Long haul

This week’s session was an intense encounter with Terra Mystica by John, Sheer, and me.

It was just as well there were only three of us; the box says playing time is 30 minutes per player, but in our case it proved to be 60 minutes per player, making for a long game. However, it was our first session with this meaty, meaty game, and in subsequent plays we should be able to cut it down to 55 minutes per player. And no, that’s not a joke.


Terra Mystica is a resource management and worker placement game, with several straightforward enough mechanics knitted together to make for a challenging whole. There is a lot to it – for example, the rules explanation including setup was close to an hour – but, as usual, once you have a couple of turns under your belt, it’s much more accessible.

The game is played in six rounds. In each round there is a scoring bonus for doing certain actions (like creating a particular building type) and a cult bonus (for having influence in a particular one of the four cults). On the main board, you are trying to develop your settlement. You are one of 14 races, each with its own special quirk. For example, I was the Witches, and on building a certain structure, that enabled me to freely settle one new space each turn. I think John was the Nomads and Sheer was the Alchemists.

There are eight actions (plus bonuses) available, and you need to gather in and combine power, money, workers, and priests as resources, and use them for these actions. You need to settle the land (which has different types, only one of which suits your tribe) using spades, another resource that you can acquire in certain circumstances.

Each round, you take an action in turn, and keep taking actions as long as you want to. When you drop out, you hand in your old mini bonus tile and pick up a new one. The first player to drop out gets to be the new first player in the next round.

You score points during the game and at the end. You can generally see what is going on, and I suspect that in some games there might be more of ‘kill the leader’ than we experienced.

In short, you are trying to do a lot, with never enough of what you need to do that, and all the time you want to do it better than the other players. In that regard, there is some player interaction – for example, in racing to get the special actions first, and in settling spaces that are attractive to others. However, the competitive elements are not overdone, and that aspect of the balance of the game quite appealed to me.

In our game, Sheer managed to get his pieces combining well ahead of the rest of us, and he was the eventual winner, though not by much. John and I were close behind.

So, after three hours of play, the general conclusion was that we would play it again, but not with a fourth. That would be too long. It suggests there might be a better, shorter game, stuck inside this one. But as a challenging game for three committed players, this was damn fine stuff.

Thanks to John and Sheer for coming along and making for a great session.