Terra Mystica Review

“Wipin’ it off here, Boss?  Yeah, wipe it off, Gambler.”

Description from the Manufacturer

In the land of Terra Mystica dwell 14 different peoples in seven landscapes, and each group is bound to its own home environment, so to develop and grow, they must terraform neighboring landscapes into their home environments in competition with the other groups.

Terra Mystica is a game with very little luck that rewards strategic planning. Each player governs one of the 14 groups. With subtlety and craft, the player must attempt to rule as great an area as possible and to develop that group’s skills. There are also four religious cults in which you can progress. To do all that, each group has special skills and abilities.

Taking turns, the players execute their actions on the resources they have at their disposal. Different buildings allow players to develop different resources. Dwellings allow for more workers. Trading houses allow players to make money. Strongholds unlock a group’s special ability, and temples allow you to develop religion and your terraforming and seafaring skills. Buildings can be upgraded: Dwellings can be developed into trading houses; trading houses can be developed into strongholds or temples; one temple can be upgraded to become a sanctuary. Each group must also develop its terraforming skill and its skill with boats to use the rivers.

Proximity to other groups is a double-edged sword in Terra Mystica. Being close to other groups gives you extra power, but it also means that expanding is more difficult…

Playing Time

60-150 Minutes

Number of Players

2-5

Best With

4 Players

Complexity Rating

3.94 out of 5

Welcome to the land of Terra Mystica.  It’s a strange place, where lush forests sit next to deserts and volcanoes, and by using some shovels you can turn a mountain into a verdant grassland.  So maybe realism isn’t this games’ strong suit, but man-o-man, if you enjoy strategic planning, and a game where luck plays absolutely no factor in how well you do, then this is the game for you.

Terra Mystica is a great, asymmetrical game.  Each race plays very differently, and while there can be some unbalance between them, much of that has to do with the initial game setup, and how brilliant a strategist you are.  If the statistics are to be believed, then the win/loss difference between the races is not nearly as significant as some players believe, and much of the difference is in picking the correct race given the game start conditions.

This is a great game, and would make a great addition to any gamer’s collection, so let’s get down to why.

Things I Loved About Terra Mystica

Terra Mystica rewards long term planning in a way very few games manage.  In particular in the beginning of the game, you really need to think and plan, and analyze if you want to have a chance at winning.  On the other hand, you can really blow it if you don’t have a good opening.  This might be the best economic snowball game ever made, so make sure you have a plan from the start.

Terra Mystica has massive replay-ability, even though at first glance, that may not seem to be the case.  With so few starting setup differences, it is shocking at how different the game can play, and how starkly different the races play.  The game is so tightly designed, that even a single difference in order of bonus points can drastically alter your choices for starting position and faction.  I love me some asymmetry in my games, and Terra Mystica has that in spades.

The mechanics are beautiful.  Just amazingly well designed, thoroughly thought through, and they clearly play-tested the crap out of this game.  There is zero randomness to the game, no card draws, no dice rolls, so it is entirely a game of skill, and the mechanics are beautifully drawn out.  Simple enough to grasp after a few play-throughs, yet complex enough to continually revisit and improve each time.

While the differences between the factions may seem minor, the reality is those subtle differences drastically alter how the game feels, and will dramatically effect your strategy.  You simply cannot play the Giants in the same way you would the Darklings.  Or, I guess you could, but you would not win.

The Power mechanic, possibly the only unique mechanic the game brings to the table, is incredibly clever, and fun.  Being able to use and develop magic power to effect the game adds a unique flavor to how the whole thing plays out, and makes each turn feel more unique, as you can save up your Power to have a massive turn, or dole it out bit by bit as needed.

Because of how differently each of the factions play, Terra Mystica is incredibly fun even when you are losing.  Seeing how well you can do with an underpowered faction like the Giants, presents a unique set of challenges and can be incredibly fun.  In many ways, this reminds me of Through the Ages.  I’m terrible at Through the Ages, but even so, I absolutely adore the game, and don’t mind playing over and over.

Things I Hated About Terra Mystica

Terra Mystica rewards long term planning in a way very few games manage.  No, you’re not going crazy, this is listed both as something I hate, and love about this game.  This is not a casual game, nor one that you can play only halfway paying attention.  Even selecting your starting race and positions can make or break your game.  So if you don’t love in depth games that require a lot of strategic thinking and planning, you may want to steer clear.

There really isn’t a way to directly attack your opponents, and often you accidentally benefit them.  This is a common complaint I have with a lot of strategy games, it can occasionally feel like you are playing simultaneous solitaire.  Part of the strategy is deciding which opponent to help, rather than hinder, and in reality, you aren’t going to drastically effect the way your opponents play the game.  If someone is winning, there isn’t much you can do to stop them.

There isn’t a particularly strong Theme to the game.  This can be a huge problem for some players.  I don’t happen to be one, but the fantasy concept seems to be slapped on after the fact.  The map layout makes no real logical sense, and the game pretty obviously prioritizes mechanics over theme.

The factions can be quite unbalanced.  Although not as bad as people think, and much of the imbalance depends on the opening layout of bonus tiles and choices by other players, there is no doubt that some factions do consistently better than others.  And the only real way to learn which factions work best for your play style, is through trial and error.

Once you pick your faction, and setup your initial plan, you’re pretty well set, and it can feel like you’re on autopilot.  Sure, there are some turn to turn differences in your strategy, but for the most part, once you decide your course, you’re pretty well set on it, which can take some of the excitement out of things.

Final Thoughts

Is Terra Mystica a perfect game?  No.  But does such a thing even exist?  Sure, it would be better if there were some direct interactions with your opponents, and more conflict in the game, and yes, the theme could use some serious development.  But if you can look back those relatively minor complaints, you’ll discover and incredibly great game.  One that is consistently challenging, always feels fresh and different, and will keep you coming back over and over to see if you can do better, and find some new method to make a particular faction work that much better.

After a ton of plays, this game still feels fresh, and it will be a long time before I get sick of it.  I couldn’t be happier to have this in my collection, and as a part of my permanent game night rotation.

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