This week, I pulled out an Epic freebie that caught my eye: Tharsis. From the description, I thought this was going to be a sort of choose-your-own-adventure involving a spaceship to Mars. It sort of is, but not the way I assumed.
The entire game takes place during a multi-week mission to the Red Planet. At the start, the ship’s pantry module gets obliterated by a meteorite storm, several crew members are hurt, and food starts to run out. That’s the START of the game. The goal is to survive at any cost to make it to the end of the voyage.
Each turn, several nasty events hit the ship, and you have to allocate crew members to handle the problems. They do this by rolling six-sided dice to get enough numbers to meet the required number for the crisis. There are many rules involving the dice, including how to get more and how you can save some or use an “assist” to give you a boost or use a crew member’s innate ability to help out. But that’s the gist of it.
The problem is that there never seems to be enough dice — and enough food, which replenishes dice — to go around. Tharsis quickly, and almost gleefully, tells you that murder and cannibalism are an option. A gruesome detail is that any crew member who dines on the flesh of his or her crewmates ends up with blood-stained dice. That doesn’t affect anything that I could tell, other than to make the player feel guilty.
There’s a lot of strategy here, including research and food growth and other odds and ends, but I never felt that the rushed tutorial did a good job explaining them. It kind of felt like a board game that your friend whipped out, rattled off a lot of instructions that went over your head, and then said, “Eh, let’s just play, you’ll figure it out.”
Me figuring this out meant that my crew were all dead and the ship destroyed by turn four. So I’m an awesome captain, all right.
After a second round, I figured that Tharsis isn’t that enjoyable and isn’t for me. It’s too random and a little too hard to figure out the strategies. The concept is good, but it’s always in the execution, yeah?