Mars Needs Mechanics is a market manipulation game from the mind of Ben Rosset and is published by Nevermore Games. Although I could do some word smithing to describe the story behind the game, I think the description from the Nevermore website does it best…
London, 1873. The Royal Academy of Space Exploration has announced its intention to launch a mission to Mars by year’s end. In its quest to claim, fully explore and map the great red planet, the Academy is holding recruitment competitions for various positions on the crew. A position central to the crew’s mission, the Astronautical Engineer must be resourceful and efficient in his construction of various mechanisms and ship maintenance.
Players represent engineers and tinkerers from all over the Empire who have come to compete for this prodigious opportunity. Starting the game with only 30 cogs (currency), players will utilize unique mechanics that emphasize timing to collect sets of components and build steampunk mechanisms aimed at earning even more cogs. At the end of the competition, the engineer with the most cogs will earn his place as Astronautical Engineer on the crew of the H.M.S. Victoria VII.
The theme in Mars Needs Mechanics is awesome, but it’s not how the game originally started out.
“The game had a few different themes during development,” Rosset said. “But what I settled on was a 12th century Middle Eastern Bazaar theme. In my eyes, it was always just a placeholder. I wanted to pitch the game to a publisher on the mechanics, and I figured the publisher would want to re-theme it. And that’s exactly what happened. Once Nevermore signed the game, I have to give them credit, it was a very collaborative process. We worked together to come up with a theme, and Mars Needs Mechanics was born.”
The key mechanic in the game is that players spend money to purchase parts. When that happens the demands for those parts increase and thus their price goes up. The goal of the game then becomes a balancing act of buying new parts and manipulating the market so that when you sell those parts again they are making a profit.
“Mars Needs Mechanics was mechanics driven from the start,” Rosset said. “What I was interested in developing was an economics system where players could only indirectly influence the price of goods through their actions, and that would present the players with interesting, non-obvious choices each turn. I wanted something playable in 45 minutes that was easy to learn. Mars Needs Mechanics came from that vision.”
As the game progresses, the prices of goods vary and it becomes a real challenge trying to figure out the best time to sell. Making matters more complicated is that you can only sell items in sets of three or more so getting one part and holding onto it while waiting for the prices to go up will do you no good. You’ll need to buy more, to increase the demand, but if you aren’t careful you’ll be spending more money then what you’ll make back.
In addition to buying and selling parts, players can build up to two separate devices that will earn them special abilities. In our plays, the real fun in the game came from building devices, using them for a set time and then strategically breaking them down again so that we could sell the parts and earn some cogs.
“It took me a while really fine tune the way the sales order line worked,” Rosset said. “That was the hardest part. And as I said, its really the heart of the game, so it had to work just right. After Nevermore picked it up and it became Mars Needs Mechanics, the next challenge was creating the 10 “mechanisms”–ship contraptions that players build for a temporary advantage–that come with the game today. They weren’t part of my original design. It took me about 3 months to finalize all of those so that the game was ready for Kickstarter.”
On a whole, Mars Needs Mechanics is a pretty game, but one of the things that stands out most about its design are the punchboard cogs it uses for currency. They are so cool looking, feel great to hold and really help sell the steam-punk vibe of the game. At first, I had trouble remembering which cog was supposed to be worth one point, which was supposed to be five points, and which was supposed to be ten. However I quickly realized that the point value of each cog is represented by the number of spokes they have. It’s such a simple design choice but at the same time so smart. Its one of the best ways I’ve seen money handled as a component.
One of the best things about Mars Needs Mechanics is that it’s an easy game to teach. The rulebook is laid out nice, and within five minutes you can have a game up and running. That being said it’s not an easy game to master. It becomes very thinky, specially toward the end of the game where everyone is starring at the board and their parts trying to figure out the best way to maximize their cog haul.
“If you’re new to playing Mars Needs Mechanics, pay attention to the sales order line!” Rosset said. “Its what will win or lose you the game! And if you’ve played it a few times, we’d love for you to rate it on BGG. And if you’ve played it a few times and really like it, then check out my next project, Brew Crafters, which will be hitting Kickstarter in October from Dice Hate Me Games!”
Mars Needs Mechanics is available directly from Nevermore Games for $39.99.