Game Buzz: Terra Mystica

In the wake of Spiel and BGG.Con, some of the biggest buzz has been for

image by BGG user nan3000

Terra Mystica is a 2-5 player civilization game from designers Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag.  It was published in Germany by Feuerland Spiele, and will be released in English by Z-Man Games.  It takes 100 minutes to play, and is for ages 12 and up.  You are playing a civilization that is trying to terraform the world into a place most agreeable to you.  There are fourteen different factions in the game, and you will be playing one of them – two of them are associated with each of the seven terrain types. Obviously, you’ll be bumping into each other eventually, but it’s not a conflict-driven game like Small World.  Rather, it’s more of a Eurogame with resource management and area enclosure.

The game comes with a board that shows the map of the world; a cult board, with four religious cults you can influence; 7 double-sided faction boards; 56 double-sided terrain tiles; 65 worker cubes; 85 money coins in denominations of 1-2-5; 65 purple power tokens; an orange start player cylinder; 17 action tokens; a game end token; 5 100 pt tokens; 56 dwellings; 28 trading houses; 7 strongholds; 21 temples; 7 sanctuaries; 49 priests; 49 colored markers; 21 bridges; 10 town tiles; 8 rectangular scoring tiles; 9 bonus cards; 5 action overview cards; amd 12 zip-lock bags (love it when they include baggies).

Each player takes a faction, and the dwellings, trading houses, stronghold, temples, sanctuary, priests, markers, and bridges of their color.  It is recommended that, for the first game, you use witches and nomads in a two-player game; witches, nomads and alchemists with three;  witches, nomads, halflings, and mermaids with four; withces, nomads, halflings, mermaids, and giants with five.  Your structures go on your faction board, and your markers go to the shipping track, exchange track, VP track, and cult board.  You get a number of workers, money, and priests indicated on your faction board.  You’ll randomly choose bonus cards, scoring tiles, and starting places for your dwellings in the main game, but there is a recommended setup for your first game.

There are six rounds in the game, and each round has three phases – income, action, and cult bonuses/clean-up.

INCOME: Based on your position on various tracks, you’ll get various resources – workers based on how many dwellings you have placed; coins based on your position on the trading house track; priests based on your temple track and whether you’ve built your Sanctuary; and power based on your trading house position and if you’ve placed your Stronghold.  Your faction board will also award income, as will your bonus card chosen at the beginning of the game.

ACTIONS: Turns will go around the table with each player taking one action.  Once everyone has passed, the phase is over.  There are eight types of possible actions:

  1. Transform and build – You can transform a space to your terrain type, then build a dwelling on it.  This is accomplished by spending a spade for each space from the source to the destination (a max of three).  Spades are acquired by exchanging workers, using power actions, or bonus cards.  Once you’ve transformed the space, you can build a dwelling for one worker and two coins.  Dwellings can only be built on spaces that are adjacent to one of your structures.
  2. Advance on the shipping track – You can pay a priest and four coins to move up one space on the shipping track.  Once you do this, you can count terrain spaces separated by river spaces as adjacent – one per level of your shipping track.  The level you are at (1-2-3) gets you points (2-3-4).
  3. Lower the exchange rate for spades – At the beginning of the game, you can trade three workers for one spade.  If you pay 2 workers, 5 coins, and 1 priest, you can lower that to two, and later one.  It’s worth six points to you to do this.
  4. Upgrade a structure – Dwellings can be upgraded to trading houses by paying two workers and 6 coins (3 if at least one opponent’s structure is directly adjacent to the dwelling).  Trading houses can be upgraded to a stronghold, with different costs based on the action – this gets you a special ability.  A trading house can also be upgraded to a temple for 2 workers and 5 coins, getting you a favor tile.  A temple can be upgraded to a sanctuary with a variable cost based on your faction, and awards a favor tile.  Replaced buildings are returned to your faction board, reducing your income for that structure type.
  5. Send a priest to the order of  a cult – Place a priest on one of the four cult tracks to advance 2 or 3 spaces on that track.  If you don’t want to lose the priest, you can take it back and only advance one space.
  6. Power actions – Power is one of the big currencies in the game.  This power is distributed in three bowls.  You begin the game with 12 powers, and when you gain power, you move it from one bowl to another (1 to 2, 2 to 3).  Power is spent only from bowl 3, and is moved back to bowl 1.  Power actions may only be taken once per round, and cost 3-6 power each.  You could build a bridge, gain a priest, gain workers, gain coins, or gain free spades to use while transforming and building.  If you don’t have enough power, you are allowed to move some from bowl 2 to bowl 3 for use.  However, you must then remove an equal number of tokens from bowl 2 from the game.
  7. Special actions – There are a number of special actions that can be taken once per round.  Some are unlocked when certain conditions are met; others are found on favor tiles or bonus cards.
  8. Pass – If you don’t to do anything else, you can pass.  The first player to do so gets the start player marker.  Additionally, you return your bonus card and take a new one from the three available (which may be one someone else has already turned in).

If there are ever four structures of the same color directly adjacent to each other, and these structures have a combined power value of 7, a town is founded.  This gets you points, certain rewards, and a key (which is necessary to advance to the last space on one cult track).

CULT BONUSES/CLEAN-UP: Players who have advanced far enough on the cult track (as shown on the current scoring tile) gains a reward.  Action tokens on power action spaces, special action spaces, favor tiles, or bonus cards are returned, and one coin is placed on each of the available bonus cards.  This will be a bonus to the next person to take one.  The current scoring tile is turned face down, and you move on to the next round.

After the last player has passed in the last round, the game is over (no cult bonus phase).  Each cult will be scored – 8 points to the first place player, 4 for second, and 2 for third.  Ties result in the points being evenly divided among the tied players.  Next, you’ll count your directly and indirectly connected structres, scoring 18 for having the most, 12 for second, 6 for third.  You also get one point per 3 coins.  The winner is the player with the most coins.

From what I’ve seen, Terra Mystica looks like a fun and interesting game of area control.  The ability to change terrain is probably the most striking thing about it.  I can’t say that I know exactly how the game is supposed to play due to the different paths that there will be.  Most of it, I’m sure, is seeing what others are doing and trying to circumvent their plans.  I get a Small World feel, particularly with the 14 different factions and the bumping into each other that is sure to happen.  A little less confrontational, I suppose, especially since there’s no combat.  Still, it’s thematically similar.

This game was not on my radar prior to Spiel, but the buzz around it since has made me take notice.  It’s got a limited resource management/variable powers/world creation aspect to it that appeals to me.  It’s not one I think I’d get, but I’d certainly be happy to play if someone brought it out.  Thanks for reading!

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