Did you read or see The Martian and think to yourself, “I could do that”? I did not because I don’t think that I could “science the shit” out of that many things, but I do like the idea of space travel. So, if you like space and are looking for a game that is easy to pick up—little science involved—enter, Mission: Red Planet! This is a delightful new edition of an older game about traveling to Mars via steam-powered rockets to exploit its resources—because what else do we humans do?—in 1888.
Mission: Red Planet
Designers: Bruno Cathala
Artist: Andrew Bosley
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games,
Galakta, Heidelberger Spieleverlag
Year Published: 2015
The main goal is conquer or occupy as many zones on Mars and Phobos as possible with your adorable little astronauts. The more zones where you have the majority of astronauts, the more resources (i.e. points) you get. The player with the most points wins!
You get astronauts to Mars and Phobos by putting them onto rockets and launching the rockets. The rockets have a destination for a region of Mars or Phobos and an occupancy number. Once the rocket has reached capacity, it automatically launches. It’s not an official rule that you have to make launch sounds when the rocket takes off, but it’s strongly encouraged!
How do you get your astronauts on your rockets? You have nine people on your space exploration team and they help determine where your astronauts go: the pilot, the soldier, the travel agent, the femme fatale, the saboteur, the secret agent, the scientist, the explorer, and the recruiter. The characters all do different things. For example, since each card can only be used once, the Recruiter allows you to pick up all previously played characters so to use them again. The Saboteur allows you to place an astronaut in a rocket, but also to blow up a docked ship! Some characters allow you to launch a not yet full ship or move astronauts around on Mars.
Each character has a number, and players place their character cards face down each turn. Then the first player starts at nine and counts down. As each number is called, the player who has selected that character flips over their card and performs that action.
Some of the character cards have really good actions, like the soldier or the pilot, but they are numbered two and one. So, to use a powerful character to make a good move you have to wait to the end of the countdown, often after other players have made their plays. It’s a good balance to the characters. Some cards allow you to kill other player’s astronauts, so adherents to the Mean Game style of play will have plenty to look forward to. Plus, when the astronauts die they go to something called the “Lost in Space Memorial” or what my friends and I call “Space Hell.” I get a perverse pleasure in having a character card send an opponent’s teeny astronaut to Space Hell!
When astronauts land on Mars in their designated regions, they discover what resources are in each section. Ice is abundant, but not worth a lot of points, while sylvanite and celerium are more rare and worth more points. There are bonus points at the end of the game for the player who gets the most ice, as well as other secret missions dealt out to each player at the beginning of the game. Other than the missions, players get points based on who occupies what regions after the fifth, eighth, and tenth rounds. The player with the most astronauts in each region is in control of that region. After the fifth round each region produces one resources, two after the eighth round, and three after the tenth round or the end of the game. That means that even if you control a region after the fifth round, people will be moving around so you may not in later rounds. Plus, since output is tripled—stream-powered industrialization at work—after the tenth round, you can make up a lot of points by moving in astronauts to take over a territory at the last minute.
After the tenth and last round you add up all of your resource points, plus any special mission points. There is one great mission card that gives you two points for every astronaut you that got killed and sent to Space Hell and others that give you bonus points for controlling regions of Mars.
Since this is the second edition, there is new art, which is nice, but also a bit of a missed opportunity. In general I really like the art, and I appreciate that some of the characters are stepping outside of established gender norms—hello explorer lady—but with new art they could have included more than just white people. It’s really easy thing to do to make the game more welcoming to POC. I mean, they do know that it wasn’t just white people who lived in 1888 and that POC like steampunk, right? So Fantasy Flight games, next edition I’d love to see some people of color. It’s not so hard!
Anyway, that aside, this is a great game! I love that it’s for two to six players, because they aren’t a ton of fun to play and easy to explain games for six players. It takes about an hour to play and could be a great warmup game if you’re settling in for a night of gaming. The art is great and the Mars setting is really charming! I don’t want to say that the best part of this game are the adorable little astronauts waving their be-cogged flags, because I don’t want to be that cutesy girl. But the little astronauts waving their be-cogged flags are pretty damn cute.