I recently got Terra Prime to the table. We played it heads up since the rest of the Muskegon Area Gamers were buried in a game of Through the Ages. I checked my log to see when the last time I played Terra Prime: November of 2012! That is way too long for a game this good. I’ve been looking into the forums and stats on boardgamegeek concerning Terra Prime. It never really has gotten the traction it deserves. Here’s my review of an overlooked gem.
Terra Prime has your standard issue components. There are wooden cubes, fairly thick cardboard tiles and tokens and a full color rulebook.
One of the reasons the game has been overlooked may be because the components are “standard issue”. With other space exploration games, you get plastic ships and other, cooler amenities. The artwork in Terra Prime is okay. It has a cartoonish feel to it (which I normally find okay). The color choices for the systems are stark. The color choices for the ships and other components are bland. Again, this “works”. But the components will be an obstacle for people who are looking for exceptional components.
Another note on the components: the cardboard was not fully die-cut. This made punching the game a bear without ripping the lamination.
Two to five players take on the roles of spaceship captains who explore and colonize the universe. Along the way, you will have to deliver important goods back to Terra Prime, upgrade your ship’s modules, obtain rare technologies and defeat hostile aliens.
The game does not have any direct player conflict because we are all from Terra Prime. However, all players are competing for the top score (LP or leadership points). LP are earned by obtaining technologies, making important deliveries, colonizing the far reaches of space, defeating hostile aliens or by having strategically placed colonies that your opponents can’t help but use.
The end is triggered by one of two things happening: three key reward tiles are awarded or the deliver demand tiles are exhausted. The game ends and the LP are tallied. The player with the most is the winner.
3. Modular command ships! Cool!
Everyone gets a command ship board. This holds all the vital information of your playing piece on the main game board. The cool thing is: it’s modular. You can add or take stuff away to both tweak your game experience and to edge out your opponents for a better final score.
Your command ship starts with three engines. Each engine has a yellow circle with a black arrow. Each of those icons gives you an action on your turn. Buy more engines, get more action.
Your command ship has brown, blue and green squares. These are your cargo holds. Each square can hold one good of that color. Buy more cargo space, become a better freighter.
At the front of the ship are the weapons and shields. Charge your shields so asteroids and hostile aliens don’t cost you modules or LP. Arm your ship with more blasters so the hostile aliens don’t have a chance.
The different modules (cargo, engines, shields and weapons) are available at different colonies. You’ll have to plot your course carefully to be competitive because each movement is an action.
4. Space Exploration done right
It is difficult to do exploration in a board game. It is really difficult to do exploration well in a board game. My favorite game is Twilight Imperium. We use all the add-ons and options for TI3. Except Distant Suns. Distant Suns is TI3’s take on space exploration. It is not pleasant.
Eclipse (from Lautapelit.fi Games) does exploration much better. You have some say in how the galaxy unfolds. You are incentivized to explore and be daring. You get a reward for defeating NPC aliens.
And all of this is true of Terra Prime as well. You will use short range scans to peek at other systems. You will position the hexes in a way that most benefits you. You get a reward for defeating aliens.
I do not have any direct evidence that Eclipse was inspired from Terra Prime per se, but Eclipse (published in 2011) seems to follow Terra Prime (published in 2009) more than Twilight Imperium (2005) in regards to how exploration is handled. Both have system tiles in three categories (I, II and III). Both have “Explore” as an action where players will decide the orientation of one of these tiles. Both Terra Prime and Eclipse give you a reward for negotiating any hostile aliens in the tile.
5. Space: The Final Sandbox
Terra Prime is a sandbox. You can choose how you want to score your points. Longer games like Eclipse and Twilight Imperium are also sandboxes. But Terra Prime gives you this in 60 minutes.
You could colonize an area near Terra Prime. Your opponents will undoubtedly give you lots of points when they use your conveniently located colony. You can colonize a planet farther away from Terra Prime. This gives more points and will give you access to red or yellow planets. Red and yellow planets give you better different tech upgrades.
Destroying alien ships gives you 2LP per ship. Adding guns, shields and
a bit of daring is all that is required.
The tech upgrades will accentuate your strategy. You can arm your ship to the teeth, get bonuses for making deliveries or add cargo capacity.
Terra Prime is a good, medium weight game. There is enough depth to keep gamers coming back to it occasionally.
The game length is a nice fit. Terra Prime scratches some of the itch of Eclipse but in a fraction of the time. If you are fan of Eclipse but find it difficult to get to the table because of game length, try Terra Prime.
The game does not have any expansions. I could see the game losing some of its replayability because of this.
In a perfect galaxy, Terra Prime would be republished with a component upgrade and a few add-on expansions to keep the game fresh. And in a perfect galaxy, Terra Prime would have a rating closer to 7 (which is what I rate it).