By Paco Garcia Jaen
This week in my gaming group there were two copies of Z-Man Terra Mystica and the 8 of us wanted to play it. Well, I wasn’t mad about playing it, but I’m happy to play anything, so I thought “what the heck… let’s play an Euro”.
The game is a competitive euro. During the game, you take control of specific hexagonal areas of the game. Each player has a terrain they can use for free (marshes, mountains, deserts, etc) and the objective of the game is to terraform the adjacent terrains so you can build enough buildings to gather enough points to build cities, which give you advantages. Everything you do gives you victory points and at the end… well, you know the rest.
First impressions of the game were very good. The board looks lovely, the tokens are think and colourful. The character sheets are on the thin side, but the do the job nicely and didn’t bend when probed. The meeples are the standard wooden meeples. Some are little men, and some are buildings. There are 6 types of buildings, houses, cathedrals, temples and some I can’t remember. Although the shape of the wooden tokens is distinctive enough that you can’t mistake them from each other, they not all reflect what they’re meant to be. There is nothing about the temple token that tells is a temple; it’s just a bigger cylinder. Still.. they’re very easily recognisable.
Also the character/player sheets are well designed. It is very easy to see what terrains you can control and the cost of terraforming terrains that are too far from your range. Also what buildings you can build, the resources you get every round, the cost of upgrade… Very, very good.
The only thing I didn’t take a look at was the rules book. Dave explaining the rules to the three of us (bless him!) and didn’t have the chance or, to be honest, the need.
The gameplay is complex. Players take turns to do one action at a time. Terraforming, building, upgrading, placing… whatever they want, until they run out of the resources needed to carry out any action. At that moment, the player must pass. The first player in the round to pass takes the first player token for the next round.
Resources come in the shape of meeples (priests) buildling materials, gold or magic/mana points. Yes, there is a sort of magic system by which you can distribute a number of magic tokens between three areas. That allows you to do “something” in your turn, but stops you from doing it all in one go to overpower the game. A bit complicated…
There is also another board where you can put meeples on and get more advantages, but I must admit I didn’t really understand it. I used it just for the sake of it when I had some meeples I didn’t know what to do with (hey! I learned the game after a long day at work with a headache… And Dave at the table…) and it didn’t impede my participation in the game. Having said that, it is a pretty important part of the game to get victory points and understanding it could be the difference between winning or losing.
The game can take around a couple of hours to play and, sorry to say, it’s not a good game for people with analysis paralysis. It can easily drag on. And on.
That also translate in the fact that there is a fair bit to do in the game and a fair number of creating strategies to get one to victory, though, so this game has a fair bit of replayability.
There is no doubt that the game is a terrific one. Complex and yet easy to get to grips with, it has a lot to offer. But it is not for me.
I felt it’s a bit overworked and it has aspects that are unbalanced. The different races are unbalanced and depending on what terrain you start you’ll have it easier or more difficult. Player interaction is reduced to stopping people from expanding their land and giving them resources when you upgrade buildings that are adjacent to other players. In fact if the players started to terraform and develop cities in opposite sides of the board, player interaction would probably be reduced to nothing.
The theme is also very much pasted on top of the rules. Although it’s a medieval/magic sort of environment, it could have been a science-fiction or a proper medieval or current day theme and it would have worked just the same.
As much as I am not mad about this game, I have to admit, if you like euros, you certainly should get it. The production values are what you would expect from Z-Man so the money you pay is worth it.
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