Theme and What is it?
Earth is no longer a safe place to live so in Pocket Mars, players are preparing an infrastructure which will allow more colonists to move to Mars. Players will use their project cards to summon more astronauts from Earth and send more from their spaceship to buildings on Mars. On Mars, the colonists will improve the buildings on Mars.
To setup the game, five building cards are placed in the middle of the table to form Mars. The earth card is set aside from the building cards. Players will choose a color and then take their spaceship card with 7 colonists (astronauts) in that color. Players place one colonist on their spaceship card and the rest are placed on the earth card. Then, they place their white energy marker on the “1” space of their energy track on their spaceship card. The project cards have a dual purpose. After they are shuffled, players receive four. Players choose two of these cards to place face down in front of their spaceship. This is considered to be their prep module. The remaining two cards are left in their hand. These cards have two actions on them. The top action is used if the project card is played from their hand. The bottom action is used if the project card is played from their prep module onto a Mars building.
Players take turns playing one of the following five actions:
- Play a project card from hand – The current player plays a project card from hand and uses its top action.
- Play a project card from prep module – The current player plays a project card from their prep module to a building that matches its color and then compares its number to the top previously played project card or the buildings value if it is the first one played. If the value of the newly played card is higher, the player may move one colonist from their spaceship to that building in the space with one star. Then, regardless if the card was higher or not, the player may perform the bottom action of the project card played. Then, they may perform the buildings action.
- Play a project card from another player’s prep module – the current player may play a project card from another player’s prep module to a building matching its color. The player who owns the project card may use the card’s bottom action and then the current player may use the buildings action.
- Launch 1 colonist from Earth – The current player takes 1 colonist on earth and move it to his spaceship.
- Gain 1 energy by discarding a card from prep module or hand – move energy up after discarding a card.
There is always a four card rule, so players discard down or draw up to four and make sure they have two cards in their prep module and in their hand.
The goal is to get colonists on Mars. There are two places on the buildings. There is unlimited room in the spaces that have one star. However, the spaces with two stars have limited room depending on the number of players. The game end is triggered when a player has all 7 colonists on buildings on Mars at the end of a round. At this point, players receive various points from where their colonists are located (spaceship, buildings, etc.) The player with the most points wins.
I am a fan of Grey Fox Games and small, strategy games. I was looking forward to giving this one a try. The mechanics seemed slightly complicated but after playing through the first time, it was fairly easy to grasp.
Game Build Quality
The components in Pocket Mars are pretty straight forward. It comes with mostly cards and some wooden components. The “Astronaut Meeples” are different! I love how meeples are taking on different shapes these days. All of these components are good quality and fit tightly inside its “pocket” box.
The only artwork is on the building cards, as well as the earth and first player cards. This artwork is almost realistic and what you would see from a movie. The project cards are architectural drafts of the buildings on the building cards. I thought this was really cool.
I really enjoyed this one. I also played the solo variant. I found it to be more fun when played with other players. What I really liked is that it was very compact but the game carried a lot of depth. It was not just a simple card game to travel with to pass the time. It had strategic aspects to it that are normally not found in “pocket” games.
Age Range & Weight
This game is not very difficult but it was confusing getting started for us. It took my players a couple goes of it to remember that if they played a card from hand, it did not try to beat a buildings number and was only discarded after performing the action. They had to play a card from their prep module to beat the buildings number and send a colonist. After a few turns, this stuck and it was enjoyable. The box suggests ages 10+. I would say 12+ would be better.
My favorite games are those that are under 2 hours and still carry weight and strategy. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy what I refer to has “epic” games that can last over 5 hours, but if I am given a choice, I am going to choose games such as Carcassonne, Istanbul or Takenoko that have medium length. I could play these types of games ALL day long! Pocket Mars plays in under 30 min if you have all the rules down and everyone knows what they are doing. I consider this length to be filler, but it’s way up there with the medium length games I enjoy. So, I hate to use the word filler here so I won’t. I enjoyed that a game of this length could have so much strategy. I would play it in place of a filler any day.