Cardboard Children – Mission: Red Planet (2nd Edition)

Hello youse.

It’s the month of May. And if I may (get it) talk to you for a bit about board games I may (get it?) be able to tell you about a cool board game. That should maybe have been a “might” there, instead of a “may”. I may be mistaken, though. Or might be mistaken. No idea. Anyway, Mission: Red Planet. Second Edition. Yep. Let’s do this. By the way, the Red Planet is Mars.

MISSION: RED PLANET (Second Edition)

Spoiler: this game is already a favourite of mine. I have the original edition, long out of print, and I’ll state early doors that I much prefer the artwork of the first edition to the clean and cartoonish lines of the second edition. The game has a soft sci-fi look now, as opposed to the more weird steampunky sci-fi look of the original. It’s all subjective, though. The art still looks good. It’s bright and colourful on the table now, when it used to look kinda rusty and strange. It just looks a bit less interesting.

But that’s just artwork – I’ll shut up about it now. The good news is that the game is still a classic.

For those who don’t know, Mission: Red Planet (the Red Planet in question being Mars) is a role selection and area control game about sending rockets to Mars (see?). You’re mining the Red Planet, sending ships and miners, extracting all the good stuff, trying to beat your opponents to the big bucks. You’re trying to complete some missions, yes, which is why the game is called Mission: Red Planet and not, I dunno, Vacation: Red Planet. You’ll do all this with some bluffing and good timing.

The game is really simple to play. It’s an easy to learn thing, but there are many little wrinkles and tricks you need to learn to play it well, and these only come with experience. Every player has an identical deck of 9 cards, with a different character on each card. These characters have unique powers. The meat of the game is the selection of these characters from round to round, using them to change the game’s state, and hoping that the plans you’ve set in motion pan out perfectly.

The characters are numbered from 1-9, and once every player has selected one, there is a countdown – from 9 to 1 – and each character activates in turn. The characters do their work – sending astronauts onto ships, making rockets blast off, changing the course of rockets, sabotaging rockets. So, you can see that the game hangs on the player assessing what his opponents might do with their turn and trying to fit his or her plans in with theirs, or deciding to fling a big spanner in the works.

I mean – you can send a rocket off to Mars (the Red Planet) before your opponent has managed to get their astronauts onto the sucker. Or you can plot a new destination, completely screwing up your opponent’s area control strategy.

Because, yeah, area control is important. When mining happens on the different regions of Mars, it’s the player with the most astronauts in the region who benefits. So there’s a constant push and pull of flights to Mars, with astronauts being scattered around and players trying to establish dominance of different areas. It’s a game in constant flux, not just from round to round, but from moment to moment.

Oh, it’s so good! Individual rocket flights can become crucial. Let’s say your opponent has just enough astronauts in a rocket to Phobos to gain dominance upon arrival. And let’s say you only have one astronaut on that rocket and you need two to gain dominance yourself. You can choose the Femme Fatale character to seduce one of your opponent’s astronauts and make them yours. Of course, the Secret Agent might just send that rocket off to Mars early before you even get the chance to complete that seduction… There is drama on the rockets, drama on Mars, and drama all around the table.

Mission: Red Planet is a brilliant, brilliant board game. There is so much stuff going on, so many thrills and spills and laughs, and yet you’ll knock out a full game in about an hour, easily. The new edition has some changes from the original, most of them positive. The astronauts are now represented by little miniatures instead of the little tokens in the original. Phobos, as I mentioned, is a new area on the board. And the player count is better in this edition, working for 2-6, instead of the only 3-5 players in the first. The only thing I don’t like is the artwork and the fact the spaceships have been turned into cards, instead of the little cardboard pieces in the original. Again, though, just minor things, minor quibbles.

For some reason, Mission: Red Planet isn’t as adored as it should be. Will you please adore it? It’s a clean, excellent design, focused on an exciting, constantly interactive play experience. It’s fast, funny and fun.

Now’s the time to get on it, while it’s in print. So go do that. Now.

Like, now.

The Red Planet in question is Mars, by the way.

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  1. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    This sounds wonderful. Really informative write-up, thank you. I’m only confused about where the game is supposed to take place, as it wasn’t covered in the review.

    • wraithgr says:

      He keeps talking about a red planet, so clearly… Jupiter? Whole game must be taking place inside the storm…

    • syndrome says:

      idk, the planet is red… so Mercury?

  2. falchieyan says:

    So the “choose characters from a pool, then they activate in turn” is the same as the classic Citadels mechanic? If so, sounds intriguing.

    • crowleyhammer says:

      Citadels is a great game, the backstabbing shitstorm it devolves into wasnt bettered until cutthroat caverns for me.

    • YohnTheViking says:

      It’s by Bruno Faidutti (the same guy who did Citadels) and Bruno Cathala, so it’s basically the Citadel mechanic in a full size board game.

  3. jonfitt says:

    Oh cool. I looked for this back when you first wrote about it and it was out of print.

  4. Scytale says:

    We have been playing this in our board game group and the feelings are mixed. Its definitely a game with well thought out game mechanics.

    What annoys people is that it is very tactical – you need to deal with each turn in itself, its very hard to have a strategy.

  5. Solomon Grundy says:

    I bought this one for my game club and thought it would be a big hit. We played 3-4 times with 6 players and at the end, everyone’s reactions was “Ok… I guess you won. Meh.” not the “Wow, that was so fun let’s play again!” that I was hoping for… I guess that tactical-ness, that chaos, is characteristic of Bruno Faiduitti games, but in the end it didn’t add up to fun for us. Most people I’ve played with, myself included, felt mostly frustration and disappointment in equal measures.