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Terra (2003) Card Game Review and Instructions

How to Play | Review | Final Verdict | Comments

How to Play

Objective

The objective of Terra is to score the most points while also preventing the world from descending into chaos.

Setup

Shuffle all of the solution cards (cards without the gray map at the bottom of the card) and deal out cards to each player based on the following chart:

  • 3-4 players: 4 cards per player
  • 5 players: 3 cards per player
  • 6 players: 2 cards per player

All of the crisis cards (cards with the gray map at the bottom of the card) are then added to the deck of solution cards. All of the cards are shuffled and are set aside for the draw pile.

Every player takes two markers of the same color putting one on the score board while keeping the other marker to indicate what color they are.

The youngest player will start the game with turn order rotating clockwise.

A Player’s Turn

Each player’s turn consists of three steps:

  1. Draw a card
  2. Resolve impending crisis
  3. Play cards

When drawing a card the player first figures out if it is a solution card (no map on the bottom) or a crisis card (map on the bottom). If the card is a solution card, the player adds the card to their hand (without letting the other players see the card) and they skip step two. If the card is a crisis card the player shows the card to all of the other players and play proceeds to step two.

Resolving Crises

When a crisis card is drawn an impeding crisis begins. Players have one opportunity to prevent the crisis from becoming a full-blown crisis. Starting with the player who drew the card, each player has a chance to play one of the cards from their hand (face up) in order to try and stop the crisis. Each player can only play one card that matches the color of the crises drawn. Players can choose not to play a card if they don’t want to. Once every player has had a chance to play a solution card, the total of the cards played is compared to the number on the crisis card.

If the numbers on the cards played equal or surpass the number on the crisis card, the crisis has been solved. The crisis card and all of the solution cards played are discarded. The first player to play a card will get three victory points. The player who played the highest valued card receives three victory points as well. If the first player also played the highest card, that player would receive six points. The current player’s turn ends.

Terra Solved Crisis
The players have successfully completed the crisis since they played cards totaling 16 when the crisis only required 13. The first player would receive three points and the player who played the six would receive three points.

If the cards played do not equal or exceed the crisis card number, the crisis turns into a full-blown crisis. The crisis is moved to the center of the table and any cards played on it are discarded. Players need to check if any of the end game conditions have been met. If none of the conditions have been met, the current player draws an additional card and continues their turn. If they draw another crisis card, the process is started again.

Terra failed crisis
The players have failed to stop the crisis. The players have only played cards totaling ten points while the crisis required thirteen. The cards played on the crisis are discarded.

Playing Cards for the Common Good

When the third step is reached the players can start playing from their hand towards full-blown crises in the middle. The player can play only one card for each crisis and the card’s color must match the color of the crisis. The player is able to play one card to several different crises though. Any cards played during this step are added to the crisis card and work towards eliminating the card. If a player plays a card to a crisis that brings the cards total above the number on the crisis card, that player eliminates that crisis card and they receive five points for eliminating it.

Stockpiling Cards for Yourself

In any turn that you play at least one card for the common good toward a full-blown crisis, you have the opportunity to also stockpile cards for yourself. A player can decide to stockpile three cards for themselves which are placed face down in front of them and count as points for that player at the end of the game. At the end of the game the players receive points equal to the numbers printed on the cards that are stockpiled. Cards can only be stockpiled if they meet one of the following conditions:

  1. All of the cards are the same number and color. Example: All cards are green threes.
  2. All of the cards share the same value but are different colors. Example: 1 green three, 1 blue three, 1 red three.
  3. All of the cards are the same color and the numbers form a straight. Example: green one, green two, green three.
  4. All of the cards are different colors and the numbers form a straight. Example: green one, blue two, red three.
Terra Stockpiling Cards
Here is a picture of the four different situations where players can stockpile cards. The top row is three cards of the same number and color. The second row is three cards of different colors but the same number. The third row is of a straight of the same color. The bottom row is of a straight of all different colors.

End of Turn

When a player is done playing cards their turn ends. If they have over eight cards in their hand, they must discard down to eight cards. Play proceeds to the next player as long as none of the game ending scenarios have occurred.

End of Game

Terra can end in either a good or a bad way.

The game ends in a bad way with all of the players losing if one of the following conditions occur:

  • If there are three full-blown crises in the same region of the world (based on the highlighted country on the bottom of the crisis card).
  • If there are four full-blown crisis cards of the same color in play.
  • If there are a total of seven full-blown crisis card in play.
Terra Losing Conditions
Here is a sample of the three different ways for players to lose Terra. The top row represents three crisis affecting North America. The second row shows four crises of the same color. Finally the last row shows seven full-blown crises.

The game ends in a good way if none of the bad ending conditions are met. After a player takes the last card from the draw deck and finishes their turn, the game ends. Players add up their points from their stockpiled cards to their current score to arrive at their final score. Whoever has the highest score ends up winning the game.

Review

The world is in trouble. Ecological, socio-economical, and diplomatic issues are leading to a chaotic world. In Terra players work together in order to try and solve the world’s problems. In order to save the world, players are going to have to work together. Players also need to think out for themselves since if they don’t help themselves they will end up handing the victory to one of their opponents. So are you going to be greedy while the world comes to an end or are you going to be selfless but let one of the other players win the game?

We here at Geeky Hobbies are big fans of the board game publisher Days of Wonder. I would consider the game Ticket to Ride to be my favorite board game. I have also enjoyed Small World, Pirates Cove, Colosseum, and Mysteries of the Abbey. What I love about Days of Wonder is that they create games with great components that do a great job making simple to play games that still have quite a bit of strategy.

I was a little hesitant about Terra though. Just by looking at the box, the game looks a little childish. There is a kid hugging a globe with a bandage on it after all. The game’s recommended age is 8+ so I was expecting Terra to be a pretty simplistic game. I found it for only a couple dollars at a clearance sale though so I decided to give the game a chance. While it is probably the worst Days of Wonder game that I have played so far, I was still pleasantly surprised by this fun little card game.

Classic Days of Wonder

When looking at Terra you can see a lot of similarities to Days of Wonders other games even with Terra being one of Days of Wonder’s earliest games. Just like the rest of their games, Terra succeeds in being a great mix between being accessible and providing players with multiple decisions that will have an impact on the final outcome of the game. While the instructions are a couple pages you can read through them and understand them pretty quickly. It probably only takes five to possibly ten minutes to explain the game to new players. It may take a couple turns for everyone to acclimate to the game but everyone should have a full grasp of the game by the end of their first game.

Due to its’ simplicity, I think Terra would work very well as a family game. The game has a recommended age of 8+ and that seems about right. While I enjoyed the game, if you don’t like the easier mechanics found in most Days of Wonder games you probably won’t like Terra that much since you will probably find the game to be too simple.

Selfish or Selfless

The main mechanic in the game Terra is deciding how selfless or selfish you are going to be. Recently there have been quite a few board games created that are of the cooperative fashion. All of the players try to work together in order to beat “the game.” Terra is kind of different than a lot of these cooperative games in that the players work together and against one another at the same time.

This mechanic is actually my favorite part of Terra. I like the mechanic since every decision has to weighed on whether you can help yourself or if you are going to have to help the team to your own detriment in order to prevent losing. Terra is unique in that the players can’t go too far in either direction.

Let’s begin with being selfless. It feels good to be the “nice” player that tries to help everyone out. Typically I would consider myself to be more of a selfless than a selfish person. While it might make you feel good, it is a terrible move in Terra to always be selfless. The team as a whole may win the game but you won’t be the ultimate winner if you aren’t at least a little selfish.If you have any competitiveness in you, you won’t be satisfied to just sit back and let the other players win.

If everyone plays the game selflessly I think the game would get boring pretty quickly as well. The game would be pretty easy to beat if everyone used their cards for the greater good. I think the only way you could lose in this situation would be to have terrible luck as a team. If the game was played like this the ultimate winner would be the luckiest player.

Now lets look at the other side of the equation, selfishness. While you need to be at least a little selfish in order to win the game, no one can be too greedy or the team will for sure lose. There is not a lot of margin for error in the game. While players can occasionally be greedy and keep cards for themselves, it can’t happen often. This means that if you play with a truly selfish/greedy person you may want to not invite them to play the game since you will not win the game. Selfish players would also probably suck most of the fun out of the game. In the game I played each player either banked one or two groups of cards. Even with banking so few cards, our group ended up losing (more on this later).

What I really like about this mechanic is that the strategy in the game revolves around how greedy you and the rest of the players can be without all losing the game. You will end up being presented with some interesting choices where you need to decide whether to keep the card you really want or will you sacrifice your own well being in order to keep the game going.

The World is Doomed

When looking at the box for Terra you would most likely assume that the game would be a pretty easy game. The game is for children ages 8+ after all. This may hold true for a while if you are lucky, but the game won’t stay easy for long.

In the one game that I have played, our entire group lost in the most heartbreaking manner possible. We ended up losing with only one more card left in the draw deck. If we only would have been able to draw one more card we would have won the game as a group. Individually there would have probably have been a tie for first place.

We don’t appear to be alone either. Taking a quick look at Board Game Geek, it appears most people end up losing Terra. There are two factors that lead to the game being quite hard to win.

The first thing that adds to the difficulty is that players are obviously going to try to score points for themselves in addition to trying to save the world. You can’t really blame any player for trying to win the game. If everyone just plays for the common good, the game would be pretty boring since it would be too easy. If you have any competitiveness in you, you want to at least try and win the game. The problem is that only a small amount of greed can occur or the team is destined to lose. Since everyone needs to try and score some points for themselves, it is hard to keep enough cards around to actually stop enough crises to avoid losing the game.

The other issue that leads to the game being pretty hard is just the luck of the draw. How the game is set up, every single player could keep no cards for themselves and the team could still lose the game. First your group could end up drawing a bunch of crisis cards right away and not have any way of stopping them. If you draw several crisis cards in a row, you will quickly fall behind and it will be hard to catch up. You could also run into a situation at the beginning of the game where you draw no crisis cards so there is no way to play your cards. This will lead you to having to discard cards which will go to waste. This actually happened to my group since we drew very few crisis cards at the beginning of the game. If we didn’t have to discard so many cards, I think our group could have won the game.

Stockpiling

At first I would say that the stockpiling mechanic was the most difficult in the game. The mechanic is not that hard to understand but it takes a while to remember which different combinations of cards can be stockpiled. In your first game you will probably have to reference the rules quite a bit in order to remember which cards can be banked together. The longer you play the game, the easier that this will become and you will have to reference the rules less.

While stockpiling cards is the most selfish thing you can do in the game, I like that the game forces players to do something good for the entire group before they can stockpile any cards. This forces players to make moves that help the other players before they can help themselves. This won’t entirely stop the greedy players in your group but it will slow them down a little. If this rule was not in place a greedy player could totally ruin the game by constantly stockpiling cards instead of working towards the team’s goals.

When stockpiling cards you need to really think about what you are doing. Obviously you want to bank more points than the other players but you also can’t bank too many high valued cards or you will end up having a hard time actually finishing the game. What is the point of banking a lot of cards if you will end up losing anyway.

Solving Crises

The biggest problem I had with Terra is that the game rarely rewards you for doing the selfless thing. You can earn some points for playing the biggest card that solves a crisis or playing the last card to a full-blown crises but in between there is little reason to do the right thing until the team’s back is against the wall.

The game promotes greediness by mostly rewarding that type of play. For example there is no real reason to play cards to an impending crisis unless you can play the highest card. Until there are a lot of full-blown crises on the table there is no real reason to play to an impeding crisis unless you can play the highest card or you are the first player to play since otherwise you are just giving points to the other players.

This same problem occurs with full-blown crises. Until you are getting close to a losing condition, you don’t want to play cards to a full-blown crisis unless you are able to play a high enough card that would solve the crisis. By adding points to a full-blown crisis you are just making it easier for an opponent to claim the five points.

In both of these situations you are essentially playing a game of chicken with the other players. Players end up playing selfishly until their backs are up against the wall. No one wants to be the player that sacrifices their own well being in order to help out another player. I think the game could have done a better job rewarding selfless play.

Theme

Overall I have mixed feelings about the theme of Terra. I like the theme of trying to help out the planet even though at times it seems to be a little cheesy. The artwork in particular kind of seems a little childish despite the game otherwise working perfectly fine for adults. The artwork is well done but I think they could have made it appeal a little more towards an older audience. While I didn’t find the theme of trying to save the planet to be very “preachy”, it could turn some people off.

My biggest problem with the theme is that the gameplay kind of supports the opposite of trying to do things for the greater good. The gameplay rewards the player who is the greediest. None of the players can be too greedy or everyone will lose but if the team ends up winning, the player who helped the least will likely be the player who ends up winning the game. While the theme tries to get people to work together to try and save the world, the gameplay pretty much enforces the opposite. I have to say that this does draw a strong parallel to how things work in the world today.

Other Thoughts

Here are a couple quick other thoughts I had on the game:

  • I wish the game had a rule in the instructions to determine who gets the second three points for a solved impending crisis when two players play the same high card. As far as I could tell the instructions never address this issue. Our group decided to let whoever first played the high card would get the points. This created a problem though since was little reason to play a card lower than the high card since you were just giving points to the other player.
  • While I ended up playing the game with four players, I would not recommend playing it with less than that. I say that because I think the game will be way too hard to complete with less that four players. Some of the crises would be impossible to complete in the impending phase since the totals are too high that pretty much every player would have to play a five or six card to even have a chance to stop the crisis from going full-blown.

Final Verdict

Looking back at Terra I would actually compare it quite a bit to the game Pandemic. While Terra supports greed more than Pandemic does, I would say that Terra is a simpler version of Pandemic. Terra could work as a good introduction for children into the world of cooperative board games like Pandemic.

Overall I would say that I enjoyed Terra more than I was expecting. Looking at the box you would assume that it is a children’s game about protecting the environment. While those are both true, I actually found that the game had quite a bit more to it than I was expecting. I like the delicate balance between being selfless and selfish which provides some unique gameplay.

Unfortunately my biggest issues with the game come from the “greedy” side of the game. Since no one wants to benefit the other players, the game essentially becomes a game of chicken where no one wants to help each other out until they have to. One player is then forced to help the group to their own detriment in order to save the group. If you are going to play the game with a selfish player, I don’t think you are going to enjoy the game very much. The game also relies too much on luck and the game seems a little too hard to win unless everyone is selfless.

As far as recommendations go I will say that I enjoyed the game. If you are not a big fan of semi-cooperative games you probably won’t like the game. Also if you or any of the other players in your group are pretty selfish you probably won’t enjoy yourself as much as you would hope. If the idea seems interesting to you though and you can look past a couple of the game’s flaws I think you could actually enjoy Terra quite a bit.

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