Checking in from Mars with my Brian's Battery First Impressions review for#First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet.
For those of you unfamiliar with my review format I break a review down into (+) and (-) aspects of the game that make it a little easier to write and hopefully quicker to read. The (+) and (-) also lead to this format being called a "battery" review. Clever, right?
Also please note that this review is a first impressions review after a few plays of the game.
#First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet is a spiritual sequel or retheme of the hit game#Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island. Both games are known for being brutally difficult and packed full of interesting story moments. Both games are also very highly rated for solo play, although you can technically play them co-op.
Gameplay in First Martians can be most easily described as action selection and risk management with heavy usage of dice. The game also features an app that runs scenarios and helps balance the events.
The game is scenario based with each scenario lasting 6-7 rounds. Each round of the game the astronauts on Mars encounter new challenges as they work to complete their mission goals. Mission goals can include growing plants, exploring, etc. A cool part of this game is that there is a bit of a legacy-style campaign that links several scenarios together to create a cohesive story.
Astronauts work to complete their mission by placing action tokens on areas they want to spend their time that round. Need to explore around the base? Place your token in the sector you want to explore. Need to fix the solar panels? Place your token there and try to fix the malfunction. The risk management portion of the game comes into play here. Each astronaut has two tokens. You can choose to place both tokens in an action to guarantee a success or you can place only one and leave the action up to a dice roll. Astronauts can team up to accomplish actions and can also use rovers and drones as extra help.
Challenges can include equipment malfunctions, new tasks from Mission Control, natural disasters, or any other myriad problems.
And there will be lots and lots of challenges. Mars is a hostile and dangerous environment. Your astronauts are 45 million miles from Earth with no spare parts or extra food coming until the next mission.
The core of the game is managing all the challenges while encountered by the astronauts while still attempting to complete the mission. It's a balancing act that creates wonderful stories.
Now time to blast into the review portion.
Theme (++) This game really has an outstanding theme. To me it's a much more compelling theme than it's predecessor and has a great setting for a game of this format. The game uses the background music with the app to add extra theme to the game and it really shines.
Rulebook (-/+) The rulebook for this game is okay. It's not as horrible as some say but it's definitely not my favorite either. For the most part it gets the job done. A lot of the negative thoughts on this game stem from the complexity and difficulty of learning the game. I typically learn games through a combination of learn to play videos and reading the rulebook. Using this method I didn't have a hard time getting into the game. Granted it wasn't the easiest game to learn but it wasn't incomprehensible.
Components (+) The components in this game are pretty solid. The cards are good quality. The tokens are nice thick cardboard. I really like how the different Subsystem tiles have little pockets for the cubes to fit in. The green, blue, and red attention cubes are cool and really add to the immersion. I like the base and rover miniatures, although they aren't entirely necessary.
Gameplay (+) This game is an excellent solo game. The app creates an incredible challenge and makes it so each game is unique. I really liked how the app remembers how you responded to different challenges and sometimes consequences can come back to haunt you later in the mission. The constant challenge of maintaining the base while trying to achieve your goals is really crunchy and satisfying.
The App (+/-) The app itself is good. The interface is easy to use and it helps you remember the round sequence. As I mentioned earlier the background music really adds to the ambiance of the experience. I really like how the app integration creates a unique game each scenario. One problem I had with the app - it actually overheated my iPhone and totally drained my battery! I've never seen the overheat screen on my iPhone before and didn't even think it was possible! I literally chucked my phone in the freezer so I could finish the game.
So. Final initial thoughts on this game. I can understand a bit why this game got a bunch of negative initial reviews. The app sounds like it was really buggy at first. Since I'm playing this game after its been out for a while I didn't have any bug problems with the app. I can see how learning to play could be a challenge but again there were tons of videos to watch as a supplement to the rule book. Yes, this is a complicated game. Yes, if you aren't interested or invested in the theme it would be harder to tough out. But overall I'm quite impressed with this game. It's difficult. But getting to and surviving on Mars is difficult. I am excited to start the legacy style campaign and experience that. I'm excited to get better at this game or "put in the time" as others have said you need to in order to truly appreciate and enjoy this game.
Is this game for everyone? Probably not. Is it a great solo game for me? Definitely.
Thanks for reading!