I’m a huge fan of Victorian science fiction. I’m also a big fan of games. So when I saw this:
I knew I was going to get it at the first opportunity.
Mission: Red Planet (MRP) is a game by Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala, who also collaborated on Boomtown and Shadows Over Camelot. (Faidutti also designed a favorite of mine, Citadels). An English edition just came out from Asmodee and I snagged myself a copy from ThoughtHammer last week or so. Yesterday I got to play it with Quinn, Matt, and Al.
The theme of the game is, it’s the late 19th century, and Earthlings are racing to Mars to take advantage of its vast mineral wealth. Whoever discovers the most Celerium, Sylvanite, and Ice will gain fame and fortune, so the competition is fierce.
MRP is an area-control game with role-selection. That is, the goal of the game is to control (have the most astronauts in) certain areas of Mars when scoring rounds happen, and the method by which you do this is by secretly selecting from different roles which each have different abilities.
Mars is divided into 10 regions. Each turn, the players select a role for that turn.
Click to enlarge
The roles have different powers. For example, the Explorer loads astronauts onto a rocket and then allows you to move up to three astronauts on the surface. The Femme Fatale pretty much kills an opponent’s astronaut, substituting one of yours in its place. The Travel Agent can load three astronauts onto a rocket, but when his turn comes around, if there aren’t three vacancies, he does nothing. The roles seem pretty well balanced, and each can be used only once until you use the Recruiter, whose ability is to let you get your played roles back. There are nine roles numbered 1 through 9 and they are resolved in that order (reminiscent of Citadels).
After the role selection whatever rockets are full then blast off to Mars. The astronauts on board are placed wherever the rocket’s destination was. If they’re the first to arrive, a resource token is flipped to see which of the three resources that zone provides. The resources are valued at 1, 2, and 3 each, with Ice being the one worth 1 point. However, at the end of the game, having the most Ice gets you a bonus of 9 points.
At the ends of turns 5, 8, and 10 (the final turn), the regions are scored, and whoever has the most astronauts in each region gets that region’s resources.
Bruno Faidutti digs chaos, so of course there’s a little more going on. There are also Bonus cards you can get that give extra points at the end for controlling certain regions or meeting certain conditions (for example, having a region all to yourself.) In addition there are Discovery cards that modify regions at the end, causing them to not produce, or a Radiation Leak that kills off astronauts or whatever. The Scientist role can both get these cards and look at played Discovery cards so that he knows where to go and what to avoid.
In our game, Matt eked out a last minute victory, partly because of two bonus cards. Everyone’s money was on Al. In fact, Matt wouldn’t even have scored one of the bonus cards if a Discovery card (played by Quinn) hadn’t wiped out a bunch of Al’s astronauts. So the chaos was in full effect for our game. Nevertheless, everyone had fun, loved the theme, and really got into it. I could see several different routes to victory. You have to balance fulfilling your own goals with stopping others; I should have been hurting Al more than I did, but he was mostly on the side of the board I wasn’t on. Each player starts with a random bonus card and this can very much affect play.
I really enjoyed the game, but there are two complaints I have about the components. First, Although the board and bits are thick cardboard, the finish on them isn’t very good. You don’t want anything wet around them, or I think you’re going to have some problems. Second, the insert for the box is specifically designed for exactly half of the components. As long as you don’t punch out any of the cardboard bits you need to play the game, you’ll do fine, but once you do, there’s no place to put them back in, not easily at least. You pretty much have to throw out the insert to easily pack the game up.
Production complaints aside, I like the game a lot. I realize that my review may be biased by my enthusiasm for the theme — having committed to purchasing it based on the artwork alone means I had a lot of incentive to want to like it. Fortunately, I do. I can certainly understand some of the complaints I’ve read: anyone who doesn’t like not having total control in a game is not going to like the chaotic elements to this one (although there are in-game ways to mitigate the chaos somewhat). If you don’t like, say, Citadels or San Juan because there’s too much randomness, you may not like this one. MRP is similar to another Faidutti game, Mystery of the Abbey, in that the integration theme is rock-solid, and some feel takes precedence over the gameplay. MRP isn’t El Grande, the king of area-control games, but it’s a lot of fun.