BLEAKNESS OF SPACE
THE FAITHFUL MISSION
It takes masterful storytelling, design, and gameplay to invoke the feeling of dread in a video game. Many franchises that used to be the vanguards of horror have since lost their way, but in their absence, new terrors rise from the abyss.
In Tharsis, you assume control of four astronauts on humanity’s first manned mission to Mars to answer a mysterious signal from what is believed to be humans. The 10week journey was going well, when everything went wrong.
“We were prepared for any disaster – every disaster. But not all of them at once. We can’t turn back, but how could we go on?” narrates the highest ranking officer on the ship.
Supplies are low and every part of the ship is breaking apart. It is up to you to keep the ship and crew together for the journey, and land at least one of them on the surface of the red planet.
THE HAND OF FATE
Tharsis is a solitaire board game that uses the dice pool mechanic to eloquently convey the sense of dread. Each astronaut has up to five dice that represent their strength. You can use each astronaut’s pool of dice to fix problems popping up all through the Iktomi (which is the name of the ship you’re in), and use their special abilities to increase health, reduce stress, produce food, and many more.
The gameplay perfectly conveys the helplessness of the situation. Your dice pool is small, the challenges are big, and if you don’t make the right decision, the fate of your team is sealed even before the first die is rolled, and you won’t even know it.
The game’s simple, yet expressive graphics and story only add to the experience, and coax you into wanting to go further with each roll.
THE TIES THAT BIND
On the flipside, the odds are stacked against you taller than the Burj Khalifa. Each turn ends with the character losing a die, each round begins with a new catastrophic event and ends with the crew members proposing two options. You must pick one of these proposals and they range from bad to game-ending, depending on the character’s stress.
More often than not, you will feel that your game is at the whim and mercy of the dice. Despite your best laid plans, a single die could make a difference. It’s tense, it’s frustrating, but it can also be fun.
If you love intense strategy with a healthy dose of luck, Tharsis is the game for you. The developers even threw in unlockable characters, and promises of more missions, ships, and astronauts to sweeten the pot. But in the end, this game is not for everyone.
There are nine astronauts to choose from, five of which are unlockables.