UpYou’ll notice as soon as you pick this box up that you are going to get a lot inside, it is full of brightly coloured wooden pieces, and thick durable card for play boards and tokens.  The artwork (from Dennis Lohausen) and graphic design are great too, with a very classic fantasy rendering the game looks and feels very much of its genre.  The icons are, once you know what they all mean, are very intuitive, simple and don’t break the feel of the game either.  You may also appreciate that there is no plastic of card inlay for this box, it is full of baggies and components…and that’s it!  Once you have everything sorted and organised there is little to no room for anything else in the box – which as someone who has an ever growing collection of games this is a big, but subtle tick in the “Well Thought-out Design” column.

Arguably one of this game’s weaker points is player interaction, as there is no outward or direct conflict, but that isn’t to say it is there, it is just very much indirect.  Simply put, building near an opponent’s building makes it cheaper for you, which is a good thing, but, your opponent can then gain some much sought-after Power for your work, which, well, is less good for you.  All that being said though; rarely in this game will you be able to sit back, even on your opponent’s turns you’ll not only want to but will feel you need to keep apprised of what they are doing, even when they are on the other side of the map.

If you’re looking for a heavier game, or if you want a little more bite, or if you love strategy and resource management games this is a must for any collection.

Interested?  You can get Terra Mystica here

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