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Michael Young
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I, like so many others, have been waiting for the reprint of Terra Mystica since last spring. During that time I found myself watching game play videos and reviews, playing web based versions of the game, and even pondering making my own copy. I began to worry about my sanity! How can this game live up to the hype? Would the wait prove me wrong? I finally got my copy last week and I can finally answer these questions. First though, let's cover the basics...



Terra Mystica is 2-5 player game in which each person governs one of 14 fantasy races. Every 2 races has a preferred terrain type to settle and live on. The point of the game is to collect as many victory points as possible over the course of 6 rounds by 'terraforming' (changing terrain), expanding your settlement, and developing larger structures and towns. The core mechanic of the game is resource management (workers, gold, priests, power) with a hefty dash of cube pushing. There's no secret objectives or information. There's no dice. The only aspects of randomization include round bonus tiles (extra points players can acquire for performing certain actions during their attached round) and bonus cards (acquired at the end of each turn upon turn in, some provide extra resources or opportunities to score extra points).

Here's a quick snap of the map...



Notice the wrap around score track (everyone starts at 20 points). On the right, you'll see the bonus point section (largest combined network, priest track bonus points, and round bonus tiles). Below the map is the exchange rate for power (we'll get to that in a minute) for special once per round actions. Just a quick point, bridges here (3 power) are one of the exclusive actions to the power resource (except for engineers). You'll use these to cross river tiles to continue building your civilization.

We can't discuss game play without acknowledging the beautifully constructed player boards. Borrowing design cues from other games, Terra Mystica constructs a close to perfect player board. Take a look ...



The board is broken up in sections. Top left are the bowls of power, power shifts from the lowest bowl to the next highest when acquiring power. Once in bowl three, they can be used (and returned to bowl one) to perform one of several special actions. Each race will start at different amounts in each bowl, just reference the number on the bowl during set up. Immediately below the bowls is the heart of the resource management and economic engine. You start with settlements and eventually build into trade houses, sanctuaries, strongholds, etc. The brilliant iconography let's you follow your building tech tree. Arrows beg you to move up or right. If you're curious what you'd gain take a look at the icons under the component of your next upgrade. Every time you see an open hand, it means that you'll gain that during the start of your next round (the income phase). WORTH NOTING: each race's stronghold usually provides an immediate benefit and an extra action each turn. It's usually worth it to build up to it, how fast and when is situationally dependent. From here you can start planning your advancements. On the upper right, you'll find the race/faction's name, starting resources, and starting places on the cult track (yet another chance to gain points).

Right of the top center, you have a beautiful illustration of your race and a nice wheel around it. You'll notice your preferred terrain type on top. If you wanted to terraform, just count the amount of shovels between the original terrain type and the one you want. But wait? How do I get shovels? Simple really, take another look at your shovel advancement tree. You'll start out at 3 workers for one shovel (but can advance it during the game). There's a shipping track. Wait what's a shipping track?! Basically, for each advancement on the shipping track, you're allowed to cross that many river spaces to continue to terraform and build. At the bottom you'll notice a large section. This is dedicated to your race's special power. You see, each race/faction is different than one another. Some will benefit from building towns, some will get points for doing different things, et cetera. Reference the back of the manual for a better explanation.

Just a few more things to point out, first and foremost is the cult track. Each element is given a track. Some races will start with a head start on the track, while others may not. You can gain bonus points at the end of the game (and power during play) by advancing the track by placing priests on it or acquiring town tiles or favor tiles.



How do I get those Mike? Tucked away on the player board is the building tech tree. Each tier has a power level attached to it. Look for the small purple token icon to the right of the housing tree. Each purple disc represents 1 power. Once you have 4 adjacent buildings amounting to 7 or more power, you gain a town favor tile. The town favor tile will give you points, resources, advancements in various aspects. In another words, it's worth it. When advancing to a temple (round building) or sanctuary (oval building), players will gain a favor tile. Each tile gives you some advancement on the cult track (hooray!) and an extra action/resource/income. Again, typically worth it. There are plenty of town tiles and favor tiles to choose from so don't fret. There's all kind of delicious goodness there.



During the game, players collect resources and exhaust them building and expanding. There's very little player interaction and zero warfare. The limited player interaction is receiving some discount on building trade houses next to other players (always handy!) and when you upgrade buildings next to other players (they're able to exchange points for power). That's it... or is it? Players are competing to expand their territory, they're going to want to cut each other off. They're going to make it hard for others to turn down the extra power in exchange for a few points when they upgrade. Don't let me fool you, it feels a little dry but you'll interact with others more than you would think.

At the core of this game, I found myself feeling mighty happy to build my economy and balance my expansion with income. My splendid wife for example, took off building a ton of settlements but realized in round 4 that she had no income because she didn't convert anything to trade houses. She stalled! It took her another round or two to recover but it was just a little too late. That's another one of the joys of this game. You'll see in real time if you've made a mistake with your engine. "EGAD! I have too many workers!" (or not enough) "I spent too much power for coin, I should have used it for a shovel". After the game is through, you'll be thinking about your plays and what you could have done differently. When you get it right, you'll be tickled seeing your civilization expand. Like most euros, good game play rewards the player.

Let's discuss the few downfalls...

- Races aren't balanced. I'm not going to harp on this one too much. There's a lot of game here to be had. Play the game to have fun, even if it means the Giants (like their NFL counterparts) are going to face steep odds to win. The variety of play because of how each race behaves is a shining gem. Each race does the same thing, but feel differently.

- People say there's too much going on here. Lots of levers to pull and knobs to twist. I'll be fair and agree. It feels like a lot, but the game play is so smooth that this really didn't bother me. It may take a game or two to get a good grip on the action, but my in-laws got it within a game. They enjoyed it, we're playing it again soon.

- Player interaction. If you want game with a lot of player interaction, this isn't for you. As I mentioned, you'd be surprised how much there is but you're not going to trade in this game, nor will you go to war.

- This game is AP prone. I never want to rush anyone but I would suggest that your AP players need to stay dialed in and ready to make their move. Nothing is worse than to watch someone spend five minutes debating using power for workers or priest. Game play should be moderate, every round you'll be doing several things.


Final Thoughts:

So it's been 6 months since I've wanted to play this. 6 long months. The components here are top notch. Game play is solid. I'm very satisfied with this purchase. It's pricey, but you're getting a small tree in wooden pieces. Everything here is beautifully introduced. It's a real joy to play and watch your civilization prosper. It's maddeningly frustrating when you make a mistake and try to play catch up. I'm getting to the point where I need to make decisions about what games to keep and what to purge. This one is a definite keeper. I can't wait to play this again. In fact, I always have this in my backseat for anyone willing to learn or play. It's an impressive design that borrows from other wonderful designs to make a near perfect game. Strongly recommended for any fan of a resource management or economy building games.

Score:


Terra Mystica
Publisher: Feuerland
Distributor: Z-Man
Players: 2 - 5
Ages: 12+
Game time: 30 minutes per experienced player, 40 minutes per inexperienced player.

Photo contributions via BGG image database.
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Enon Sci
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Great review, by far one of the easier on the eyes and succinct in summary.

Thanks. A wonderful contribution, for sure.
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Michael Young
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Anarchosyn wrote:
Great review, by far one of the easier on the eyes and succinct in summary.

Thanks. A wonderful contribution, for sure.


Thanks for the compliment. I've been milling about how to summarize the game without overloading a reader. I think this struck a nice chord, at least for my standards. laugh
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