Tharsis, best described as a turn based space survival board game. Your crew of 4 survivors are on their way to Mars and have 9 weeks left in their journey. For a board game consisting of dice rolling, Tharsis is captivating, albeit nerve-wracking as well. Tharsis opens as a catastrophic accident befalls the Iktomi on its mission to Mars.
Each week as the four remaining (and bald and always scared looking) crew of the Iktomi try and nurse their ailing vessel to get to their destination in one piece. A turn begins with horrible damage to sectors of the ship. Each damaged sector displays three types of information. Most importantly, it has a numerical value attached to it representing how many points it will take to fix said sector. It also displays how much hull damage to the overall ship will occur if not fixed by the end of the turn. Finally, it shows you the negative modifiers on dice rolls for that particular sector. To fix a sector, you choose one of your four crew and have them deploy to the damage. Once deployed your crew member can roll their dice and use their dice rolls to 1. Fix the broken area, 2. Use that area’s special ability once fixed, 3. Use that crew member’s special ability, 4. Throw dice into research points to unlock on the spot perks. Crew can re-roll their dice once unless their dice become “voided” or put into “stasis”. To counteract the bad dice rolls, “assists” negate these effects, but can be difficult to collect in the course of your other duties.
Be warned, deploying your crew isn’t as easy as rack and stacking the quantity of dice rolls you have. You need to account for, health, stress, assists, and most importantly order of deployment. For example, one of the crew has the special ability to heal everyone in the same pod as them. Do you try and heal this turn by deploying one of the hurt crew first and hoping they don’t get injured and die before the healer reaches them?
Dice are represented as rations. A well-fed crew-member will have up to five dice to roll per turn. The more dice, the more useful that crew-member is. After assigning all four of your crew to the various sectors of the ship, damage on each sector will resolve. Once damage resolves, you will be taken to a small cinema revealing a piece of the story, narrated usually by the captain. Following this is a crew meeting. Here, your crew will offer suggestions on what they can do to better their chance of survival. These choices depend on each crew-member’s stress meter. The more stress, the more wacky their suggestions might get. It can vary from, Hey eat these emergency rations +1 dice +10% stress for all crew… to something like, we all need to work three times as hard, right now, +50% stress +2 damage +kill one crew member. Obviously, stress is something you need to manage well.
After the suggestions turn, it’s time to dole out rations before the next week begins…if you have any. Rations can be created in greenhouse, but they are difficult to roll for and you often don’t get the luxury of throwing dice towards that. Each ration refills three dice for a crew-member. Once out of rations, another option will be thrust into your lap. One of your dead crew-members has been kept on ice. Do you abandon your humanity for a few dice? By choosing this way to feed your crew, it only refills 2 of their dice as human meat obviously just isn’t as filling, and also permanently lowers that crew-member’s total health by one. It also happens to coat all of your dice in blood, constantly reminding you of the unsettling choice you made to try and save yourself, you monster. Bloody dice serve as the game’s logo on our home screen as well, how nice.
Hopefully this review has adequately explained just how many things you have to juggle at once. At least it’s all set to the backdrop of some really stressful electronic music. Each turn demands perfection, and if you are not refilling on food and repairing your hull, your ship just isn’t going to make it. Haven’t met such an unforgiving game in some time, things start out difficult and they only get worse (I lost by turn 3 sometimes). Watch some gameplay videos before jumping into this one.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Thinking person’s game
What I Dislike:
- Sometimes it all just comes down to luck.
- Zero room for error.
- Kind of just made me want to just play FTL again