Mission: Red Planet
English language edition of Mission: Planète Rouge
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(Worth 3,595 Funagain Points!)
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In Mission: Red Planet, players portray competing corporations recruiting the best scientists, astronauts, spies, and armed forces, and launching rockets and building mining colonies to explore the Red Planet in their quest to gain control of the most promising -- and profitable -- regions on Mars.
The first comments that I heard about Mission: Red Planet (Asmodee Games, 2006 – Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala) were that it was an area control game with Citadels-like elements. For those of you who may not know, Citadels was one of the most interesting games I’ve ever played, taking the role-selection process introduced in other games to a level of pure fun. The process of role selection has since been refined, such as in games as Puerto Rico, but the mechanic has never failed to interest me. This, on top of the “steam punk” theme of the game, in which players are attempting to colonize Mars in the late 1800’s, simply was fascinating.
And I really enjoyed the game – a fantastic one with a lot of mechanics from other games combined to make an enjoyable experience. The theme really works, the role selection is interesting and varied, victory point cards drive one’s strategy, and there is just the right level of interaction for a fun, family-style game. Gameplay takes only an hour; and there is extremely little downtime, making Mission: Red Planet one of the most agreeable area control games I’ve played. The beautiful components with a few minor problems, the fun theme, and the clever way in which everything comes together makes for a refreshing experience, and one that I found many people enjoyed.
Two boards are placed on the table: one a map of Mars that is broken up into ten sectors, and the other a launching pad for five rocket ships. Spaceships equal to the number of players are randomly placed on the launching pad, and the rest are shuffled in a pile. Each player takes twenty-two astronauts of their color, along with nine different character cards. A random astronaut is placed on each ship, and piles of score and resource tokens are placed near the board. One player is given the First Player token, and each player receives three event cards, from which they must keep one Bonus card. A turn marker is placed on a track to keep count of the ten rounds of the game, and the first round is ready to go.
For each turn, if any spaceships have launched from the launching pad, they are replaced by new rockets. Then, players choose one of the characters from their hand and play them face down. The starting player announces the numbers of the cards (from “1” to “9”) in order; and when a player’s number is called, they reveal their card and take the action with that card. If more than one player has the same card, turn order is determined clockwise from the player with the First Player token. Most of the cards allow a player to place one or more of the astronauts on spaceships. Each spaceship has a maximum capacity (from two to five); and once it is full, it automatically launches from the pad. Spaceships have a destination printed on them and will drop off the astronauts on the region listed there AFTER all players have taken their turns. Some ships have no destination; the first player to place an astronaut there picks the destination of the ship.
The characters have different abilities. Once a player plays one, it
is discarded, and they can no longer use it until they play their
Recruiter. The characters are:
- (1) Recruiter: Place one astronaut in a ship and get all your used character cards back, including the recruiter.
- (2) Explorer: Place one astronaut in a ship and get three movement points for astronauts already on Mars.
- (3) Scientist: Place two astronauts in a ship(s), and either draw an Event card or look at a Discovery card in play.
- (4) Secret Agent: Place two astronauts in different ships, and force one ship to launch that is not full.
- (5) Saboteur: Place one astronaut on a ship, and destroy one ship that has not yet launched.
- (6) Femme Fatale: Place one astronaut in a ship, and replace another astronaut in the same ship or region as one of your astronauts with one of your color.
- (7) Travel Agent: Place three astronauts in the same ship; if unable to do so, lose a turn.
- (8) Soldier: Place two astronauts in the same ship (skip if impossible), then kill one astronaut in one of the seven outer regions on Mars.
- (9) Pilot: Place two astronauts in a ship(s), and change the destination of a ship – whether on ground or in flight.
When the first astronaut is placed in a region, a random resource token is placed in that region, either ice (worth one point), sylvanite (two points), or celerium (3 points). At the end of round five, the player with the most astronauts in each region gets a matching scoring token of that type, with ties causing the token to be left there. After round eight, players with the most astronauts get two scoring tokens, along with any leftover tokens from ties. After round ten, the player with the majority gets three scoring tokens, along with leftover tokens from ties.
When a player draws an Event card, it is either a Bonus card that gives them points if they accomplish something (examples include “+8” if they have astronauts in six specific regions; “+1” for each astronaut of theirs which died, and “+6” if they have the most sylvanite tokens.). Some Event cards are Discovery cards, which must be placed next to one of the seven outer zones. Each zone can only have one Discovery card, which ranges from adding more resources to the zone, to killing off the astronauts of the player with the most, to doing nothing. Discovery cards are placed face down and can only be looked at by a player using a Scientist.
After round ten, the player total the points, adding together their score tokens, any Bonus cards they’ve accomplished, any Discovery cards they qualify for, and nine points for the player with the most ice tokens. The player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: Let me preface my complaints with some high praise – Mission: Red Planet looks excellent, with high quality components and truly thrilling artwork. The cards are of good quality as are the funky looking cardboard spaceships. I like the theme of late 19th century technology, and it adds a humorous outlook on the whole spaceship/competition idea. There are little tiles included which can be placed on the spaceships to show that their destination has changed - and they looked pretty good when used. I didn’t like how tight the box lid was – the first couple times we played it, we had to pry the sucker off; and the box insert was not very useful – only BEFORE the components were punched out. A few cards had some random letters missing – a very odd mistake, but nothing that hindered game play. Other than that, it is a good production, and one that will certainly draw a passerby to your table.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is very clear, and all eight full color pages are well formatted and use illustrations to explain the game clearly. There was one large error we made in our first game (about the resource tokens being scored at the end of the game) that was clarified by the reading questions on the internet. I think that the rules could have been clarified in this regard, because it does change the end scoring quite a bit. Other than that, I’ve taught the game to a group of eleven year olds and groups of adults with equal ease, and everyone quickly picks up on the game after one turn.
3.) Roles: The part of the game that is oft compared to Mr. Faidutti’s other game, Citadels, are the character cards. Each turn, a player must pick which they want to play, based on the current situation on Mars and –probably more important – what they think the other players are going to play. Each character has their benefits, and I’m hard pressed to think of which is the best (although if I had to pick one – it would probably be the scientist). The Explorer is really handy right before a scoring round, when trying to get your folk into position, while the Pilot can really swing the game by sending a ship to the right/wrong spot. The Travel Agent is an interesting fellow, as he allows you to get three men on ships; but the chance of this not happening is high, since he does go seventh in the lineup. Most ships are too full or have launched by that point. Playing the Travel Agent successfully is a mark of a good gamer and only happens a few times each game. With nine roles, a player could also play all of them during a game, but I often play the Recruiter halfway through because some of the roles are important to my strategy in that game. In fact, I’ve played the Recruiter before, not for his ability, but so that I could launch a spaceship before someone else got a chance to play it. The character cards are the heart of the game, and they certainly deliver.
4.) Interaction: Players who think that designer games are too “touchy feely” will enjoy the fact that this one has at least some direct interaction. Players can use the Soldier and Saboteur to directly destroy their opponents, snare them with the Femme Fatale, and foil them by sending a shipload of astronauts to the wrong section of the moon with the Pilot. And yet, even with all this nastiness going on, it’s at a very subdued level; and players don’t have to worry about being ganged up on or having all their astronauts destroyed – any astronauts destroyed are usually a result of a key struggle. Shifts of control on the moon are sudden and important, therefore a player must watch their opponent at all times. Mission: Red Planet seems to hit that sweet spot in which it doesn’t irritate people too much who despise conflict, yet delights those who want to “kill something!”
5.) Strategy: Two things directly influence a player’s strategy: their initial bonus card and the allocation of resources on the board. Completing your Bonus card(s) can affect the outcome of the game, so a player really can’t afford to ignore them. At the same time, getting a lot of celerium chips can really be worth a lot of points, so players tend to fight over those spaces. Ice spaces would probably be ignored, if not for the fact that the person with the most ice tokens getting a nine point bonus at game’s end. All of these factors work together to create points of conflict all over the face of Mars, and a five player game (the maximum amount) can be rather interesting.
6.) Discovery Cards: If there is one reason for player anguish, it could possibly be the Discovery Cards. When a player draws one, they place it next to one of the seven outer zones, and these cards can have wildly amazing effects. Some give six points to every player with an astronaut there, others kill off the largest group before scoring occurs, still others are simply bluffing cards and do nothing. Knowing what Discovery card a person put into a zone can be rather critical, and players who don’t get a chance to see them can (and have) make loud complaints about randomness. And yes, the Discovery cards are random, but every player has the option to use their Scientist to find out exactly what is on a zone with the Discovery card. I simply watch the player who placed the card there and go by their reactions to it. While some may decry this part of the game, I find it incredibly interesting and too important to disregard.
7.) Fun Factor: Mission: Red Planet has a delightful theme, nice looking bits, and an enjoyable, immersive game experience. Each turn, a player must decide which character to use, which ship to load, and how to use their special abilities of the character effectively. It makes for some twists and turns - everyone laughs at Nathan for having his ship full of men get destroyed, until he reveals that he gets one point for every dead man at the end of the game. Changing the direction of a ship to win you the majority, managing to play the Travel Agent successfully, using your Femme Fatale to change the majority in a region – these all are moments that make a game memorable, and Red Planet has a lot of them.
I’ve read that some folk consider Mission: Red Planet to be a hodge podge of game mechanics resulting in a mess, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I disagree with that. Instead of a mess, several mechanics that have been around for a while have been combined to make a delicious playing experience, in which players can have an easy, fun time, while making real strategic decisions. Mission: Red Planet is probably a high end medium weight game in complexity, but is simple enough that non-gamers can be coaxed into playing, and fun enough to keep them playing many times after that.
“Real men play board games”