28 July 2015 | Mission: Red Planet

Return to Mars

Designer Bruno Faidutti on Mission: Red Planet


The board game Mission: Red Planet sends you on a mining expedition to Mars to harvest its priceless natural resources before competing mining corporations can gain access to them. You have ten rounds to launch your astronauts into space, land them in the planet’s most resource-rich zones, and harvest as much ice and minerals as you possibly can, all the while racing against – and even sabotaging  – your competitors. 

While our upcoming edition maintains the game’s core mechanics and steampunk theme, we also brought in the game’s original designers, Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala, to work with our developers in updating and perfecting the game. In today’s preview, Bruno Faidutti offers his perspective on that process.  

From Citadels to Mars

The design of this game started more than ten years ago, and what I remember of the early design is very vague. The theme was Mars from the beginning, though it wasn’t steampunk. Mechanically, the idea was to mix the role selection system from Citadels with “something else.” The early versions of the game had a single deck of characters and a role selection system very similar to that in Citadels. I also remember that at some time we had a hex grid board and were trying to move across it, or encircle zones. Then we switched to a majority-style game and Mission: Red Planet started to take its form. From the beginning, there were secret missions. That’s more or less all I remember; all the rest is vague and may be imbued with fantasy. I have much better recollections of how the new version was developed after FFG decided to reprint the game less than two years ago.

The Rewards of Collaboration

At Fantasy Flight Games, Steve Kimball was in charge of the development, and he did a great job, regularly infusing new ideas and performing extensive testing of every version. Part of his job was to act as a mediator in those moments when Bruno Cathala and I didn’t agree. But basically, we all wanted to make the game better and smoother. And I think we did. 

For example, we reworked the mission cards. In the first edition, most missions were “all or nothing:”  either you fulfill the conditions and score lots of points, or you don’t, and don’t score anything. Bruno Cathala wanted to make them more progressive, with the points scored being proportional to the relevant mineral in the zone. Steve found a solution for the issue. In the end, I managed to keep some “all or nothing” missions, like Pockets of Influence, Strategic Zones, and Colonization, while we achieved a compromise and created the 1/2/4/7 scoring for most of the Influence missions. 

We also found a good solution with the discoveries that remove astronauts from some zones. Bruno Cathala thought this was too violent, because a player could lose lots of points for having all his astronauts removed from one of the zones needed to achieve his mission, while I thought it was fair and fun. The solution we reached favored Bruno Cathala’s ideas more. I managed to keep the Native Resistance card, which removes only one astronaut per player. Other cards, such as Even Ground and Uneven Ground, only state that astronauts are ignored for gathering resources, but still count as occupying the relevant zones.

A New Moon

Another fun story was Phobos. We all agreed it would be fun to have a moon on the map, but we didn’t really know what to do with it. At one point in time, the moon had a unique resource named Phobium. We even considered having Phobos circling around Mars, and considering it as adjacent to a new zone every round, but this would have been a real brain burner. Then came the idea of giving the Soldier the ability to airdrop astronauts from the moon onto Mars, and with that we had what was needed to bring Phobos into the game. 

Countdown to Launch

Finally, we reversed the way that the characters are numbered. The number of a character, such as the Soldier or Scientist, determines when that character's ability is resolved. If you’ve played the Asmodée edition, you probably remember that the characters were numbered from 1 to 9, so character 1 would act first, then character 2, et cetera. In the Fantasy Flight Games edition the characters are numbered in reverse, from 9 to 1. This way, calling out the characters becomes a countdown to launch, which is very thematic. It’s fun, and it sounds obvious once you’ve heard it – but neither Bruno Cathala nor I had this idea in the almost ten years of this game's existence. It’s one of our playtesters who made this suggestion in the last few days before the rules and files were conclusively validated. It’s one of those “how could we not think of it before” moments.

Thank you so much, Bruno! 

Join the Expedition

Focus your mining corporation’s efforts on dominating one region of Mars, or voyage to the moon, Phobos, to discover what valuable resources it offers mankind. Dedicate your team to mining resources, or devise cunning ways to undermine the competition. Countless wonders, incredible riches, and unpredictable adventures await you on this new frontier! 

If you’re attending Gen Con, you can undertake a preliminary exploration of Mission: Red Planet at the Fantasy Flight Games booth. Some of those explorations will even be lead by Bruno Faidutti himself! 

Pre-order your copy of Mission: Red Planet from your local retailer today! 

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