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Terra Prime

[Tasty Minstrel Games is a newcomer to the gaming scene. Their first appearance in these pages came with Homesteaders in the previous issue (Summer 2010). This makes it two in a row for the company and my 679th(!) review for GA Report. – Herb Levy]

(Tasty Minstrel Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-90 minutes; about $35)

 

Reviewed by Herb Levy

If space is the final frontier, then Terra Prime, the space station at the farthest reaches of the universe, is at the cutting edge of it. It is from that far outpost that players will find themselves exploring unknown space, seeking to develop a stronghold for humanity there. And that is at the heart of Terra Prime, a new game designed by Seth Jaffee.

terraprimeTerra Prime comes bookshelf boxed with 27 space hexes (in green, yellow and red), a large Terra Prime tile, demand tiles, cardboard pieces representing tech upgrades and modules, resource and energy cubes, “credit” chips, Leadership Point chits, reward tiles, 3 alarm discs and 5 command ship boards with matching command ship pawns and colony markers.

To begin, the space hexes are separated into colors, shuffled and then arranged, face down, creating green, yellow and red areas fanning out from the central Terra Prime Outpost tile. (Two hexes from each color will NOT be used.) The three “alarm” discs are placed on the Terra Prime tile itself (covering the letters “E-N-D”; when they are removed, the game is over). The resources in the game are placed aside, sorted by type. These resources are named by their color: brownium, greenium, blueium and yellium. Two random green Demand tiles are turned face up; the yellow Demand tile indicating 2 yellium is turned up too. All command ship pawns start on the Terra Prime tile while players captain their ships using their individual command ship boards. Each player begins with 3 Leadership Chits and some money (players going first, second or third are given 20 credits, fourth and fifth players start with 30.) By exploring space – and coming to terms with hostile aliens, establishing colonies, harvesting resources and upgrading ships, players hope to amass the most Leadership Points (Victory Points) to win!

At the start of each turn, a player’s established colonies will produce resources but colonies are “resource specific” and will only produce one cube of a particular resource. (If an unclaimed cube is still at a colony, a second cube will NOT be produced until the first one has been claimed.) A mining colony (an asteroid field) will produce brownium. Green, blue and yellow colonies produce the aptly named greenium, bluium and yellowium. Red colonies do NOT produce resources but are the source for energy cubes used to charge shields which protect your ship from damage. But the core of each game turn centers around “performing actions”.

Players may do as many actions as they have “thrusters” on their ship. (Each ship starts with three thrusters. As the game progresses, thrusters may be added for more actions.) Two types of actions are available: general actions (that may be performed anywhere) and Outpost actions (which are only available at the Terra Prime Outpost). Actions may be performed as many times as you can in any order that you want. The large menu of general actions include:

Short range scan – This allows you to peek at an adjacent hex and return it to its original position, face down.

Move – Ships move along “paths” created by the hexes. The places where hexes meet are called “sectors”. Ships may move into an adjacent, already explored, hex.

Explore – Move your ship into an unexplored (face down) hex, turn it face up and orient it to complete the sector. (When you explore one of the far away red tiles, you immediately gain 2 LPs.) The only restriction in aligning this “new” hex is that two adjacent sectors may NOT contain a planet. An explore action may only be done once per turn.

terraprime2Exploring hexes carries with it a variety of possible dangers including asteroids and aliens. Asteroids appearing in the center of the hex are considered “stray asteroids” and must be immediately dodged to avoid ship damage. A die is rolled for each asteroid symbol in the hex’s center. A roll of 1 or 2 avoids any damage. Any other number rolled results in 1 damage to your ship. Once stray asteroids are dealt with, they no longer come into play. Anotherpossible asteroid problem is asteroid fields appearing in the sector you are moving into. These remain dangerous until the sector is colonized (as a mining colony). Until then, the dice are again rolled with a 1 or 2 avoiding damage and any other number resulting in 1 damage to your ship. And then, of course, there are aliens.

While exploring, you may encounter aliens appearing in scout vessels or warships. In either case, they are hostile and must be dealt with in one of two ways (two more options from a player’s action menu): Attack or Pacify.

Aliens will attack when you complete an action. In fact, they will attack EVERY time you complete ANY action so it’s a good idea to deal with them first before doing anything else. When attacking aliens, the player rolls 1 die for each weapon symbol on their ship. A roll equal to or less than the number of dice rolled results in an alien ship being destroyed. Each destroyed ship earns you 2 LPs and a reward tile. (Reward tiles are all good and will grant you extra resources or credits or Leadership Points or modules.) If you opt to pacify, you discard resources equal to the number of alien ships. This garners no LPs but you do get a reward tile. If alien ships remain undefeated or un-pacified, they attack. Alien warships NEVER miss and do 1 damage for each warship in the group. Scouts are less deadly but benefit from the presence of those warships. Aliens now roll 1 dice for ALL ships in the group (that includes warships). A roll of 4, 5 or 6 causes 1 damage to the player’s ship. (Damage is quantified by losing 1 energy cube per hit. If no energy cubes are on the ship, one module per hit is lost. No modules? Then lose 3 LPs per hit.)

Should you survive exploring, beneficial actions may be taken involving colonies. First, you may Colonize by placing a colony marker from your ship onto a planet. Colonization earns you LPs (based on the type of colony founded) and a reward tile. Once you have a colony, you may “use” it to collect resources there (placing it onto a cargo hold on your ship board), install/upgrade your ship (different modules are available at different color colonies) to increase weaponry, cargo capacity, ship speed and more. If so desired, you may “unload” a colony marker (at Terra Prime or at another colony) to make room for more “stuff” on your ship. You may also teleport back to the Terra Prime Outpost (an option only available when you are on a distant red colony) which allows you to perform other actions which may only be done there. Should you “use” a colony belonging to another player, that player receives 1 LP. (The rules don’t specify whether YOU pay or the LP comes from the bank. Our house rule: you’re using it, YOU pay.)

At the Terra Prime Outpost, you may deliver resources you have acquired from colonies in exchange for credits. These resources are also used to fulfil the demand tiles on display. Any of these demand tiles that are COMPLETELY filled may be claimed by the player who completes them. Completed tiles are worth LPs. (Completed demand tiles are immediately replaced by the next ones from the stack.) It is also only at Terra Prime that you may load a colony marker onto your ship so that you can start a colony when you explore. You may also do a “satellite scan” which is like the basic “short range scan” although satellite scanning allows you to look at ANY TWO face down hexes. Finally, Terra Prime is the place where you buy valuable Tech Upgrades to your ship. Upgrades allow for more cargo room, extra LPs for delivery, easier avoidance of asteroids and more, These are limited (only 2 each) so stake your claim for the ones you want as soon as you can.

As the game continues and more reward tiles claimed, you will come across tiles with a number in a red circle. When one of these is revealed, the reward is collected as usual but one of the alarm discs from the Terra Prime Outpost is removed. The game ends when the third alarm disc is removed OR when no green or yellow demand tile is available to replace one that has been claimed. Once that player’s turn is done, final scoring occurs.

In addition to LPs earned for colonizing, destroying alien ships, having your colonies used by another player, exploring Red hexes, earning reward tiles and from the Delivery Tech Upgrade, players also receive 1 LP for every 10 Credits they have, 1 LP for each resource cube on their Command Ship, 3 LPs for each colony marker still on their ship, LPs for any claimed Demand tiles or any earned from Tech Upgrades. The player with the highest total of Leadership Points gets promoted to Admiral and wins the game! (Tie? Then all tied players share the victory.)

Terra Prime has a lot going on so that the learning curve can be an uphill climb until the rules “settle in”. Lots of rules information is printed right on the ship board and the Terra Prime Outpost tile to make for easy reference which is a help. Your first move should be to pick up a colony marker when you begin at the Terra Prime Outpost so that you will be able to quickly establish a colony to provide you with resources and income. Sooner, rather than later, be sure to arm your ship to protect yourself against the aliens that populate this portion of the universe. This still leaves players enough room to develop along different paths. With so much going on in the game, it is a good thing that the resources used are named so prosaically and “to the point”. Why add to the confusion with esoteric names when brownium, bluium etc. do the job just fine? The modular board works well as the farther away from Terra Prime you venture, the more likely you will encounter more dangerous – and more rewarding – adventures. While the configuration of the modular board remains the same, with two tiles of each color NOT being used each game, exploration possibilities will vary from game to game to keep the game fresh. Leadership Points come from everywhere which makes definitive planning a bit elusive. But this means a “perfect strategy” may be elusive as well.

Terra Prime combines elements of Euro strategy games (for example, we’ve “improved” our ships before with games such Starship Catan – Summer 2002 GA REPORT) with those of traditional American style games (dice rolling to resolve combat has been a staple since, at least the 1959 release of Risk). This creates a hybrid of sorts that may actually narrow its audience, being too “Euro” for those who enjoy a dice-rolling slugfest and too “American” for those who find dice-rolling too chaotic, too luck based and too frustrating. But if you can live with this Euro/American combination, you’ll discover a game with a little bit of luck coupled with a little bit more strategy. The game manages to say true to its theme while satisfying the urge of the science fiction oriented gamer to explore the unknown making Terra Prime a prime example of sci-fi fun.

 


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