Tharsis, a game trying to combine a couple of genres which don’t have many overlapping elements. A roguelike survival game where your main enemy are hull breaches, and in which your main goal will be rolling a perfect hand. Because you’ll be fixing those malfunctions with dices, where getting a snake eye can literally throw you out of the casino, or space in the case of Tharsis. If you lack luck in craps the worst thing that can happen is losing some money, while in Tharsis your ship and your whole crew will perish into the void.
After a short tutorial (which can’t be skipped) during which you’ll be introduced to gameplay mechanics and the goal of your mission, you’ll be thrown into the role of a sort of the ship’s commander, responsible for managing the crew and fixing various problems your ship will face on its way to Mars. And soon after you start playing Tharsis, the first big problem will show its ugly face. The whole idea was to put players in a closed, claustrophobic environment giving them the sense of being a part of a historical mission to Mars, filled with perils and unexpected difficulties. But developers haven’t really gotten their minds wrapped around the all possible problems that can occur during such long journey.
The only problems you’ll be fixing are random malfunctions caused by micrometeorites. Micrometeorites, causing all problems during the long and tough journey to Mars, year, right; good job Tharsis. Anyway, fixing malfunctions will be done by rolling the right dies. Every crew member (there are four of them) has between one and five dies on his/hers disposal, and every time you throw dices, dice pool will be one die short. As with all board games, the best outcome is a hand full of sixes and fives, but RNG will disallow that in many cases. And that’s where you discover the other big problem.
You see, in many situations, there’s just no other way around. You can’t form an alternative strategy because so many elements depend on RNG. If you, for instance, throw a bunch of ones and twos, you won’t have enough points to successfully remedy the malfunction. On top of that, without any logic you’ll start with the hull being badly damaged (even if the ship is made out of independent compartments with just one being destroyed during the tutorial) so failing to fix one or two problems during early turns will result in a massive damage that will destroy the ship.
Aside from using them to fix breakdowns, dies are used for activating special abilities of your crew, but for them to be activated you have to throw five or more. If having three of fewer dices on your disposal, this will hardly be possible, so special abilities can’t be used strategically since you never know when RNG will decide a good hand will be rolled, having enough high values to enable you activating an ability. It’s best to just focus on repairs and using abilities only when the chance is present (like if you see that other crew member will likely finish repairs and then decide to invest any possible five or six into the ability).
Ship compartments also have interesting features. Medical ward will allow you to fill your health, maintenance is capable of repairing hull and so on. It’s best to first focus on fixing problems and after the events get successfully beaten, you can pick a crew member that haven’t had the chance of rolling dices during the turn and deploy him to try activating some compartment’s ability. Some features ask for a high numbered die (like lowering stress) while others want pairs of dices with same numbers (like getting food from the greenhouse). Dices available can be replenished with food, and each piece of food will replenish three dices, so use the food wisely.
As a help, you’ll be able to see the event’s meant to happen during the next turn, allowing you to incorporate a crude strategy of dealing with them, but when an engine failure with a value of 36 comes your way and you only have three members left alive, each with two or three dices, there’s no way of surviving until the next turn. Also, after every turn, your crew will see its stress levels increase, and they will have two demands before the next turn. You have the choice of picking one, and that must be done in order to advance to the next turn.
Graphics in Tharsis are average, and dice rolling animations are laughably demanding, resulting is shopped dice throwing animations. It’s strange how developers didn’t find a way to deal with this small but immensely annoying problem. During the rolls, there will be some factors with the sole purpose of making the game even harder. For instance, you can get injured is rolling a specific value (and if for instance, injuries are activated if a character rolls two and three and he rolls a pair of twos and a pair of three, he’ll end up dying), a dice can disappear if having a specific value, of it can be frozen, unable to reroll, which is especially annoying.
You can invest dices in research points, giving you some bonuses, like fixing the hull, lowering the value needed to roll in order to fix a problem, healing crew members, etc. It’s best to fill up research box with unwanted rolls.
Tharsis has a story, but it is laughable at best. You start your journey and then after every couple of turns a new animation will appear showing new events, unrolling the story. But its elements are childish and the plot is a complete cliché seen million times already. It’s best to just skip cinematic completely.
Although it’s difficult beyond any reasonable measure, having subpar graphics and a weak story, Tharsis has that immeasurable drive that will make you play the game for hours and hours. You know, the hunger for “just one more turn.” Beating the game will become your obsession, and after you beat it on easy difficulty (consider easy as a normal difficulty in Tharsis), many hours will be spent trying to finish the game on normal. But, in most cases, one event will mean a space funeral for your crew and another dose of Tharsis-induced stress for you.
All in all, Tharsis is a game with massive amount of problems, and the worst thing is that those problems are the integral parts of the game and the overall experience, so they won’t just disappear after a patch. So, get used to its hellish difficulty, bland presentation, and RNG induced problems and try reaching Mars in one piece. It will be rewarding, at least for the first time.