14 May 2020
Bronze place, but not third rate
You don’t get much more Eurogame than this. One huge board, which is variable and flips at the end of each turn. Three different tracks to manage, which all allow you different access points along the way. A way to do some light engine building in your own personal village. Four different kinds of meeples, and then some other ones you can hire for a bit. And all of this? In service of victory points, of course. One in our group described it as playing a gateway game like Carcassonne with all of the expansions from the start.
And yet… it was great. Not one of us, even those of us who had made the above comments, finished the game without thinking of exactly what they’d like to do next time. This is Terramara, a game about being a bronze age chieftain along the river Po who gets to be the boss of everyone if they get the most victory points. Or something; it really doesn’t matter once you’re into it. There are three tracks: culture (giving you a range of artifacts you can buy), trade (which gives immediate benefits), and military (lets you bully people into using their space). All of these are races, but each allows you to place your workers on the main board in particular places. Your worker placement options will be somewhat randomized each game, with multiple tiles that can be slotted into the windowpane of 12 letterboxed shapes.
Time passes with each turn, with tiles flipping for the level you’re on and everyone gets their workers back from that tile. This make commitment to a better reward or effect from a further land a tricky choice. Do you want to commit heavily now for a number of resources or additional movement on track in exchange for not getting your explorer back until a later turn, or never? It creates an interesting and uncomfortable set of choices to make, as the benefits might be good for the short term but give you less manpower going forward.
This commitment risk also speeds up play, meaning there is a sense of momentum as turns become shorter with players throwing more of their workforce into higher yielding locations. Because only two explorers can be at any location – and not of mixed type unless you have greater military strength – it’s important to either secure the furthest lands or be prepared for war. And this is where we get into some of the weaknesses of the game. The military track can seem low value as it’s the only one which is spent when used for actions like raiding or muscling in on other’s territory.
The other tracks yield points and can be managed more directly, although looking after two caravans which affect where you can place on later boards can see players annoyed with their initial urges to race ahead. These caravans allow you to activate other victory conditions such as the number of cards collected of a certain type, or placement on the river. For some this is a fun way to unlock more ways to win the game as you play, for others, it’s all a bit arbitrary. It is a complex game, and while the rules are clear, there are simply so many that all interact with one another that newer players will be initially overwhelmed.
But that’s the best bit. It is a game that doesn’t feel solved the first time you play it. There will be a different set up each time you play the game, meaning you’ll need to relearn it, and each new combination of players sees wildly different tactics being implemented. You can’t win every race in the game, so choosing where to put your efforts is key. Find the right group, and Terramara might become one of your favorites – but it will scare off everyone else.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN EGGETT
PLAY IT? Probably
Assuming you know you’re in for a long game Terramara is a powerful distillation of what makes Euros fun. It’s complex, unwieldy, and wonderful when you get it just right.
Try this if you liked…Fresco.
Fresco is a game all about ensuring your lazy assistants don’t leave you, and makes for heavy euro fun.
Artist: Michael Menzel
Time: 2 Hours
What’s in the box?
◗ Game board
◗ 24 Territory tiles
◗ 4 Homeland tiles
◗ 16 Flag tokens
◗ 4 Military meeples
◗ 4 Canoe meeples
◗ 8 Caravan meeples
◗ 4 Chieftain meeples
◗ 24 Explorer meeples
◗ 7 Character cards
◗ 17 Worker tokens
◗ 18 Bonus tiles
◗ 52 Artefact cards
◗ 64 Resource titles
This review originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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