Mission: Red Planet, an out of print game by Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti and published by Asmodee.
When it first hit shelves all those years ago in 2005 I have to admit to having been rather excited. Faidutti was a seminal designer in my ascendancy to gamerhood, who had had a hand in some of the my most enjoyed games, not least of which was Castle.
Combine Faidutti with Cathala, add some rockets, add Mars, add steam, and you can understand, I hope, why I thought this game was a cocktail that tasted of swoon.
I have written about this game before, but rather than post gratuitous links or expect you to trawl through the mire of ramblings here I will quickly sketch an outline:
Mission: Red Planet is a game of two halves, there is the jostle and brawl of the launchpad, where rockets destined for locations on Mars are loaded with astronauts, where you hope to get your people into the right rockets going to the correct places without blowing up. Then there is Mars, more distant and in some ways harder to manipulate, it is a place where majorities rule. Players will win by scoring points, and points are awarded on the basis of majority - whoever covers an area thickest with their kind will walk away with the medallions.
Mission: Red Planet is a strange mixture of role selection and area majority, but ties the two together surprisingly well. One of the most fascinating aspects of the game is how pressured it is. The game will last exactly ten turns, each turn a player will select and execute a role, rockets may launch and astronauts land. There are nine roles and ten turns, every time a role is used it is discarded and may not be used again, although one of the roles allows you to reclaim your full compliment of role cards. Choosing when to replenish in a ten turn game is vital. It's something every player must do at least once, but when done is something of a wasted turn. I find hinging the flow of action on that redraw to be one of the key and interesting aspects of a game that is all about timing. Many of the roles must be timed to work well, filling and launching of ships must be timed well when the scoring rounds loom from turn 5 onward. Timing a movement on Mars, timing the sabotage of a rocket on the launchpad, timing the arrival, execution or seduction of an astronaut on Mars, timing all of that within the framework of ten simple turns makes for a rollicking game.
Some will complain that the discovery cards can be unbalanced and that the actions of other players may ruin an otherwise perfect plan, but these too are aspects I enjoy. It is a short game that feels quick and tense. In all, Mission: Red Planet is one of my favourite Faidutti games, and one I don't get to play often enough...