I think we can all agree that the movie Wild Wild West was not the pinnacle of great film making. However there is one thing from the movie I had no idea existed before and that is the world of Steampunk. I found it to be the only redeeming quality about the film. This interesting sub-genre of science fiction has found its way into the mainstream media in recent years and even into video and board games. Today we will be looking at the iOS implementation of a game that uses a steampunk theme, Mars Needs Mechanics. In this game, players are fighting for spots on the H.M.S. Victoria VII, which will be making its way to the red planet. Is this player driven economy game worth your precious tablet space? Read on.
In Mars Needs Mechanics, the Royal Academy of Space Exploration has announced its plans to launch a mission to Mars. In order to find out who the most talented crew for this expedition is, the Academy decides to have a competition. Players take the role of one of the British Empire’s foremost Aether Mechanics competing for one of these coveted spots. In order to win, players will need to have the most cogs at the end of the game.
Players will start out the game with 30 cogs to be used to purchase different steampunk components. Each round, eight component cards are placed on the table. Players will decide which components they want to purchase at the current market price. The kicker is that the prices of these components will change depending on when they are purchased during the round. These prices will either move ±1 or none at all. The main goal of the game is to have more cogs then the other players when the game ends. In order to earn cogs, players will need to have a set of three components to sell them at their current market price. You can also construct mechanisms from the components you purchase that will give players advantages as the play the game. Players will need to time their purchases and sells of components in order to earn the most cogs at the end of the game to be one of the first people on Mars.
The app has a very minimalistic look as you get to the title screen. You will have the option for changes to setup, to view the tutorial, as well as leader boards, and achievements. The game only supports offline play, but does allow for both pass and play and solo games. When you start the game, there is a lot of information on the screen. In the middle is all of the components that are available for purchase this round. You will start in the buying phase and if you want to purchase a component you drag it down to the bottom of the screen where you can view the rest of the cards in your hand. As we go clockwise around the screen, on the left will be the current price of all the components in the game and what you will buy/sell them for if you complete that action. Placed at the top of the screen are each of the players current cog totals and the number of cards in their hand. The right side of the screen shows how the prices of the components would adjust if the round ended now. The most recently purchased component will move to the bottom right spot of this ladder with the rest of them shifting up. In between the component cards and this price adjustment track is a few things. There is a deck size bar that shows the amount of cards left in the deck. There is also a Done button for you to click to complete your turn as well as a “Mechs” button. This will remove the component cards from the middle of the screen showing the four possible mechanisms that you can build this game. There are two boxes underneath the cards to show if you have the necessary components to build or if you want to deconstruct your build mechanism to sell the parts for cogs.
Mars Needs Mechanics is by far the most unique review of an iOS app I have done. Like I said in the interface portion of the review, it has a very minimalistic look. It’s lacking in some of the bells and whistles of some of the other iOS games I have reviewed. There isn’t any fancy animations or cinematics that people are beginning to expect from an iOS game. The main reason could be because this app isn’t being put together by the game’s publisher or an app development company. It was instead created by one of our colleagues in the reviewing world, Josh from Board Game Reviews by Josh. But for me, it isn’t all about how the app looks, it matters how it plays. Overall, the app plays well. It is very easy to get a game started and playing. The app functions as a very good proxy for the physical board game. I had never played this game before and I enjoyed it. It’s a light economy game that has some interesting decisions for you to make. The game is a lot more thinky than I thought it would be and hope to have a chance to get it to the table in the future. The AI isn’t a pushover and puts up a fight during the game. I think that more experienced players might be able to trounce the AI, but for me it gives up enough of a challenge.
Overall, I do like the interface decisions that were made in the app. I always like when I can have all the important information on the screen at once. It is a little crowded, but it’s all there. One minor issue is that the only drag gesture in the game is to move the component you want to purchase into your hand. This feels very unnatural when the rest of the actions you take in the game are tap based. Besides that small issue, the design of the app made the game easy to play once I got the rules down. This leads me to my major issue with the app. The tutorial does a decent job explaining where everything is and how to use it. The problem is that it didn’t teach me how to play the game. I found myself confused and unclear with what exactly I was supposed to do. I ended up going to the internet to find a copy of the rules for the original game. A quick read and I got the rules down enough to start enjoying the game. The game is simple to learn, however, most people won’t be as patient as me to learn the game this way.
My mind is split about how to review this application. I like the game and overall the implementation is solid. But for the general populace, they won’t like the minimalistic interface and the substandard tutorial. In the end, this app is great for fans of the game. It allows you to play the game on the go and you get a good experience; however, it is limited in popularity potential. I recommend Mars Needs Mechanics for fans of the game, but for those uninitiated to the game, you might want to hold off for now.