- Designer: Andreas Faul
- Publisher: Capstone Games/ KOSMOS
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 12+
- Time: 60-90 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Capstone Games at SPIEL 2022
- Amazon affiliate link – https://amzn.to/3ECPKqR
Terra Nova is a simplified version of the strategy game Terra Mystica. In the game, up to four players each control one of ten factions, each with different abilities. Compete against one another to explore new territories in peaceful competition, erect buildings, and achieve certain goals from round to round. Use your faction’s special abilities in a clever way to control the largest territory at game’s end and finish with the most points.
The board is placed on the table, and a round scoring tile is placed on each of the 5 spaces on the track at the bottom of the board. Place one X-token on each of the 6 power actions on the left of the board. Make a set of N+3 bonus tiles at the top.
Each player takes a faction mat and all the pieces of that color. Each player gets to place two houses on the board, on terrains matching their faction color – done Settlers style. In reverse turn order, factions choose a bonus tile from the opening display; place 1 coin on the unchosen ones. The faction mat has a terrain wheel in the bottom left, with the home terrain at the top. You will also see your facton’s special ability and sailing track near the top.
The other thing is the power cycle – three pink/purple circles. The power cycle is central to the game. Essentially, you can only use power chits in bowl III – this is fully charged. When you gain power otherwise, you can move power from bowl to bowl; you must first move all your power from I to II. Only if bowl I is empty can you move power from II to III.
The rest of the mat are rows for your buildings; you can see the cost to place and the town value to the left of the rows. Each player also has a detailed player aid that describes the turn components as well as summarizing any faction specific abilities.
The game is played over 5 rounds, each having 3 phases: Income, Actions, Round End. Taking income is fairly simple, look at your board and bonus tile, and take any coins or power that you see over an open hand. Then you move into the action phase. Here, starting with the start player, each person takes one action at a time, with play going around the table. At the beginning of the game, the board was seeding with scoring tiles, one per round. Pay attention to this as each time you perform the depicted action in the appropriate round, you’ll get bonus VPs. The actions often rely upon the ideas of adjacency (being directly next to or connected by a bridge) or in reach (being X hexes away on the river, X=your sailing strength).
- Make Habitable and Build – build a house on an unoccupied hex of your home terrain in reach; paying 4 money and giving power any opponents adjacent to your building site, OR transform a terrain to be habitable by spending shovels (cost 6 money each), placing a terrain tile of your type on that space. You then may build a house for 4 money immediately.
- Upgrade Buildings – Upgrade a house to a trading post (cost 10 is no opponent adjacent, but 7 if an opponent is adjacent) OR upgrade a trading post to a palace (fixed cost of 14); when you build a palace you can choose which one to place – as they each have different abilities to be revealed. Neighbors will gain power when you upgrade.
- (Found a Town) – this is not an action but something that happens automatically when you have a group of 4 or more buildings adjacent with a combined town value of 7 or more – take a town tile from your supply, gain the bonuses on it, then place it under one of the buildings in your town. Anything built adjacent to this in the future automatically becomes part of this town.
- Increase Sailing – Pay 8 money, move forward one space on the sailing track, take the bonuses seen
- Build a Bridge – Pay 10 money to build a bridge; one end must be adjacent to a building of yours
- Power Actions – There are always noted by an orange octagon – each power action can only be done once per round; so after you do it, cover the orange octagon with an X-marker. Essentially these let you spend power instead of coins to do things. Power actions on the board are available to everyone; power actions on a faction sheet are only available to that faction
- Special Actions – are found on some palace abilities and bonus tiles; they do not have a cost, but they are only used once per round, so cover the space with a X-marker after you do it
- (Power Exchange) – this is not an action, but can be done at any point before or after an action – spend as much power as you want to gain 1 money per power. This can also be done at the end of a round.
- Drop Out – If you cannot or choose not to take more actions, you drop out of the round. If you are the first to do so, you take the start player token. If you have a “when dropping out” action in your area, activate it now. Then exchange your bonus tile for one of the ones available next to the board; putting it face down for now to remind everyone that you are a dropout. Though you are out, you will still gain power if people build or upgrade adjacent to you.
When all players have dropped out, the round ends. Remove all X tokens from power actions and special action spaces. Put 1 money on the three bonus tiles currently next to the board. Flip over the round scoring tile just used. If this is the end of Round 5, go to endgame scoring instead.
- Money scoring- exchange all your charged power for money, then score 1VP per 3 money
- Territory scoring – count the number of buildings in your largest group – connected by your reach. Score 12/8/4 for most/2nd/3rd in this category.
The player with the most points wins. There is no tiebreaker.
My thoughts on the game
I had always been an admirer of the original version, Terra Mystica – but I never truly fell in love with it. I think this was more a function of the need to play it multiple times with each faction to generate competency; and I never had enough opportunity to play even a single faction enough to get truly comfortable with it. I was pretty jazzed to hear that there was a more simplified version coming, as I really liked the idea of the original, but I wanted something with a much less steep learning curve.
As it turns out, this game is right up my alley. There are still plenty of things to think about and work towards here – but most things are slightly simplified. Sure, the people who love Terra Mystica (TM) will say it’s too simple, too short and less fun – and they’re entitled to that opinion. I’ll be over here enjoying two games of Terra Nova (TN) in the same amount of time.
If you’re familiar with the original, here is a short and likely incomplete list of differences…
- Fewer colors (5 instead of 7); so 10 factions not 14, 5 terrain types not 7, max of 2 shovels to get from worst terrain to yours
- 5 rounds in the game instead of 6, and you start with enough available power to perform a power action right out of the gate.
- Power and coins are only resources; no more workers or priests; thus no more cult tracks, temples, sanctuaries, or favor tiles.
- Each faction has two palaces with special abilities; you can choose which to build when you get there
- Terraforming always costs 6 coins per shovel
- There is a power action that allows you to upgrade your shipping track (you can still pay for it)
- If a player builds next to you, you gain one power per adjacent building regardless of their size/level.
- The way to use extra power is simplified. In TN, you can only convert fully charged power into coins.
For me, the map feels tighter – it’s smaller (with fewer colors), and most everything is accessible as you only need 2 shovels at worst. Also, with the multiple ways to improve shipping, you can reach a lot of hexes by the end of the game. The end result for me is that a larger portion of the map feels to be in competition by midgame.
The overall game arc also feels tighter; the setup kinda throws you into a TM turn 2 or 3 state; while you still only have 2 starting houses, you have enough power to take some of the smaller power actions; and as a result, things happen a bit faster. Sure, there are only 5 rounds instead of 6, but that’s an improvement all around for me. Shorter game time and faster buildup? Sign me up, please.
While I see it as a strength, Terra Nova definitely has a much simplified set of strategies. You really don’t have as many options on what to do. It’s build buildings, terraform land to build buildings, and make towns. The round actions still provide points; and in TN, this little bit might actually be more influential in your result as there aren’t as many other ways to score points. The bonus for the largest network is also a bit more up for grabs as most players are able to increase their shipping if desired. For some that maybe makes the game not complex enough. So be it.
My concerns of the original (and well, all asymmetric games) still holds true – are the factions all balanced? Do the special powers even out? Are the special powers so strong that they force you into particular strategies based on the faction you choose/get dealt? I’ll be honest, I haven’t played it enough to know, and I honestly likely never will. It’s not that I don’t like the game; in fact, I really enjoy it. But the days of me playing a game 20 times in a row are simply gone. That’s just not how I play games in the 21st century; and you should always view my reviews and comments made thru that lens. Thus far, no faction has seemed unduly strong, and I have made a point to play with different factions in all the games I’ve had so far. It definitely does seem though that your faction choice will push you in a certain direction as the bonuses are pretty good.
So, does Terra Nova fire Terra Mystica? For me, it does. Partly because the overall complexity and length of the original made it a very infrequent guest to the gaming table. But, will that statement hold true for everyone? Actually, probably not. I think there is a time and place for both games, and for some gamers, this might be too “dumbed down”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fairly complex game, but Terra Nova is definitely a big step back in complexity from Terra Mystica. But – even for fans of the original, the ability to play a game which feels similar in half the time might make this something worth trying. For the moment, I have both in my game collection, but I do think that Terra Mystica will likely head towards the sale pile now.
Amazon affiliate link – https://amzn.to/3ECPKqR
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Matt C: It’s been a very long time since I played Terra Mystica (I played a fair number of games on the app, few in person) but I have to (sheepishly?) admit that as I read the rules for Terra Nova, I had a very hard time figuring out what was missing. My best guess was that there were fewer land types, and no longer a way to “burn” power or something. I was at a loss to figure out the others. With Dale’s helpful list, I read along: “oh, yeah – the workers & priests – and all that that entails.” As much as I love a research track, what I remember most about TM was the asymmetric player powers, manipulating those three power pools, and placing buildings on the board to build one’s power/money engine. Terra Nova has all three. While I have not yet played a full game, I look forward to showing off the game to other players who may not have the patience for Terra Mystica. I’m pretty sure it will rank at least “I like it” with a decent chance it will fall under “I love it!” Time will tell.
Jonathan F. (1 play): It was clever, low-luck, and likely playable in 60-75 minutes, which is much faster than Terra Mystica. We played 3p and it was smooth, but there might be more jostling with 4p. The player factions are a bit less exciting than in Terra Mystica because this game has fewer levers to pull. For me it is a ‘like it’ because it falls into the range of excellent, but not especially memorable games of 2022. That said, it has minimal luck and might be a game that the entire family would enjoy given the art and shorter playtime. Regardless of how well you do, you can see what you built during the game.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it. John P, Jonathan F.
- Not for me…