This board game is a 2-5 player game of terraforming and settling the hex-covered board, while you neighbours attempt to do the same. There is no combat in this game – you just have to claim terrain before your opponents do, and try to get the most points in the process.
But wait – resources are limited, and there are several advances in efficiency you can research. Do you grab the terrain now, or use precious resources to gain terraforming efficiency, water travel, or other bonuses first?
There’s also the four cults of the elements, and you want YOUR priests to be the ones to uncover the elemental secrets and gain Power.
For each of the 14 Factions that players can choose from, it’s a delicate balancing act between choices, and only the player whose choices and timing are most optimal will win the game.
Game Explanation and Rules Summary
After choosing a Faction, and the initial placement of two Dwellings, players each choose a Bonus Tile and take turns taking Actions until each player has passed for the Round. Upon passing, you get to choose a different bonus tiles from the ones remaining next to the board that weren’t chosen last time, or from ones that other players turned in after passing.
During an Action, you can Transform a terrain hex and build a Dwelling on it, upgrade a structure (such as a Dwelling) to another type of structure (Trading Posts, Temples, Sanctuary or Stronghold), upgrade your Shipping or Spades, send a priest to the Cult of Elements, or spend Power to use a special action on the game board.
Players have four resources to spend: Priests, Workers, Coins, and Power. Different structures grant different types of resources at the start of each round, in the “Income” phase.
Each time you build a structure by removing it from your Faction board and placing it on the main game board, you reveal, and may now collect as income, the resource(s) beneath that structure. This process is how you build your income. However, as you upgrade structures, the lesser structures that are being replaced, are returned to your game board, thus reducing your income of the more basic resource.
One of the main concepts in the rules is that of “adjacency”, either direct or indirect. With direct adjacency, your structure is immediately next to another player’s structure, with no water or other hexes in between. Adjacency allows you to upgrade Dwellings into Trading Posts for half the cost in Coins, but also grants other players the chance to gain Power as you upgrade.
The object of the game is to get the most Victory Points, and you gain those by building or upgrading structures as per the Round Tiles, or by upgrading Shipping or Spades, or by various means specific to various Factions. In addition, the players that are highest on the four Cult Tracks score victory points at the end of the game, as do the players with the highest number of indirectly-connected structures (either by land, tunnels, flight, bridges, or shipping).
Initial Bonus Tiles
Probably the most valuable initial bonus tile is the Transform Action w/ +2 Coin tile. At a point in the game where no one has efficient transforms, this tile is equal to 3 workers (3w) and 2 coins (2c), which is more income than any other bonus tile. Other good tiles are the +1w, +3 power (3pw), and the +2w +Stronghold/Sanctuary points tile. Basically, early game you will need workers for Transforms, and these tiles are the best ways to get that.
Victory Points vs. Economy
The basic of “how to win at Terra Mystica” involves making moves that get you points (usually by matching the Round Tile), whenever possible. There are a few situations where doing too much in one round will leave you without resources of the appropriate type in future rounds, but in general, you want to take Victory Points instead of going for the “perfect economy”.
This recommendation also means, when it won’t be too much of a disadvantage (i.e. maybe you need coins really badly instead), take the “Dwelling”, “Trade Posts” or “Stronghold” bonus tiles each round. Terra Mystica is a slightly different game, where having the best economy doesn’t relate directly to winning the game – if you don’t take points when you can, it’s unlikely that you’ll pull off a win.
Of particular mention is the “Stronghold Points and Workers” Bonus Tile. This tile is one of the best tiles in the game for points, once you have a Stronghold or Sanctuary.
Burn Some Power
Burn 3-4 power early in the game to boost your economy. This early burn generally means you’ll get an extra priest, workers, coins, or a transform. Having a large power pool can be both good and bad (see discussion below – thanks Peter!), but I’m personally always tempted to burn the power early and grab the resources to build something I otherwise could not.
Some races only start with 7 power in their 2nd Power Pool (per the example above). This often means that you cannot burn 4 power until someone grants you power by building or upgrading adjacent to you.
If you are competing with another race for specific types of terrain, grabbing that terrain before they do takes priority over any other moves, especially if it will box you in or prevent you from getting a group of four hexes to make a city. Don’t make the mistake of “hoping they won’t take it first”.
Although it may seem that you start with a lot of Coins, if you don’t get a coin income of some kind, either by using Power or by building Trading Posts, you will rapidly run out.
Never let your economy “stagnate”. This means to avoid putting yourself in a position where you will have to forego almost a whole round of actions because you are missing one type of resource. Avoid spending too much on one turn “for points”, but then having a shortage or workers or coin income in future round. This often happens to players early in the game, when they upgrade all their Dwellings to Trading Posts, and will leave them with a severe worker shortage for future rounds. In general, you always want to have a worker income of a least three(3), even if you’re getting a lot of Power as income.
Cult Track – the 3-Rank Squares
There is one square on each of the cult tracks where you can put one of your priests and get 3 ranks on that track. If the Round Tiles are indicating bonus resources for a cult track, try to get an early priest and claim those ranks. If the 3-rank spaces are still available by turn 3-4, try to grab them before other players do, even if it means sacrificing power for a priest.
Although it may seem that workers and money do more for your economy, don’t discount the value of having a priest income for at least half the game. Priests benefit economy in terms of efficiency and shipping upgrades, and can even be used as additional workers. Furthermore, the power, victory points, and round bonuses you can gain via moving up the cult track should not be underestimated.
After you found a town, you should try to grab one of the 8 or 9-point tiles (or the 12-point tile from the Expansion set, as shown above). Both of these are especially good, because not only do they give you lots of points by themselves, they also help a great deal with your Cult scoring. It is often advantageous to found an early town just so you can grab one of these tiles!