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Subject: Race for the stars in ‘Mission: Red Planet’ rss

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Michael Erb
United States
Parkersburg
West Virginia
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By MICHAEL ERB
Staff Writer
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
www.newsandsentinel.com
http://merb101.livejournal.com

PARKERSBURG — For space prospectors in 1888, the question isn’t who gets there first, but who gets there best.

‘‘Mission: Red Planet’’ by Asmodee Editions casts players in the roles of entrepreneurs whose mining companies are set to claim resources on the planet Mars. New resources, such as the energy-producing element Celerium and ultra-dense mineral Sylvanite, will forever change the face of space exploration and colonization. Deposits of ice on the red planet will allow scientists to create atmospheres for these colonies. Whoever can control the resources will see their profit margins soar into the stars.

In ‘‘Red Planet,’’ players compete to send astronauts to Mars in hopes of claiming great finds of elements, minerals and ice. Though the mining companies do not control the bulky spaceships that periodically head to the planet, they have a small army of colorful characters who can influence who makes it to the planet’s surface and when.

Each player controls nine of these characters, each with different abilities. For example, playing a Pilot allows you to influence where a ship lands, even after it takes off. A Saboteur, on the other hand, can make sure a ship never leaves the ground.

Each character has a number, from 1-9, which determines when the character is played in the round. Each player lays down a character face down, turning them face up and allowing their abilities to take effect only when their number comes up. This often means the characters with the greatest effects don’t go until the end of the turn after, sometimes after everyone else has had a chance to play. This game mechanic forces you to choose whether you want to go first or hold your move until later in the round.

Most of the character effects allow you to place astronauts on ships before they launch or to move them or other players’ astronauts between vessels. Ships only launch when they reach maximum capacity, which can vary between each ship, unless a character card played says otherwise.

The ships are drawn randomly each round and placed on the launch pad. Some have destinations attached, while others will have destinations determined by the first player to place an astronaut aboard the ship. Destinations correspond to different sectors on the surface of Mars, and each section will have random resources. The player who has the most astronauts in a specific area on the Red Planet controls that section and its resources, which count as victory points at the end of the game. The player with the most victory points wins.

This makes ‘‘Red Planet’’ a combination racing and resource-control game, which in turn makes it a lot of fun. There are just enough random elements to make the game a little different each time you play, but not enough that you feel the game is out of your control.

Designed by Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala, ‘‘Mission: Red Planet’’ has a wonderful ‘‘Journey to the Moon’’ quality. Technology is bulky and rough and characters dress in Victoriana style. From the top-hat wearing Secret Agent to the sultry and dangerous Femme Fatal to the zeppelin-like space ships, the designers have done a wonderful job capturing the feel and charm of the steampunk genre.

But even beyond that, the game plays wonderfully and with a lot of depth. The rules are easy to learn, but the gameplay can be challenging to master, which is a good mix. Players will come away from their first few games hungry to try again, each time learning new tricks and techniques to help them meet their goals.

The addition of the event cards adds a bit of randomness and unpredictability to the game, as you never know what goals the other players might have, and your immediate goals can change slightly each time a new card is drawn. The order system for playing different characters also forces you to make important decisions each turn, so you never really feel as though there is a down-time in gameplay.

I would highly recommend this game to just about anyone, regardless of whether you are a fan of steampunk. ‘‘Mission: Red Planet’’ combines a lot of fun ideas and mechanics with a stylish theme to create a game you will want to play again and again.

For more information on ‘‘Mission: Red Planet’’ or other Asmodee games, visit www.asmodee-us.com. For more reviews, go to http://merb101.livejournal.com.

Contact Michael Erb at merb101@gmail.com.

Edit: A review copy of the game was provided for this article.
 
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