Red planet is a dream destination for many explorers. This seemingly nearby world can now finally welcome its first visitors. But once people cannot be first to leave tracks on distant planet, they suddenly starts to think about something completely different. Mineral wealth of Mars may be unthinkable for our race. But its also a great opportunity to get rich. Will you take advantage of this with your ship?
Such is idea behind the board game Mission: Red Planet, which was prepared for us by two Bruno’s – designers Faidutti and Cathala (Cyclades). Their entire work was this time entrusted into publishing hands of Fantasy Flight Games. Game first came to be in 2005, but ten years later, it was brought to life again in a new improved version.
Lid of the box shows us dark side and panorama of Mars, which definitely is not cheerful at all. Rules we learn at the outset says its 1888. How is this possible? Whole setup of this game is in fact steampunk. And that feeling dominates round game board consisting of four puzzle pieces, that snap together and offer nine areas. And as players place a plan in the middle of the table, they set to tiles in orbit around the planet – Phobos moon and memorial Lost in Space.
Beneath the planet, players must each time rebuild starting platform and their number must agree with amount of players. They just spread random cards from a shuffled airship deck and place one on each platform. Rest of tokens, thus scoring (increasing the value of the ice, sylvanite and celerium) as well as target areas of Mars are laid aside to make piles. Resource tokens are then randomly spread on a map of Mars, indicate what material is that area rich. Cards of discoveries, missions and events create separate drawing piles.
Players can then choose their color and each gets his own astronaut miniatures. But they will also receive equipment in the form of nine equally-colored character cards and two random missions. They are allowed to keep only one of them. One figure for each player is shuffled together and their random distribution on the starting platform determines starting order. Whoever got first position assumes role of the starting players and also gets a round-wheel with moving needle (set to one). In the corner of its eye, however, it will not only display numbers, but also symbols indicating special stages of gameplay.
Together, all your opponents go through ten rounds. At the beginning of each one, player chooses one of his characters and will be able to immediately use its effect. Meanwhile, chosen card is placed in front of him face down, so others do not know choice of others. Only when everyone has made his selection, starting player starts counting down from nine. Once player hears his chosen character number, he can reveal the card and exploit inscribed capabilities. With them, players can mix target area of that ship to sabotage rival’s intentions, inspect the cards, move their own astronauts and also take used cards back into their hand.
Chances are defined especially by right choice of character. With that, players can gain access to new discoveries cards, which are instantly attached to one of the outer regions on Mars and thus affect final scoring of the game. It certainly will be influenced also by missions cards, that can be also collected and provide another way of gathering victory points.
During the game, there will be stages of production (marked by turn arrow) across all areas, while their resources are divided among players with majority of astronauts in scoring area. Adding more on this matter, gameplay also activates some card depending on their symbols at a predetermined time. Only at the very end comes the final scoring, in which players reveal their missions, gain points for accumulated tokens and mainly apply bonuses and penalties arising from discoveries, that affect areas controlled by him. Final sum is then compared and whoever has most points is the winner.
Mission: Red Planet by itself does not seem something extra interesting judging from description. However, existence of second edition should suggest, that this first impression might be a bit deceiving. The overall experience is just about trying to be in the majority in all the right areas. However, this by itself is not simple, because discovery cards change everything. Players may very well harm each other and use cards, which can virtually destroy awards their majority in some area.
Really unique is the fact, that players actually do not send their astronauts directly to regions on Mars. They need spacecraft, which are making their journey from Earth to the red planet and their original destination may change. Not always everything goes the way you imagined. Additionally, it all starts by secret choice in the style of Citadel, which gives players feeling of bluffing and additional level of control. Fixed order of evaluation makes sense and clearly leads player through each round.
Game is very well thought out, consistent and remains pleasantly simple. Surprisingly short description of the rules and easy actual course of the game goes into the blood very quickly. Game is not about fighting with each other and its focus is rather approaching classic thoughtful euro strategies.
But due to conflicts and unpredictable changes on the map, the game feels too much chaotic. And this does not fit all tastes. Watch, what’s happening is simply fun as well as being a part of it, with a chance to influence things (obviously crucial).
Game certainly is not overly long. Even with higher numbers of opponents, it only slightly exceeds the length of one hour and all this in a really nice tactical jacket, where luck has no vital role. With more competitors, however, conflict is increasing and uncertain situations appear in the majority of the areas. Therefore, it is always better to colonize Mars in more participants. Unfortunately, whole game does not work with two and it is the only number, in which the game can not be recommended. Get more opponents or do not buy it.
Processing is great. Game has cool impression not only because of the unique graphics of the box, but also gets you with its actual content. Beautiful miniatures, a circular board, moving parts, all beautifully functional and NASA theme of colonizing our neighboring planet.
Mission: Red Planet is double-edged. First, game gets you with its nice processing and short rules. But then some fans get discouraged, because in effect, it is only a game about having astronaut majority in occupied areas. While preserving simplicity, plenty of crazy variables enter the experience and make the game mix of chaos and tactics. Mission: Red Planet is definitely worth exploring.
+ reasonable playing time
+ sending astronauts using a starships
+ plenty of interaction
- weak with two