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First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet» Forums » Reviews

Subject: First Martians: A Snapshot Review. rss

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Jay K
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Have you ever wanted to be Matt Damon grooving along to disco music in a Space Rover on Mars? Well of course you have! Otherwise you would probably have something far better to do than sit there and read this review of First Martians.

Let’s start at the beginning: production quality of this game is fantastic, from the miniatures, to the transparent dice and the design of the main board. The components do an excellent job of pulling you into the theme of the game, and there is so much stuff in this game: 6 scenarios and 2 whole campaigns to work through. You will definitely get your value for money, but is it any good?



This is a game inspired by Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on a Cursed Island also by renowned Polish Designer Ignacy Treviczek, a game that also has great components and a great theme, but how close is First Martians to this previous classic? Well, err, pretty close. It’s a little like watching a good remake of a movie, the storyline is familiar, but there are a few reinterpretations of scenes which some people will like and others will hate.

There are no spoilers in this review, although I have played one of the two campaigns and all of the standalone missions. There is however, one major question I need to ask you: do you like apps integrated into your boardgame experience? If you do, read on. If you do not, then First Martians is probably not for you, because undoubtedly in fifty years’ time when you pull this game out to play with your grandchildren whilst you are sat under a setting Martian sky and you are all laughing about how grandad had such strange ideas about living on Mars that he gained from some “kooky” boardgame; it’s at this point you’ll realise that nobody supports the app on Mars and you can’t play the game without the app.

For those who have not previously played Robinson Crusoe I will give you an overview of First Martians.

First Martians is a relatively complex cooperative Euro style puzzle game. You have your facilities on one side of the board with green cubes reflecting the green lights on a display telling you the status of the important elements of those facilities. You have everything you will need to survive on Mars, Oxygenators, Solar Panels, a Farm, Crew Quarters, A Med Lab and various place to undertake your work and research. First Martians is a worker placement style game where you are presented with objectives to complete and a myriad of potential options. Each astronaut has two worker pawns to place each turn and must decide how best to use them. Should you take you Rover out to explore a new region of Mars? Or stay at home and try to reduce the chance of a potential malfunction in your base? Or perhaps you should rest and gain morale, which you can spend to re-roll dice? The choices are wide, important and you will agonise over them, which is good. First Martians has good, crunchy decisions to make.



But what about the dice I hear you say? You say this is a euro-style game, but it has dice? Well, just wait a minute. For the more important actions you are presented with a choice. Spend both your pawns in the knowledge that you will certainly succeed in an action or spend 1 pawn and roll 3 dice. One of these dice will determine your success, and you will still succeed 4 or 5 times in 6. Another will determine if you have an “adventure” and a third dice will determine if you were wounded. So you can get more done by rolling the dice, but you risk failure and other negative consequences. I love this mechanic as it gives you yet another crunchy decision to make.



Above all though it is First Martian’s ability to tell stories that is at the heart of what I love about this game. Each of the actions feels like a scene from the Martian and by the end you feel like you have been in a movie. OK, perhaps more like the National Geographic made for TV series about Mars is probably a more apt description, but there are precious few games that give me that story telling feeling and none do it as well as First Martians and Robinson Crusoe.
So the components are great, the gameplay has great decision making and when I finish playing the story I have built will be something I remember, but what are the drawbacks.

Well firstly the rulebook. It is slightly better than the first edition Robinson Crusoe rulebook, but not much better and the Robinson Crusoe rulebook was a mess. In today’s age of boardgames there is no excuse for a poor rulebook. Sure this game is complex, with lots of edge cases, exceptions and complex rules to hold in your head, but when the rulebook simply frustrates that process rather than makes it better, well that’s a problem. Let me say here, I don’t mind a coop game with a complex, and let’s be honest about First Martians, ambiguous ruleset. However, if you are going to make games of this nature then your rulebooks have got to be better than good, they need to be the best. First Martians rulebook falls way, way short of that lofty goal.

I’m going to hypothesise here that when Robinson came out, players worked to decipher the rulebook, found a great game and whilst they voiced their disapproval at the rules, the love of the game drowned out that noise. First Martians won’t get that break. Good rulebooks are now better than they were even two years ago, Portal should have learned from their experience with Robinson and so I think this game will get the cold shoulder from a lot of people who would probably love the game if they had the time and the energy to decipher the rules.

The story. What?! You said the story was great; it was the best story a game could tell, period. Ok hang on. The game tells an excellent story but I don’t think Portal hired story writers to write their mission briefings and their app. At the best of times the app flavour text is bland, in its worst incarnations it doesn’t blend with what you are doing on the board. The English translation is also “off” and the language used does not evoke the theme, in fact it has a tendency to put you off if I’m honest. I would now, having completed the first mission go as far as to say that the writing is both lazy and hackneyed.

It's almost as if Portal have used a second rate writer of free Kindle novels to put the app writing together.

The dialogue between the crew and their support team on Earth seems to try and go for the same quirkiness of Matt Damon’s character’s exchanges with JPL in the movie. However, it consistently misses its mark. First Martians needed a native English speaker to review the text in the game material and the app. Just to be clear, the English rulebook does not suffer from this problem.

My third quibble is very minor, it is that some of the actions are less interesting than Robinson Crusoe. To be fair, Ignacy made this point in a slightly different manner. Robinson is about a cursed island where you can make a dagger, find and kill a bear and use its meat for food and its fur to protect against the weather. Research and inventions in First Martians are far more “scientific” in nature and the means to a much less exciting end than in Robinson Crusoe. Instead of hunting for food, I need to go and collect a package from NASA and plant a seed in my farm. However, this seems like a slightly unfair negative to level at the game as it is a result of staying true to the theme, as opposed to introducing a race of Martian animals!

This is an excellent game that I have played far more than 90% of the games currently in my collection. If you are a rules lawyer or get palpitations when you cannot find a rule in the rulebook then this game is not for you. If, in contrast, you are happy to roll with the punches, then underneath First Martians tough external atmosphere, you will find a great story driven game. Just skip over the mission briefings and most of the flavour text on the app whilst you play and if you are not sure of a rule, make one up! It is your game after all and the game police will never know, will they? And even if they did know how are they going to get to Mars to arrest you?
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Tyler Durden
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all scenarios feature one prominent mechanic and mostly a second mechanic that the scenario is designed around.
you can check at the beginning of a mission what you have to do when to complete the mission in the required number of rounds.
you have to do exact those things (never seen a more scripted game)

in the middle of the game you can calculate which actions you HAVE to roll for.
You roll for it. If you miss one or two rolls (which is gonna happen) you can stop playing the game because you know you will not win it.
the (blend) events from the app only worsen the experience.

played the game with 5 different groups with different kinds of gamers, all said it is the opposite of fun. all asked if they didn't play tested the game and didn't notice.
definitely the biggest disappointment in 2017!
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Michele Emer
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toerck wrote:
all scenarios feature one prominent mechanic and mostly a second mechanic that the scenario is designed around.
you can check at the beginning of a mission what you have to do when to complete the mission in the required number of rounds.
you have to do exact those things (never seen a more scripted game)

in the middle of the game you can calculate which actions you HAVE to roll for.
You roll for it. If you miss one or two rolls (which is gonna happen) you can stop playing the game because you know you will not win it.
the (blend) events from the app only worsen the experience.

played the game with 5 different groups with different kinds of gamers, all said it is the opposite of fun. all asked if they didn't play tested the game and didn't notice.
definitely the biggest disappointment in 2017!


This defect is much stronger in Robinson crusoe
 
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Frank Calcagno
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Good review, Jay. ...And I see your TIE Advanced hovering over the surface of Mars.... (Is it strafing the HUB? Perhaps a new event??)
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Jay K
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Antares Rangers wrote:
Good review, Jay. ...And I see your TIE Advanced hovering over the surface of Mars.... (Is it strafing the HUB? Perhaps a new event??)


Oh yes it is definitely looking to head over the hub on a strafing run. Good spot Frank.

 
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J. Chris Miller
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Great review. This sums up most of my points about the game. The unfortunate thing for me though is the ambiguous rules set is such a turnoff that I don't want to bring it to the table again for fear of having to remember the rules. It's unfortunate. This game is great, but as with every board game, every time you have to stop to look up a rule the game grinds to a halt. The problem is this one you have to do that a lot.
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Tyler Durden
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although after 6-7 play I totally dislike the game itself, I found the rules pretty clear - and easy to remember.
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Jay K
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toerck wrote:
although after 6-7 play I totally dislike the game itself, I found the rules pretty clear - and easy to remember.


Well there's always the exception that proves the rule!
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Pawel Garycki
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This should be 100% computer game.
 
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Pat E. Cakes
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improove wrote:
This should be 100% computer game.


Should?? Why? I enjoy it thoroughly as a board game.

Maybe you don't like the game but I hardly see how that entails the designers "should" do something else.
 
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Pawel Garycki
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patrickstockton wrote:
improove wrote:
This should be 100% computer game.


Should?? Why? I enjoy it thoroughly as a board game.

Maybe you don't like the game but I hardly see how that entails the designers "should" do something else.

I have made a mistake. I should have said there should be an additional PC version of this.
 
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