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Subject: The opposite of Bash-the-Leader? rss

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Being a fan of resource management games, I was looking forward to trying Mars. Upon reading the 8-page rulebook (http://www.tilsit.fr/pdf/stock/50_0.pdf), I had reservations with regards to the resolution of "Conflicts", which appeared to provide an unfair advantage to the player having Military Superiority.

Components



Upon opening the game box you will find good quality components, from thick cardboard building tokens (4 per available building), Player Boards (4) and Player Aids (4), to standard thickness Euro sized cards, one plastic d6 (R&D 1-1-1-2-2-2), 8 wooden cubes (2 per player) to mark your current score and energy consumption level, and a good supply of white wooden discs which represent your Colonists.

Winning the game
MARS is a resource management game, where one accumulates Victory Points by constructing buildings, gaining Supremacy in a specific field, and via certain R&D cards.

The winner is the first player to reach a set total of Victory Points at the end of his turn. The actual total is decided by the players at the start of the game, depending if they want to play a short (10), medium (12) or long (15) game. Note that points are not cumulative, but are recounted at the end of each turn as in Colosseum.

Game Turn
A game turn consists of the following 7 phases:

(1) Event
(2) R&D
(3) Resupply
(4) Mine Production
(5) Trading
(6) Building/Buying
(7) End of Turn maintenance

Once a player has conducted all 7 phases, the turn passes to the player on this left.

I'll go into each of these phases in more details a bit latter, but first, let's cover the game's setup.

Each player, starting with the eldest and going clockwise, will choose one Mine (there are 5 types: Water, Oxygen, Iron, Carbon and Silicium), which he will then place in one of the 4 available mining slots on his player board.

Once the last player has selected a mine, the process is repeated, starting with the last player and going counter-clockwise.

There is a limited supply of mines, 3 per type, except for Iron which has 4.

Next, each player takes 7 Colonist tokens, placing one on each of his two mines, one on Silo-0, and one on Power Plant-0. This leaves you with 3 Colonists on Habitat-0.

You will also need to prepare a 25-card Resupply Draw pile, which is composed of 5 cards of each resource. When this pile is exhausted during the game, you will need to make another using 5 cards from each resource type.

The last preparation step is to pass 4 resource cards, from the Resupply Deck, to each player. This consists your starting hand.


(1) Event
The first thing you do on your turn is draw an Event card. There are 30 of these, and the deck contains "Conflicts", "Supremacy", "Challenge" as well as other cards which provide you with bonus resources or colonists.

If you draw a bonus card, simply take what the card provides you.

If a "Conflict", "Supremacy" or "Challenge" card is drawn, then you need to check if you meet the minimum requirement, such as having a Level-1 Military Base in the case of a Minor Military Conflict. If you don't meet the minimum requirement, discard the card and move to the next step.

Conflict Resolution
If you do meet the minimum requirement, then you must (you don't have a choice here!) resolve the conflict. You select another player and compare the level of Building in the Conflict category (Military, Communication, Habitat, Mining or Energy). The player with the most manned and powered buildings in this category wins, and he gets to do what is listed on the card (steal all resources from the target player in the case of a Minor Military Conflict). If there is a tie, then the player with the higher R&D bonus in this field wins. If there is still a tie, then the player with the most Colonist still on his Habitat wins. If there is still a tie, discard the card, there is no winner.

When a "Supremacy" event is drawn, the resolution is the same as a Conflict, except that it is triggered if ANY player meets the minimum requirement. Further, the winner of the conflict gets to retain the card, which provides him with a special power, as well as one Victory Point.

The final event is a Supremacy challenge, which forces players to check if the Supremacy event card should be moved to another player. The same checks are conducted as per the Supremacy event, except the final result is to reassign the Supremacy card if need be.

(2) R&D
Research and Development is conducted if you have built, powered and manned an R&D center. If you did, then you roll the R&D die. On a result of '1', you draw an R&D-1 card. On a result of '2', you draw an R&D-2 card only if you have built, powered and maned such a building, else you draw nothing.


(3) Resupply
The Earth sends resupply in the form of raw material. In this phase you draw a card from the Resupply Deck.

(4) Mine Production
For each active mine you have, draw a matching raw material from the supply (not the Resupply deck).

(5) Trades
Until you construct a Communication building, the only trade you can perform is with Earth, at the rate of 3 identical cards for 1 of any type. If you have played Catan, you will notice this to be similar to the ports (3:1 trades).

Once you have built a Communication building, you will be able to trade with the other players, during your turn.

A level 2 Communication building allows you to trade with other players even when it is not your turn.


(6) Building/Buying
Here you may turn in some raw material in order to construct different buildings, or purchase a Commercial Contract.

The costs and benefits of individual buildings will be covered a little further down.

(7) End of Turn maintenance
You may now move your colonists anywhere on your board. You have to remember to man your Power Plants, as each provides 5 units of energy. Each other building requires 1 point of energy, and if you don't have enough energy, you may not man those facilities.

Any facility without a Colonist is considered inactive, and does not consume energy. Excess energy is lost.


Buildings

Habitat
Cost: 1 carbon + 1 water + 1 oxygen + 1 silicium
Requires 1 point of energy
Does not require to be manned.
Provides 3 Colonists once powered, + 1 Victory Point. If you loose a habitat, usually through the result of a Military conflict, then you must remove 3 colonists from your board.
There is room for 4 extra Habitats on your Player board.

Mines
Cost: 1 carbon + 1 silicium
Requires 1 point of energy
Provides one resource of the mine's type.
There are 3 mine counters of carbon, oxygen, water and silicium, and 4 counters of iron.
You only have room for 4 mines on your player board.

Power Plants
Cost: 1 water + 1 silicium
Does not require power
Provides 5 points of energy once manned.
You may have up to 3 extra Power Plants, bringing your total production to 20 units.

Silos
Cost: 1 iron + 1 silicium
Provides: Silo-0 allows you to have no more than 4 resource cards on hand at the end of your turn. Each additional level increases this limit by 2. Further, each silo provides 1 Victory Point once manned and powered.
You may build up to two more silos, bringing your had total to a max of 8 cards.

Communication Module
Cost: 1 carbon + 1 oxygen PER LEVEL (there are 3 levels)
At the start of the game, with zero comm module, you may hold only one trade contract. With a level-1 Comm Module you may trade with other players during your turn, and hold an extra trade contract.

Level-2 allows you to trade with other players even when it is not your turn, and allows you to hold 2 extra trade contracts, bringing your maximum to 4.

Level-3 is the same as Level-2, but it allows you to hold any number of trade contracts.

Further, each manned and powered Comm module provides you with 1 Victory Point.

Trade Contacts
Cost: 1 carbon + 1 water
Provides the player with a 1:1 trade option from one specific resource to another. Each type of resource has 4 trade contracts available, thus you trade say 1 carbon for 1 silicium if you held that contract. This trade is only one-way, and may be repeated as often as desired.

Military Bases
Cost: 1 water + 1 iron PER LEVEL. There are 3 levels
Each manned and powered module provides you with 1 Victory Point.
After the Event phase, you may declare a "Conflict" with any player. Resolve as per the normal conflict rules, except the winner randomly draws one resource card from the loser's hand.

R&D Centers
Cost: 1 oxygen + 2 silicium for level-1, and 2 oxygen + 3 silicium for level-2.
Each manned and powered R&D Center provides you with 1 Victory Point.

Space Port
Cost: 3 iron + 1 silicium
Once manned and powered, allows the player to trade with Earth at a reduced rate of 2:1 (instead of 3:1). Further, it provides the player with 1 Victory Point

All buildings need to be powered and manned in order to provide you with their benefit. Unpowered and/or unmanned buildings provide nothing, and consume no energy.

In order to build a level-2 building, you must have manned and powered a level-1 building. The same applies to level-3 buildings, which require you to have powered and manned all previous building levels of this category.



How does the game play?
The game plays fairly fast as the rules are easily assimilated. As can be expected, it is easy to determine what resources your mines will produce, and you will also be getting a random resource from the Resupply Deck at the start of your turn. Up to now things are fairly straight forward and you are able to plan your move in advance.

Unfortunately, the Event which occurs at the start of your turn may put a wrench in all this. When you draw a conflict, you must resolve it if you meet the minimum requirement, even if it means you will loose the conflict. I have seen giving all my resources to a player, (of my choice , because I was the one with the weakest Military base. When this occurs early in the game, you may be stuck in a rut, unable to build for lack of the required resources.

Non-military events are not as potent, and seem to work well with the theme. For example, a Communication Supremacy allows that player to use a player's Trade Contract as his own, while a minor conflict may allow a player to steal a Trade Contract from an opponent.

Although stealing a trade contract may appear like a bad thing, it has less impact then having half or all of your resources taken away. For without resources, you may not build, which only makes matters worst, as you will not be able to challenge the player with the advantage in the Military field.

Perhaps the game plays better with 4-players, but I have the impression that there will always be one player who will have his resources stolen from him between turns, thus greatly limiting his options.

In a 3-player game, the player with the Military superiority won the game hands down. Both he and my other opponent were able to construct between 1 and 3 buildings per turn, while I was never able to construct more than one, and actually was unable to build anything on 2 turns (out of 5). By the time the game was over, I only had my 2 starting mines, an extra power station, a military base and an R&D lab...

To me, it appeared as if it was the opposite of the Bash-the-Leader problem, as the player in last place had little if any chance of getting out of the hole.


Recommendation
If your gaming group does not mind "Take that" kind of games, then you may find this game enjoyable. For the others, I would recommend you try this one out before buying, so you may see if the "last player stuck in a hole" syndrome occurs or not.

Although I liked the theme and enjoy resource management games, the events is what killed it for me, specifically the Military conflicts. I did enjoy the limited availability of mines, and the need to diversity your resources in order to construct the various buildings.

Game is best with 4 players.

Ratings (out of 5)
Game Play:
Luck:
Strategy:
Replay Value:
Component Quality:
Overall:


Edit: Added the section in red under Military Base.
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Frank Branham
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Also played this weekend. We initially suspected it had a bash-the-loser problem, but the tide shifted.

The big thing to notice is that there is a final tiebreaker for any conflict of remaining people on Habitat 0. At this point, Habitats become MUCH more obviously useful at the start. And conflicts have more targets.

Also the free military conflict only allows 1 resource to be stolen. The minor conflict from the deck allows for more. (The eventual winner of our 3-player game DID get hit and have 4 resources taken on the second turn.)

Although instead of damning the game, our take is that we were all interested in it, and really wanted to try again soon with our newfound knowledge. Janna is going to buy a copy, but she's prone to that anyway.


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Thanks for your comments Peter. You do realize I am the one who demoed the game at the store, right? Your group (Stéphane and Gilles?) was the second one to whom I explained the game...

It's interesting that you mention the strategy (for the player in last place militarily) of discarding/expending all his/her resources, as this is what I suggested to the last two groups at the store.

It would seem this approach reduces the impact of the military advantage, as your group appears to have enjoyed the game. thumbsup

Unfortunately, it is a tad counter-intuitive, and would not be a good fit for my regular group.

As I have already played enough games to know it will most likely never make it to our table, it is unlikely I will be playing it again. There are simply too many better titles out there.

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