In many ways, Terra Mystica is the quintessence of a middle-heavyweight eurogame from back when they were becoming more mainstream in the hobby. It’s got a lot going for it, but true to the time, there’s a fair amount of bloat in terms of both mechanics and complexity. There’s a good area control and resource management foundation tied to the core gameplay puzzle. You’re caught between balancing your economy, scoring round objectives, and engaging your neighbors in typical euro non confrontational passive aggression. There’s a bunch of levers to pull and dials to turn with different buildings providing different resources. The plethora of asymmetric factions combined with just the right amount of randomized setup keeps it fresh. Player turns are deceptively simple, consisting of terraforming, building in a hex adjacent to where they already are, paying power to nab one of the available power actions, or passing to grab a bonus tile and priority for the next round. I personally quite like it, but the sheer volume of mechanics, decision space, and play time does tend to be a snag for getting it to the table.
Terra Nova’s aim is to provide a more accessible version of Terra Mystica by trimming as much fat as possible while still maintaining the core experience. Thankfully, it largely succeeds. The largest and most obvious change is the total removal of cults, along with the consolidation of resources and buildings. Resources are now just gold and power, simultaneously removing a stumbling block and freeing up headspace for the now all-important round objectives and expansion. Speaking of expansion, two terrain types have been culled and the board has been significantly shrunken. Once again, the benefits are twofold. One, players are almost immediately in each other’s backyards, bringing you right to the interesting bits where you’re having to compromise between efficiency, giving your opponents free power, and potentially being cut off at an important choke point by a neighbor that built out before you. Two, you’re also cutting down on the guesswork of where you should build to get adjacency when your opponents expand. Terraforming costs also cap out at two shovels instead of three, meaning that incorrect speculation hurts a lot less in Nova.
All this isn’t to say that the overall gamefeel hasn’t changed. The loss of multiple VP sources leaves players feeling like humans in a pre-agricultural society. You need to be almost single-minded in your pursuit of VP nutrition, there’s no time to dawdle. In Mystica, you’re usually safe investing in your economy, but with fewer ways to convert resources into points, you need to have a specific plan for how you’re going to get the payoff every single time you forgo points in favor of upgrading your engine. You are going to really feel it when those plans don’t work. The change is subtle, but noticeable. In short, the economic part of the game has become more forgiving, where players are less likely to bungle their board state and lock themselves out of being able to even play, but scoring has become inversely more punishing, with players whose plans faltered getting left in the dust pretty quickly.
Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted he was a dork at an early age. When he's not busy researching the intricacies of a hobby he'll never pick up, Nick can be caught attempting to either cook an edible meal or befriend local crows.
By pivoting the difficulty of Terra Mystica from simply getting anything done to anticipating your opponents,Terra Nova completes its metamorphosis into a quicker, more approachable game without feeling overly dumbed down or simplified.