Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Asmodee, 3-5 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; $44.99)


HG Wells wrote about it and Orson Welles took it to the air and terrified us. Still others followed and took it to the screen: an invasion from Mars! But now, the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. Rather than Martians appearing on Earth, Earthlings get a chance to rocket towards Mars and explore the uncharted reaches of our mysterious celestial neighbor in Mission: Red Planet.

Mission: Red Planet is a Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala design. The big (and very tightly fitting) square box contains a host of components to send us on our way including a game board of Mars (divided into 10 zones), 20 Destination tokens, 14 Resource tokens, 70 round Score tokens, 24 Event cards, 34 spaceships, 5 sets of 22 small circular wood tokens (which serves as each player’s astronauts), 5 sets of Character cards, a “Launch Pad” for rockets and two tokens that serve as a first player marker and a turn indicator.MissionRedPlanet

First off, Mars is seeded as the Resource tokens are shuffled and randomly placed, face down, one in each Martian zone. (Remaining tokens are placed aside, ready to be called upon if and as necessary). All players receive a set of Character cards and matching color astronaut pieces. Event cards are shuffled with three dealt to each player.

Event cards come in two flavors: Bonus and Discovery. Bonus cards present certain goals that, if met by game’s end, earn a player additional Victory Points. A player keeps ONE of these Bonus cards with the rest returned to the deck. Should a Discovery card be part of the trio, they may NOT be kept and are returned to the deck where they may come into play later.

The 34 spaceships are shuffled and a number equal to the number of players in the game are parked on the launching pad. Each ship displays two important bits of information: a number indicating how many astronauts can board before the rocket can blast off and the zone where the ship is headed. (Four ships have a blank destination; the first player boarding that ship chooses a destination from the available Destination tokens in the game.)

The core of the game centers on the Character cards. Each turn, all players simultaneously choose ONE of his Character cards for the turn and then ALL are revealed at once. While every Character cards allows a player to place one or more astronauts onto a rocket, they also come with a special action to be performed.

Cards played in past turns cannot be used again unless you play Character 1 (The Recruiter). He allows the player to retrieve ALL of his played cards so they can be used again.

Once on the planet, Character 2 (The Explorer) enables the player to move up to three astronauts on Mars to an adjacent zone.

Character 3 (The Scientist) allows the player to draw another Event Card. If a Bonus card, it is kept secret until after the final turn. If a Discovery card, it must be placed face down on one of the OUTSIDE Martian zones, only to be revealed (and its effects, if any, triggered) at the end of the game. (If all outside areas are already occupied, this new Discovery card is discarded but, as compensation, the player may peek at one of the Discovery cards already played.)

Character 4 (Secret Agent) forces the launch of a rocket that is NOT yet filled to capacity.

Character 5 (Saboteur) will destroy one rocket that has yet to launch.missionredpcs

If a player already has an astronaut on a ship or in a zone, Character 6 (Femme Fatale) will replace another player’s astronaut with one of his own.

Character 7 (Travel Agent) allows for the placement of THREE astronauts (instead of the standard 1 or 2) on a single ship.

Character 8 (Soldier) destroys an opposing astronaut in one of the perimeter zones of Mars

Character 9 (Pilot) has the power to change the destination of a spaceship either on the launching pad or already in flight!

As all player’s character choices are revealed at the same time, the actions taken are resolved in NUMBER order, from 1 to 9. If two or more players play the same numbered Character, actions are resolved in clockwise order from the start player. (The player going last gets the first player marker for the next round.)

Once filled (or prematurely launched), rockets blast off towards to Mars. Once all roles have been resolved, the ships land in their designated zones and the astronauts on board spill into the area. Astronauts landing in an unknown zone immediately cause the Resource token there to flip so that the particular resource of the area (valued at either 1, 2 or 3) is revealed. At the end of the fifth, eighth and 10th turns, we score.

At the end of turn 5, one Score token (matching the value of the Resource token in the zone) is claimed by the player with the most astronauts in that zone. (If a tie, the Score token remains, unclaimed, in the zone.) At the conclusion of turn 8, a similar process occurs except now TWO Score tokens are placed. (If a tie in the number of astronauts, the tokens are evenly divided.) With the close of turn 10, THREE Score tokens are added (along with any unclaimed tokens already there) to each zone and given to the player with the most astronauts in each zone. (Again, ties are resolved with Score tokens evenly divided. Any remaining Score tokens at this point are simply lost.) Now, Discovery and Bonus cards come into play.

Discovery cards are revealed and their effects implemented. This can causes shifts in the type of resources present in an area (and the resulting VPs garnered) or a bonus of Score tokens or extra VPs for astronauts on the planet or even extra VPs for astronauts lost in space! Bonus cards now pay off and players earn anywhere from 2 to 8 additional VPs if they manage to secure their, up to that moment, hidden goals. Points are totaled and the player with the most VPs is victorious!

You can make the argument that Citadels (featured in the Summer 2000 GA REPORT) out of all of the many games designed in whole or part by Bruno Faidutti is his best. Here, he revisits “choosing roles” to excellent effect, allowing for the implementation of strategy while dealing with tough choices despite the significant element of luck. Without question, the nearly “magical” appearance of Bonus cards and/or Discovery cards at game’s end can (and will) cause significant shifts in Victory Points. But the Bonus cards are no more random than the Destination cards used in the award winning Ticket to Ride series of games and the chaos of the Discovery cards fits in with the unknown exploration of the red planet which is the theme. Whether you’re exploring unmapped Africa or the jungles of the Amazon or Mars, you realistically cannot expect to KNOW with absolute certainty what exists in unknown regions. It may not make for a game of complete control but the fact of the matter is that Mr. Faidutti LIKES this element in his games and with a Faidutti design (in whole or in part as in this case), chaos comes with the territory. To bemoan this fact is like complaining when a lion roars: it’s the nature of the beast!

In all fairness, it should be noted that while Discovery cards and hidden Bonus cards can play an important part in the scoring, it doesn’t always work out that way. Some Bonuses will simply NOT be made (and unlike the aforementioned Ticket to Ride, there is NO penalty if a bonus is not achieved) and two of the Discovery cards in the deck have NO effect. And you’re not at the total mercy of Lady Luck. You can modify the impact of those Discovery cards if you pay attention. If YOU have placed a Discovery card, you KNOW which card is at which location and can plan accordingly. Astute opponents can pay attention to what others are doing – claiming an area or avoiding it – so they can shift their actions accordingly. Of course, you can use your Scientist to actually look in a zone if you feel a particular area is pivotal. While Mission: Red Planet plays fine with three, the game works better with four or five as there are more rocket ships flying, more astronauts exploring and more roles chosen each turn.

In multiple playings of Mission: Red Planet, we found ourselves faced with lots of decisions to make as we faced the challenge to maximize the benefits of chosen roles to minimize the curves that fate (or luck) might throw your way. Exploration in any situation can be a heady gamble. In Mission: Red Planet, the gamble by the two Brunos pays off handsomely. – – – – – Herb Levy


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