My Favorite Game This Month: Terra Mystica

26 November 2013 | 8 Comments

Terra MysticaThe last time I wrote about a game of the month, it was Boss Monster, a light, thematic card game.

This month’s game couldn’t be more different.

Terra Mystica is a game about 14 different races trying to build up their civilizations in their own unique ways. It’s a heavy Euro game that isn’t fun to teach, but once people know how to play, it’s amazing. Here’s why I love it:

1. Constant Positive Feedback: I love positive feedback in games. You know that sinking feeling you get in certain games when you can’t feed your workers? It doesn’t have to be that way! Workers don’t need to be fed, silly! In Terra Mystica, everything you do is better than the previous thing you did. When you build something, you get new income every turn. When you upgrade you buildings, you get different types of income and more points. In fact, there are tons of ways to get points. Some might call it point salad, but I call it positive feedback.

2. Variability and Replayability: Man, the variability in this game is endless. The first level of this are the different races. Each race is very different from the others. I would even say that some are more challenging than others despite their overall balance (the Chaos Magicians are particularly difficult to use, but I’ve come close to winning with them twice). But the variability goes beyond that thanks to the upgrade system in the game. The order in which you build and upgrade (each of which affect your income) will be very different from game to game, so even if you play the same race twice in a row, the games might feel very different.

3. Player Interaction: Like many Euros, most of what you do on your player mat is completely independent of other players. But Terra Mystica isn’t a multi-player solitaire game due to a number of interesting mechanisms for interaction. The primary one is that building close to other players is both good and risky. The other players might end up blocking you, but they also might end up charging your magic/power when they build due to proximity. The system for selecting income bonuses at the end of each turn leads to interesting interactions (you’re trying to figure out when other players will pass), and the tech tracks (“cult” tracks) use an area majority mechanism that forces player interaction. None of the interactions are destructive, but you will inevitably cringe when someone takes the token you wanted or cheer when you beat someone else to a key territory.

4. Short-Term Goals: The more I play and design games, the more I appreciate clear short-term goals. In Terra Mystica, every round has two different goals to target. You can ignore them completely or follow them. In a game with a myriad of different choices, having short-term goals helps players focus on something. Even though it’s purely mechanical, it works wonders.

5. Brilliant Player Mat Design: I love a good player mat, and I think Terra Mystica has my favorite mat of any game (Viticulture’s is prettier, but Terra Mystica’s is more functional). Everything you need to understand the game is on the mat without using any words. I wonder how many iterations they went through to get it right, because the end result is brilliant.

If you like heavy Euro games, I could not recommend Terra Mystica enough. I didn’t think any game had a chance at beating Tzolk’in for my favorite game of 2013, but Terra Mystica has a shot. If you’ve played it, what do you think?

8 Comments on “My Favorite Game This Month: Terra Mystica

  1. this game was an instant buy for me earlier this summer, but now, i’ll need to save up for it, and frankly other games replaced it on my want list. Keeping the game in stock when it’s high in demand is a good thing Z-Man. Will be one i pick up at some point. Because it’s got so much in it. Would love to get it tho.

  2. I finally had the chance to play this one at Toon Con a couple months back and it was awesome! I agree with you that the player boards are fantastic. They looked a bit busy to me when I first sat down but it didn’t take long to love the way they are designed.

    The magic system still strikes me as odd, I like the way it works but it can at times feel like something that was added as an afterthought.. That might just be me though, and it won’t stop me from adding this game to my Christmas wishlist. Thanks for the post Jamey!

  3. Love Terra Mystica. LOVE IT. My one complaint is that the races are a bit imbalanced, but not so much that it overcomes player skill.

    For anyone interested, you can play it online at terra.snellman.net. Obviously you need to know the rules beforehand, and the implementation is pretty bare bones, so you have to get familiar with the text commands that drive the game. Plus there’s no matchmaking system, so you’ve gotta know someone’s e-mail address to play a game with them…BUT, the game is so great that these downsides can be over-looked. It’s a fantastic resource for playing the game outside of scheduled game nights.

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