Terraforming Mars, Jacob Fryxelius

Finally, I have a chance to review Terraforming Mars. Well I say review; I am a reviewer in a very casual sense. I play games that I mainly buy myself and I know I’ll like, so it’s rare that I’m ever going to pan anything. This year I think there have been two games that I’ve had to hold my hands up and say ‘look, I made a mistake’ and I think I’ve made that pretty clear in my past posts (namely A Study In Emerald and Tiffin). I’ve never been mean or negative, but I have to say when I’m genuinely baffled, frustrated or disappointed. My reviewing ‘style’ is usually to chat about the game, basic game play and what I thought. So that clears up my ‘reviewing’ style.

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I didn’t think I’d be disappointed with Terraforming Mars. When you’re on a tight budget you kind of have to vet the games out fully to make sure it’s not going to be a colossal waste of money and time. Made that mistake and never again as far as I’m concerned. Of course it’s bound to happen again at some point because sometimes you just don’t know if you’ll be into the vibe until you play. Anyway, there is so much out there on Terraforming Mars that I think it would be very tedious to give you a full break down of the game play as I’ve done in the past. I kind of reserve that now for games I don’t see getting a lot of attention, like maybe a game that’s not had a lot of coverage or I think deserves like a full work up, rules and all. But Terraforming Mars is not one of those games. It seems that it’s a very enthusiastic thumbs up from everyone and a lot of videos and blog coverage. So I just want to focus on two things; is it worth the hype and what do I like about it?

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Yes. Yes it is. It’s a very clever game with what seems like infinite ability to replay at this point. In a two player game it seems that there are cards constantly coming up that you didn’t see the first two times you played, so I can imagine that with two player plus this would happen all the more. The cards represent so many things you can do to steam ahead, and I love the way they work together. Admittedly in my first game I was just buying what I thought looked good, but by the second I was more switched on as to what I was doing and employed a good amount of strategy into what I bought and why. The cards thematically link in different ways so for example you may want to go down the plant life route or the city building route to head up the score track and generate lots of ‘credits’ (the game currency). The cards synchronise by the ‘tags’, and you can use these cards to generate credits and build up a storage of titanium, steel heat etc and use these as payment for other cards. You can build on plant life and animal cards which will score you tons of points.You can be an amazing scientist. You can be a top biologist. It’s a good idea to get cards with end of game bonuses, and please, whatever you do, try to remember everything. I really thought I had the last game in the bag, I was ahead on the terraforming track, I was set to win some ‘awards’ but I forgot that land tiles on the board will score you end of game points, and I made a bad bet on an award at the last minute, not foreseeing that actually my opponent was going to end the game before I could fully achieve it. So I lost, and not by too much which was really frustrating. That’s the thing with this game, you have lots to think about and work at, but you need to remember that it’s all going to come together at the end.

I like the way you have to work with your opponents somewhat to bring the game to a close, and you have to do this by meeting the three end trigger conditions; all sea tiles placed and oxygen/heat leveled up. It takes a surprisingly long time in a two-player game, around 2/2.5 hours. But you know it’s a good game when the time has flown by and you feel like you’ve only been playing ten minutes.

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Overall, it’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s a bit of a brain burner, but not hard to pick up and learn. It’s having the full mental capacity to see it through that’s the tricky part.

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As an aside, it is a gorgeous game; beautiful big board, clear and concise cards, some with realistic photographic print, some illustrated. Shiny and transparent cubes which I love to look at (however I think my criticism would be that they are slippery little devils and a bit fiddly to handle) I would also say that I was mildly disappointed that with all the other very obvious effort put into the game I wish the player mats had been solid cardboard and not thick card, which is prone to warping. But you know when that’s your only real complaint, and it’s nothing to do with the game play, it has to be overlooked to an extent. So yes, if you have to pre-order and wait a while, or pay a little over the odds for it, I say do it. It’s worth it.

My last comment, a genuine thought and something that has been really bothering me….did the designer start this design before The Martian or was it inspired by the film? I would ask him, but I’m too embarrassed.

To find out more about the game play, rules and full details, go to the BGG page and follow all the links.

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Bear Valley, Carl Chudyk

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After a bit of faffing with missing cards (having been told it was virtually impossible for any cards to be missing, well trust me to be the unlucky one!) I finally got to play Bear Valley, the Carl Chudyk exploration card laying game. I’m pleased to say that it was worth the wait. It isn’t a game that I’d say is a ‘must have’ as in if you don’t get this you’re missing something huge. But I didn’t expect it to be when I bought it. It’s fairly light, a filler, fun, frustrating in a good way and isn’t as complex as the (not so well written in my opinion) rule book makes it sound. That’s why I think I’ll do a mini run through video because it’s really quite simple but is explained in a way that left me slightly baffled a couple of times. With rule books I honestly think they should be written assuming the reader knows nothing, that’s not to say they don’t have to have complex rules, just write them like they make perfect sense. Anyway, back to the game!

What’s the aim? Well you’re trying to make your way to the destination camp, avoiding bears and getting lost on the way. The winner is the person who makes it back to camp first.

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How do you play? You have a start camp card and end of camp card and lay down valley cards in between. In order to move you draw the wilderness cards which represent different landscape and include 2-6 pathways on each. On your turn you lay one card at a time counting out loud as you go until you decide to stop or cannot carry on, then you move your back-packing meeple to the last card you placed if you’re able. Cards can only be laid in a ‘brick wall style’ layout (Chudyk refers to it as a hexagonal layout, however bricks make more sense in my mind, but whatever floats your boat) Sounds fairly simple right? Only there are a ton of conditions (these take some time to remember, a little reference card per play would of been a handy addition to this game) and I won’t tell you all of you them but here’s some straightforward examples: if you lay down a card that cannot be attached to a pathway you are considered lost and cannot move from your current position until next turn. You cannot move across a card with another player on. If you decide to lay down four cards and the fourth card has four path ways you cannot go any further until next turn, and so on. If you lay down a mountain you have to stop after the next card you lay. If a bear card is the first you draw on your turn you can sneak past him, but if one is drawn on a second turn and so on you have to stop and go around him next time (unless you’re playing with the equipment and character cards). And that is the base game of Bear Valley!

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The add ons: For more experienced gamers, playing with the add ons is essential. You can choose to use the equipment tokens so you can do more fun stuff as you explore like pick up gold so you can bribe another player to hop on their spot, pick up a picnic basket to evade the bear cards (a bear won’t eat you if sandwiches are provided!) and things like that. And when you add the character bonuses and drawbacks things get even more interesting e.g- Forrest is allergic to trees, so he can’t cross forests and refuses to pick up a machete  *eye roll* but as a bonus he can take an extra turn if he lands on a fox card. So playing these add ons just makes the game play and decision making process more fun.

I enjoyed the press your luck element, I do love pushing my luck (both in games and real life!) so if you keep on laying cards to get closer to the destination camp you run the risk of drawing a card you can’t lay and getting lost (i.e stuck in the same place until the next  turn) or running into a bear. I also lost more than I won because I kept taking the long way around (again very similar to real life!) it was a good laugh.

All in all Bear Valley was a most enjoyable game, plays in 20-30 minutes, and is just fun, and not to be taken too seriously. Like I said it’s not a ‘must have’ per se but it’s a most welcome addition to my collection and I shall really look forward to future plays.

The box art and the landscapes are really nicely illustrated. The images on the cards and the characters I wasn’t too keen on, they have this sort of video game animation circa 2001 feel, I’m not sure if that was intentional but it didn’t make too much sense to me. But as I said in my unboxing video it’s not the defining factor if a game is good.

It’s a 7/10 for me, I would recommend Bear Valley! More info here.

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Bear Valley, Carl Chudyk, Unboxing

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I made a video last night. It’s a bit rubbish, but maybe not a complete embarrassment so I thought i’d be brave and upload it onto my You Tube Channel (which is brand new). It’s just me waffling on and unboxing a game that arrived yesterday called Bear Valley. I’ve not played it, hardly know anything about it, I keep referring to it as a tile laying game, but I mean you lay the cards like tiles. I’m practically whispering and I am getting over a cold/hay fever so I’m a sniffly mess. Maybe if I get more confident I’ll try to do more clever stuff and editing.Now i’ve given you such low expectations, here’s the video! Subscribe to my You Tube Channel here so I don’t feel like a total loser sob sob. More info on Bear Valley.