2-5 players, Competitive, Action Selection Terrain Forming
Designer: Jens Drogemuller, Helge Ostertag
Artwork: Dennis Lohausen
Publisher: Z-Man Games
A Terra Mystica review with comparisons to Gaia Project
The Origin Story
This is one of those games that I actively AVOIDED for a very long time. You see awhile back a little game called Gaia Project came out and it was hyped up quite a bit. Of course it caught my attention and also, at the time, I was looking for a nice space themed game to fill a proverbially void in my collection. SO I went and bought Gaia Project and excitedly opened it up to find a plethora of goodies……TOO MANY goodies. Gaia Project overwhelmed me right out of the box. Beyond the large quantity of rules to learn and wrap my head around, there were just SO MANY variable ways to score and things to keep track of. This ultimately turned me off of the game and I consequentially sold it (sad face).
Of course I also knew of Terra Mystica and that it was basically the older brother to Gaia Project. Now I had read that it shared quite a bit with its younger sibling, which of course was the main reason I avoided it. However the little devil finally found its way onto my game table and….wow. What do we have here? A game that plays VERY much like Gaia Project…and yet…..I LOVE IT?! What is this heresy? Read on my friends, read on.
Overview of Gameplay
For those who have not played Gaia Project (which is VERY similar) I’ll quickly run down a typical round/turn of Terra Mystica. After a decently strenuous setup phase getting all the little tids and bits setup on each player board and the main board each player will take an income phase. For this phase you will just look at your player board and find any little icon with a hand and above that little hand will be another icon of what you can claim. These will be things like money or workers which are these little wooden cubes.
Once all that income craziness is finished players will, in turn order, each take a single action and continue to do this one after another until they “pass”. Once every player has passed then the round ends and a little bit of scoring is done based on whatever scoring tile is displayed for the round. Then a little cleanup phase and we start all over with another income phase. This will happen over an over with each player gradually getting more and more stuff unlocked on their player boards through the course of the game. At the end of the sixth round players will calculate their final scores based around a number of quadrants like: who is the highest on each order on the cult board, who has the biggest city and leftover resources. Whoever has the most point’s wins!
Now the actions, the meatiest part of the game, is where all the magic happens. During this phase of the game, players will be spending that income they received to do all kinds of things. Mostly though you will be transforming land around your starting structure so you can build even more structures. Basically expanding your settlement. You see each different character you can be in the game (7 double sided faction boards with 14 different factions) has a different terrain they can build on. To expand your empire you must transform the land around you and to do that you must spend workers. When you transform a piece of land you can pay money and workers to slap down one of your base buildings on it. Now this does a few things, first it opens up a spot on your player board where the building used to reside. Usually under these buildings is a new icon for MORE income during the income phase, so placing buildings allows you to gain even more income over time. Secondly you are working towards gaining mucho points by building up the size of your town as well as turning it into a neighborhood which unlocks special bonuses.
On your turn you can also UPGRADE buildings. Now here’s the thing…..when you upgrade one of your buildings you have to REPLACE it with the upgraded version. Which means that other building comes BACK to your player board potentially covering up some form of income and unlocking a new form of income. It’s a balancing act all the way. Now there are a few other actions you can take such as spending power to gain certain things, creating a neighborhood as I mentioned above, advancing on a couple different tracks on your player board and the Cult board and of course passing.
Not much to complain about with component quality here although I think I do prefer Gaia Project in this area. The tokens that represent the houses and temples and strongholds are all made of wood and painted different colors dependent on player. The little dwellings and trading houses actually look like houses but the rest are all just different shapes which kinda takes me outta the game a bit. Gaia Project opted for plastic minis but they are much more detailed and actually look like the things they are meant to represent.
The game board is broken into a main board where the players will be placing their structures and monitoring score and round trackers. A Cult board where players will monitor how far up on each specific Order they are. And finally their personal player boards which will have all their starting structures and the information pertaining to their specific faction. I really like the layout to all of these boards. The player boards are awesome with how they are double-sided and each one having a slightly different play style than the next, but not TOO different to make them confusing. All the different factions are interesting as well making me want to instantly replay the game to try them out.
Nothing very exciting about the box and nothing at all for a storage solution. You will end up bagging up everything into many different bags if you want to keep it all organized. Although I will say there is less here than Gaia Project so that’s always a plus as one of my biggest gripes about that game was the daunting setup.
Visual Appeal /Theme
I really like the fantasy theme here. I mean it’s super fantasy generic and honestly you don’t really see the theme in the gameplay at all. Each faction has a little different setup on the cult tracks but….it doesn’t really matter. I mean what’s the difference if the dwarves decide to go up the blue track and not the brown track? Nothing as far as theme is concerned. Now, that said, I vastly prefer this theme over the space theme of Gaia Project. I love the little scrolls that are the end of round bonus cards, I love the fantasy based factions like the “Chaos Magicians” or the “Alchemists”. It’s these little touches that make me like this game a bit more than Gaia. HOWEVER Gaia Project does a MUCH better job in pulling that theme into the game more. If Terra Mysticas buildings actually looked like little fantasy buildings or if the Cult track actually felt like something more thematic instead of just a board of four different colors that you needed to race up for points, well, I think Terra Mystica would blow Gaia Project outta the water with theme. As it stands though it’s very thin.
I didn’t have any trouble with the rulebook although I kinda cheated a bit since I already blazed through Gaia Projects rulebook and basically knew how to play the game. Both games are super similar in play so if you know one, the other will come very easily. That said, there wasn’t much at all in the rules that I had to question. Everything seemed to be in there and it was easy to follow. There is a nice segment on the back of the book that explains in detail all the powers of each faction as well.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Like Gaia Project players will be mostly keeping to themselves starting out. The main bit of player interaction comes from the little power grab that you can do if someone builds next to one of your structures. It comes at a cost of one VP per power but could be just what you need in that critical moment of the game. Also upgrading your dwellings usually costs half as much coin if upgrading next to an opponent’s structure so there is a benefit to being kinda close together. I actually love this bit of ruling in the game as it can cause huge cities to rise up next to each other which basically look like two competing giants vying for dominance of that specific bit of land. The competition for land can heat up as well since both players will be trying to transform certain sections to block off the other.
This is similar to Gaia Project as well with the satellite placements, gobbling up space connecting planets together. However I never really felt the same tension in Gaia Project as I did with Terra Mystica and honestly I think it really boiled down to the space areas just seeming so….bland.
Either way there is a good amount of fun to be had, especially in determining how you want to spend your income. Do you transform that land to claim it? Do you upgrade that dwelling, oh but that will reduce a worker income next round…..The choices are delicious.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
With a higher count of players you will be seeing more large sprawling cities creep up but at the same time the downtime between turns can be horrendous. I mean there are so many possibilities and I would never play this with AP prone players. You can also choose where to place your starting dwelling so you could technically have as much player interaction as you want. Doing a two player game and want to just do your own thing? Just place your dwelling on the other side of the board, but then you would be missing out on those cheap upgrades……
I think a 3 player game would be ideal personally. This should keep downtime between turns to a bearable level and you each have enough space to do your own thing but at the same time could interact if you so choose.
The replay value is pretty durned high here. I mean 14 different factions with seven different kinds of land. And each faction has a different power and plays just a tad different. This opens up all kinds of possibilities when playing.
Positive Final Thoughts
So overall I really enjoyed this game! The choices were interesting and the different factions were fun. I like the different terrain and how the workers work to transform the terrain based on your faction. Bottom line the gameplay in Terra Mystica is excellent and fun. I also enjoyed the fantasy theme quote a bit…..
Negative Final Thoughts
BUT I wish they did MORE with the fantasy theme like had structures that looked fantasy based. And the Cult track was little more than a track of four colors to race up and didn’t really add anything to the theme at all.
Final Thoughts Comparison
Between the two games, Terra Mystica and Gaia Project, I prefer Terra Mystica for a couple reasons. Firstly omg Gaia Project is SO much going on! It’s overwhelming! The took variability to the next level with GP adding in variable board tiles, extra boards and the worst part of all……..extra ways to score. Now that right there I think is the BIGGEST reason I didn’t much care for Gaia Project. They added in so many different ways to score points every round that you have to keep track of that the game become so fiddly I just couldn’t keep up. I was always missing points. Add to that the science track with all the other ways to climb up that thing and you have a real brain burner here.
Now of course I would never say that these things are negatives to Gaia Project as a whole, just that it’s not my cup of tea. Terra Mystica is more streamlined, a little easier to digest than Gaia Project and that’s why I prefer Terra Mystica.