As the popularity of indie board games increase, so does the adaptation from tabletop to mobile device. The award-winning, European-style Terra Mystica is one of the most recent games to make the leap to mobile platform. Originally created by Feuerland Spiele in 2012, the tabletop game is rated fourth-best on BoardGameGeek.com, and the digital version was released last week by the developer DIGIDICED for both iOS and Android.
When first opening the Terra Mystica app, you are given three options for gameplay: Ranked Game, Casual Game, or Local Game. A Ranked Game on an iOS mobile device uses the Game Center app to connect with other mobile players. The Casual Game also uses Game Center, but this option allows you to invite up to four of your Game Center friends to an unranked game. The final option is a Local Game, where you can play against one or more local or AI players. Currently, only easy AI players are available, but there are placeholders for medium and hard difficulties, which are expected to be released soon.
The digital version stays loyal to the tabletop game with a few small enhancements. There are 14 different factions to choose between, anything from mermaids to engineers, all with authentic illustrations. The Fire & Ice expansion with six additional factions and two new terrain types will be added as a DLC in the future. Each faction has its own special ability or bonus action that the others don’t have, and in the app, each faction has its own unique theme song. Once all players have chosen a faction, your goal is to terraform the environment and create the settlement worth the most points. You have six rounds to terraform the landscape, build dwellings, upgrade structures, and gain power through cult worship.
A thorough tutorial helped me become comfortable with the app, but some grammatical errors and clunky phrasing were distracting. This is most likely due to translation from German to English and expected to improve as feedback is submitted from players. A total of eight languages are available to choose from. For players who need a little more than the digital Terra Mystica tutorials, a link is provided for the 20-page rule book explaining the game mechanics in more detail.
Terra Mystica is a massive tabletop game, and although it translates fine to a mobile app version, it takes a few playthroughs to get a solid grasp of where to find certain actions, even with the interactive tutorial. In order to make the most room possible for the main playing board, the menus are tiny buttons placed along the top and sides of the screen. There are a total of ten of these mini-menus that you often need to refer back to for information regarding your turn. I installed Terra Mystica an an iPad, and I can’t imagine playing it on a phone or smaller tablet. There’s just too much content to fit into a smaller screen. However, the game was Greenlit a few days ago, and the DIGIDICED team is working on a Steam implementation as this review is being written. Although a Steam version won’t be as convenient as a mobile app, I can see myself enjoying the online multiplayer with a larger play space available in a PC format.
Once I got used to flipping between menus, I quite liked the mobile version of Terra Mystica. It allowed me to quickly identify which actions were available and make almost immediate decisions. There’s even an option to change the gameplay speed from normal to slow or fast. It could turn a two-hour game into a one-hour game, leaving time for repeat sessions. I enjoyed the ease of starting a digital Terra Mystica game without having to set up an entire tabletop game, and I’ve already played the mobile version more than I’ve played the traditional Terra Mystica itself. Most members of the board game community prefer the face-to-face interactions between people, but convenience is frequently an advantage. I can see myself playing a quick digital game with my partner while waiting for dinner or to pass time while traveling.
Overall, Terra Mystica fans will be happy to know the mobile version is faithful to the tabletop version they enjoy. There may be a steep learning curve for new players, but enough instruction is provided to get them started. I’d recommend installing on a medium- to large-sized tablet for ease of navigation, as you’ll frequently be flipping between menus. Convenient gameplay with the option to play against remote users makes this a great addition to any digital board game collection.
An iOS review copy of Terra Mystica was provided by DIGIDICED for the purpose of this review