There are a million ways to perish in space, according to movies. Tharsis, a digital board game by Choice Provisions about a disastrous Mars trip, provides us the opportunity to test many hundred of them.
The plot is simple: halfway to Mars, a ship carrying six people collides with a swarm of micrometeorites. The shards pierce the plate, causing one of the modules to explode and killing two crew members. Despite repeated failures, the rest must do their best to reach their goal safely. The player controls four characters who attempt to fix broken equipment, halt leaks, and carry out other similar tasks. However, it is hard since everything is done with many dice, the number of which reduces with each succeeding throw. The flight is broken into multiple rounds – weeks – during which the obstacles rise steadily. Initially, flaws develop in just two or three spots, but if we do not address them in a particular round, it may turn out that there is no possibility to keep the ship in excellent shape in the following turn. The bones must also be adequately separated. We also utilize them to restore resources and gain different advantages that keep the crew safe from disaster. It takes some tweaking, but the mechanics are really basic and easy to grasp.
Fortunately, dealing with emergencies is more than simply a game of chance. Every failure has its own drawbacks, making some outcomes more damaging than beneficial. Rolling a certain value sometimes causes harm to the repaired astronaut, while other times the unfortunate die just evaporates or cannot be rerolled. Cards randomly picked bonuses that return dice to the astronaut pool or guard against bad roll effects can save us in tough situations. We also need dice to utilize them, but giving up a few 1s or 2s to save the ship is a small price to pay. We also suffer with crew issues when playing. Half of the astronauts suffer challenges, while the other half earn incentives for similar reasons. Choosing one of the two possible situations frequently decides success or failure in a given week, making the start of each new round when these crises are chosen incredibly thrilling. Cannibalism is an intriguing element that can be immensely valuable during really difficult games. The game provides us the option of ingesting the corpse of one of the slain crew members or sacrificing someone alive to get the ship to its target each round. If we elect to cook human stew, all of the cannibal’s dice in a given round will be dripping with blood, serving as a reminder of the heinous crime.
Tharsis is a really gorgeous game – the ship is exhibited from a distance, and the carefully chosen filters create a charming picture, which is only upset by close-ups of the crew members’ less than attractive looks. Seeing our staff in action as they hurry to remedy the fault is like watching ants in a terrarium, and it’s pretty entertaining. The most serious criticism leveled at the game is its unpredictability. Despite several features meant to assist us in dealing with unfortunate dice rolls, it is difficult not to get the idea that in certain games, the computer just allows us to win by presenting light crises, and in others, even the most well prepared moves cannot prevent us from failure.
Tharsis now provides a few hours of entertainment, and even if we gain new characters after finishing the game on both difficulty levels, we have no motivation to return. More missions and challenges will be announced by the designers, but for now, it’s a one-evening game – although a very fun one.