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The world is in crisis. Ecological disasters, socio-economic difficulties and diplomatic challenges abound. Will you be able to help your fellow players save the planet while balancing your natural desire to come out ahead?
Days of Wonder
Players: 3 - 6
Time: 20 - 40 minutes
Ages: 8 and up
Weight: 385 grams
Language Requirements: This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English).
- 108 cards:
- 18 crisis cards
- 90 solution cards
- 1 scoring track
- 12 wooden markers
Average Rating: 4 in 1 review
Games are exciting and fun to play, which is why I own hundreds of them. Few games are exactly alike, and most games offer at least some variation to a common mechanic or theme prevalent in other games. But then there are those few games that are truly unique, and to which I cannot really put in the category of any other game. Early buzz on Terra (Days of Wonder, 2003 - Bruno Faidutti) expressed that this was, indeed, a very different game. For me, the Days of Wonder combination with Faiduttis design was a sure winner, so I was extremely happy to get a copy of the game.
And after several playings, I find this game extremely unique. It plays very differently depending on what kind of group Im playing with. Ive come to the conclusion that the game is a test, a means of finding out exactly how your gaming group handles individual winning vs. group victory. One person can effectively destroy the game for all involved, and Im not so sure that the game was intended for this, as it seems to suit the theme. Which, by the way, Im not a big fan of -- but one cannot argue that the theme, saving the world from itself, is certainly conducive to the mechanics of the game. I enjoyed my playings of the game, and will bring it out again -- watching with interest exactly how the players handle themselves. Its almost more of an interesting exercise for me rather than a competitive game.
A small board is placed in the middle of the table, showing a globe onset with problems, surrounded by a scoring track. This is the only function of the board, so it can be kept at the side of the table, etc. The game revolves around a deck of 108 cards, made up of 18 crisis cards, and 90 solution cards. The Solution cards only are shuffled, and a certain amount (2-4) dealt to each player, depending on how many are playing the game. The remainder of the solution cards are shuffled with the crisis cards to form a draw pile. Each player takes two tokens and puts one on the scoring track, and the other in front of them to show all what color they are. The youngest player starts, with game play proceeding clockwise around the table.
On a turn, the player first draws the top card from the draw pile. If it is crisis, the player must immediately play the card in front of him. There are three different types of crisis, each with an identifying color: blue, green, and tan (the rules call it red, but its no red Ive ever seen.) Each crisis has a number showing its size, from 10 to 16, and a silhouette of the continent where the crisis is occurring. Players then can try to stop this impending crisis. Starting with the player whose turn it is, each player may play one solution card (numbered 1 -- 6) in the matching color of the crisis. If the sum of the numbers on the cards played does not meet or exceed the number on the crisis card, then the crisis turns into a full-blown crisis, and is placed in the center of the table. The solution cards played are discarded, and the game could possibly end at this point. Otherwise, the player then draws another card which could be yet another crisis! If the sum of the numbers on the cards played on a temporary crisis DO meets or exceeds the crisis number, then the crisis is solved, and is discarded (along with all played cards). The player who was the first to play a solution card on the crisis receives three points, and the player(s) who plays the highest valued solution card also gets three points (it is possible for one player to get six points.)
Once the player draws a solution card from the draw pile rather than a crisis, they proceed to a phase where they can play solution cards from their hands. They can play one card per full-blown crisis, if they wish. These cards are placed near the card, where it helps solve the crisis. If the sum of the cards at that crisis is higher or equal to the crisis number, the crisis is solved, and the player who played the final card receives five points. Otherwise, the cards played stay permanently on the table (or at least until the crisis is solved). Either way, the player is allowed to stockpile (hoard) a combination of three of their solution cards. The can only do this if they have a specific set of three cards (all same value and same color, all same value -- one of each color, a straight of the same color -- ex: 2 3 4, or a straight with a card of each color). These three cards are then placed face down in front of them, not to be touched until the end of the game. A player may not hoard cards unless they have played a card onto at least one full-blown crisis.
The game can end in total failure for all players. Full-blown crises can end the game if...
- There are seven on the table at the same time.
- There are four of the same color on the table.
- There are three from the same continent on the table
A successful game, on the other hand, happens when the players manage to draw the last card from the deck. At this point, players add up the sum of any hoarded cards they have in front of them - and add this amount to their score. The player with the highest score is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: The scoring board is a model of a very nice component being included in a game where it really wasnt necessary. Still, however, it looks excellent, and adds to the thematic aesthetics of the game. Most companies would have produced the exact same game in a less lavish way - but as usual, Days of Wonder insists on being the best. The game comes in a very sturdy, small box, but still much larger than most card game boxes. The tokens are wooden of each color, and a few chips are even there to help with scoring (Ive never used them). The cards are of excellent quality, and the artwork is cartoon but very nicely done - has a very positive, clean look. The backgrounds are not only different colors, but have different patterns to help the color blind. I can tell you all I want that the components are excellent, but the fact that Days of Wonder is the manufacturer should automatically assure the reader that the components are of the highest excellence.
2.) Rules: The rule booklet comes in five languages, each printed on five fully-colored pages. The game is explained simply, with a few illustrations. There is also a description of the solution cards - which helped solve some arguments we had about what the people on the card were actually doing. (You know, that useful stuff gamers argue about.) The mechanics of the game are actually quite easy to teach and learn. The point of the game, and therefore the inherent strategies, on the other hand, are quite difficult for some to grasp. Strangely, the older the crowd I teach this to, the harder time they have with it. Hard core gamers seemed to have the worst time!
3.) Theme: I must be careful not to tread on any toes here, but I wasnt a big fan of the theme. I do commend Days of Wonder for the fact they are contributing one dollar (or Euro) to the same cause the game is attempting to raise awareness about. Now, I will say this - as much as I wasnt enamored with the theme, I certainly could not deny that it fit the game very well. One persons selfishness could ruin the game for all - and isnt that the lesson that the game is trying to teach?
4.) Cooperation: The game has a lot of cooperative elements in it - its impossible to win the game without a little help from others. The problem with this lies in the competitive nature of many players. When I played the game in my high school youth group, they all were a little selfish, but were determined that the world would not be destroyed! They really got into the theme, and were urging each other to stop the crisis, and win the game! On the other hand, the first time I played this with adults, none of them were willing to budge an inch to help each other, and as a result - all perished. This happened more than once, and the only time I won with a group of adults, they helped each other - but only grudgingly.
5.) Strategy: What an interesting dilemma this all makes! How far can a player go when being selfish. Hoarding a combo of cards in front of them sounds good in theory - and really helps them gain a lot of points at the end - but ONLY if all the crisis are averted. So if a player puts a set of three 6s in front of them, they are giving up their ability to really help stop the problems. In my playings, if more than 12 cards are hoarded, the game is probably going to be lost. The strategy comes from knowing when to hoard, and what to hoard.
6.) Diplomacy: There is also a bit of Ill scratch your back now, if you scratch mine later. Players can negotiate to others about when they should play their solution cards. However, the diplomatic features of this game did not seem to play a huge role, and sometimes youll play with people who are just downright stubborn!
7.) Fun Factor: With kids, I had great, great fun! They enjoyed the game, the theme, and all cheered for the victor. One group of adults I played the game with also found it interesting. The other games were disasters, with some people really hating the game (usually being the players who caused the loss themselves). Some people just cant have fun unless they are the winner, and therefore determine if they lose - everybody will lose.
8.) Players and Time: The game plays fairly quickly, and I recommend that the maximum players (six) be used. In this way, if one player is stubborn, the game could still be won, and there is more negotiation involved. The longest a game has gone has been forty minutes - and that was with a detailed explanation of the rules.
Please dont take anything I said as any indication that I dont like the game. Rather, I quite enjoyed it. I really enjoyed playing with the youngsters, but even with the adults, I found the game play fascinating. It is my goal to play the game with gamers, and get them to complete the game! (with me winning, of course). The way the game works is a fascinating study on each players behavior. Just how far will they go to win? Will they be helpful - and just how helpful? If anything, this game is an excellent litmus test for your gaming group, and if they pass the test - it can be a very fun time! The game has a reasonable price, and theres a lot of fun involved, especially if you can get into the theme. Congratulations to Bruno and DOW for putting forth a peculiar, but fascinating game!
French designer Bruno Faidutti has teamed-up with Forum Barcelona 2004 and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to produce a game that highlights the many crises facing today's world, as well as providing solutions to these problems. Further, the effort is not just an exercise in feel-good politics, as $1 dollar (or Euro) of every copy sold is donated to an NGO called HOLOS, which specializes in real-world programs supporting the goals of the Forum Barcelona, ie durable developments.
Terra is a card-based game that forces an element of cooperation between the players in order to stave-off worldwide chaos. Throughout the game, military, environmental and socio-economic crises emerge throughout various regions of the world, causing players to scramble in attempts to defuse and solve these flare-ups. Players must cooperate in order to successfully eliminate these problems. However, there is a strong incentive for players to hoard away their resources, for if the world is saved (so-to-speak), then the player who has amassed the greatest amount of personal wealth emerges victorious. Ahhh - capitalism!
The deck of 108 nicely illustrated cards contains 18 crisis cards and 90 solution cards. Crises come in the three different varieties mentioned above, each color-coded for easy identification. Further, each contains a number from 10-16, which is the difficulty or threat level of that crisis. The higher the number, the more difficult it is for the players to solve. Finally, each crisis affects a particular region of the world, which is clearly highlighted on the card.
Solution cards also come in three types corresponding to the three types of crisis. Solution cards carry a value of 1-6, as well as pleasant artwork depicting the type of solution or aid the card is providing. Unfortunately, the meaning behind many of the illustrations isn't readily obvious, so players must constantly refer to the explanations in the rules to fully understand them. More on this later.
Completing the components is a round board depicting an imperiled world, with a score track surrounding the ailing globe. Each player also has scoring and matching identification token.
Initially, all of the problem cards are removed from the deck and players are dealt from 2-4 solution cards, depending upon the number of players. The problem cards are then shuffled back into the deck and play begins.
A player's turn is quite simple.
Phase 1 - Draw a card. The player takes the top card from the deck. If it is a solution card, he keeps it in his hand and proceeds to Phase 3, skipping over Phase 2. If, however, the card is a problem card, the card is revealed and play immediately moves to Phase 2 as all players have the opportunity to help deal with the impending crisis.
Phase 2 - Impending Crisis. Beginning with the active player, each player has the opportunity to play an appropriate solution card to help solve this new crisis. A solution card must match the type of crisis (military, socio-economic or environmental) in order to be played. Players are not forced to help solve the crisis, but if they elect to do so, they may only play one card.
If the total value of all played solution cards equals or exceeds the threat value of the problem card, the crisis is solved and all of the cards are removed. There is great rejoicing and much merriment. The player who initiated the action to solve the crisis (i.e., the player who played the first solution card) receives 3 victory points. Likewise, the player who contributed the greatest amount of resources to help solve the problem (i.e., the player or players who played the solution card with the highest value) receives 3 victory points.
If, however, the total value of the solution cards played is less than the threat value of the problem, efforts at solving the crisis have failed. There is much grief, moaning and wringing of hands. All of the solution cards played in attempts to solve the problem are discarded and the problem becomes a full-blown crisis. The problem card is set beside the central board as an ever-present reminder to the players.
A check is now made to see if the game ends as a result of a collective loss of control. This can occur if one of the following conditions exists:
a) Three full-blown crises in the same region of the world; or
b) Four full-blown crises of the same type around the world; or
c) A total of seven full-blown crises around the world.
If any of these conditions exist, the world collapses into utter chaos and folks head for their survival shelters. All players lose - as does the world.
If the world does not collapse, then the active player returns to Phase 1, drawing another card and repeating this cycle.
Phase 3 - Playing cards. After the active player has successfully drawn a solution card, he has the option of playing cards to any or all full-blown crises that he desires. The player may only play at most one solution card to each crisis. The idea here is to build-up enough points beside a crisis in order to successfully solve it, thereby removing that problem card from the game. The player who plays the final card which solves a crisis receives 5 victory points. Since only this player receives points, there is a persistent hesitancy amongst the player to play solution cards that will bring a particular crisis within range of one card being able to solve it (6 points). However, if players procrastinate in solving crises, things are likely to spiral out of control quickly and cause a complete collapse. A problematic, yet tasty dilemma. Of course, a player may elect to not play any solution cards, preserving his solution cards and maintaining a precarious world situation.
If the player does elect to play at least one solution card, he then has the opportunity to hoard some of his solution cards. These hoarded cards will be worth victory points at the end of the game if the world is saved and does not collapse into chaos. So, there is a significant element of risk here. If a player hoards too many cards, he ability to help deal with arising crises will be significantly restricted. If, however, he does not hoard enough cards and opts to be a goodwill ambassador, he will likely lose the game. Striking a delicate balance is the key.
In order to hoard cards, specific 3-card combinations must be formed:
a) Same value, same color; or
b) Same value, one color each; or
c) Same color straight; or
d) Three color straight.
If a player meets one of these requirements, he may place these three cards face-down in front of him. He can never retrieve these cards back into his hand, so deciding when to hoard is a critical element of the game. It also had a tremendous psychological impact on the other players, as if they see a particular player hoarding too many cards, they may opt to abandon efforts to solve world problems, fearing that if the world is ultimately saved, they will be the big loser anyway. I find this aspect of the game to be quite tense, exciting and clever.
Once a player has completed Phase 3, he must discard down to 8 cards, then the next player repeats this cycle. This continues until either the world collapses (as described above), or until the entire deck of cards is depleted. At that point, the players have successfully prevented the globe from spinning off its axis, even though there still might be some nagging problems persisting in various regions of the world. At this point, each player reveals their hoarded cards, tallying their numerical values and adding these totals to their total score on the track. The player with the most victory points is named Friend of the Earth, is elected President of the U.N. and receives a Nobel prize. Not bad.
First, let's analyze Terra in terms of its advantages and flaws as a game. First, there is a large cooperation aspect. Players must cooperate in order to solve crises. Otherwise, things will get out of hand swiftly and the world will collapse into chaos, causing the game to end and all players to lose. No one wants to be blamed for causing the world to collapse; that doesn't look good on a resum. However, unlike Reiner Knizia's ground-breaking Lord of the Rings game, there are compelling reasons not to cooperate here. You see, if the players are ultimately successful in dealing with the various crises, the player who achieved the greatest number of victory points is victorious. So, there is an individual winner. It's not just a big ``group hug, aren't we all happy?'' affair. The main complaint I leveled against the Lord of the Rings game was that there was absolutely no incentive not to cooperate. So, it simply became a matter of helping out as much as you possibly could each and every time. I simply didn't find that very exciting.
Terra certainly corrects this situation with a vengeance. Now, while there is a strong incentive to cooperate - the world will likely collapse if you don't - there is also ample reason to hold back a bit: you likely won't win if you are too generous in your support. Finding the correct balance between cooperating with your fellow players and selfish greed is one of the key ingredients of the game. And this is one mighty tasty ingredient.
There are numerous other choices and decisions facing a player. When a crisis first appears, the choice to play solution cards to help deal with the problem or not can be a tough one. Of course, there is the urge to conserve your cards in order to build the required sets. This selfish motive is confronted, however, with the fact that problems must be dealt with lest they spiral out of control. If the world already has numerous full-blown crises, the urgency to deal with an impending crisis is even greater. If a player does decide to help deal with a new crisis, deciding which card to play is also a major decision. The active player must decide whether to play a low valued card in order to entice others to participate in the solving of the crisis, or play a card with a mid-range value so that folks will see that he is serious about dealing with the problem. Playing a card with too high a value, however, might discourage others from participating as they may feel they will be unable to equal or exceed its value and thereby be shutout of any victory points earned from dealing with the crisis. Playing a '6' could easily discourage subsequent players from participating unless they, too, have an appropriate solution card with a value of '6'. Very interesting choices, indeed.
Now, let's talk about a potential game-breaking tactic. If one or more players insist on playing completely selfishly, hoarding cards at every opportunity and refusing to contribute solution cards to help solve crises, the game can completely fall apart, ending in world collapse every time. This is particularly acute when playing with 4 or less players. With six players, it is possible for the other, less selfish players to still deal with the arising crises. However, if they are successful in this monumental task, in all likelihood the selfish player will accumulate the most victory points due to his excessive hoarding of solution cards. It's a lose-lose proposition.
There are two ways to deal with this potential game-breaking problem. First, thoroughly explain the nature of the game to all of the players before beginning. Let them know that cooperation is required of all players and that if one player plays refuses to cooperate, the game will collapse. Most sportsmanlike folks will understand this and play in the spirit that is intended. If this fails to work, however, an interesting variant has been proposed along the lines of that used in Reiner Knizia's High Society. That is, if the players are successful in saving the world, when the hoarding stacks are tallied, the player who hoarded the greatest value of cards is eliminated from contention. I think this is an excellent idea and I plan to use it in my future games.
One more matter deserves discussion. Both Bruno Faidutti and Eric Hautemont of Days of Wonder have commented that one of the main objectives of the game is to get people talking about various world crises and the potential solutions as espoused on the solution cards. The intent seems to be to cause lively and in-depth discussion amongst the players on these topics. Although other groups have reported that this has occurred, it failed to materialize in the seven games I've played so far. Oh, we did look-up the explanations of the solution cards in the rules and even chuckled over a few of them, but not once did we engage in detailed discussions over the merits of these solutions or other UNESCO programs. I certainly consider myself to be reasonably politically astute with some strong political and moral beliefs, but I really didn't feel the urge to discuss these matters with my game mates. I'd like to blame it on the fact that political discussions can often grow heated and cause bruised feelings, so I tend to avoid such topics when playing games. Perhaps that played a factor, but I think the overriding factor is that we simply wanted to play the game and not discuss its inherent politics. That may not be what the designer or manufacturer intended, but we had fun anyway!
I was very pleasantly surprised by Terra. There is a very good game here, evoking lots of banter: pleas for assistance, berating for failure to help solve a crisis, shock at the hoarding of an opponent, etc. The game is exciting, tense and lively, even if you don't dive into the shark-infested waters of political discussion. The one potential major flaw in the game is fairly easily dealt with, and the political motives behind the game are easily overlooked. Terra has got to be one of the biggest surprises for me in a long time. That's a good thing. Now, let's save the world!