I recently pre-ordered First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet, a co-operative game from Portal Games, based in Poland. I’ve never bought a game on pre-order before, but with cool stretch goals, a theme and style I was really excited by, and the excellent design pedigree produced by Portal Games’ Ignacy Trzewiczek (Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, Imperial Settlers, 51st State) I had to get this game ASAP!
The similarity in name to the Robinson Crusoe game is intentional, being based on its core mechanisms, and sets itself a high benchmark. It gives us an idea of what to expect from First Martians; a big, well produced, well thought out co-operative game, where players work through a series of missions or campaigns while all the time dealing with whatever the island/planet may throw at them.
…oh yeah, and it’s gonna be tough!
Robinson Crusoe is a game based on fictional events from a book. Where First Martians differs is that it is based on the potential reality of getting a team of scientists to Mars.
Getting people on Mars is no-longer the realm of science fiction depicted by little green men but something we will likely achieve in the coming decades. This has been reflected in how society engages with the topic and we can see this in a spate or recent mars and space based board games and films where protagonists are no longer fighting flesh eating aliens but surviving against the more probably dangers that space exploration and colonising a planet would present. This seems to be the approach of First Martians, and from what I can tell the science behind it is firmly in the realms of what things may really be like when humanity finally colonizes Mars.
While reading about this game I couldn’t help but be reminded of the fantastic film “The Martian” starring Matt Damon; and designer Ignacy Trzewiczek states this was an inspiration to him, particularly the line “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”
It’s clear that this line sums up how players are expected to approach this game. In First Martians 1-4 players take on the roll of a team of scientists who have reached Mars on a mission from NASA to set up a colony and carry out experiments.
The game is split into both stand alone and campaign missions set for you by NASA. But unlike the legacy games doing the rounds at the moment, you can play much of the content again and again, with only one part of the massive amount of content in the box being legacy style. Players can approach the game in different ways, whether its taking on individual stand alone missions, working through campaigns or taking the sand box approach, doing what you like, exploring Mars and seeing how well you survive against the ever hostile Martian environment.
While attempting to achieve your main missions, the red planet will go about doing whatever it takes to make your life (and ever impending death) as unpleasant as possible. Your solar panels will break, your farm will stop producing food, your oxygen generator will go on the blink etc, and you must work as a team to…”science the shit out of it”.
Keeping yourselves alive and your colony functioning by cooperatively working out which crisis to prioritise and fix (sometimes by creating another crisis somewhere else). While at the same time keeping on mission, discovering information about Mars and reporting back to Earth, is essentially the aim of the game.
In that way it reminds me of co-op games like Dead of Winter or Battlestar Galactica where you must complete missions while keeping crisis after crisis at bay. Where this appears to differ though, is if you don’t fix the crisis, you don’t just take a hit and move on, they mount up and you meet a painful, lonely end.
There’s a hell of a lot of playable content in the box. Firstly there are six stand alone missions. The first mission is designed to help you learn the rules and I always appreciate this feature in a game, particularly one that looks like it may be quite complex when it comes to teaching others. Further to this there are TWO, yes TWO five mission campaigns of interlinked missions which has been put together in a way that tells a story and leaves you with a cliffhanger at the end of each session. I also like how your characters will personally develop by learning new skills and the game goes on.
I’m particularly drawn to how this game does both stand alone missions and campaigns. What puts me off games like Pandemic Legacy is that I don’t have a regular unchanging game group so it would be hard to progress through the campaign. By having both in the box, my partner and I can play the campaigns and still be able to get the game off the shelf when we have guests. For me this was another big tick toward me pre-ordering the game.
Players have to spend actions on a choice of four basic options: Explore, Gather, Research and Build. Further to this there are minor actions carried out at various parts of the facility.
Obviously I don’t have the game at this stage so my information is limited but the mechanics work similarly to Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island. I particularly like the detail in the mechanics where, for example you can spend two actions to do something well, or do two actions less well, simulating being in a rush, and when you do this your chance of something going wrong increases.
But there’s more to this game. As if there wasn’t enough in the box to play with and to look at with the top quality components, art work and design, there is an accompanying app for your phone or tablet that stores all the cards, tracks your progress through the missions and adjusts what it offers you depending on the actions you take, decisions you make and difficulty level you want to play at.
This app looks really exciting too. It really seems like another step forward in board game app support that we first started to see with games like X-COM, where the app has the potential to create variable content, further adding to the re-playbility of the game.
I’m really excited to get hold of this game. When I do I will post up an unboxing, a review and a rules run-through.
For more information on the game including videos on the mechanics of the game visit Portal Games’ YouTube channel
Portal Games has the tagline “Board games that tell stories”. It is clear to me that First Martians will do just that. All my favorite games are those where all the players sit around for twenty minutes afterwards taking about what happened, the story that took place, and what they could do differently next time. I’m hoping this will be one of them. I will let you know when it arrives in a couple of months.
Follow me on Twitter: @Nerd_Punk
Follow me on Instagram at: @athroneofgames