Terra Mystica – Worth the weight (all 5 pounds of it)


Since being released in 2012, Terra Mystica by Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag has been an unquestionable success; boardgamegeek.com has it ranked #2 in both the ‘Strategy’ and ‘Board Game’ categories with an average user rating of 8.26 out of 10, not to mention it has either been nominated or has won 20 different awards Worldwide. Make no mistake, Terra Mystica is a heavy game and one that very solidly fits into the Euro category, but the huge amount of replayability as well as some rather intuitive gameplay makes it well deserving of all of the accolades it has received.

Terra Mystica game in progress – Image originally from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/2273955/terra-mystica

Terra Mystica plays from 2 to 5 players at roughly 30 minutes per player, comes with 14 unique races in the base game as well as a number of different scoring bonuses as well as round round that get randomly selected at the start of the game. Throw in the Fire & Ice expansion and the number of possible races grows to 20 and gives you 2 additional boards to choose from, which include extra scoring conditions for the end of the game. There is a tremendous amount of game for the price and Terra Mystica has quickly become one of my favourite games, even if that means playing online when I can’t play in person.

Gameplay Breakdown

Over the course of 6 rounds, players grow their territories, gain influence with different Cults and gain special powers available from their Stronghold. Each of the races in the game has a preferred terrain type that they can build on, however they can also spend workers to transform other terrain types in order to grow their territory. Over the course of each round, bonus points will be awarded for different types of buildings, and each type of building grants additional resources at the start of the following round, so players must find a balance between gaining points from the round bonus while still ensuring that they will be generating sufficient resources for following turns. After 6 rounds, a final scoring takes place where points are awarded for having the largest network of buildings as well as for their progress on the Cult tracks, at which point the highest score wins.

Rounds consist of players taking turns, which are further broken down into 8 different core game actions. Mechanically, these actions are relatively straight-forward and can be summarized as “spend resources to do something, or pass.” There are 4 different resources; Workers, Coins, Priests and Power, with combinations of them required for taking different actions. Thankfully, at the beginning of each round is an Income step, where additional resources are acquired from the supply; Dwellings provide Workers, Trading Posts provide Coins and Power, Temples provide Priests and a Favor tile, the Stronghold grants Power and unlocks a races special ability, while the Sanctuary provides a Priest, a Favor tile and slightly modifies the rules for forming a Town around it.

Witch faction playboard – Image originally from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/1420018/terra-mystica

Each of the races have a considerably different playstyle; some will want to rush the construction of their Stronghold in order to make use of their special ability as early as possible, others will want to increase their Terraforming skill to grow a large Network quickly while others will increase their Shipping gauge in order to build remote buildings away from their existing ones to increase the size of their Network. This variability and the wildly different strategies offers a huge amount of replayability to Terra Mystica as no two races feel the same – not to mention the different strategies and counter-strategies that you will need to take depending on what races your opponents are using.

Gaining Points

Since Terra Mystica is a game where the winner has the most points, how do you go about getting points? There are a few ways to get incidental points throughout the game (upgrading your Terraforming or Shipping abilities give fixed points for almost every race), however the majority of your points at the end of the game will be entirely based on how you played and what decisions were made.

Each round, a bonus scoring tile becomes active that will award victory points for building certain types of buildings; 2 VP for each Dwelling built, 3 VP for each Trading Post build, 5 VP for building either a Stronghold or Sanctuary, etc… The majority of points that are gained during gameplay will be awarded by these bonuses and they can be used in combination with certain Favor times to double up on the bonus points, however depending on the race you are playing, your strategy may not necessarily mesh well with them, adding another layer of strategy that must be worked through.

The Cult Track – Image originally from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/1347066/terra-mystica

Aside from the scoring bonuses, the Cult Track (shown above) can be used to gain points at the end of the game. Many of the races in the game will start with 1 or 2 points in some of the tracks, and by assigning Priests to the 3/2/2/2 spots on the track, you can increase your reputation with one of the tracks, occasionally granting you some Power and otherwise granting 8 points at the end of the game for the player highest on a particular track, 4 for the 2nd highest and 2 for the 3rd. Some races are more easily able to raise their standing with the various Cults (such as the Auren, who can use their Stronghold ability to increase any one of the tracks 2 spots as an Action), others rely on building Temples or their Sanctuary to acquire Priests and Favor tiles, which will often allow bonus Cult actions. Additionally, each of the round bonus tiles mentioned earlier has a secondary end-of-turn bonus that relies on standing with the certain cult tracks, such as each 2 points on the Air track grants 1 Worker, every 4 points on the Earth track gives 1 free Dig action, etc…

Other than the scoring bonus tiles and Cult Tracks, there are two other ways to gain points that are both related to your groups of buildings; Towns and the end-of-game Network bonus. During gameplay, when a player builds a collection of at least 4 buildings whose total value is at least 7 (Dwellings count for 1, Trading Posts and Temples count as 2, Stronghold and Sanctuary count as 3) they may claim a Town tile from the supply. These Town tiles give a flat number of victory points, a Key (which is used to unlock the “10” spot at the top of each Cult Track) and may give some resources, be they Priests, Coins, Workers, etc… If a player builds their Sanctuary, however, they may form a Town around said Sanctuary with 3 buildings instead of 4, so long as the value of those buildings is still at least 7.

Lastly, at the end of the game, players are awarded points based on the size of their Network, which is the total number of their buildings that are directly (buildings built adjacent to each other) or indirectly connected (buildings that are not adjacent but are ‘connected’ via Shipping value). The largest Network grants 18 points, the 2nd largest grants 12 and the 3rd largest grants 6 points, with the points at any level being split evenly if there are any ties.

Fire & Ice Expansion

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play several of the new races introduced in the Fire & Ice expansion, I feel that it falls into the same category as the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion for Lords of Waterdeep – a must-have for anyone who knows and likes the base game and wants more. The 6 additional races introduce new mechanics as well as 2 new maps with additional end-game scoring bonuses, extending the enjoyment of an already-fantastic game by a wide margin.

While the game does not have any sort of combat, some of the new races can nonetheless be described as aggressive, namely the Dragonlords, who can expand faster than any other race in the game at the cost of permanently losing tokens from their Magic Power reserve, boxing their opponents in and forcing them to adapt and build in awkward ways that they are not used to, which is a breath of fresh air in a game that doesn’t even need it!

The Fire & Ice map has different landmasses – Image from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/2071235/terra-mystica-fire-ice

Wrap Up

To put it mildly, I love this game and I don’t see that changing any time soon. At a glance, the number of pieces and numerous boards may seem daunting, however once broken down into the 8 round actions, the gameplay actually becomes rather straight-forward and the mental aspect of the game really takes over and begins to shine. I’ve mentioned it a few times now, but the variety of races, scoring bonuses and round bonuses really do add a huge amount of replayability to the game, to the extent that you could play hundreds of games and not have the game feel stale or repetitive. Despite the weight of the box and the hundreds of pieces of wood and cardboard that come inside, Terra Mystica is a fantastic game and well worth your time.

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