Tharsis: Gambling in Space

You barely fixed the life support module in time. The air is getting thing. Through a window, you see a never ending stream of debris floating through space. You know that the debris is coming from the ship. This is no longer a return trip.

“Houston, we have a problem” is an understatement in a game where you might need to eat your pilot.

The game puts the player in charge of recovering a space mission gone horribly wrong. You have to manage the remaining crew to repair sections of the ship while also providing enough food and energy to survive to the next turn. Every turn brings more hazards that will damage your crew and ship or make it harder to survive the next turn.

Everything is done by rolling dice. Tharsis is, in some ways, a complicated version of Yahtzee. You have a few rolls to get the numbers you need. Some numbers will hurt you and others will be unusable but there is almost always something you can use the dice for. Though it isn’t always what you need. The number of dice is dependent on the health of your crew, which needs to be maintained either through food or through medicine. And when the food runs out, it’s time to eat your friends.

To survive till the end, you will need to learn to properly manage your crew and balance the risk and reward in how you use your dice. Ineffective risk management will end in failure. Each turn forces you to evaluate which modules need attention, how much time you really have until the ship explodes, and the chances of rolling the numbers you need. In addition to that, you need to keep your crew fed and hopeful. If they start starving and feeling stressed, you will have a bad time.

The secret to winning is knowing that luck can’t be controlled, but it can be influenced. On the surface, Tharsis looks like a game completely up to chance. But because of its multiple uses for dice and the different modules,¬†every action has a potential benefit and consequence. Survival is based on taking calculated risks with the probability of rolling the dice you need. Can your ship take a point of extra damage this turn in return for more food for the crew? And would it even be worth it? There aren’t ever any sure good choices, but there are bad choices and worse choices.

The short game sessions made it easy to learn the risk management skills needed to reach the end. Each survived turn is an achievement. It is very nice to have such a short but rewarding experience you can jump into for short bursts of time. Even if it means eating your colleagues.

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