Choice Provisions’ Tharsis has been the talk of the strategy game town since its recent release on Steam. The game puts players in a seemingly impossible situation where they have to save the lives of crew members aboard a doomed flight to Mars; think Apollo 13 meets Lifepod. Well, the game is receiving a lot of chatter, and it’s both good and bad for much of the same reasons.
Regularly described as “brutally difficult” and a “serious challenge”, Tharsis sees players utilizing dice in a turn-based strategy game where they must help the crew of the ship survive after being pelted by a micrometeorid storm. Gamers must ration supplies, repair the ship and deal with the “unforgiving” challenges that come with space travel using turn-based strategic skills, card modifiers and a few random dice rolls.
You can get an idea of how the game is played with a playthrough from YouTuber quill18.
The big contention over Tharsis has nothing to do with the graphics, sound or themes – everyone loves the way its presented and the board game-style setup – what has created controversy amongst paying customers is over the randomly generated events that some claim makes the game either too easy or too hard.
[TAG]Alblaka loved the concept but felt the RNG dicerolls the feeling of utilizing skill to progress through the game…
“At first glance, an intriguing and interesting concept. After a number of games you start to get frustrated about constantly dieing and being screwed over by the RNG lethality of the game.
“[…] It doesn’t feel like me winning was too much of actual skill involved, but mostly just getting lucky picks with the dicerolls, the events, their order and the side projects. And I have no doubt that I will simply lose the next couple games again, even if I play just the same.”
Scelous mentioned the same thing, writing that the RNG swings too far in one direction or the other…
“Tharsis is the very first game I can think of that feels too luck-based to me. It feels completely random and you may as well just flip a coin to see if you win or lose. I did hear YouTubers who were playing the preview mention how either they would win with a full crew or die completely – it’s because Tharsis swings in extreme directions, given how much random chance is at play and how little you can mitigate the problems.”
Kawasaky said the same thing, only adding that no matter what you do you’ll either win or fail but based entirely on luck instead of skill…
“There are other games like FTL where you can get a bad RNG situation, but at the ends you know that if you failed the mission it was because you screwed it at some point. On Tharsis you will fail because Tharsis is gonna force you to lose even if all the decisions were correct.”
The developer ended up chiming in on the discussion of the RNG and the difficulty of the game based on random events that stack up higher than a player’s skill to strategically think their way out of a tight bind.
According to Choice Provisions producer Dant Rambo…
“I will be the first to admit that Tharsis is not a game for everyone. With that said, I feel compelled to point out that it’s not as random as you may think. There are dice, of course, but the idea behind Tharsis is that you strategize and plan ahead to the point where you’re prepared for whatever numbers you roll – be they good or bad.
“If you really think through your decisions each turn, you can get yourself out of just about any jam. Paying close to the abilities of each of the characters and utilizing Research at appropriate times are both examples of important things you can do to pull yourself out of even the most difficult of situations.”
What Dant says actually does seem to apply to various gamers who stated that they did not feel as if Tharsis was cheap or entirely luck based. For instance, user Captiva managed to get his wife in on the action as the married couple brainstormed a way to survive against impossible odds in space thanks to the take-turns mechanic…
“I can barely keep my wife’s attention with pretty much any game I play. No matter how cool she just says “neat” and walks away. I showed her this game last night and 5 hours later she was still next to me with her chair pulled up as we took turns playing.”
Dragondave17 nearly has 45 hours worth of gameplay logged as of the writing of this article and also feels as if the strategic player choices outweigh the RNG, writing…
“Even some of the people leaving negative reviews have admittedly enjoyed the game itself, just not the rigid difficulty or something else. I’d say the game is fun whether you win or lose.”
“Some people say that the game is 95% RNG because they didn’t win in XX games, but I’ve won all 3 rounds (base crew, no special crew, no deaths) that I played so far. If that’s RNG then that must be good RNG helping me win.”
This is actually very true what Dragondave17 writes, because further down the thread Steam user Ereaper basically says that the game is fun but couldn’t recommend it because it was too frustrating…
“[…] if you like extreme (and i can’t state that enough extreme) challenges get this game. It looks like a lot of fun from all the videos i watched and my first playthrough was fun, but it claws at you over time. If you’re a braver person than me this is the game for you otherwise I would skip this and get something else.”
“Tharsis’s unique mechanics are 1) it is cooperative and 2) you do worker placement (by choosing a module to deploy your character in), and then draft your dice within that module. Cooperative worker placement has been done before with, for example, Robinson Crusoe. And module-based worker placement is being done in, say, Tiny Epic Western, which is currently being Kickstarted. But combining those mechanics with dice drafting provides a pretty unique boardgaming experience. Events and research opportunities are randomized, as are the dice obviously, which provides plenty of replayability.”
Between the bickering, the complaints, the praises, the fanboying and the hate, there is a very well reasoned review made with stark brevity from Steam user Don. He keeps it simple and makes it known that he was able to finish the game in just under an hour, warning that the game is fun but those interested should tread lightly due to the way the random number generators work…
“Tharsis is basically a board game with lots of dice and you are at the mercy of three major RNG events, the first is to see which cards you are dealt in terms of hazards to the ship. The second is actually getting the right dice to manage those events and the third is choosing stuff for your crew which has both positive and negative impacts.
There is strategy in it since various modules of your ship offer different bonuses, the characters also have abilities and you have to dictate priorities right in order to succeed, that is if you get the right dice.
“If you hate losing, dont buy this game.”
If you’re still interested in this game and want to learn more about it, you can do so by visiting the official Steam store page. Tharsis regularly costs $14.99 but is discounted in its first week on Steam by 34% so you can pick it up for only $9.89.
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