Badges? We don' need no stinkin' badges!
Wherein I try to excuse why I made my own copy of this little gem och a game.
It's that time of year again. Essen is upon us and I don't even have to check my bank account to know that there will be no pilgrimage this year either. So there I sit in front of the computer screen, pouring every snippet of pre-Essen news, hunting for any and all info regarding new releases.
By now I'm pretty jaded, and like every world-weary junkie I have to explore evermore exotic outskirts of the gaming world to get a taste of that first rush. Me back in the 90's: "Wow! What was that called? El Grande? Man! And that small deck of cards with silly beans? Bohnanza? Let's try that one!"
So of course when pictures of an independent Japanese game called "Mars is Ours!" showing Carcassonne meeples standing on what looked like brownies started popping up on BGG I was intrigued.
When I noticed it was a very limited edition and that the designer actually uploaded the game board in print resolution as well as the rules, I decided to make my own copy. As I was fresh out of cookie dough I went for the traditional cardboard game board and thus had to design those pieces myself.
After an evening of printing, gluing and going through my reserve of gaming pieces I managed to produce a not to shabby copy of the game.
The following review is my penance for this heinous crime.
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT
Mars is Ours! is like the otaku offspring of Nexus Ops and Gipsy King
Mars is Ours! is a game for two to four players, playable in about an hour (it says 60-90 minutes in the rules book, but I can't imagine a game taking more than an hour). The basic mechanics are area majority, resource management, worker placement and direct dice driven conflict. The components are language independent (apart from the actual names of the resources and laboratory spaces - but that doesn't affect gameplay).
The players represent different corporations which by applying their robot workforces to harvesting the natural resources of Mars, try to make the most profit back on Earth.
All in all it's a pretty fast paced, confrontational game, with multiple paths to victory. The mechanics are neither new, nor complex, but meld together in a fresh way, providing a pleasant middle ground between typical Euro economy optimization and the dice driven combats of what we know and love as Ameritrash.
It's kind of hard to comment on the components, as I played the game with my homemade copy, but nevertheless Mars is Ours! is a functional production sprinkled with japanese cutsieness but a little hampered by its indie origin.
The game comes with two game boards to keep track of the player's robot reserve and how much of the four different resources, money and victory points they currently have. Furthermore there are six laboratory spaces which provide the controlling player with special benefits.
Then there is the actual game board of Mars. It is assembled placing twelve randomly drawn and oriented pieces around a thirteenth piece. These pieces are thick chocolate brownie looking things. Each piece is made up of two + two spaces of two different resources. The resources are evenly distributed but the configuration of the game board will be different each game. The thirteenth piece have four spaces of a fifth terrain type "Mars Rock", which when controlled do not provide resources, but straight victory points. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In addition there are five white regular six sided dice used for battle and twelve six sided golden "Martian ingot" dice used for certain victory points, one big starting player marker, one big turn marker and finally four disks representing space ports.
For each player there are: Twelve robots which in the super limited edition are actual robot miniatures (super cool) and in the regular just very limited edition are represented by the Average Joe Carcassonne Meeple. Six markers for the different tracks (VP, money, resources) and an CEO meeple to indicate whether you have passed or not.
Finally there of course is a rules book. It is available for download here on BGG. The rules are pretty clear and well laid out. My gaming group didn't have any problems playing the game "out of the box". It's worth noting that the rules are written in a lighthearted tone, giving every rule a setting based rationale. This works well and is somewhat similar to (but not on par with) Vlaada Chvátil's masterly rules books.
The components are functional. Tastes vary and personally I'm not enamored by the aesthetics. Things doesn't mesh stylistically for me, but for an indie production it's acceptable. If Z-man or the like picks up the game (which I sincerely hope) I hope for a total overhaul of the visuals.
THE GAME PLAY
One thing I was very impressed with about Mars is Ours! is that even though the different actions that I as player could do in the game are extremely limited, they still provided me with all the options I could wish for. There is a strictness to the design that counterparts the dreaded chaos of the dice very nicely.
Mars is Ours! is played over three turns divided into six phases: Maintenance, Supply, Action, Production, Income and Closing. Don't fret though, most of the phases are very quick with the Action and the Income phases providing most of the action.
Setting up the game is a pretty simple affair: One marker per player on each of the six tracks, three robot meeples and the CEO meeple in hand, the turn marker on turn one and the start player marker to the start player. The start player gets seven Mars Marks (the name of the game's currency), the second player six, third five and fourth four.
The Mars surface game board is assembled semi randomly as described in the components section (and shown on the pictures) with the elevated "Martian Rock" tile in the middle and the four disks representing space ports each on the spaces touching the corners of the Martian Rock tile.
A Game Turn
First phase is Maintenance, which simply means returning all lying robots from the Mars board as well as the laboratories to the reserve (Junk Yard) and then laying down all the remaining standing robots. Of course this phase has no effect during the first turn of the game as there are no robots on the table. But during the game this is a great little mechanism to simulate wear and tear on the robots and to add time as a variable to take into account while strategizing.
Then follows Supply which simply means that each player receives two robots from the supply (Junk Yard) if available (each player is limited to the twelve robots provided).
Now it is time for Action hour! During the Action phase, starting with the start player each player either act or pass. Once you have passed, you turn your CEO meeple on the side and may not act again (but there are other benefits...).
There are only two (yes, two!) possible actions: either you put a robot from your hand onto a free space (onto Mars or into the laboratory) or you try to take over an occupied space (do battle).
When placing a robot on Mars it either has to be within three spaces from a spaceport or in a free space next to one of your already present robots.
To be allowed to do battle you need to have one still available robot in hand, have at least one neighboring robot to the square you want to take over and pay two Martian Marks per robot you attack with. You get one attack die per attacking robot and the defender always only get one (for free). Players roll the dice simultaneously and keep the highest result. If the attacker rolls equal or higher than the defender, the defender returns his robot to his hand and the attacker takes a robot from the RESERVE (very important) and places it on the conquered space. The defender gets as many Mars Marks from the bank as his dice result as a restitution. If the Attacker fails he has to return one robot from his hand to the reserve. Attacks on laboratory spaces works the same way, but are always one die vs one die.
The combat resolution is simple and might seem too random, but the economic compensation to the defending player in case of loss in combination with other mechanisms allowing for Marks to be turned into Victory points might make it a quite effective strategy to provoke attacks just to get money.
So it is either placing or attacking or passing. Simple, right? What does one want to achieve then? When it comes to Mars it is all about majorities and presence. The player with the most occupied spaces of each resource will reap it's benefits, each occupied Mars Rock space will provide straight victory points and Robots on the Mars Board will provide Mars Marks income.
Controlling a laboratory space provides one of six different special abilites: re-rolling attack rolls, reducing attack cost, bonus on defence die, ignoring placement rules, buying Martian Ingot Dice (which will generate VP:s by the end of the game), converting money into VP:s. All these abilities are quite useful, but none felt overpowered. The Martian Ingot Dice mechanism initially felt questionable, but more on that when we discuss end scoring.
And now for the icing on the cake: Passing is not always a regretful necessity, but sometimes a very attractive choice. Why, you say? Because, once you have passed, the next time you would have taken an action you get one Mars Mark plus you get to LAY DOWN ANY ROBOT IN PLAY hence having it moved to the reserve at the beginning of next turn! This is powerful and makes the other players very nervous if someone passes early. Once the last player has passed the action phase ends, so if everybody passes consecutively after the first player has passed, he will not reap any benefits.
I love this mechanism, it adds a layer of coercion that is a beaty to behold!
After Actions follows Production. This is a phase of simple book keeping: The four different resources are checked for majority control and the leading player climbs two steps on each scale respectively. The player in second place climbs one step. And then there are some simple rules for ties.
During the Income phase players have to make a few decisions. First everybody gets one Mars Marks for each terrain type the occupy. Then each player scores five Victory Points (Terra Euro as they are called in the game) per Mars Rock square they occupy.
Then each player has to decide whether he chooses to cash in what he has accumulated in each resource. The four resources provide different benefits: Jewels and Soda provides Victory Points (I see no real reason to cash these in until the end of the game), Metal provides Mars Marks and Martian Ingot Dice and Grass provides Victory Points and Robots. The latter ones are often very tempting to cash in as more robots are always welcome and the alluring Martian Ingot Dice are a limited resource.
Then the player with the most Victory Points (Terra Euro) must pay one Mars Mark for each of his standing robots (to fund research into Robot Civic Rights according to the rules). This is the only rule I felt a bit pasted on, but I guess it's a needed weight around the leading player's neck.
Finally the player controlling the Rare Metal Vacuum laboratory space may buy Martian Ingot Dice for three Mars Marks apiece. As a player never may hold more than ten Mars Marks and each Dice costs 3 Marks, there is an natural balancing of this ability.
And so we come to the final phase of a turn: Closing. Now the current start player get's to choose the start player for the next turn. This rule in combination with the extra money during setup for the starting player leads to the conclusion that it must be a bad thing to go first in Mars is Ours!. Honestly we couldn't tell.
And that's a turn! Repeat three times and then it's time for:
End Game Scoring
Each player adds together already accumulated Terra Euro, the number of Robots in hand and the number of Mars Mark left. Then - and this I believe could be a deal breaker for some - you roll your accumulated Martian Ingot Dice, add them together and add that sum to your Victory Points.
I cannot yet tell whether the Martian Ingot Dice Mechanic is to wacky, but I do not think so. I tried going for them and managed to collect seven out of twelve. Upon rolling them I collected 24 points. Had I been extremely lucky, rolling sixes all through I would have scored 42 points. Comparing this to the about 40 points you get by maxing out on the Victory Point generating resources, it seems like they are thoughtfully balanced.
THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS
Mars is Ours! is not the game of the year, but with it's clean design, high pace and combination of confrontation and resource management it is something I'll gladly play and will most likely suggest.
Mars is Ours! is a fun game that my gaming group thoroughly enjoyed. And that is no mean feat, taking into account that both I and Doomfarer are part of it. Normally we chew up and spit out games without a second thought, but this one, combining confrontation and resource management made us come back for more.
What also struck me is that the game provide several viable ways to victory. Will you buy your victory points, try your luck with Martian Ingot Dice or fight your way to market domination?
The choices is yours - may the dice be with you!
And Mr. Z-Man: Just go ahead and publish this already...
Post Scriptum: This is my first review. Please feel free to provide feedback (and language advice - I'm just a Swede after all). It is also OK to have a different experience and/or opinion - different is good! And finally I have used the male pronoun all through this review - this doesn't mean that I don't think women would enjoy conquering Mars. As a matter of fact, I know that a lot of them do.
Edited for wording, grammar, phrasing and light content revisions - I write reviews like FFG makes games - they are not complete until after the first patch, oops expansion.
- Last edited Fri Oct 22, 2010 1:59 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Thu Oct 21, 2010 4:43 pm
Re: A confrontational Euro - or - Ameritrash with worker placement.
this doesn't mean that I don't think women would enjoy conquering Mars. As a matter of fact, I know that a lot of them do.
Ain't that the truth!
Seriously, though, good review. I've had my eye on this one. I'll have to wait for a few more reviews, however...
- Last edited Fri Oct 22, 2010 3:13 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Oct 22, 2010 3:12 am