Terra Mystica Board Game

Terra Mystica Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide (2019)

The Witches and the Fakirs fly around stealing land, the Giants and Chaos Magicians are laying waste to everything around them, the Dwarves dig into the mountains to make more mountains, and the Swarmlings unsurprisingly swarm throughout the land.

Welcome to Terra Mystica, a fantasy world that isn’t big enough for everyone where all of the races are locked in the most passive-aggressive war ever seen.

Terra Mystica
  • Fun strategy game with a simple game principle and very little...
  • Govern one of 14 factions trying to transform the landscape on...
  • Large number of possible games keeps it entertaining every time

Brief Overview of Terra Mystica

Terra Mystica Board Game

Terra Mystica is a Eurogame. It’s been described as the “one Eurogame to rule them all” and it is incredibly fiddly. It is, however, a full/perfect information board game. This means that there is absolutely no luck involved whatsoever. Subtle strategy is king here.

Players are in the midst of a multi-ethnic land grab, terraforming the landscape to fit the needs of their particular races. If somebody gets there first, well… there’s not a whole lot you can do. Maybe trade with them?

Terra Mystica is unique in that there are a ton of different fantasy races vying for control but there’s absolutely no fighting. If someone takes a space you really want then you’ll just have to deal with it and come up with a different plan. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a Eurogame.

Don’t let that scare you off, though. We’re here to help you through it because believe me, even I needed a bit of help with the monster rulebook.

Versions & Expansions

Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice Expansion

Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice Expansion

The land of Terra Mystica is now beset by fire and ice. By fire come the Dragonlords, who use their powers to create volcanoes. From the ice come Yetis, masters of power and also the Ice Maidens, temple-dwelling priestesses devoted to their chilly sanctuaries.

In this expansion, the original factions must now contend with these new rivals and others, including cult-obsessed Acolytes, and the unthinkable: Shapeshifters and Riverwalkers. These two factions ignore the rules of terrain-type, baffling the others, and throwing new challenges into the mix.

This expansion requires the original Terra Mystica board game to play.

Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice Expansion
  • Ages 14 and up
  • For two to five players
  • Playable in about 100 minutes per game

Terra Mystica: Merchants of the Seas

Terra Mystica: Merchants of the Seas Expansion

It’s time to set sail in the world of Terra Mystica and usher in the dawn of commerce! This new expansion (available Fall 2019) finds players at the helm of a ship, exploring rivers and devising nautical strategies.

Factions begin with a Dock and can construct a Shipyard to earn rewards, income, and trade advantages. Ships allow for exploration of distant lands, transforming terrain, and lucrative trade deals with other factions. But beware! Players must be strategic with their economic partnerships so as to reap the rewards for themselves, without enriching their opponents.

This expansion requires the original Terra Mystica to play and is also compatible with the Fire & Ice expansion.

Unboxing Terra Mystica

Terra Mystica Board Game Components

Terra Mystica is a big game and it’s crammed with a ton of good stuff.

The first thing you’ll notice when opening the box is a massive plastic bag full of wooden tokens.

Tokens are used for almost everything in-game and the token bag takes up most of the box. Storage is going to be an absolute nightmare, but the components are all high-quality and dear lord there’s a ton of them.

All of the cardboard is made from high-quality stock so you won’t have any trouble with warping. The faction boards are nicely done and have a ton of information on them. They’re also double-sided with 2 factions for each color.

One very cool (but completely unnecessary) touch is that the back of the game board, which is usually left blank, has an awesome Terra Mystica logo with all of the factions printed on the back.

How to Play Terra Mystica

There is no way I’ll be able to explain the rules in their entirety here. This game is heavy but it’s by no means impossible.

It does take a minute to pick up all the nuances of the game but once you get the basic flow, you’ll pick it up. Honestly, the best way to learn is by playing with somebody who already knows the game.

If you don’t have someone who knows all of the ins-and-outs of the rulebook… there is another way.

If you have a smartphone, you can pick up the app version for around $5.

There’s a decent tutorial mode that will have you starting the game only half lost! By the time you get past your first game against the AI, you’ll skip a lot of the struggles of trying to figure out all of the subtlety of the rules. It’s a really nice way to railroad yourself through the initial struggles of the game.

I’ll go over the basic flow of the game to give you an idea of if this game is for you, but keep in mind that this is by no means comprehensive.

Terrain & Factions

Step 1: Pick a faction. Each faction has different starting resources, each with different abilities. Some of them acquire money more easily, some get more workers, and some can even fly around the board. Each one feels pretty unique and plays differently. It’s not just a simple reskinning. They’ll each drastically affect how you play.

There are 7 different types of terrain in Terra Mystica and each terrain type has 2 different factions that live on that terrain.

  • Desert (Fakirs, Nomads)
  • Plains (Halflings, Cultists)
  • Swamp (Alchemists, Darklings)
  • Lake (Mermaids, Swarmlings)
  • Forest (Witches, Auren)
  • Mountain (Dwarves, Engineers)
  • Wasteland (Giants, Chaos Magicians)

Forests

Terra Mystica Forest Factions

Auren: The Auren are a mystical forest-dwelling race. Not many ever see them wandering their woods, and they like it that way.

Their secondary ability is incredibly strong for cult domination. They basically will get actions that allow them to move up the cult tracks much faster than other players. That can mean a lot of power and victory points if used correctly.

Witches: Witches, of course, like to fly around on broomsticks. They wouldn’t be witches otherwise. One of their special abilities allows them to fly around the map and place a dwelling on a distant forest space. This allows them to expand all over the board very quickly. If you’re playing with a witch in the game, any forest can all of sudden be full of witches.

Swamps

Terra Mystica Swamp Factions

Alchemists: What do Alchemists love? Gold, of course. The Alchemist faction can easily gain coins. Their abilities all revolve around money and they are able to convert money and victory points much easier than any other faction. Their trading posts will also create more money than any other faction. Too bad they live in the swamp.

Darklings: Darklings rely heavily on priests. They also can acquire them fairly easily. Their special abilities allow priests to perform terraforming instead of needing shovels. If you’re playing the Darklings, building temples & dwellings are key to victory here.

Plains

Terra Mystica Plains Factions

Halflings: Halflings like to farm. That being said, they get victory points every time they use a spade. You’ll want to start terraforming early and often with this race.

Cultists: I hear they like kool-aid. Cultists are a bit of an advanced faction to play. There are rules in the game where people can sacrifice victory points for power if a player performs certain actions in-game. Usually, it’s a one-sided exchange but cultists thrive on that exchange. They’ll get extra bonuses on the cult track every time. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch power move.

Wastelands

Terra Mystica Wastelands Factions

Chaos Magicians: Chaos Magicians are unique in that they start with only one dwelling, whereas every other player starts with two. It can be very easy to get walled-in early if you’re not careful. They have some strong abilities that allow them to take multiple actions in a single turn and they are able to thrive in smaller cities by picking up bonuses elsewhere.

Giants: Giants have an oddball ability. They must use 2 spades to terraform. This can be a double-edged spade so to speak. Even if your terraforming is the furthest away on the track, it still would just cost 2. If it’s right next to your favored terrain, it still costs 2. You’ll have to plan your initial spots carefully so you’re not wasting resources.

Deserts

Terra Mystica Desert Factions

Fakirs: Fakirs are the mysterious guys flying around on magic carpets. Their special abilities revolve around their ability to build further away than most other races. By using priests, they can fly around the board on magic carpets and build and terraform further away than normal.

Nomads: The Nomads start with 3 dwellings instead of 2 and can easily spread out and terraform the board. They have a special ability that uses 2 power to kick up a storm and terraform an adjacent tile. That’s incredibly powerful and it allows them to spread quickly throughout the board.

Mountains

Terra Mystica Mountain Factions

Engineers: Engineers are another advanced faction to play. They’re rather difficult when you’re starting out and they work well with building smaller cities and focusing on building up rather than outward. Their building costs are all reduced but they have limited workers. If they build their bridge with a sanctuary, they’ll also be able to gain victory points every round as a special bonus.

Dwarves: Dwarves can actually have a special ability that allows them to build further away than normal. This easily allows them to expand all over the board and each time they use their special ability, they are gaining victory points.

Lakes

Terra Mystica Lake Factions

Mermaids: Unsurprisingly, Mermaids thrive near the river tiles. Normally they take a bit to cross, but mermaids can simply ignore it and swim right across. It’s a very simple ability, but it’s very powerful.

Swarmlings: My favorite faction! Swarmlings get it done. They have a lot of workers and a decent income. They’ll be able to quickly build up large cities and their secondary ability lets them upgrade their dwellings 1 per turn for free. They really will swarm the board.

Turn Flow

Terra Mystica is played in six rounds.

Each round, players take turns performing actions until they pass. At the beginning of every round, players receive income based on buildings and cards before it begins all over again.

After six rounds, there’s a final scoring with bonus points and a winner is declared.

Boom! You now know how to play Terra Mystica. Good luck!

Okay, just kidding. Here we go.

Beginning of Round Stuff

Bonus Cards

At the beginning of each round, players each choose a bonus card. This will grant bonuses throughout that round. The bonus cards can be a lot of different things, each depicted by symbols. You’ll also get an additional resource during the income phase or bonuses for building or performing certain actions during the turn.

Income

On each faction board, there will be a number of… well, numbers. It gave me a headache the first time I looked at it. There’s a lot of stuff but as soon as you play a bit, it all makes sense.

Now that you’ve picked your bonus cards, you’ll get income. Income is basically a handful of resources that depend on your bonus cards, buildings, and faction stats. You’ll need all of these different resources to perform actions during the round.

Scoring Tiles

Each of the six rounds has a specific scoring tile. The tiles give bonuses for performing certain actions during the round, and usually a bonus if you meet certain requirements by the time the round ends, in the form of a certain level on the cult track. I’ll talk about the cult track later.

Mid-Round Stuff

Actions

On your turn, there are a lot of different actions and moving parts. Each option can have an effect on surrounding tiles, players, and, of course, yourself.

Again, there’s a lot more to these than I can get into in one article, but I’ll try my best.

Terraforming

Players can use shovels and workers to terraform the surrounding lands. If you look at the player boards, the top terrain in the circular chart shows the faction’s favored terrain. The further away from the favored terrain you get, the more shovels you’ll need to terraform.

Every player starts out at shovel level 3. This means that each shovel costs 3 workers. As you progress in the game, you can upgrade your shovel. Each level gives some victory points and decreases the number of workers needed for each shovel.

Building

After terraforming to a favored terrain, you’ll get the option to immediately build a dwelling on it. It still costs resources, but it prevents other players from capitalizing on your hard work. It’s not really advisable to terraform halfway. Someone can always swoop in and build on your tile if there’s nothing there.

There are five different types of buildings and each one does a different thing depending upon the faction. Keep in mind, all buildings cost coins and workers to construct.

  1.  Dwelling: These are the first building that you’ll need to build. Dwellings can give additional workers during your income phase.
  2.  Trading House: Trading Houses give you coins during the income phase, based on your faction board.
  3.  Stronghold: Trading Houses can be upgraded into Strongholds. These usually grant additional power during the income phase and unlock a faction’s secondary special ability.
  4.  Temple: A Trading House can be upgraded into a Temple. Temples bestow priests during the income phase. Priests are a limited resource and are extremely valuable for upgrading and increasing your position on the cult track.
  5.  Sanctuary: Temples have one final upgrade. They can become Sanctuaries that grant additional priests throughout the game.

It should go without saying that the sooner you can build, the more benefits you’ll realize during the course of the game.

Towns

If you construct enough buildings close together, you’ll eventually form a town. When there are at least 4 buildings that equal 7 power (each building has its own power value), you’ll automatically form a town and get to choose a town tile. These tiles grant a one-time bonus, victory points, and a key.

The key is used for the cults.

Cults

Okay, let’s drink some kool-aid.

There are 4 different cult tracks on the cult board. As you go up the tracks, you’ll gain power. The top 3 players of each track will receive bonus points at the end of the game, so don’t neglect these.

You’ll notice a lock on the final space of every track. You must have a key from building a town to get past this point. Only one player can ever reach the final spot, so it can be a bit of race to the last spot. It does grant some sweet bonus victory points though.

The Scoring Cards will also give bonuses if you are at a certain level of a track by the end of the round.

There are multiple ways to move up the track and they can get pretty complicated if you’re not looking at it.

For the time being, just know that cults = bonuses and end-game points. Don’t neglect the cults.

Power

Alright, let’s take a look at the purple cubes in the crazy 3-part grid. This is your power.

Power works a little differently. There are 3 bowls of power that looks like 3 spots on your character board: I, II, III.

As you gain power, you’ll move purple tokens from the lowest bowl from the lowest to the highest. Power in the higher bowls are more valuable and can be spent on a bonus power action.

You can spend power in bowl III for a one-time bonus, once per round. These are incredibly helpful if you’re lacking some resources, like shovels, workers, coins, or priests.

Power can also be converted directly into resources. There’s a whole exchange rate in the rulebook.

Power is gained by means of buildings, faction abilities, and through the cult track. As you spend power, however, the purple tokens don’t go away, they’re just shuffled back down into the first bowl.

See? Not so scary.

End of Round Stuff

Once a player can no longer perform any actions, they must pass. That player then picks a new bonus card. They can’t pick the same one and they can’t pick one that’s currently in use.

The player that passes first, goes first in the next round and the rest of the turn order is determined by who passes next.

Remember the scoring tiles?

You get to recheck those and divvy up any bonuses that the card says. You’ll then get a new one for the next round.

That’s kind of it. There’s still a lot more to the game but you can get an idea of the complexity of it and how much there is to the game. This has been a rundown of the absolute basics. I haven’t even got into power leaching, bridges, or trade level.

Your First Game of Terra Mystica

Do yourself a favor and start the game with the recommended setup in the rulebook for your first game. Even if you have only one new player and three veterans. This really makes the early game a lot easier.

The preset in the rulebook prevents new players from getting royally screwed from the outset. After a game or two, you’ll start to recognize what starting locations you’ll actually want to look for and how everything works together. Terra Mystica is massive and heavy. You’ll want the training wheels on for the first few games.

Don’t get scared off, though. Once you’re into the game, there will be that epiphany moment where everything makes sense and the previously hidden strategies will begin to show themselves. Then you too will be that player that sits there analyzing every move and possibility.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • HEAVY Eurogame
  • Immensely complex & highly-analytical
  • A thinking person’s game

Cons:

  • See above

There’s no doubt that Terra Mystica is an incredible game. It isn’t for everyone, though. First off, if you don’t like Euros you should walk away now. Or run. I’ll save you the trouble.

You may have noticed that my pros and cons are basically the same. The game offers an amazing challenge, crazy deep strategy, and it really is a lot of fun.

It does take a lot of analysis and there’s a lot of opportunities to sit and think about each move.

This can translate into some long turns while players ponder their moves and right before they make their move, suddenly see something new that completely throws out their initial strategy. Then they’re forced to rethink because another faction’s ability could come into play or they might not have enough resources yet unless someone builds there, and then they will later, and… and… AAHHHHH.

You get the idea. If you’re not into the high strategy and pondering required of Terra Mystica, it might be a better idea to steer clear.

On the other hand, it offers an incredible opportunity to create these amazing resource engines and economies within the board and everything is interlaced. It boggles the mind, but it’s so incredible at the same time.

TL;DR

Terra Mystica is a highly complex Eurogame. It’s best played with 4 players.

Players will create a resource engine using different factions and terraforming the landscape to suit their own faction.

There are a ton of actions and options each turn.

The base game includes 14 factions that each play differently with different abilities. They actually feel like different factions instead of just different colors.

If you want to step into a more complex Eurogame, this is it. If you want something quick and fast-paced, this is not it.

Conclusion

I’ve been meaning to write about Terra Mystica for quite some time. I’ve probably said it several times now, but it’s not as bad as it first seems.

After your first game, you’ll understand the rules. After your second game, you’ll figure out the scoring bits.

I love the options that it gives players and I love the different factions. The fact that they play so differently, while still remaining pretty balanced is a testament to the game’s design.

I’m usually pretty good with rules and I’m not going to lie… that rulebook scared me. I had flashbacks to Mage Knight.

The best thing I did was to download the app. I played against the computer AI and came in 2nd on my first game and after a while, I figured out all of the fiddly bits. There’s also a tracker that spells out everyone’s actions on the app, which was crucial for me to figure out everything. I usually have to completely figure out the rules myself before I can bring it to the table and the app saved me some serious headaches.

There’s a reason that this game is considered a classic and it has an incredible shelf life. It’s still going strong.

I don’t think you can quite call yourself a master of the game until you beat it with every faction. That’s a minimum of 14 long-ass playthroughs for a perfect run. Get to it!

Terra Mystica
  • Fun strategy game with a simple game principle and very little...
  • Govern one of 14 factions trying to transform the landscape on...
  • Large number of possible games keeps it entertaining every time

I know I missed a lot in the rules explanation but I would love to hear your thoughts on Terra Mystica.

What’s your favorite faction? Mine is, of course, the Swarmlings. Drop a comment below!

Stats at a glance

Players: 2-5

Ages: 12+

Hard

60-150 Mins

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Published: 2012

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