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[Review] Terra

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Games are exciting and fun to play, which is why I own hundreds of them. Few games are exactly alike, and most games offer at least some variation to a common mechanic or theme prevalent in other games. But then there are those few games that are truly unique, and to which I cannot really put in the category of any other game. Early buzz on Terra (Days of Wonder, 2003 - Bruno Faidutti) expressed that this was, indeed, a very different game. For me, the Days of Wonder combination with Faidutti’s design was a sure winner, so I was extremely happy to get a copy of the game.

And after several playings, I find this game extremely unique. It plays very differently depending on what kind of group I’m playing with. I’ve come to the conclusion that the game is a test, a means of finding out exactly how your gaming group handles individual winning vs. group victory. One person can effectively destroy the game for all involved, and I’m not so sure that the game was intended for this, as it seems to suit the theme. Which, by the way, I’m not a big fan of -- but one cannot argue that the theme, saving the world from itself, is certainly conducive to the mechanics of the game. I enjoyed my playings of the game, and will bring it out again -- watching with interest exactly how the players handle themselves. It’s almost more of an interesting exercise for me rather than a competitive game.

A small board is placed in the middle of the table, showing a globe onset with problems, surrounded by a scoring track. This is the only function of the board, so it can be kept at the side of the table, etc. The game revolves around a deck of 108 cards, made up of 18 crisis cards, and 90 solution cards. The Solution cards only are shuffled, and a certain amount (2-4) dealt to each player, depending on how many are playing the game. The remainder of the solution cards are shuffled with the crisis cards to form a draw pile. Each player takes two tokens and puts one on the scoring track, and the other in front of them to show all what color they are. The youngest player starts, with game play proceeding clockwise around the table.

On a turn, the player first draws the top card from the draw pile. If it is crisis, the player must immediately play the card in front of him. There are three different types of crisis, each with an identifying color: blue, green, and tan (the rules call it red, but it’s no red I’ve ever seen.) Each crisis has a number showing it’s size, from 10 to 16, and a silhouette of the continent where the crisis is occurring. Players then can try to stop this “impending” crisis. Starting with the player whose turn it is, each player may play one solution card (numbered 1 -- 6) in the matching color of the crisis. If the sum of the numbers on the cards played does not meet or exceed the number on the crisis card, then the crisis turns into a “full-blown” crisis, and is placed in the center of the table. The solution cards played are discarded, and the game could possibly end at this point. Otherwise, the player then draws another card – which could be yet another crisis! If the sum of the numbers on the cards played on a temporary crisis DO meets or exceeds the crisis number, then the crisis is solved, and is discarded (along with all played cards). The player who was the first to play a solution card on the crisis receives three points, and the player(s) who plays the highest valued solution card also gets three points (it is possible for one player to get six points.)

Once the player draws a solution card from the draw pile rather than a crisis, they proceed to a phase where they can play solution cards from their hands. They can play one card per “full-blown” crisis, if they wish. These cards are placed near the card, where it helps “solve” the crisis. If the sum of the cards at that crisis is higher or equal to the crisis number, the crisis is solved, and the player who played the final card receives five points. Otherwise, the cards played stay permanently on the table (or at least until the crisis is solved). Either way, the player is allowed to stockpile (hoard) a combination of three of their solution cards. The can only do this if they have a specific set of three cards (all same value and same color, all same value -- one of each color, a “straight” of the same color -- ex: 2 3 4, or a “straight” with a card of each color). These three cards are then placed face down in front of them, not to be touched until the end of the game. A player may not hoard cards unless they have played a card onto at least one “full-blown” crisis.

The game can end in total failure for all players. “Full-blown” crises can end the game if...
- There are seven on the table at the same time.
- There are four of the same color on the table.
- There are three from the same continent on the table
A successful game, on the other hand, happens when the players manage to draw the last card from the deck. At this point, players add up the sum of any hoarded cards they have in front of them - and add this amount to their score. The player with the highest score is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The scoring board is a model of a very nice component being included in a game where it really wasn’t necessary. Still, however, it looks excellent, and adds to the thematic aesthetics of the game. Most companies would have produced the exact same game in a less lavish way - but as usual, Days of Wonder insists on being the best. The game comes in a very sturdy, small box, but still much larger than most card game boxes. The tokens are wooden of each color, and a few chips are even there to help with scoring (I’ve never used them). The cards are of excellent quality, and the artwork is cartoon but very nicely done - has a very positive, clean look. The backgrounds are not only different colors, but have different patterns to help the color blind. I can tell you all I want that the components are excellent, but the fact that Days of Wonder is the manufacturer should automatically assure the reader that the components are of the highest excellence.

2.) Rules: The rule booklet comes in five languages, each printed on five fully-colored pages. The game is explained simply, with a few illustrations. There is also a description of the solution cards - which helped solve some arguments we had about what the people on the card were actually doing. (You know, that useful stuff gamers argue about.) The mechanics of the game are actually quite easy to teach and learn. The point of the game, and therefore the inherent strategies, on the other hand, are quite difficult for some to grasp. Strangely, the older the crowd I teach this to, the harder time they have with it. Hard core gamers seemed to have the worst time!

3.) Theme: I must be careful not to tread on any toes here, but I wasn’t a big fan of the theme. I do commend Days of Wonder for the fact they are contributing one dollar (or Euro) to the same cause the game is attempting to raise awareness about. Now, I will say this - as much as I wasn’t enamored with the theme, I certainly could not deny that it fit the game very well. One person’s selfishness could ruin the game for all - and isn’t that the lesson that the game is trying to teach?

4.) Cooperation: The game has a lot of cooperative elements in it - it’s impossible to win the game without a little help from others. The problem with this lies in the competitive nature of many players. When I played the game in my high school youth group, they all were a little selfish, but were determined that the world would not be destroyed! They really got into the theme, and were urging each other to stop the crisis, and win the game! On the other hand, the first time I played this with adults, none of them were willing to budge an inch to help each other, and as a result - all perished. This happened more than once, and the only time I won with a group of adults, they helped each other - but only grudgingly.

5.) Strategy: What an interesting dilemma this all makes! How far can a player go when being selfish. Hoarding a combo of cards in front of them sounds good in theory - and really helps them gain a lot of points at the end - but ONLY if all the crisis are averted. So if a player puts a set of three “6’s” in front of them, they are giving up their ability to really help stop the problems. In my playings, if more than 12 cards are hoarded, the game is probably going to be lost. The strategy comes from knowing when to hoard, and what to hoard.

6.) Diplomacy: There is also a bit of “I’ll scratch your back now, if you scratch mine later.” Players can negotiate to others about when they should play their solution cards. However, the diplomatic features of this game did not seem to play a huge role, and sometimes you’ll play with people who are just downright stubborn!

7.) Fun Factor: With kids, I had great, great fun! They enjoyed the game, the theme, and all cheered for the victor. One group of adults I played the game with also found it interesting. The other games were disasters, with some people really hating the game (usually being the players who caused the loss themselves). Some people just can’t have fun unless they are the winner, and therefore determine if they lose - everybody will lose.

8.) Players and Time: The game plays fairly quickly, and I recommend that the maximum players (six) be used. In this way, if one player is stubborn, the game could still be won, and there is more negotiation involved. The longest a game has gone has been forty minutes - and that was with a detailed explanation of the rules.

Please don’t take anything I said as any indication that I don’t like the game. Rather, I quite enjoyed it. I really enjoyed playing with the youngsters, but even with the adults, I found the game play fascinating. It is my goal to play the game with gamers, and get them to complete the game! (with me winning, of course). The way the game works is a fascinating study on each player’s behavior. Just how far will they go to win? Will they be helpful - and just how helpful? If anything, this game is an excellent litmus test for your gaming group, and if they pass the test - it can be a very fun time! The game has a reasonable price, and there’s a lot of fun involved, especially if you can get into the theme. Congratulations to Bruno and DOW for putting forth a peculiar, but fascinating game!

Tom Vasel

[Review] Terra

Thanks for the review Tom, I always look to your reviews first on the Geek. From a design perspective, it sounds like an interesting game. I can think of a few cooperative games like Lord of the Rings, but few hybrids: games that have a winner but others must cooperate in order for there to be a winner. Bohnanza is close, lots of cooperation but even if everyone is tight beaned, there will still be a winner (just a bogged down game). Like the designer has said, it seems like a mechanism that is likely to turn off serious gamers.

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