Mystical Lessons

This week’s session allowed Avri and Sheer to teach me Terra Mystica. Yes, I have played it before. But Avri and Sheer have played it much more often, have truly applied themselves to learning the key techniques required for success, and are both fastidious in their planning and execution. I have a laissez-faire attitude to game play most of the time. OK, I can be lazy. So, in the face of their superior game play, I am never going to be successful if I don’t focus and make the effort. This time around, I was so out of my depth I resolved to watch and try and learn so I would be better equipped for the next play of this intricate game.

Early on action

Sheer chose the race that gave him double bonuses from his temple builds. I chose the race that gave me one free build per turn. Avri chose another race, but I am damned if I can remember what its special power was…

Avri and I tried to establish cities early on. Sheer waited until the final turn to do that, when extra bonuses were available.

Avri and Sheer made full use of the turn by turn bonuses, whereas I didn’t.

As expected, Avri and Sheer were way ahead of me when we got to the final rounds. At that point, with me certainly no threat to either, they started to give me good advice. (Too late, guys!) Avri was the clear leader from about half way, getting points – or so it seemed – from everything he did. Sheer was concentrating on the long term investment he was making with his cultists. With the very last victory point calculation, Sheer went into first place for the first time and won by a measly two points. (I think both had scored 150+ so to say it was a narrow in would be an understatement.

Entertaining and educational.

Thanks to Avri and Sheer for the lesson. Watch out you two: next time we play this, I might even score half as many points as you…8)

More Terra Mystica

John, Sheer, and I had another session with the rather meaty game Terra Mystica. As it was our second game, we save a lot of time not having to learn the rules again, but there were still a fair few clarifications required before we started.

We chose our factions randomly (I was blue, Sheer was red, and John was brown) and off we went.

The first turn was fairly level, with John’s special power making the Cult Track a focus of his attention. Sheer was looking to cash in on his special power of claiming two tiles on completion of the bigger structures. I was hoping to keep out of trouble, and quietly build a couple of towns using an expanded shipping capability.

By the time turn three came along, it was clear that Sheer and John were contending for the lead. I misinterpreted the town building rule, meaning I couldn’t build any as things stood, and I never recovered from that. Painful. But a good lesson.

Sheer’s acquisition of bonus tiles was the deciding factor, though John pushed him hard, and it was a close finish. I was way, way, way behind.

As I am sure I have said before, one of the marks of a good game (for me) is that even when I am losing, or know I am going to lose, and there’s plenty of game time to go, I still enjoy playing it. Such is the case with Terra Mystica. I know I play it badly at times, but I enjoy it. However, I think three players is the limit. Neither John nor Sheer are slow players – OK, maybe Sheer can sometimes get a mild attack of analysis paralysis, but he won so is largely excused – but my gut instinct tells me that adding a fourth player alone would add at least an hour in to the game length. And that is too much.

(The interesting aspect is that if I am playing a wargame, the time is not a factor. This may be because 99% of the wargames I have are more complex and demanding than the euro games, but it remains an interesting comparison.)

After that, on to Dominion: Intrigue.

Sheer went from champion to chump in this one, as he very unusually got things gloriously wrong. This was highlighted by a self imposed error that forced him to hand over a key part of his money to me when he needed it most.

John built up a deck of Great Hall, Shanty Town, Scout, Upgrade, and Ironworks that – by the end – meant he cycled through is complete deck each turn. Impressive. But it did mean we spent some time just watching him.

I tried to balance action and treasure cards to give me some flexibility.

John’s super boring (but money generating) deck got him the win. Strangely enough, my deck was only a Province away from the win, so my choices must have been OK.

Thanks to John and Sheer for a great night of gaming.

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.