In Terra Mystica, there is so much to do and you can probably play it in so many ways that it’s impossible to do a proper overview and review after one play, but here is a very short overview and some of my thoughts.
Several races compete with each other for lands in Terra Mystica, races are bound to their home environment, so to expand they must terraform the lands around them first.
Every player plays a different race with different powers, the powers make sure that every player is going to have a different style of play. Players start the game with a unique player board and on this board you can see how much power you can use, the terraforming costs for the different terrains, how far you can travel by ship and the places where you store your buildings (dwellings, trading houses, strongholds etc.).
Your goal is to build a vast empire and to advance on three religion tracks. To build the different buildings you need workers, money and the right terrain type. At the beginning of your turn you will receive workers and money, how much depends on how many and what kind of buildings you’ve already built. To terraform a terrain type into your home environment you need tools, how much tools depend on how much your race ‘dislikes’ that environment.
There are also three power bowls on you player board. You start the game with a certain amount of power in the first two bowls, during the game you have to transfer power from bowl 1 to bowl 2 and eventually bowl 3. When your power finally arrives in bowl 3 you can use it (transport it back to bowl one) to carry out certain special actions.
During this game you will get and use a lot of tokens. One important token is the action token, every turn, once you’ve passed, you will choose an available token and this token will give you something extra (worker, money etc.) and may give some points at the end of your next turn. During every turn certain condition apply for which you might get points or other bonuses. These are different every turn en the order differs every game.
Another nice elements in the game is that when another player builds on a spot next to one or more of your buildings, you may benefit too. You then have the option to exchange points for power, how much depends on the type of building you have.
This game is pretty nice, basically you are constantly managing your resources and planning ahead. There is a lot going on in this game. There’s a nice building ebb and flow. You can upgrade your buildings and when you do that, new resources become available next turn. because you’ve removed the new building from your player board, but others are not at your disposal, because they are covered by the building that was replaced by the new one.
Of course I’ve played only one race, but you could see that every race played differently, because of their special abilities and statistics. That’s nice. The replayability goes up, but you do need to play a race multiple times to optimize your own game and you need to play against the same races multiple times to really know what they can do. Although there are many different races. the game still feels balanced. We’ve played a five player game and the first three were within one point of each other at the end. You can certainly say that the wide variety of races are big asset of this game.
The game has certain predetermined, but random scoring conditions and bonus abilities per round. I never felt that you had to do them, but they did make sure that the game was guided in a certain direction.
I do really like the action tokens. Do you want to do more stuff in the current round or do you pass early and get a more beneficial action token to use next round. Choices. This game is all about choices. What can my race do best? You can score points many ways, but some ways just don’t fit your race’s playing style.
In many games you want to do the things other players aren’t doing and in Terra Mystica that’s probably very much the case. Focus on your own game, your own race’s strength. Yes, you do need to pay attention to what other players do and where they build, because you don’t want to get cut off and you do want to profit a bit from other players, but don’t let them provoke you. Stay focussed.
The three power bowls with the ‘you must first move all your power from one bowl to another bowl before you can use it’ mechanism is an important part of the game, you can really think everything through and create some sort of engine, but it wasn’t a big part of my game, so I don’t really know what I think about it. I’m on the ‘meh’ side for now, it’s a bit too fiddly.
Terra Mystica is definitely a game I want to play more. It was a little daunting at the beginning, during the rules explanation, there was so much to do and so much to take into account, but the game actually played pretty smooth. It felt very natural, like I’m terraforming every day.