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Subject: First Impressions of Terra Mystica rss

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Continuing my theme of writing "first impressions" reviews of games that are so old that no one needs first impressions any more, I bring you: our first look at Terra Mystica!

Overview


Terra Mystica is a territory control / resource collection game, with enough of a unique twist to make it fresh and interesting. Each faction can only build on a certain type of terrain, so you must magically terraform the world in order to build on it.

Pros: random factors in setup, and asymmetric factions with genuinely different playstyles _should_ make for a lot of replayability.

Cons: complex setup and zillions of little pieces may scare away less-hardcore gamers.

Components

The same meeples and cubes that you've received in every game you've bought since 1995. The box was rectangular, and made of cardboard. Seriously? Why does everyone think a game review needs to talk about the components? I resolve never to do so again.

Setup

There are 14 different factions you can play in the base game, each with sufficiently different abilities that I feel like I'll want a game or two to figure them out properly. Each faction has houses and trading posts and temples, etc to place in specific spots on their board. There are piles of bonus cards, and favour tiles, and city tokens to lay out. The game itself does an excellent job of reminding you of what all this does and where it goes, so I don't think it makes the game that complicated to play, but:

Your first game with new players is going to take forever to setup, because people are going to want to know what all this stuff is and what it's for.

That guy in your gaming group who is scared of complexity? The one who just says "this is too hard" the minute there's more than one way to score or one type of playing piece, and really just wants to play Resistance every week? He's going to hate this game before you've even finished getting it out of the box.

Gameplay

I'm not going to describe the full detailed gameplay; that's what rulebooks are for. Here's the gist. Each turn you collect your income, which is mostly determined by looking at symbols uncovered on your faction playboard when you take buildings off to put them on the main board. You get workers, gold, priests, and power. You use those resources to terraform terrain to build houses, and upgrade your houses into more advanced types of buildings. When you upgrade, you return the original building to your board and lose the production from it, so every upgrade is a tradeoff. E.g. my house gives me 1 worker per turn. Upgrading it to a trading post gets me 1 power and 2 money AND returns the house, so I lose the worker I was getting there. This means you have to strike a balance between new houses and upgrades so that you continue to get the mix of resources that you need.

What are you trying to accomplish? Score points. But there are a number of ways to do that. The largest continuous settlement at the end of the game is worth points. But connecting your buildings together into separate "towns" is also worth points, so there can be some tradeoff there. The advancement of your priests in various cults is worth points, so you'll have to keep an eye on your progress there. Each round there will be an activity that is worth bonus points, so you'll have to balance your long-term goals with short-term rewards.

Each faction has at least one special ability, usually a second ability that comes into play when you build your stronghold building, and a terrain wheel. The wheel shows how hard it is for you to terraform certain types of terrain into other types, so a hex that is hard for you may be easy for one of your opponents, and vice-versa. You also may have different costs and rewards for different buildings. All this means that the factions definitely feel like they have very distinct playstyles - it's not just cosmetic.

One last neat system that deserves mention is the power mechanic. When you build a building next to someone, they have the option of sacrificing victory points for power, which they can use to get some good one-time bonuses to mostly fill in gaps in their income. This is extremely powerful, but you are sacrificing from your final score to do it. It also makes for another tradeoff: if you build near your opponents, they may get power now... but then your buildings will be near theirs, so you may get power from them later. This can act as a balancing mechanic; if one person is running away with the game, two others can build next to each other to share a power boost, while everyone avoids giving power to the leader.

Hints for your first game:

Do as the rulebook suggests, and use the tutorial setup for your first game. It's still a full and interesting game, it just saves you from having to make some early decisions that you won't understand when you're having to make them.

Don't forget to look at your faction's special abilities.

Keep an eye on your income mix. If you have lots of money and not enough workers, the last thing you want to do is "upgrade" a building that provides workers into one that makes money.

Be willing to burn power. There is a rule by which you can permanently sacrifice some of your power in order to charge some up. This sounds drastic, but it really isn't. Without going into too much detail on how the power works; the more power you have, the longer it takes to charge it up to the point where you can first use it, and we rarely used more than 6 or so in a turn in any case. You start with 12. So you can afford to sacrifice some early; it gives you a useful boost to kickstart your income.

Conclusion:

Overall I liked the game quite a lot, and the rest of our group seemed to as well. I'm excited to play it again and try all the different factions. Don't let the setup complexity scare you away - the gameplay is really fairly simple, and I can definitely see why this is so high up on everyone's lists.
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Grant
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Nice write-up. One comment, though. It's a common misconception after learning the game, but burning doesn't make your power charge up faster. Whether you burn early or late (or never) it has no impact on your power generation or available power.

There's lots of good reasons to burn early, but making your power cycle faster isn't one of them.
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Curt Frantz
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grant5 wrote:
Nice write-up. One comment, though. It's a common misconception after learning the game, but burning doesn't make your power charge up faster. Whether you burn early or late (or never) it has no impact on your power generation or available power.

There's lots of good reasons to burn early, but making your power cycle faster isn't one of them.


Can you please explain how having less power doesn't allow you to regenerate/use it more quickly? Thanks.
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Grant
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tribefan07 wrote:
grant5 wrote:
Nice write-up. One comment, though. It's a common misconception after learning the game, but burning doesn't make your power charge up faster. Whether you burn early or late (or never) it has no impact on your power generation or available power.

There's lots of good reasons to burn early, but making your power cycle faster isn't one of them.


Can you please explain how having less power doesn't allow you to regenerate/use it more quickly? Thanks.

This has been explained A LOT. It is shockngly difficult to explain sometimes. robot

Here's just a few:
Initial thoughts on strategy
Burning Power- Clarification
The effect of token sacrifice on your power engine speed
Optimal power tokens number.

Here's the crux of the argument:
Moving 1 power token from bowl 1 to bowl 3 gives you EXACTLY the same amount of power as moving 2 tokens from bowl 1 to bowl 2. In the former example it means you burned power earlier in the game. In the latter example it means you're going to burn power now.
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Curt Frantz
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grant5 wrote:
tribefan07 wrote:
grant5 wrote:
Nice write-up. One comment, though. It's a common misconception after learning the game, but burning doesn't make your power charge up faster. Whether you burn early or late (or never) it has no impact on your power generation or available power.

There's lots of good reasons to burn early, but making your power cycle faster isn't one of them.


Can you please explain how having less power doesn't allow you to regenerate/use it more quickly? Thanks.

This has been explained A LOT. It is shockngly difficult to explain sometimes. robot

Here's just a few:
Initial thoughts on strategy
Burning Power- Clarification
The effect of token sacrifice on your power engine speed
Optimal power tokens number.

Here's the crux of the argument:
Moving 1 power token from bowl 1 to bowl 3 gives you EXACTLY the same amount of power as moving 2 tokens from bowl 1 to bowl 2. In the former example it means you burned power earlier in the game. In the latter example it means you're going to burn power now.


Fascinating! Thanks!
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Matt Stokes
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BoJack Horseman wrote:
Terra Mystica is old?


Lol, that was my first thought too. But at the rate at which this site consumes games, anything on the top 10 list for more than a year can feel like its old news.
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grant5 wrote:
Nice write-up. One comment, though. It's a common misconception after learning the game, but burning doesn't make your power charge up faster. Whether you burn early or late (or never) it has no impact on your power generation or available power.


Maybe I used the wrong phrase there. I agree that it doesn't cycle faster after you burn it, but it gets you to the part of your power cycle where you can use it much faster. Sooner, might have been a better word? In a faction with 5 in bowl 1 and 7 in bowl 2 to start, you need 9 power income before you can take a 4 power action. Maybe in higher-level play or with lots of players you might generate that one turn 1? But even if you do, the most important mana actions will be gone by then, to people who burnt. And as with most construction / resource gathering games, a boost early generally has far larger effects than a boost late...

I went back and changed the wording to try to make it clear that it's a one-time headstart, not an actual improvement in charge time for later. Thanks for the feedback!

BoJack Horseman wrote:
Terra Mystica is old?


Man, 2012 was like _decades_ ago.

But seriously, I was mostly mocking myself for being so late to the party.
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Grant
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Dev Null wrote:
grant5 wrote:
Nice write-up. One comment, though. It's a common misconception after learning the game, but burning doesn't make your power charge up faster. Whether you burn early or late (or never) it has no impact on your power generation or available power.


Maybe I used the wrong phrase there. I agree that it doesn't cycle faster after you burn it, but it gets you to the part of your power cycle where you can use it much faster.

Ah, so you are just saying that burning power gives you usable power in that moment that you wouldn't otherwise have without burning, which is useful early in the game. The way you reworded your review now is correct.

If you looked at those threads I linked, hopefully it's understandable why I thought you might be suggesting otherwise... wow
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Oh no; I _was_ suggesting otherwise. When you pointed it out it became immediately obvious that you were right. I was just countering that I still think "Be willing to burn power" is good advice for new players, even though not all of my original reasoning made sense.

Basically - in my one game, with three new players - I noticed that we had a strong instinctive leaning away from sacrificing, because it sounded too much like permanently weakening ourselves. And therefore we pretty much ignored the power options on the first turn, until we talked it out amongst us and realised that it didn't seem like that bad a move. (And then it seemed to work out ok, so I'm assuming that we didn't miss some critical reason why it's actually a bad idea...) I'm a bit wary of giving anything like tactical advice with a whole 1 game under my beltwhistle, but it seemed worth pointing out things that instinctively "felt" bad to newcomers, but were actually valid options.
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