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I. Introduction:

I have written a few reviews before, but none for a game I have played so often (at the time of this writing, 79 games in person and 61 online at terra.snellman.net). So it should come as no surprise that I really enjoy Terra Mystica (there, the cat is out of the bag). But instead of singing praise to the game and only highlighting what makes it so much fun for me, I will try to mainly focus on what kind of game Terra Mystica is, what its approaches and design choices are. Hopefully, that will give you an idea if it is the kind of game for you or not.
Afterwards, I will address some of the most common criticisms about the game and my answer to them.

Interspersed with the rest of the review will be what I call “The Journey”. Written in italics, this is my personal journey through the world of boardgames and how I have developed my tastes and buying habits, and how that is tied to Terra Mystica. If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, feel free to skip it.




A. The Journey - Part 1: The beginning

I always liked playing games. When I was a child, I played games like Sagaland (also known as Enchanted Forest), Scotland Yard, Survive/Escape from Atlantis, The aMAZEing Labyrinth and so on and loved them dearly. But once I heeded to the dark allure of video games at age 10 or 11, I neglected board games for almost 20 years. As a teenager, role-playing games entered my world and devoured my imagination. Magic: the Gathering got a claw hold on me and my wallet when I was 19, and it didn’t let go for many years.
Oh, sure, I played a few games of Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne or Munchkin in those years, but it wasn’t until 2009 that I rediscovered board games as more than just an okay-ish alternative to RPGs or Magic. The game that made me convert to the Boardgaming Church again? Dominion.

Now, this was *wonderful*. It had depth. It had replayability. It gave me the feeling that I got better at it the more I played it. It had almost infinite variability with its expansions thrown in. The fun I had with Dominion was only comparable to that I had had with Magic before. I was hooked. No, I was obsessed. And then, I heard that little voice inside my head for the first time: “There must be more!”, it whispered. “There must be a wonderful game, a perfect game, that you don’t know yet!”
So I listened to the voice. I started browsing the web for board games, and among other sites, I also found Boardgamegeek and its list of high-rated games. I was pleased to find Dominion so far up there - I think it was still in the Top 10 when I first checked the list. But I also saw there were other games up there, and I was curious. I tasted blood and I wanted more!




II. A very brief overview how the game plays:

I don’t want to bore you with a detailed rules explanation because that would be extremely long and because there are already so many out there, but without it, the rest of the review will be out of context. So let’s start with an overview!

In Terra Mystica, each player plays a faction (witches, dwarves, halflings, chaos magicians, etc.) that tries to spread out in a fantasy land. The shared map features hexes of different terrain types (lakes, mountains, forests, …). Each player starts with (usually) 2 dwellings placed on the map and can only build new ones adjacent to their existing buildings. Since each faction can only build structures on their home terrain, you can terraform the land and then place new dwellings.

The game is played over 6 rounds. At the start of each round, everybody gets their income based on how many and what kind of buildings they already built. Dwellings give more workers; if you upgrade them to trading posts, those earn you money and power (see below); and for temples, you get priests as income. Players then take turns doing exactly one of several available actions. You can terraform a hex, build a new dwelling, upgrade one of your existing buildings to a more powerful one (which will return your previous building to your tableau), send priests to a cult track for certain bonuses, improve your ability to terraform land or your ability to cross rivers. Building a temple or sanctuary grants you a favour tile. Favour tiles generate additional income or points and advance you on the cult tracks.
When a player doesn’t want to or cannot take an action anymore, s/he passes while the others continue taking actions. The first player to pass becomes the starting player in the next round.

In addition to coins, workers and priests, there is an additional resource called power. Power chits go around in three bowels. You can only spend power that is in the third bowel, and by spending it, the chits go back into the first bowel. You gain power when other players build next to you or when you reach certain steps on the cult tracks, and you can exchange it for other resources or use it for special actions that are only available once per round for all players.

At the start of the game, scoring tiles are randomly drawn for each round. So you know in advance that, for example, round 2 gives all players bonus points for building new dwellings, round 3 gives bonus points for upgrading to a stronghold or sanctuary, and round 4 gives bonus points for terraforming.
Also randomly drawn are bonus tiles with additional income, special actions, or bonus points. The players take these bonus tiles for one round and return them at the end of it, picking up a new available tile for the next round.

At the end of the game, there are two end game scorings: the three players who built the most connected structures get bonus points, as do those who went highest on each of the four cult tracks. Whoever has the most points is the winner!

There are 14 factions in the game, two for each of the seven terrain types. Every faction has their own unique ability and unlocks another ability or one-time effect once they build their stronghold. For example, the Nomads start with three dwellings instead of the normal two, and their stronghold lets them turn any adjacent hex into desert once per round; the Alchemists can convert points into money; Darklings have to terraform with the more valuable priests instead of workers, but they get points for doing so; and Chaos Magicians only start with one dwelling, but they get two favour tiles instead of one when they build a temple.



III. So, how does it play and what does it feel like?

Length and complexity:
At first, the game can feel a bit overwhelming with its many possible actions, rules and different faction powers (which often act as exceptions to rules). The actions themselves aren’t complicated or difficult, there are just a lot of them and it is hard at first to maintain a good overview. It is also easy to forget one of the many little details. Teaching the game will take about 30-45 minutes.
Playing it can also be a long experience; 25-35 minutes per experienced player is realistic, but be warned: Terra Mystica has no randomness during the game at all. There are no dice rolls or card draws, the game is completely deterministic. In my experience, this leads to people thinking longer about their moves because they are able to calculate more accurately. Without randomness, there is less of a “let’s see how this works out”-attitude towards a game, so be warned that players prone to analysis paralysis can turn Terra Mystica into a 4 hour game (5 with a rules explanation), especially if they are new to the game.

Rules and components:
To be honest, both of these categories are not something I prioritize in games. As long as the gameplay is engaging and I eventually know how play, I can forgive shortcomings. I mean, I think whoever wrote the rulebook for Mice and Mystics should be poked with a stick repeatedly, and Agricola's is pretty messy, too, but the games are fine.
In Terra Mystica's case, the rulebook is intimidating with its 20 pages, but it is well-structured and rather clear. The player aids that show the available actions are practical, and the iconography is clear. The player boards are especially well done in my mind, representing the possible actions, costs and special powers.
There is a lot of wood in the box – the buildings for each faction are thick, sturdy, and colourful. The boards, coins and tiles are made of solid, robust cardboard. Each faction board features a nice piece of artwork, and the map achieves a good balance of being reasonably pretty while remaining functional first and foremost.

Building up and competing with your opponents:
Terra Mystica is a Euro game through and through. It to is about gaining victory points and optimizing your moves. It is somewhat reminiscent of Hansa Teutonica in that it has a shared map and feels like a reverse-tableau-builder where you actually remove pieces from your tableau and add them to the map. Removing pieces from your tableau unlocks more income which makes building doubly satisfying - you see your faction spreading out over the land and you know you will have more income in the future.
There is no way of directly attacking other players. You can try to lock them in by surrounding their buildings with your own, but you can’t steal their resources or tear their buildings down.
The game is also heavily geared towards doing what is best for you. It is very hard to actually target a specific opponent and directly play against him/her. If you decide to fight somebody for the same spots on the map, you will usually hurt yourself and that opponent, with the other players reaping the rewards because you two lost a lot of resources.
Also, there is almost no table talk in terms of negotiating or forming alliances with other players. You definitely play the game, not your opponents.

Snowballing and the importance of a good start:
Terra Mystica is an economic snowball game - the more you build, the more income you get so you can build more which leads to more income which lets you build more which… you get the idea. This means that the game is heavily frontloaded. The earlier decisions are a lot more important than the later ones. In fact, the most important decisions are the ones you make before the actual game starts: which faction you play and where you set your starting buildings.
As a result, Terra Mystica lends itself to theorycrafting about openings. It kind of feels like a game of Dominion where you look at the setup and then start thinking which strategy you want to employ and which cards you need when. After a few games of Terra Mystica, you will undoubtedly start thinking along the lines of “Well, there are extra points for spades in round 4 and bonus tiles contain few coins, so Alchemists seem like a good bet, but the bonus tile with points for the stronghold isn’t there and Bob sitting to my right already took the Halflings who are likely to steal my black terrains, so maybe I should choose somebody else…” before you even actually start playing. I love toying with these ideas based on the random setup, and these thoughts are one of my favourite parts of the game, but it’s definitely not for everybody.
A little anecdote to underline the importance of these first decisions: I once played a game with less experienced players where I could tell I would win even before I took my first action. The way the others had positioned themselves and their first actions told me all I had to know, and I ended up winning by over 30 points.
Consequentially, a player can be effectively out of contention from the very beginning. I wouldn’t say that you can win the game in round 1, but you can definitely lose it if you screw up, and there is no catch-up mechanism to help you in that case. Now, I often dislike “rich become richer” games that can basically eliminate you early on. It’s the reason why I had one of the worst gaming experiences of my life with Relic, and the reason why I consider Settlers (I refuse to call it Catan, everybody I know always calls it Settlers) fun but flawed. But I don’t mind it in Terra Mystica (or Caylus, for that matter) because there is no luck involved. If I can’t win anymore after the first few turns in Terra Mystica, it’s not because I rolled some bad dice or drew an unlucky hand of cards, it’s because I made poor decisions. If the game punishes me for that, I’m fine with it. For me, that’s a motivation to improve the next time!

Scoring points:
Many Euro games spend their first half for creating an engine and their second half for reaping points with said engine. Terra Mystica is a little different. While there are two endgame scorings that people are going for, most of the points are gathered via the round scoring tiles for doing certain actions like building new dwellings or forming towns. Since these are known in advance, you have to plan accordingly, and here is an important layer of strategy: You usually cannot fulfill all round scorings to a maximum, so you have to compromise. The game presents you with a road full of points, and you steer your plays in such a way that you try to drive on that road as often and as long as possible.
This, again, underlines the importance of forming a strategy at the very start of the game. You should have a plan when you want to ignore the round scoring and when you want to follow it to a maximum.

Strategy and tactics:
I repeatedly said how important it is to have a plan before your very first action. You should have good reasons for picking a faction and for choosing your starting locations, and you should have an idea what to do in which round. There is no doubt that Terra Mystica is first and foremost a strategy game where the mere setup of the game invites players to do all kind of theorycrafting. Again, this is something I love, but if that’s not your cup of tea, the game may very well fall flat for you.
Unfortunately, the other players might throw a wrench at you, so you also need to be able to adapt if things don’t turn out your way. The game mechanisms offer a very delicate balance: on the one hand, you want to stay close to your opponents because you can leech power (a very important resource) from your neighbours and because building trading posts next to other players is cheaper. On the other hand, you are fighting for the landscape and need to watch out that you don’t get cut off or boxed in. As a result, you often have to improvise and deviate from your original plan. This tactical nature becomes more important as you get more familiar with the game. In the first few games, most people will be busy with all the options they have for themselves, but once you start looking at the other player boards, predicting their moves and watching their resource piles, you will see that the game offers plenty in terms of tactics and positioning as well.

Competitiveness:
If you couldn’t already tell by the above paragraphs, Terra Mystica can be a very competitive game. It is not something you simply enjoy over a beer and some candy with a lot of table talk; it requires your full attention through the sheer number of rules and options. If thorough planning, calculating and optimizing your moves don’t sound like fun to you, avoid this game at all costs, as this is where it draws its fun from. As Terra Mystica is a perfect information game, players who plan carefully and correctly calculate their opponent’s plays have a significant advantage. Experienced players will crush newbies, which means they might score 120-80. Even new players will have built a lot and collected quite a few points, it’s not as demoralizing as, say, Agricola where you could end up with a negative score. But still, be prepared to lose by a large margin if your first play is against veterans.
For me, Terra Mystica achieves a great balance between depth and accessibility. There is a lot to take in at first, but you quickly see the progress in your thought process. After 5 plays, you have found out what works and what doesn’t; after 10, you are confident and hardly ever make truly bad plays anymore. Still, if you want to dive deeper, you can still learn something new after your 50th game.
The game can also be played online for free at www.terra.snellman.net. If you are a competitive person and tournament play interests you, there is even a league system going on there that, at the time of this writing (July 2016), has almost 1000 participants from around the globe.

Replayability:
For those who embrace the cult of the new, high replayability might not be an important factor, but I weigh this very highly. I enjoy learning new games, but when I truly love a game, I want to keep playing it over and over, and I need something fresh each game to keep the sense of discovery alive. Compared to other games with variable setup, Terra Mystica has relatively few moving parts - only the round scoring tiles and the bonus tiles are randomized. The big factor here are the 14 factions that all have their little perks. Perhaps surprisingly, changing even one single round scoring or bonus tile can shift your preference towards one faction or the other. Something seemingly insignificant like the presence or absence of a certain bonus tile, player order or the home terrain of your opponents can change your desired starting position on the map, so the games never truly feel the same.
Regarding the factions, some are easier on new players than others, and the balance isn’t perfect, but I will address this further below.



B. The Journey - Part 2: Rediscovery

My sister-in-law and her husband are indirectly responsible for me being on this site. They were into boardgames before me - though not as heavily as I am now -, and they had a nice collection of the revered games that I only read about on the web before. We don’t see each other often as we live more than 600 km apart, but shortly after I fell in love with Dominion, we visited them, and then I saw Puerto Rico on their shelf. I knew it had been the number one rated game on BGG for several years, so that voice in my head naturally yelled at me “Play it! Play it now!” So I just had to ask my wife, her sister and her husband if we could play it.
We did, and I really enjoyed it. It didn’t blow me away like Dominion did, but I could see its appeal and its multitude of strategies. I understood why it was loved so much.
Another game on their shelf called out to me and seduced whatever spirit possessed the back of my head. So the next day, I asked for a game of Caylus, and I liked that even better than Puerto Rico! It was my first exposure to worker placement, and I was awed by its elegance and possibilities.
You all know how it went on: I wanted to play all those revered games out there, I wanted to find out what great mechanics are in them and how much fun they are. I bought lots of games just because they looked interesting or had a positive review. I learned that I lean towards Euro games, but enjoyed other games, too. And always, that little voice told me to play more, to learn more, to have more, to continue searching for the apotheosis of board games.




IV. Common criticisms and my reply to them:

Terra Mystica is very popular game, but like every other game, there are people who dislike it, and that is fine. They often have good reasons for their dislike as Terra Mystica will certainly not cater to all tastes. I don't get all of the complaints, though.
Here are some of the most often-heard reasons why people dislike the game and my take on them.

There is no theme.
I guess I can see the complaint here. While it’s nice and logical that Mermaids live in lakes or Fakirs live in the desert, or that trading posts save money if you have somebody next to them to trade with, the map layout itself with its randomly scattered terrains doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it also seems strange that the players/factions know in advance in which round (year maybe?) the most points are collected. Maybe the round points are awarded by the gods, and there were prophecies so the factions know when the gods would like to see… a stronghold being built? A spade being used to transform the land? Yeah, it’s a stretch.
But seriously, which Euro game doesn’t have thematic inconsistencies like this? Why do you have to throw goods away in Puerto Rico when a Captain comes along, though you can store them for all eternity as long as nobody picks Captain? Why can’t you have sex in Agricola when somebody else already does? Why can you defend your province in Shogun or Wallenstein with 2 armies, but when the dust settles, you have 3 surviving armies?
One aspect I particularly like about the theme is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The artworks and descriptive texts in the rulebook are quite funny and match the powers of the factions. Terra Mystica is definitely a game driven by its mechanics, and I like the little nods the designers made to make it clear that they tweaked the theme a bit to make the mechanics work instead of the other way around.

Verdict: Terra Mystica definitely prioritizes mechanics over theme, but I don’t think the theme is weaker than in most other Euro games.


The factions are unbalanced.
This is actually true, but often blown way out of proportion in my mind. If you look at the stats (found at the great online implementation at terra.snellman.net), you quickly come to the conclusion that Fakirs suck and Darklings rock. But it’s not quite as simple as that.
First, it’s not like picking the right or wrong faction decides the game. The game has so many options, so many opportunities to make good plays or bad ones, that player skill is by far the most important factor in determining a winner. Considering how complex the game is and how different the factions are, I think the designers did a remarkable job to balance the factions as well as they have.
Looking closer at the statistics, it is revealed that the Darklings are not nearly as good among the best players, so maybe they are just easier to do well with than other factions. Also, several factions like Alchemists or Giants need a rather specific setup in order to be competitive, while others such as Nomads or, yes, Darklings are flexible and resilient enough to do well almost regardless of the setup.
As an anecdotal aside, I have seen all kinds of complaints both online and in person when the game came out. The manager of my FLGS complained that the Halflings always win, and there was a thread here on BGG that complained about the weakness of the Darklings (!). Giants were considered the worst faction by far at the beginning; I have read complaints about Swarmlings being extremely hard to beat; Engineers were supposed to be unplayable. A player at a local meetup insisted on always playing Fakirs because of their strength. So, it really seems that at least for the first 10 or maybe 20 games, a lot of a faction’s strength comes down to playstyle.
Finally, there is the question if factions are actually supposed to be perfectly balanced. I would answer “yes” to this question, but some people make a case that this helps leveling the playing field when an expert plays with beginners.
I will concede that the expansion factions as printed are really off the charts. The balancing is horrible there, but I consider the base game fine as it is - not perfect, but fine.

Verdict: The factions are indeed unbalanced, but it’s not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. Terra Mystica is still a game of skill first and foremost.


The opening is scripted.
After a few games (or after reading a strategy article about it), it becomes clear that some spaces are more viable as starting locations than others. Also, the goals for the first round are usually: a) build a temple, b) build a stronghold, or c) build a lot of dwellings. Option c) is only available to a few factions and not always advisable or doable, so a) and b) are the big ones. And of those, your choice usually depends on your faction - Giants and Swarmlings will always go for the stronghold while Dwarves, Halflings or Darklings will always choose the temple (and will almost always take the same favor tile, the one that gets you 2 points for every new dwelling). So I can see the complaint here.
First, I don’t think it’s as bad as it sounds. Depending on player order and chosen bonus tiles, I have seen very different board states at the end of round 1 even if the same factions started in the same places.
Second, and more importantly, I feel the complaint is kind of looking at the game the wrong way. The opening of the game starts at the faction selection, not at the first upgrade or the first new dwelling. By selecting a certain faction and placing your first dwellings in their spots, you are already executing your strategy. The actual actions only continue said strategy.
I will concede that the strength of the favor tile that grants you 2 points per new dwelling is a little annoying. You get a favor tile when you build a temple, and since there are only 3 copies of every tile, the fourth player to build a temple may not get this tile anymore. The game can be won without it, and it isn’t always the best favor tile - but it is the best one often enough that it can feel a bit same-y.

Verdict: Depending on round bonuses, factions, and initial positioning, there are several viable openings, especially if you consider faction selection and initial placement as part of the opening.


The map is too big for 2 players.
Almost everyone agrees that Terra Mystica loses a lot of its appeal if you only play it with 2. Lots of people blame the static map that is just too big and open for 2 players, as there is less danger of getting boxed in and less competition for land. While true, I disagree that this is the main problem and I don’t think that a smaller map, as sometimes proposed, would help.
You see, a lot of points are given out to the players who are first, second or third on each of the 4 cult tracks and in the area scoring (who has the most connected buildings) at the end of the game. If playing with 2, you already secured 2nd place in everything, so the differences in these categories aren’t as big. With more players, there is more incentive to fight for a 2nd or 3rd place even if it seems someone already has the first place secured. More players just lead to more fights and more tension.
By the way: I go with the majority opinion that 4 players is ideal, but 3 or 5 is almost as great.

Verdict: While I agree that Terra Mystica is not the best 2 player game, shrinking the map doesn’t help with that. Instead, it’s a problem inherent to the “the best 3 in each category get bonus points” mechanic.


The cult tracks feel tacked on.
There is a lot going on in Terra Mystica, and many people feel like streamlining the game would improve it. The most common complaint regards the cult tracks. They seem like a race track that is disconnected to the rest of the game that is just there for points. I actually never quite understood this complaint. At the end of the round, you can get a bonus if you achieved a certain spot on the cult tracks, and these bonuses can be very important, especially at the beginning of the game. Also, you get additional power. It's not much and seems innocuous, but in a game so focused on optimizing and squeezing out the last tiny bit of advantage, every little resource counts.
The fight for the positions on the cult tracks also offer a source of player interaction, with a lof of thinking along the lines “if you go there, I go there, but if I do this you will do that instead” going on.

Verdict: While I agree that Terra Mystica isn't exactly elegant with its amount of moving parts, I don't see the cult track as superfluous at all.


It is multiplayer solitaire.
Sometimes, it seems like every game where you can’t directly attack your opponent is blamed of “having no player interaction”. In the case of Terra Mystica, I strongly disagree. There is a lot of competition for key hexes, power actions, or cult slots. You often face the dilemma of either wanting to build more to advance your infrastructure or wanting to pass early in order to get a certain bonus tile or to become start player next round. Often, two players will try to postpone passing as long as possible because both want the other player’s current bonus tile.
Yes, the interaction is all indirect, but watching your opponents and guessing their current plans is crucial to winning. The order in which you do your actions can have a huge influence on the game’s progress.
I suppose this criticism is usually voiced by people who haven’t played Terra Mystica many times. For your first few games, it’s hard to keep track of all your options, and it can seem like what the others are doing rarely affects you. But when you start planning further ahead and looking at the other player boards, you realize that their plans actually do affect you a lot more than you thought.

Verdict: There is a lot of indirect interaction, more than in most other Euros. Timing and positioning are absolutely key.


Once you picked your plan, the game is just going on rails.
This criticism is linked to the “multiplayer solitaire” complaint. Terra Mystica has been compared to Dominion in a way: The setup is random, and after taking a good, sharp look at the puzzle the game presents in this iteration, you just pick a plan and then execute it. I already said that I generally agree with this point of view and that this is something I love about the game.
But while you can form a strategy in Dominion before the game starts and never steer off the track, Terra Mystica is different in a number of ways: First, no two players can take the exact same strategy due to the different factions and their starting positions. Second, the available tools (bonus tiles) will change from round to round, so you can’t plan out everything. Most importantly, players will face conflict on the shared map. You have to react to your opponents’ actions and need to adapt your strategy.

Verdict: It’s true that the game is heavily frontloaded, but you have to adjust your plan and react to the game state.



V. Conclusion:

Even if you haven’t read the above paragraphs, it should be quite obvious that I love Terra Mystica - after all, a minimum of 10 plays is required before writing a “voice of experience” review, and who would play a 2-4 hour game so often if they didn’t like it? But even though it is one of my favourite games, I can understand why it’s not for everyone. I tried addressing some of the major criticisms towards the game above, and here is my take on it in a nutshell:

You will probably LIKE Terra Mystica if:
- you enjoy mechanic-driven heavy Euros.
- you like variable player powers.
- you like optimization, calculation and analyzing of changing board states.
- you enjoy coming up with a strategy at the very start of the game, but are okay with changing it during the game if necessary.
- you like luck-free games without randomness.
- you enjoy tactical positioning and outmaneuvering your opponents indirectly.
- you have fun in building an empire and watching it grow, creating more and more income.
- you like lots of colourful wooden bits.

You will probably NOT LIKE Terra Mystica if:
- you care about a strong theme that is well-represented in the mechanics.
- you want a gentle beginning, with the consequence-loaded decisions coming later in the game.
- you prefer elegance with few rules.
- you prefer tactics over strategy.
- you like negotiation, forming alliances or haggling during the game.
- you enjoy some randomness and/or want a catch-up mechanism.
- you want multiple very different strategies to a given setup to be equally viable.
- you want to directly attack other players.
- you want the different factions to be perfectly balanced, or have all of them viable in any given setup.


There is also an expansion called Fire and Ice. It offers six more factions, a new map, and new endgame scoring tiles. The gameplay itself doesn't change, so the expansion mostly offers even more variety (of which the base game has plenty already). In my mind, the expansion isn't necessary until you got at least 20 plays out of the base game. Also, the expansion factions, while fun, aren't well balanced as printed. Only get it if you love the base game and eventually feel that it got a little stale.

So, that’s it! If you haven’t played Terra Mystica already, I hope you will now have an idea if it’s worth checking out or not. Thanks for reading.



C. The Journey - Part 3: At the end of the road

Slowly, I realized that there are lots games I like but don’t love, and that my time is precious enough that I usually only play those games I love dearly. There is nothing wrong with a good game, but I’d rather play a great one instead. So I bought fewer games, and I switched to a practice of “try before you buy” for new games. New games had to either offer something my collection didn’t have yet, or be straight up better than those already on my shelf.
So my buying spree slowed down, but that didn’t stop me from researching new games. Shortly before my trip to Essen in 2012, I read a review of a game called Terra Mystica on Hall9000, a German boardgaming site. I liked what I read and decided to give it a try in Essen.
When I sat down in Essen for a demo game of Terra Mystica, explained by the designer Helge Ostertag himself, I very quickly realized that I was about to experience something special. In the one hour demo game, we only finished 2 of the 6 rounds of the game, but I had seen enough to know that I wanted this. And once I had it, it kept getting more and more fun the more I played it. I became addicted. I was constantly thinking about savvy strategies and optimal openings, and whenever I finished a game, I spent the next hours, sometimes even days thinking about how it played out and what I could have done better. Terra Mystica was the first thing I thought of when I woke up. When I laid down in the evening and closed my eyes, sleep wouldn’t come because my brain kept wondering if I should have picked a different faction or passed a turn earlier in my last game.
I could go on and on how Terra Mystica is a great game because it offers variable player powers, a randomized setup for replayability, or fierce indirect player interaction by fighting for position either on the map or in turn order. I could talk about how all of these parts make the game so special and wonderful. But many other games also do all that and more. These are not the reasons why Terra Mystica is so special to me, why it is one of my few 10-rated games.
The reason is that I feel my journey is over. That little voice in the back of my head is gone. I no longer feel obligated to try out every promising game in the vague hope that I might find the perfect game. Terra Mystica *is* the perfect game for me. Playing it gives me a feeling of coming home, of relaxing on my very own private island in the vast sea of boardgames. Whenever I sit down and play Terra Mystica, I still have a smile on my face and enjoy it immensely.
I feel obligated to say that the wonder has worn off a bit. I no longer am as obsessed as I used to be. But if it took me almost 80 face-to-face and 60 online plays of a game that takes 2-4 hours before I could say that, I say that I got my money’s worth.



EDIT: Changed all instances of "races" to "factions" to keep it consistent. Thanks to DocCool for pointing this out.
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Phil Triest
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Not a fan of this one at all. It really is one of those polarizing games. Enjoyed the review though. Well done! I like how you mentioned two play not working. Very very true and is another example of honesty should come before marketing
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Robert
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Beautiful article - thanks for this labor of love!
Trantor42 wrote:
I was constantly thinking about savvy strategies and optimal openings, and whenever I finished a game, I spent the next hours, sometimes even days thinking about how it played out and what I could have done better. Terra Mystica was the first thing I thought of when I woke up. When I laid down in the evening and closed my eyes, sleep wouldn’t come because my brain kept wondering if I should have picked a different faction or passed a turn earlier in my last game.
Now it's clear to me why I'll probably never raise much above a 1200 rating.
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HenningK
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DocCool wrote:
Beautiful article - thanks for this labor of love!
Trantor42 wrote:
I was constantly thinking about savvy strategies and optimal openings, and whenever I finished a game, I spent the next hours, sometimes even days thinking about how it played out and what I could have done better. Terra Mystica was the first thing I thought of when I woke up. When I laid down in the evening and closed my eyes, sleep wouldn’t come because my brain kept wondering if I should have picked a different faction or passed a turn earlier in my last game.
Now it's clear to me why I'll probably never raise much above a 1200 rating.


Eh, I'm at 1243 right now, so this obsession doesn't get you much further anyway.
Thanks for your kind words!
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jbrier
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The review itself is excellent- it conveys so well what the game is about. But I also immensely enjoyed reading the personal narrative, which I found so relatable. You are a very good writer; I hope you do more reviews!
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Skylar Wolphe
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Great write up, I really enjoyed reading all of it. I personally disagree on it being a bad 2 player game though, but I see where people are coming from when they say that.

While strategically it's not as great as when it's 4 players, it's still one of my fiance's and my favorite games to play with each other. The most important choices for playing the game are made before the first round, and you still get to make those with two players, just not to the same extent.
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Robert
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Skarmy wrote:
I personally disagree on it being a bad 2 player game though, but I see where people are coming from when they say that.
I don't read Henning's text as calling TM a "bad 2p game", just "not the best 2p game", because it "loses a lot of its appeal if you only play it with 2." And it does, but like you wrote, it's still tremendously enjoyable.
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Great review! Personal and objective at the same time.
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Excellent and surprisingly 'objective' review considering it's written by a real fan.

As much as I want to like this game, reading the review makes it rather clear that this probably simply isn't for me.
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Matthias Reitberger
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DocCool wrote:
Skarmy wrote:
I personally disagree on it being a bad 2 player game though, but I see where people are coming from when they say that.
I don't read Henning's text as calling TM a "bad 2p game", just "not the best 2p game", because it "loses a lot of its appeal if you only play it with 2." And it does, but like you wrote, it's still tremendously enjoyable.


For me it's worse with 3 players. It can get very asymmetric concearning leech and adjacency as well as faction selection.

With 2 players it's just a diffrent game where maximization of your own game is as good as minimizing your opponents score.
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Phil Hendrickson
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Brilliant review, Henning! Well done!

Like you, Terra Mystica is my favorite game. Also like you, I completely disagree with the criticism that the cult track is unnecessary. It is not unusual for large games like this to have several sub-parts to manage. (Mombasa is another fine example.) Sometimes the relationships between these parts is subtle, but managing the whole by managing the interaction of the sub-parts is the way to ultimate success. It is not intended to be simple; planning is crucial.

I found it funny that you felt so strongly about the favor tile for two points when building dwellings. I don't know that I have ever taken that tile, yet I have won many times (13 of 22 games). I guess my play style is to take favors that give action benefits rather than points.

What I enjoy most is exploring the different approaches that can be taken by combining different factions with different favor tiles, plus the varying setup of round bonuses and passing tiles. Each game is a unique and fresh challenge.

Your post was very enjoyable to read. Thank you for sharing it!
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Peter D
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Quote:
"the favor tile that grants you 2 points per new dwelling is a little annoying. "


I often wonder if this should be only 1 point. I have played it that way when everyone is agreeable to do so and it works very well.
 
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DrumPhil wrote:
I found it funny that you felt so strongly about the favor tile for two points when building dwellings. I don't know that I have ever taken that tile, yet I have won many times (13 of 22 games). I guess my play style is to take favors that give action benefits rather than points.
I reckon that your impressive win ratio is not so much due to you not taking the Earth 1 favor, but rather due to being a better TM player than your opponents. Between almost-equals, this favor has proven to be one of the best. Yet a great player will likely win against less-enlightened players even when he purposefully abstains from this favor.
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duckworp wrote:
Quote:
"the favor tile that grants you 2 points per new dwelling is a little annoying. "


I often wonder if this should be only 1 point. I have played it that way when everyone is agreeable to do so and it works very well.


I guess that's way too much nerf. This would trim down the ~20-26 vp by the favor taken early to ~10-13vp - which is always less than fav10 (3vp per trading post). Fav10 is already no good favor to pick right at the start.
A "half fav11" would only be good to score a few points in the second half of the game and only if you already own the other scoring favors.

For most factions taking an economical favor early (e.g. +3 coins) instead of fav11 is already worth considering.

I would estimate that the perfect amount of victory points per dwelling would be something in the range of 1.6...1.8 (effectivly in the 2-5 points nerf range) - which is of course not possible.
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Ivan
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Great review! It was interesting to read.
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I *want* to like this game. My group loves it and plays it every week. But it just doesn't hit the sweet spot for me.

Part of the challenge is looking at the setup conditions and choosing a faction accordingly -- some players look at the setup and say 'ah this is a Mermaids game', while I'm mystified. You have to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the factions by trial and error playing a lot of games -- you can't just create a 'theory of factions' just by knowing about their specialties.

To my mind, it tests your ability to create a decision tree in your mind based on the initial conditions. The better able you are to create and navigate this decision tree, the more likely you are to win. So it is semi-deterministic -- I take the point that it is not 100% parallel solitaire but it is close enough to being like that.

If building and navigating mental decision trees for 3 hours floats your boat, then this is totally for you! But my boat remains firmly moored, sadly. It's a pity, because the aesthetics of the game are beautiful.
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robscovell wrote:
To my mind, it tests your ability to create a decision tree in your mind based on the initial conditions. The better able you are to create and navigate this decision tree, the more likely you are to win. So it is semi-deterministic -- I take the point that it is not 100% parallel solitaire but it is close enough to being like that.

You're of course building a decision tree, that's right.
As Terra Mystica is a very complex and demanding game, probably everybody will somehow be overchallegend to do everything well in the first games.
A very beginner will probably just try to build this decision tree, but quite quickly he'll notice that his fellow friends have shattered his fragile and incomplete tree - either because they just want the same stuff, or because they just discovered that they can actually be mean.
An advanced player knows about this and he'll start looking at what his opponents do more often, to prevent harm before it can happen.
An expert player will actually recognize patterns and build a most likely decision tree for each player, check the whole system for consistency and adjust his own decisions (which actions in which order and at which speed) based on what every other player will want to achieve. This kind of decision making is very much like Chess and definitly not solitaire anymore.

Think of a extreme beginner chess player who just moves his own tokens while sometimes looking at where the opponent's king is. Maybe a little kid playing chess with grandpa, that's not really a interactive game, isn't it? But as TM has much more complex rules as Chess, most gamers will probably start at this level in TM.
A slightly advanced Chess player will look at his opponents options and try to save his own tokens.
A good chess players will plan his opponent's turns ahead, check what he can or can't achieve, what players would usually do in this situation and play accordingly.
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SpaceTrucker wrote:

An expert player will actually recognize patterns and build a most likely decision tree for each player, check the whole system for consistency and adjust his own decisions (which actions in which order and at which speed) based on what every other player will want to achieve. This kind of decision making is very much like Chess and definitly not solitaire anymore.


It's interesting you should say that -- one of the expert players in our group lost a game because of a dumb noob move I made that shattered the decision tree he had constructed in his mind for my most rational plays. "Hmmm I didn't expect you to do that!" It was that comment that made me realise that his plans relied on my acting rationally at all times.
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robscovell wrote:
SpaceTrucker wrote:

An expert player will actually recognize patterns and build a most likely decision tree for each player, check the whole system for consistency and adjust his own decisions (which actions in which order and at which speed) based on what every other player will want to achieve. This kind of decision making is very much like Chess and definitly not solitaire anymore.


It's interesting you should say that -- one of the expert players in our group lost a game because of a dumb noob move I made that shattered the decision tree he had constructed in his mind for my most rational plays. "Hmmm I didn't expect you to do that!" It was that comment that made me realise that his plans relied on my acting rationally at all times.

Yeah, of course. If the opponent just does *something*, then it's impossible to predict his actions - in extreme cases this of course lessens the interaction.

But even in high-level tournament play games will often evolve differently than expected, players will make smarter, more unconventional or simply worse moves than you expected and you'll have to adopt.
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Robert
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In a 2p game, if your opponent makes a dumb sub-optimal move, you will benefit even if you didn't expect the move. Unfortunately, that may be not the case in a 3p/4p/5p game as you may suffer while the third/fourth/fifth player rejoice.
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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Thank you for this review - I learned a few new things about this game from it. I've been browsing games on BGG looking for possible next buys and I read through your review of this game because of the title's mention of addressing common criticisms. Fan reviews may give me some helpful information or not, but critical reviews are almost always giving me some interesting insight, so I tend to give those priority.

I have to say that some of your arguments are not very convincing. I may not have played the game yet, but I just don't see your arguments addressing the important part of several of the criticisms you mentioned. In one case, you actually confirm the criticism and just provide an argument against a popular fix suggestion!

Let me go through each of the defenses that I found unconvincing:

Trantor42 wrote:

There is no theme.
...
But seriously, which Euro game doesn’t have thematic inconsistencies like this?


Well, I think it's not a question of whether other Euros have thematic inconsistencies, as all have some, but about what is the cost/benefit of these inconsistencies.

For example, in Puerto Rico, I don't even have to go to the inconsistency in the Captain action. I can pick the core mechanic of the game and wonder why all players have to play the same role as the leading player. That makes no sense to me from any thematic standpoint. But it's a core mechanic that creates interesting situations, so I'm willing to pay the inconsistency cost to get the interestingness benefit.

On the other hand, in Agricola, I can't find any reason for why only one family can have sex at a time (well, I could find one, but not one that would make me appreciate the game more), but I also can't find any big benefit to the game from this choice. Sure, it makes things tougher for players, but there are more elegant ways to do that.

So I don't think these situations are similar. And since you compared them both to Terra Mystica, it makes me wonder where TM falls - is it contrived like Puerto Rico or contrived like Agricola?

Trantor42 wrote:

The factions are unbalanced.
...
The game has so many options, so many opportunities to make good plays or bad ones, that player skill is by far the most important factor in determining a winner.
...
Verdict: The factions are indeed unbalanced, but it’s not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. Terra Mystica is still a game of skill first and foremost.


I think the important question that needs to be addressed here is: how fun is this game when it is played by players of similar skill? Is the imbalance significant enough to impact such games or not?

Saying that skill matters doesn't say a lot. You can say it about Tic-Tac-Toe. What matters is whether players of similar skill find the game balanced or not.

Again, I cannot tell whether this is the case for TM or not, but this is what needs to be addressed on this topic.

Trantor42 wrote:

The map is too big for 2 players.
Almost everyone agrees that Terra Mystica loses a lot of its appeal if you only play it with 2.
...
Verdict: While I agree that Terra Mystica is not the best 2 player game, shrinking the map doesn’t help with that.


So, basically, this is a criticism you agree with. Now, maybe this goes without saying, but I was surprised because I would have expected you to separate the criticisms you find valid from those that you do not.

Trantor42 wrote:

The cult tracks feel tacked on.
...
Verdict: While I agree that Terra Mystica isn't exactly elegant with its amount of moving parts, I don't see the cult track as superfluous at all.


This one feels like a partial confirmation followed by a strawman argument. What is tacked on may not be superfluous, but that doesn't mean it's not tacked on.

"Tacked on" can mean a quick solution thrown together to fix a problem. It won't be superfluous because it's fixing something, but it's not well thought and integrated either ("not exactly elegant" as you put it), so it can be called "tacked on".

Trantor42 wrote:

Once you picked your plan, the game is just going on rails.
...
But while you can form a strategy in Dominion before the game starts and never steer off the track, Terra Mystica is different in a number of ways: First, no two players can take the exact same strategy due to the different factions and their starting positions. Second, the available tools (bonus tiles) will change from round to round, so you can’t plan out everything. Most importantly, players will face conflict on the shared map. You have to react to your opponents’ actions and need to adapt your strategy.


This also feels like an ineffective rebuttal of the criticism.

"No two players can take the exact same strategy" - well, they can go on rails following different strategies too.

"You can't plan out everything" - well, this doesn't exclude the possibility that something/someone else lays down the rails for you. Being in reaction mode means you don't have the liberty to act and you can only react - you are effectively being on rails when that happens.

There are a few more criticisms that you addressed that I either cannot find fault with or that I can agree with, so I didn't mention them.

Hope this helps.
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Trantor42 wrote:
In addition to coins, workers and priests, there is an additional resource called power. Power chits go around in three bowels. You can only spend power that is in the third bowel, and by spending it, the chits go back into the first bowel. You gain power when other players build next to you or when you reach certain steps on the cult tracks, and you can exchange it for other resources or use it for special actions that are only available once per round for all players.

TIL that power in Terra Mystica is actually an euphemism for digestion? I'll have to chew my cud on that one for a while.
 
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Laurentiu wrote:

So I don't think these situations are similar. And since you compared them both to Terra Mystica, it makes me wonder where TM falls - is it contrived like Puerto Rico or contrived like Agricola?


Personally I do not care too much about flavor and not at all about consistency regarding it.
In any case I think your perceived difference in quality is subjective, to me all three games offer some (limited) flavor, but more importantly all three are very good to superb. But at the end of the day TM and Agricola are still significantly better than PR for my taste, as the latter is a bit too simple to compete with the depth and replay value of the other two.
Of course you rate Agricola a 2 while I consider it (at least with Moorbauern expansion) one of the other best games evah next to TM, so your preferences might just be very different

Laurentiu wrote:

I think the important question that needs to be addressed here is: how fun is this game when it is played by players of similar skill? Is the imbalance significant enough to impact such games or not?

Saying that skill matters doesn't say a lot. You can say it about Tic-Tac-Toe. What matters is whether players of similar skill find the game balanced or not.


IMHO TM is one of the best balanced games which allow for complex and varied play over a looooong time.
To corroborate:
At Snellman/TMTour a lot of players have been playing it in a competitive league for almost three years now. While I guess all of them are somewhat smart and experienced gamers, you can bet that the top 2% playing divison 1+2 are definitely pretty smart and skilled. I did not take the time to count, but a majority of them as well as lower league players has been playing that exact league format for years, being too content or phlegmatic to apply any changes - and there are many simple parameters/house rules still which could shift the metagame slightly or totally for yet another 100 years of wonderful play experience
So the bottomline is, the game is extremely balanced in any regard that counts, everything is situational and some disparities e.g. in applicablity of the individual factions even make it more interesting to me: Almost every pick/move/whatever has its context even for excellent players, only some are less frequent or require e.g. another map.

That said, people who do not play competitively might propably never stumble on any imbalance or even get things upside down for a time.
Just don't give Fakirs to any newbie who hates to lose his first game
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sthrjo wrote:
But there has been some issues raised regarding the replay value even in the top elite. See Tournament frustration about the metagame, and proposed balance changes. The issue comes from players realizing that the same 4 factions are selected over and over, when there should be 14 to select from.

Cato the Elder wrote:
Moreover, I consider that Fakirs should be buffed and Darklings nerfed.

This thread primarily vocalized frustration about a stall metagame in
- fully competetive play
- at absolutely the highest level of play (top <10% of the competetive online players)
- after a three digit number of games
- at a certain point of time (Players are already experimenting about how to break this metagame. Out of the 21 games of division 1 and 2 only 3 games had the mentioned combination of faction).

So yeah, there are/were issues about replay value raised. Those issues in the thread only affect a tiny fraction of they most active online player base.
The possibility that replay value might start to decline after several dozens of dedicated plays probably also applies to almost every other game.
Also note that the thread above does not include the expansion. So anyone outside the online base game tournament enjoys 100 plays of the base game and then replay value starts to decline, this might be a good point to get the expansion. Or play sth. else for a while, which is perfectly fine after so many plays.
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Laurentiu wrote:
I have to say that some of your arguments are not very convincing. I may not have played the game yet, but I just don't see your arguments addressing the important part of several of the criticisms you mentioned.


Thanks for the feedback, I will try to adress some of your points.

Laurentiu wrote:
Trantor42 wrote:

There is no theme.
...
But seriously, which Euro game doesn’t have thematic inconsistencies like this?


Well, I think it's not a question of whether other Euros have thematic inconsistencies, as all have some, but about what is the cost/benefit of these inconsistencies.

For example, in Puerto Rico, I don't even have to go to the inconsistency in the Captain action. I can pick the core mechanic of the game and wonder why all players have to play the same role as the leading player. That makes no sense to me from any thematic standpoint. But it's a core mechanic that creates interesting situations, so I'm willing to pay the inconsistency cost to get the interestingness benefit.

On the other hand, in Agricola, I can't find any reason for why only one family can have sex at a time (well, I could find one, but not one that would make me appreciate the game more), but I also can't find any big benefit to the game from this choice. Sure, it makes things tougher for players, but there are more elegant ways to do that.

So I don't think these situations are similar. And since you compared them both to Terra Mystica, it makes me wonder where TM falls - is it contrived like Puerto Rico or contrived like Agricola?


I am mostly concerned with a game's mechanics; theme is a nice bonus for me. Thus, I often have trouble understanding when people say that a certain small gameplay element completely breaks their thematic immersion. My thought to those statements is usually "eh, it's just a game, of course it's not super-realistic".

Regarding the Puerto Rico and Agricola elements you mention, I struggle to understand the difference. I agree with you that everybody playing the same role at the same time is nonsense thematically, and I also agree it creates interesting situations and decisions. But I think the same is true for Agricola's blocking of action spaces. It makes player order important, creates interesting decisions for the players regarding action priority ("do I need to take this now or will it be around later because nobody else is interested?"), and forces people to have a backup plan if somebody steals their spots. Blocking action spaces is the core mechanic of worker placement games, and it is what makes them interesting (at least to me).

So, because I don’t see the difference, I'm afraid I'm unable to answer your question whether TM is more like Puerto Rico or Agricola in this regard.

Laurentiu wrote:
Trantor42 wrote:

The factions are unbalanced.
...
The game has so many options, so many opportunities to make good plays or bad ones, that player skill is by far the most important factor in determining a winner.
...
Verdict: The factions are indeed unbalanced, but it’s not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. Terra Mystica is still a game of skill first and foremost.


I think the important question that needs to be addressed here is: how fun is this game when it is played by players of similar skill? Is the imbalance significant enough to impact such games or not?

Saying that skill matters doesn't say a lot. You can say it about Tic-Tac-Toe. What matters is whether players of similar skill find the game balanced or not.

Again, I cannot tell whether this is the case for TM or not, but this is what needs to be addressed on this topic.


I think the game as a whole is well balanced between players of similar skill. A given setup might only be truly beneficial to 2 or 3 factions, but you can almost always pick Darklings, Nomads, and to a lesser extent Witches or Mermaids to have a realistic shot of winning. It gets more troublesome with 5 players where the last player sometimes doesn't have a good faction left.
Advantages of a certain faction can also be mitigated by positioning. Darklings are statistically the strongest faction, but they will struggle if you isolate them. Again, this is harder to do with 5 players as the map gets tighter.

The situation is comparable to Puerto Rico’s initial turn order: Indigo players are at a disadvantage, and there are suggested fixes for that, but it only really matters at very high level of play, and indigo players can still win. If you are fine with Puerto Rico’s slight imbalance, you will be fine with Terra Mystica’s, too.

Here is what I was trying to say in the review: There are lots of balance discussions found in these forums, along with suggested buffs or nerfs for certain factions. Sometimes, people interested in the game read those discussions and conclude that certain factions are auto-wins or auto-losses, and that is where the balance issue gets blown out of proportion.

Laurentiu wrote:
Trantor42 wrote:

The map is too big for 2 players.
Almost everyone agrees that Terra Mystica loses a lot of its appeal if you only play it with 2.
...
Verdict: While I agree that Terra Mystica is not the best 2 player game, shrinking the map doesn’t help with that.


So, basically, this is a criticism you agree with. Now, maybe this goes without saying, but I was surprised because I would have expected you to separate the criticisms you find valid from those that you do not.


Yeah, you could say I made the second step before the first one in the review, that wasn’t well-phrased. I was trying to specifically address the proposed fix to the 2 player game of shrinking the map. In my mind, the criticism of "TM loses a lot of its fun when played with 2 players" is totally valid. In fact, it is so valid that the often-proposed fix of shrinking the map doesn't help. If you are looking for a 2 player game, there are better ones, and no house rule will change that.

Laurentiu wrote:
Trantor42 wrote:

The cult tracks feel tacked on.
...
Verdict: While I agree that Terra Mystica isn't exactly elegant with its amount of moving parts, I don't see the cult track as superfluous at all.


This one feels like a partial confirmation followed by a strawman argument. What is tacked on may not be superfluous, but that doesn't mean it's not tacked on.

"Tacked on" can mean a quick solution thrown together to fix a problem. It won't be superfluous because it's fixing something, but it's not well thought and integrated either ("not exactly elegant" as you put it), so it can be called "tacked on".


The cult tracks can feel a little disconnected to the rest of the game because they are like a race to VP on a different board. I often read that they feel like a mini-game within the game. At first, I thought so too, because I underestimated the effect of the cult boni that are awarded at the end of each round. Early cult boni are an important part of the economical snowball of the game. It took me a few games to realize that the cult board is more than an additional means to give out VP at the end.
So I guess what I am trying to say is that after a few games, you will realize that the cult board is an important part of the game that is more intertwined with the rest of it than it first seems.

Laurentiu wrote:
Trantor42 wrote:

Once you picked your plan, the game is just going on rails.
...
But while you can form a strategy in Dominion before the game starts and never steer off the track, Terra Mystica is different in a number of ways: First, no two players can take the exact same strategy due to the different factions and their starting positions. Second, the available tools (bonus tiles) will change from round to round, so you can’t plan out everything. Most importantly, players will face conflict on the shared map. You have to react to your opponents’ actions and need to adapt your strategy.


This also feels like an ineffective rebuttal of the criticism.

"No two players can take the exact same strategy" - well, they can go on rails following different strategies too.

"You can't plan out everything" - well, this doesn't exclude the possibility that something/someone else lays down the rails for you. Being in reaction mode means you don't have the liberty to act and you can only react - you are effectively being on rails when that happens.


The two statements you quote were meant in direct comparison to Dominion, a game that shares a similar amount of pre-game analysing and planning. Terra Mystica is different from Dominion in that it forces every player to come up with a different plan, and the available options change during the game. The main point I was trying to make is that Terra Mystica has a lot more meaningful decisions and player interaction after the setup when compared to Dominion.
Speaking of meaningful decisions, not being able to make them anymore is what being “on rails” means to me. I repeatedly mentioned the importance of good planning in the review, but that doesn’t mean that you are screwed if your plan doesn’t work. It’s usually possible to come up with a different plan.
You are sometimes forced by your opponents to take a certain action (usually taking a key hex on the map before they take it), but this is usually constrained to one single action, not a sequence of plays. Reacting to your opponent’s moves usually offers you a choice – do you take up the fight and follow your original plan, or do you come up with something else?
Again, I feel that the whole scope of options only becomes apparent after repeated plays. In the first few games, most players will mainly be concerned with their own plans, and they might be surprised by an unexpected move of their opponents that screws them over and forces them into playing in a certain way. Once you start watching your opponents and their options carefully, you can anticipate their threats earlier and take them into account in your decisions. There is a lot of subtle player interaction here.

So, I’m not sure if this clears up your questions a bit. I feel like I don’t find the right words to express what I mean. Anyway, thanks for your feedback.
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