Tharsis Blasting Off To Mars Tomorrow

Hands up: who wants to embark upon a manned mission Mars to investigate alien signals? One minor complication: the ship’s been crippled by an asteroid storm. And that’s just the first disaster of many. Cannibalism may not be strictly necessary, but do bear in mind it’s an option. If that sounds like your ‘bag’, have a gander at Tharsis [official site]. The turn-based space survival strategy from Choice Provisions, the BIT.TRIP devs formerly known as Gaijin Games, is counting down to a launch tomorrow. Observe:

It’s a digital board game, then. Shorthanded, you’re trying to keep the ship ticking along by dealing with disasters. Maybe you’ll go on fire, or run out of food, or lose your minds, or… it’s all a big mess. Each turn brings new problems, to tackle by shuffling crew members around the ship, rolling, dice, using abilities, and… look, watch that video up there ↑ as it’s a tidy little technical tutorial telling you how Tharsis plays. Board game rules are a touch dry, so here’s Choice Provisions on the premise for a touch of flavour:

“A mysterious signal originating from the Tharsis region of Mars set us on a frantic mission. Who sent it? And why? Impossible questions, but in them lie the key to humanity’s survival. Now, millions of miles away from home, a micrometeoroid storm has left us with a severely damaged ship, two deceased crew, and the sneaking suspicion this trip was doomed from the start.”

Ooh, now that does sound awful!

Tharsis is coming to Windows and Mac via Steam tomorrow.


  1. Mokinokaro says:

    And if you want to see exactly how it plays:

    • Cinek says:

      I despise RNG-based games, but… this looks so nice, and has a very tempting theme… I’m probably closer to buying it than I’m willing to admin.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        I have it on good authority that RNG-based games are *rolls a 3* collectively disappointed, but believe there’s a chance you’ll come around one of these days, and bear you no ill-will.

  2. Unsheep says:

    You fail to mention that its a rogue-like though, to me that is very different from simply being a ‘strategy game’. Strategy games are usually open enough for you to adapt and correct your mistakes if something goes wrong, in rogue-likes you typically loose the game as soon as things go south, or not long after. At least that has been my experience with rogue-likes.

    • Replikant says:

      Well, meeting Medusa while not blind or getting hit by a chameleon mimicking a giant shoggoth on the town level (thanks a lot, rng) kills you outright in Nethack/Slash’em.
      But I still ascended after accidentially blanking my important spellbooks, scrolls and potions in a water tile because I thought I was still levitating. So, in some roguelikes you can still recover from disaster.

    • CaidKean says:

      It’s not a roguelike. I really wish people would stop incorrectly using that term, especially when the developer’s of the game don’t even promote it as such.

      Here’s what the developer’s write on the store-page: “Tharsis is a turn-based space strategy game.”

      • anHorse says:

        By their logic xcom’s a roguelike because it has rng, the missions/situations come randomly and you can fail

      • Unsheep says:

        There are different types of strategy games of-course, and compared to the ones I’m used to playing, the average Paradox and 4X stuff, this game feels more like a rogue-like with survival elements, not unlike Don’t Starve and Neo Scavanger. In fact I consider survival games themselves to be more or less the same as rogue-likes.

  3. Don Reba says:

    If it comes to cannibalism, Johansson gets to eat the other crew members.

    • Replikant says:

      Of course, that was after they filled the entire ship with micro-meteroid dirt and manure in order to grow turkey-plants from the leftovers of the thanksgiving diner.

  4. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Is this a millenial thing, this hatred of games where chance is involved? Is that why I don’t get it? Do today’s kids not have a good time unless they’re pre-destined to be the winner, given a walkthrough?

    • sarah180 says:

      One person said they don’t like RNG games and you jump immediately to “OMG the millennials”? Why so angry?
      I find real-time strategy games more stressful than fun, can we do a “OMG Gen-X’rs are so apathetic and indecisive: they can’t play a strategy game unless given infinite time.” This is fun. What does it say about the Baby Boomers that my mom likes to play Scrabble on her iPhone?

    • Don Reba says:

      I think people prefer games where action develops according to rules they can understand and affect, instead of those that leave them mostly at the mercy of a coin flip.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        Yeah, I understand of course, but the idea that an element of pure randomness is bad/lazy/suboptimal game design is pretty modern in strategy/sim videogames. Being frustrated by a bad roll, or a bad draw is nothing new – but being pre-frustrated by the mere suggestion that there might be mechanics that are beyond your control, that you just have to deal with… One interpretation is that the modern expectation people have of games, is that they will beat them and that randomness “unfairly” takes away that assurance. Maybe I’m just old, maybe deterministic mechanics are demonstrably “better”, maybe because I grew up in the 80s and 90s I have a sick kind of nastalgic pleasure from playing games with twisted difficulty curves because the games I grew up on were from a time before anyone understood game design? I don’t know, but what I do know is how much the mere use of the word “millennial” winds up the youngsters :)

        • X_kot says:

          Coincidentally, computerized chess really took off in the 80s, a game that is touted as involving near-zero chance (color-choice excepted). Conversely, remember that Texas hold ’em TV craze last decade? People couldn’t get enough of that.

          I would contend that that are significant populations in any generational cohort that abhors randomness. It’s a psychological, rather than sociological, phenomenon. And younger people typically get riled up when someone seems to be looking down on them – just like older people don’t like being ignored or condescended toward.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            I agree, there’s no point of being old, or young, if you can’t tease the other lot ;) But specifically in Strategy games (and I don’t mean computerizations of classic strategy games) there’s been a trend away from simulated dice-rolling ever since Starcraft. I wouldn’t suggest Starcraft would have been a better game with the random damage system from Warcraft II, but its success meant that from that point onwards we started to get much more deterministic design in both multiplayer (where it makes the most sense) and singleplayer. Anyway I think we can all agree that there are good ways and bad ways to include randomness in your game and the best applications are usually the ones where the player judges the game’s behaviour as “intelligent”, where intelligent beats, procedural, beats random (all the time, they don’t get to roll dice… No, not even you, random).

          • X_kot says:

            Definitely – the way that the randomness is implemented has a big effect, and the variability should be used in a meaningful fashion. Sure, it forces the user to measure risk and revise plans based on unintended game-state changes, but to what degree do those principles apply to a given game? Does the variance in Warcraft II add very much? Tactically, you ball up your meat shields in front of your ranged units and focus down the biggest enemy. Random damage in this case is too microscale; the force size, composition, and arrangement are the primary determining factors.

            Another problem with randomness is that it can produce scenarios that upset the game’s simulacrum (see the old Civ trope of “phalanx beating a battleship”). Things like that can be mediated with bonuses and minimums and such, so perhaps the main complaint is with entropy that doesn’t conform to user expectations. If the game tells me that my striker is elite, but she repeatedly fails to score against a rookie goalie, I’m likely to think that I have terrible luck and/or the randomness negates the tactics I implemented. The problem is exacerbated when (a) people have a flawed perception of probability, (b) devs don’t make the calculations transparent, and (c) the denotation of terms used in a game don’t match user perception. As you say, the variance should appear “intelligent,” but it depends how one dresses up the naked chaos.

        • Cinek says:

          At no point his comment suggested that he would want only a games with absolutely no RNG at all. There’s a whole spectrum between full RNG and no RNG – with this game fitting much closer to the full RNG than most of the games do, though still it’s not the extreme.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Er, yes. I addressed his comment right at the start, I agreed with it. Sorry if it didn’t come accross but the majority of that post was just more of my own comments on the subject.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            I completely agree that’s it’s bad design if your actions don’t really have any consequences in the face of complete chaos but that isn’t what I’m arguing for either. My entire beef is with people who throw up their hands at the first sign of randomness in strategy games. I don’t think there are actually any of those people here, but some of the comments here are at least an acknowledgement that the mindset exists and influences game design.

  5. Fuzzyaardvark says:

    The masochist in me is so looking forward to this game.

    The setting, music, graphics are all appealing, and the best part is that I can convince myself that I didn’t fail because I am terrible, but because of rng (even though some skill would certainly still help).

  6. DigitalSignalX says:

    cue lyrics to “Is there life on Mars?” – sigh.

  7. Rich says:

    I don’t mind randomness, but actually moving dice around on the screen? I don’t think so. There are so many more convenient ways of putting numbers in boxes.

  8. Dant_rambo says:

    Hey all, developer checking in! Not looking to self-promote or anything but I just wanted to elaborate a bit on dice usage in Tharsis.

    When you’re rolling the dice in Tharsis, you are literally rolling them. They are physics objects within a “dice box.” While I totally acknowledge this won’t be to everyone’s liking, I at least wanted to give you all some additional detail on how that aspect of the game works!