Designer: Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala
Artist: Christophe Madura
I have a lukewarm relationship with Bruno Faidutti designed games. As far back as I can recall, Citadels was one of the first few Euros I ever played in graduate school. That Munchkin and Carcassonne were my very first exposure to the world of board games. I still have a copy of Citadel, but it sits in a dark corner in my cabinet, rarely seeing the light of day. Such is the fate of a popular evergreen title: appearing on occasion to justify keeping it, but not often enough to talk about it. Mission Red Planet shares some of the DNA with Citadels and is a slightly more amped up experience from the card game. To be clear, Mission Red Planet is codesigned by Brunos Faidutti and Cathala but I see clearly, the influence of Citadel in the game.
For a while, Mission Red Planet resided in my “Top 5 Games I Regret Selling” list. I regretted getting rid of my copy, but can’t recall the circumstances that prompted me to sell my initial copy. After finding an older first edition copy in the open market, I reacquired the game and had a go at it recently. Did the game live up to my nostalgia-laced expectations? Read on.
Mission Red Planet utilizes a character selection mechanism that feel like Citadels but is actually closer to that of Kreta and Concordia. All players select a role simultaneously from a deck of 9 characters cards that are similar for all players. The cards are then revealed and actions are taken based on the numerical order. Cards played are discarded. At some point, playing the recruiter allows one to pick up all the role cards from the discard stack to refresh the hand and play continues.
While the core mechanism of action selection might be inspired by other games, the actions of the role cards is definitely inspired by Citadel: They are chaotic, conflict-oriented and filled with backstabbing opportunities. To understand the roles, one must first understand the goals of the game.
Mission Red Planet, as the title suggests is a race to colonize Mars. Each round, players select a role card and as the role cards are played according to their numerical rank, players will load their spaceships with astronauts bound for different regions on Mars. As soon as a spaceship is loaded, it will blast off from the launch pad and land in a predetermined region on Mars at the end of the round. This is where area majority comes in as players will compete to colonize each territory by having the most number of astronauts. You can’t win all the fights, but can choose to focus on a handful of high value regions to compete.
However, the game is anything but straightforward because of the powers bestowed by each role card. Apart from loading somewhere between 1-3 astronauts, some role cards will allow you sabotage the launch by changing the destination of the rocket, destroying an entire spaceship along with its crew or swap astronauts with a player. As you can imagine, the purpose of these cards is to sow chaos and add to the uncertainty. Additionally, some of these role cards allow you to move your astronauts on Mars or pick an event card which are end game hidden objective cards. Some of these event cards are region specific on Mars and must be tucked underneath the game board in the specific regions. These cards will alter the scoring for each region. However, since these cards are face down, you will never have any idea if the effects are positive or negative except the player who played it
Scoring for the game happens in the 5th, 8th and 10th (final) round of the game. At each scoring stage, VP chits are awarded based on area majority of astronauts for the different martian regions. Each region is randomly assigned a VP token with values ranging from 1-3 points when the territory is first explored. So, some areas will be more valuable than the rest. At round 5, the player with a majority will be awarded one VP chit that correspondes to the resource token VP value. At round 8, 2 VP chits will be given and in the final round, 3 VP chits will be handed out. In this way, the contested regions become more and more valuable over time.
The role cards introduce random elements that you really cannot predict and you just do your best and smile through the pain. In some instances, the timing can create hilarious outcomes. For example, in attempting to sabotage another player, you can end up loading a ship with your astronaut and blowing it up on the launchpad. You laugh at yourself at your silliness and move on. It’s that sort of game. This is most definitely not your serious resource crunching Euro. Mission Red Planet feels like Citadels in spirit in that there is a fair amount of controlled chaos in the game. You can see Faidutti’s fingerprints throughout the entire game. The most prominent being the sequential playing of character cards based on their ranking which is also found in Citadels. So, for some, that will be a selling point and for others, a red flag to stay away.
I found Mission Red Planet to be a decent game for what it sets out to do: a light-hearted, conflict-oriented area majority romp. The theme and the mechanism is a marriage made in heaven. In fact, I am quite sure that my first experience was such a delight because I highly enjoyed the thematic elements. It is perfect for the mechanism. The futuristic steampunk elements of the game, the art work and the box cover art all look fantastic. I am not a theme person, but for a game of this sort where the focus is more social interaction and less number crunching, the theme sort of comes to the forefront. I may not care as much for a standard HiG Euro but for Mission Red Planet, the theme is more important and also a correct choice.
So, do I regret selling the game? I guess so. Was my decision to pick up the game again fueled by nostalgia? Sure. I admit it was. Now that I have replayed the game, is it that good? Well, I think the game is fine and I don’t have many games of this genre. So I don’t mind keeping the game around for a little while longer but I wouldn’t say it is essential. I also don’t know how the game plays with the newer edition as I imagine tweaks have been made to balance the game, but I do think it Mission Red Planet is still a pretty unique game by current standards and deserve some attention.