A new thing I want to do on this site is feature art of all kinds -- photos, poetry, music, fan art, whatever -- that has to do with Terra Mystica. If you have any fan art or art that reminds you of the game, feel free to contact me on the contact page and I'll feature your piece on the site!
I'm a PhD in Creative Writing, and I've been working on memorizing this poem by Keats, "Ode on a Nightingale," where there is a stanza about the Darklings:
What do you think? How does this change the way you think of the Darklings? Makes them sound a little more evil, and Keats' poem takes on a whole new meaning for me.
The Darklings -- they'll take your breath away.
Preface and Methodology
** FEEL FREE TO SKIP THIS SECTION AND SCROLL DOWN TO RANKINGS BELOW**
One of the most intriguing aspects of Terra Mystica is that each faction truly has a different set of skills and strategy, and much of that is created through the powers of their Strongholds. So for a few blogs here, I am going to rank the Strongholds based on a conglomerate score of their power, necessity, and cost. Today I will be ranking SHs number 20 to #16, so the worst five SHs in the game.
Before I get started, two notes. The first is that I got the idea to rank the SHs from the now seemingly defunct blog The Daily Darkling. His last post rated SH 20 to 15 (though in a different order than I do here), but he never finished the rankings. I am finishing his idea.
Secondly, this ranking is mostly subjective of course, but I did follow a methodology. For each faction I did the following four steps:
NOW TO THE RANKINGS -- 20 to 16, The Scrubs
#20: The Cultists
Necessity: 5 (lowest need)
Strength: 20 (worst)
Cost: 12 (4w 8c -- higher than average)
The Cultists' SH is basically a highly luxurious item meant only to increase their points intake with no real power -- their passive power (gaining steps when opponents leech power) is where the Cultists shine. Basically, players build their SH when they need a few extra points, . Other than that, it is completely unnecessary.
In fact, here's a game in Division 1 where the Cultists win with a great score (158) and never built their SH:
The cost makes this SH even worse -- lets just imagine you build the SH on your last turn. Because the cost is 12 workers and coins, you've essentially spent 4 points to gain 7, meaning you only net 3 points. And yes, it may be sweet to build the SH on a SH/SA Bonus round for 12 points netting 8 points, but you can build any stronghold on that round and get the 5 point bonus. And that 2 power per turn isn't enough to justify buying it -- that's the same power output as their 3rd and 4th TPs (and only 1 more than their first TPs).
#19: The Riverwalkers
Necessity: 5 (lowest need)
Strength: 19 (awful)
Cost: 10 (4w 6c -- average)
The Riverwalkers, along with the Shapeshifters, are the most unique factions in the game because they have the ability to build on any colored tile once they unlock it. BUT, unlike the Shapeshifters, their SH doesn't help them with this ability in any way. It is very situational -- sometimes you'll need those two bridges, but I've played many a game where I don't need the bridges and then the SH is only useful for SA/SH points or for SA/SH Distance scoring in the expansion.
Some might quibble that giving the Riverwalker's SH a 5 in terms of necessity is low as, yes, you often do need bridges, but those rankings are based on absolute necessity (and also one could argue that for a great game most factions need their SHs, of course).
The average cost of the Riverwalker's SH takes away a bit of the sting, but granting only 2 power income isn't helping anything.
Fun fact: if you do build the SH but don't need the bridges, you can use them to connect a D to an opponent, and you can upgrade that D to a TP on the cheap.
#18: The Dragonlords
Necessity: 3 (very useful)
Strength: 18 (garbage)
Cost: 12 (4w 8c -- above average)
Spades, spades, spades. What actually makes this one hard to rate is that the value of the Dragonlords' SH is highly dependent upon how many people are in the game -- in a five player game, the SH essentially gives you 5 extra shovels (each power is a shovel for them), which is pretty stellar, though compensated by the fact that 4 of the terrains will cost 2 extra power to dig.
Ultimately, though, the relatively high cost and the low income of this one hurts (just 2 power? the Dragonlords make it hard to get power and workers because you can't really burn power if you need the shovels and they don't get workers on slots 3 and 6). And considering the fact that the Dragonlords can get more power (spades) by gaining spades either through BON1 or through gaining spades on cult tracks, you can get by pretty well without it if you need to. But, of course, it can help with expansion later in the game.
#19: The Acolytes
Necessity: 4 (not essential)
Strength: 15 (pretty bad)
Cost: 12 (4w 8c -- above average)
As suggested by their name, the Acolytes have a unique relationship with the cult tracks as they start on the 3rd space on each track but also must lose cult track spots in order to dig. Their SH gels perfectly with their strategy, then as it allows them to move an extra space whenever they place a priest, along with giving them two power. Late in the game this can be very powerful, as they can make a quick comeback on a cult track, especially in a two-player game. However, in most 4-5 player games, by the time the Acolytes can get their SH down, the cult track spots are mostly filled and the power just isn't that strong.
I think if this were 2 coins cheaper it would actually be much more valuable, or if it gave a bit more power. But compared to, say, the Witches' SH (which also only gives 2 power and is cheaper), this one seems relatively weak.
#16: The Dwarves
Necessity: 4 (not essential)
Strength: 16 (pretty bad)
Cost: 10 (4w 6c -- average)
Dwarv-ez! Personally, I find the Dwarves fun to play but the challenge is how to harness the power of the tunnels. Ostensibly, the SH is meant to make that power a little more attainable, as it reduces the cost of tunneling by one worker.
However, in a given game, tunneling more than 4 or 5 times would be impressive (attainable, but impressive). So let's think about this -- you pay 4 workers and 6 coins to have your tunneling cost reduced. If you tunnel 4 times after that, you're still out 6 coins. Unlike, say, the Fakirs SH, this doesn't give you the resource you need for tunneling (workers), and the 2 power is not helping much. So while, yes, the SH can be useful as all SHs are, it isn't essential and has to be timed and planned very accurately for maximum effect. Scrubby.
Rob: Congrats to you on being the Season 11 Terra Mystica Champion! With that title comes a certain amount of intrigue, I think, from the players in the league. Could you tell us about yourself outside the game? For example, your occupation, hobbies, your family, favorite food, pets, etc? Also, where in Belgium do you live and can you tell us a bit about life there?
Toine: I’m Arthur, 27 years old, from Belgium. I live in a small town called Gullegem, located about 50km south of Bruges. I studied agronomical engineering at the University of Louvain and graduated in 2011. Now I work for a food company that was founded by my grandfather and nowadays is run by my mother.
In my free time, I play soccer, have drinks with friends, or (of course) play board games. I regularly meet with five friends from secondary school to catch up on how life is treating us while playing a game of RISK. I’ve always loved games involving strategy and as a youngster I used to play “draughts" (checkers) a lot. I was champion of Belgium in the youth category in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In both draughts and, in a way, Terra Mystica, finding the right strategy against the right opponent or messing up and learning from your mistakes is important.
Rob: How long have you been playing Terra Mystica? What draws you to the game?
Toine: I can’t really tell you when exactly I played my first game (probably a little more than two years ago). A good friend of me bought the game online since it won so many awards. He invited me over, we unpacked it game and I believe it was Auren vs Nomads. Not that much later, I discovered Snellman’s site and I started playing online.
What I really like about TM is the combination of the strategic decision making and the interference with the other players. In a way, you start with your “plan A”, but you have to anticipate the plans of the other players as well. In a good game of TM, you are regularly torn between decisions. No matter how good you try to plan in advance, other people can interfere with you, forcing you to adjust and to look for the best way to respond to the change of plans.
Rob: What are your favorite factions in Terra Mystica to play, least favorite factions, and why? Do you enjoy Fire & Ice? Which Fire & Ice factions do you enjoy or not enjoy?
Toine: I really like the Cultists, Witches, Giants, Dwarves and Alchemists. I don’t really have any specific reasons why but they are just fun to play with. Alchemists and sometimes Dwarves and Giants however can be hard to put points on the board.
The factions I like the least are the blue ones. One way or another, with Mermaids, I always tend to have a huge shortage of coins and with the Swarmlings, I always seem to lack workers.
I have to admit I haven’t been playing Fire and Ice a lot. However, last month I did buy the expansion box and I will try them more in the future. From the few games I played, I really liked the Yetis though.
Rob: This season you had a lot of success with the Engineers, and I noticed that you have played them 9 times in league play and won 8 of those times. Also, it felt a little like in Season 11 you and other players had a lot of success with them (Shanarkoh, for example, played a game where he placed all 17 structures). What did you see about the Engineers that caused this sudden success? Can you identify what about the metagame or those specific games made the Engineers the correct choice?
Toine: The main reason I picked Engineers three times was the presence of Darklings and the absence of a red and green faction (at the time I picked). Engineers and Darklings for me are the best imaginable neighbors in Terra Mystica. They provide each other with power and cheap TP’s, while never competing for the same hexes. Since the Engineers can build cheaply, the power generated is even more valuable to the engineers than to the Darklings. In addition, in none of my games, green was present (Witches are probably the worst enemy for Engineers). The two games where neither green or red were present I believe I won fair and square. The game where red was present, I think I was lucky that I had already won two games at that time.
Juho also could have won that game, but since I was already safe from relegation (and Juho was not safe yet), eunck and isobanaani played it less or more in my favor I guess.
In addition, I don’t think the Engineers will be this successful in season 12. A lot of players stayed away from the blue factions and now picked witches. I believe this will seriously lower the engineers success rate!
Rob: You won 3 out of 4 games, which is amazing. But in Game 2 you chose the Darklings and ended up losing to the Engineers. I thought it was interesting that you picked first in that game and went with the Darklings who you perform slightly worse with (you've won 6 of 10 games, second in 2 games, third in 2 games). Why did you pick them instead of Engineers? If you could go back, what would you change about that game?
Toine: To be honest, I picked Darklings as a kind of “life insurance." Since it was my first season in Division 1, I certainly did not want to relegate considering what a struggle it is to reach division 1. Darklings are a very good faction, and if you need to pick first, I thought you can’t really go wrong… I picked Darklings to not lose the game rather than picking them to win the game. I think that was already a poor decision, based on the wrong reasons and on top of that, it was unfortunate that brown and blue were picked. If I could go back, I probably would have picked another faction ;-). I seem to have difficulties playing them to their potential. In a way, they are easy to play, but mostly, like in this game, I just started very slow. Partly because there was no BON8, no BON6 to start with either. I had 1 TP and 1D after Round 1. That won’t get you started!
Rob: In Season 12 there's been a rule change to incorporate the new expansion tile (TE=4, 2 coins per priest devoted to a cult track). How do you think this will affect the game? Do you think certain factions perform better with this tile in the game?
Toine: I haven’t really played a game with this new tile. Although I think it will mainly favor the Engineers. They can probably build more than 1 TE and they also like to put priest on the cult tracks for the additional income.
The tile will probably not be so good for the SH-factions (Nomads, Auren, Giants, Alchemists, Swarmlings). It will definitely generate more coins in the game, which will probably be most beneficiary for Mermaids, Witches, Dwarves and Chaos Magicians.
Rob: What advice would you give to new or intermediate players of Terra Mystica? What do you think is a common mistake players make? How can one get better at the game?
Toine: Do not underestimate the importance of power leeching! In early games, 3 VP for 4pw can seem a lot and certainly if you cannot use it immediately, but really, always leech whatever you can! In addition, when placing your dwellings, make sure you have neighbors you can leech from and always try to build TP’s with only 3 coins instead of 6.
I think you can get better at TM by playing different factions and in different ways. Allow yourself to lose some games and don’t always stick to a recipe that worked for you earlier. You learn more from a loss than from a 50 point victory against someone playing his first game.
Rob: What kind of studying and preparation of the game have you done to become the champion? Do you think that you have a distinct style of play, and if so can you give us some insight into that style? How is your style different from other top players of the game?
Toine: For a league game, before picking a faction I look at the preferred factions of other players in the game. For example, if someone always takes Darklings, I’m much less likely to pick brown or blue factions.
In comparison to other players in Division 1, I believe I’m a bit more patient in the early rounds (especially round 1) than most players. And depending on the faction or the setup, this can be a good or a bad thing. I usually don’t like to burn too much power in the early rounds and I’m less likely to rush for FAV11. That mostly works well with factions that generate a lot of power in the later stages (e.g. engineers) but works poorly with factions that benefit more from a strong start (e.g. darklings, halflings).
Rob: What aspects or factions do you think get overlooked in Terra Mystica -- for example, are there factions you find to be underrated or overrated? Do people not pay enough attention to the cult tracks or round bonuses?
Toine: That’s a difficult question. First of all, I really love the faction ratings on Juho’s site. And I think that, just because there is such a ranking, it makes the factions more balanced. I think the weak factions are underrated and the strong factions are overrated. I’ll try to explain: I get the feeling that when playing one of the “weaker factions” (Alchemist, Giants, Dwarves or Engineers), the other players do not see you as their main threat. So you are less likely to get bullied from the start. On the other hand, when you pick Darklings, everybody looks at what you’re doing since you are supposed to have the best faction in the game. If one is to build a dwelling next to Darklings or next to Giants, most people will choose to give power to Giants.
About the cult tracks, I think you have to play them according to your faction. It is of course tempting to get “free income” from these tracks, but if you’re not playing Cultists, Chaos Magicians or Auren, it is rarely a good idea to try and win all the tracks since you’ll probably end up missing out too much points elsewhere.
Most of the time, it is a good idea to play a faction to its strength. If you play Witches, try to make towns, if you play Dwarves, try to make tunnels… And if that does not involve scoring greatly on the tracks, I wouldn’t bother too much.
About the round bonuses, they are hugely important! I always try to plan accordingly but that’s of course easier said than done!
Rob: What else would you like to say or share with fans of Terra Mystica?
Toine: Spread the word! Terra Mystica is still a very young game and I would love to see Terra Mystica become as popular as Colonists of Catan (Settlers of Catan), RISK, Carcassonne etc. I believe the game has everything it needs (fun, strategy, replayability, …) to do so, but there is still a ways to go!
Rob: Would you play a game of Terra Mystica with me and my game night friends (their names are Geoff and Sindu)? We would love to see how we match up with one of the best! You can pick the rules -- we can play Fire and Ice or not, up to you.
Toine: Yes, sounds perfect! But don’t be too hard on me if I end up picking Engineers again! ;-).
Can we all just talk about Xevoc, the Alchemists, and the Giants?
When I interviewed Xevoc after Season 10, I asked him what his favorite factions to play are. " I like factions with a strong SH the most, so there's incentive to build it at some point and even on turn 1, so Giants, Alchemists and Nomads are perhaps my favorite factions." And it is true that Xevoc's record with the Giants has been pretty legendary -- he's won 19 of 20 games with them on terra.snellman.net, and 16 of 20 with the Alchemists -- both stellar records.
But, as I mentioned in this blog post about the Giants, despite his stellar record with them, Xevoc had never picked the Giants (or Alchemists for that matter) in competitive play.
Until this Season. When he picked them both.
So what's the story? Why has Xevoc made this choice? Well, I want to look at the history of the Giants and Alchemists in TM Tournament play: In brief, both of them have sucked.
The Giants: In Division 1 play, they have been picked seven times: twice in Seasons 2, 3, and 4 and once in Season 6. The results:
Division 1 Giants:
Season 2: 3rd, 3rd
Season 3: 3rd, 3rd
Season 4: 4th, 4th
Season 6: 2nd
Average Score: 119.9
High Score: 135
I wanted more data about these two races, so I looked at Division 2 play all-time, and found that they have been picked 9 times there, with the following results:
Division 2 Giants:
Season 1: 4th, 1st
Season 3: 4th
Season 4: 4th
Season 6: 3rd, 4th, 4th
Season 9: 2nd
Season 11: 4th
Average Score: 121.7
High Score: 170
All-time Average Position: 3.25
All together, this is pretty bad -- the average position is 3.25 in those games, and the average score is not game-winning. There are, of course exceptions -- two seconds with decent performances, and a stellar performance by Stefan where he scored 170 points (and against other great players including Juho, no less).
The Alchemists: In Division 1 Play have been picked eight times with awful results:
Division 1 Alchemists:
Season 1: 4th, 3rd
Season 3: 2nd
Season 4: 4th
Season 5: 4th
Season 7: 4th
Season 8: 4th
Season 9: 4th
Average Score: 119.4
High Score: 140
And better but still pretty bad results in Division 2 (except in Season 3 when they managed to get 1st twice and 2nd once):
Division 2 Alchemists:
Season 1: 4th, 2nd
Season 2: 2nd, 4th, 2nd
Season 3: 1st, 1st, 2nd
Season 4: 4th
Season 5: 3rd, 4th, 4th
Season 6: 3rd, 2nd, 4th
Season 7: 4th, 2nd
Season 8: 3rd, 1st, 3rd, 3rd
Season 9: 3rd
Season 10: 4th, 3rd
Season 11: 4th, 3rd
Average Score: 127.8
High Score: 160
All-Time Average Position: 3.05
So maybe not quite as bad as the Giants, but still a terrible average position. There have been some really strong games, including one by Stefan again, and another by tasso_zh, but on the whole the Alchemists strongly underperform.
So What's the Deal?
Well, Xevoc offered his own explanation for the choices on BoardGameGeek:
I'm not sure if it's wise to pick Alchemists in a game, which does not have bon6 and has both bon2+bon3, but it's at least going to be a good challenge.
My favorite part of that quote is actually that he would have taken Fakirs in a slightly different situation ... in D1 play (it's only been done ONCE before, in Season 1, and they came in last). That does seem to suggest that he's either wanting to play other factions than the norm or he's a creative genius.
My take on the situation: I think Xevoc has the Giant's game under control, but maybe a harder time with the Alchemists. Let's look at where he is as of today (4/8/2016 -- he's in Round 2, turn 3 in the Giants game and Round 3, turn 3 in the Alchemists):
Giants Game (Click here to see the game):
Xevoc starts by taking the 3power +1 shipping tile, and uses it to build on D6. He builds a SH to dig on D8. This has put the Witches in really bad shape as both their initial placements look crowded in with little room to expand (although they are likely about to get their SH down, which leaves room for expansion, and also perhaps double dig -- it still doesn't look good for them). He also manages to get the first priest from ACT2 and use it to advance 3 spots on Fire.
He has a relatively quiet round 2 (only takes 2 turns including passing) then he passes for BON7 (TP*2, +1 worker). Heading into round three he will have 4c 11w and 0/1/5 power, which I'm guessing he'll use to get 7 coins. He can easily build three TPS that round (which is a TP=3 round) and then pass for a 15 point round. Then he can use the Giants' dig to place another Dwelling, and he'll also have a nice income for the next round.
That all looks like a very very promising start. The Darklings and Halflings don't look to bad either so far, but it's not like Xevoc is lingering behind.
My Prediction: Xevoc wins this game. He's just too dang good with the Giants.
Alchemists Game (Click here to see the game link):
Xevoc places on G5 and E5 to start, which may be his downfall because he will have a hard time connecting the two. He starts with BON2, which is maybe a little strange as the Alchemists typically don't need more coins, but he uses it in combination with a priest from ACT2 to advance five steps on the cult track -- this is excellent, as it gets him two extra workers going into round 2 and four extra power going into round 4 -- and those are the two things Alchemists often get starved for -- power and workers.
He built the SH, which is the typical Alchemists opening and also which got him some bonus points for the SA/SH=5.
An interesting move was that he converted 3 power to a worker before he passed in round 1, even though he wasn't getting any power between rounds.
In round 2 he managed to get ACT6 to build two dwellings AND upgrade G5 to a TE for 4 point with the new bonus tile and for FAV11 (d=2).
Thus far in round 3 he's advanced shipping and taken a priest with ACT2.
He's ahead in points right now (with 33 to 30, 29, and 21) and with the shipping does have a chance to connect.
The only problem is in this game that his opponents (shanarkoh, eunck, and Juho -- tough bunch) have really all gotten great starts. Both the Witches (Juho) and Nomads (shanarkoh) also already have a SH and TE wit 4-5 Ds, and the Engineers (eunck) have 2 TEs and 4 Ds.
My Prediction: Xevoc still gives us a textbook lesson on how to play Alchemists, but ends up getting 3rd.
I assume his opponents will block him from connecting, and that will be the difference.
Best of luck to all players! That's all for today.
Alright so first off, I have to ask for forgiveness to my few fans because during Season 11 I didn't quite keep up with the blog the way I wanted because of this:
Yes, I had my second child, and so pleasure writing was hard to keep up with. But I'm back in full force and ready to discuss competitive and fun Terra Mystica.
Here are the top stories from Season 11 of Terra Mystica
Story #5: Pick Rates in Top Division -- Some Changes but still the Same
One of the big criticisms I had of Season 10 was that the top games had no variety in the factions that people picked.
On the one hand, things improved slightly in Season 11. Namely, it seems that perhaps the Halflings have entered back into the conversation, as they got three picks and won one game. The Chaos Magicians made a little splash by getting picked 2 times, but they came in 3rd and 4th.
But mostly the pick rates stayed the same: the Darklings were picked in all 7 games, Engineers picked in 6, and Mermaids in 5. Two games were composed of Darklings, Engineers, Halflings, and Mermaids; two games were composed of Darklings, Engineers, Mermaids, and Nomads.
Story #4: Highest Average Score in Top Division
This season, players in the top division scored more points than ever. The average score was 140.9 this season. For context, only once ever (Season 7) have the top players averaged over 140, and the lowest average score ever was 131.9 in Season 8. I wonder if our top players are getting better -- one thing that I have noticed is that the last place players tend to not score super low -- their average score this season was 128.6 (which is more than a lot of us average at our best).
Or perhaps there were just more opportunities for points because of the particular Bonus tiles and Round tiles that appeared this season. That, of course, would take a level of meta-analysis that I don't have the resources for, unfortunately.
Story #3: All 17 Structures by shanarkoh
I haven't seen this one ever (comment if anybody knows of another such game), but any way it's quite the accomplishment: shanarkoh placed all 17 structures with the Engineers:
This must be comparable to pitching a perfect game in baseball. I'm actually surprised he didn't score more (not that 185 isn't impressive).
It's an amazing and rare feat, and he was in Division 2 (now in Division 1, no surprise). I'm excited to see how shanarkoh matches up with the likes of Xevoc and Toine this season.
Story #2: The Engineer Revolution?
Eventually I want to do an entire story about this, but there was a bit of a revolution with the Engineers this season. Not only did shanarkoh build all 17 structures with them (could any other faction accomplish this? Probably the Nomads and maybe others, but it would be tough), but they won 5 of 7 of the top division games.
Never in TM history has one faction so utterly dominated a season, and it seems unlikely that it will ever happen again. I wonder why this is, and I have a theory:
In Season 10, I commented that the pick rates were pretty stagnant, with 4 of the games being composed of Nomads, Mermaids, Engineers, and Darklings. I think that Toine possibly exposed an unbalance in that game makeup with the Engineers -- he saw something in the Metagame that nobody else (except maybe shanarkoh) did, and he exposed that.
Perhaps, too, it is just that the Engineers are a very strong race able to proliferate because of their cheap cost and ability to move a lot of power. And perhaps the tiles just lined up right for Toine in those games.
Story #1: A New Champion: Toine
Congrats to Toine for his first championship! I'll be writing more on this to come, but needless to say it's exciting because Toine lifted himself up from Division 5! He's only the 4th player to win Terra Mystica Tournament, so big props.
Excited for Season 12! See you there.
is a game by Helge Ostertag and Jens Drögemüller.