Mars Needs Mechanics Review

Mars Needs Mechanics board game in play

Sometimes, instead of working on cars and motorcycles, you want to explore space.  Lucky for you, theirs a game for that - after all, it's even titled Mars Needs Mechanics!

In Mars Needs Mechanics, players purchase goods in the hopes of selling them for profit.   Play goes around the table with each player having the option to buy a good or pass.  Each time that a good is purchased, the corresponding marker moves to the front of the "recently purchased" track.  In addition to purchasing a good, the active player can also build or tear down a mechanism - something that gives you a bonus of some sort.  Play continues in this way until all of the goods have been purchased, or until all of the players pass consecutively.  Next, based on each good's position on the "recently purchased" track, the three most recently purchased goods each go up one in price, the least recent three go down one in price, and the good in the middle stays the same.  Now players have the opportunity to sell goods - but must sell at least three matching goods at a time (with "Scrap" cards counting as a wild that can be used to fill in a set; but the Scrap itself earns no money for being sold).  Play continues in this manner until the deck of resources runs out - at which time there is a final round (including selling goods), and the player with the most money wins the game!

In unique fashion, I'm going to start this review off with a story.  Do you know why US coins have ridges?  It is because a long time ago, each coin was made out of a precious metal (silver), and the coin's worth was tied to the amount of silver in it.  (This is obviously no longer the case.)  However, before coins had ridges, some people would file off the furthest edges of coins.  If they filed a small enough amount, then nobody would notice that it was missing - but they would have a slight amount of extra silver.  And, if you repeated this process enough times, then you could actually make some money.  Now, this is a post about board games - so, why am I telling this story?  Because this is how the central element of Mars Needs Mechanics strikes me.  It is a game about making small slivers of money repeatedly, and hoping that by the end of the game it adds up to a large total.  Put bluntly - your entire enjoyment of the game will depend on how much you like this concept. 

market board for Mars Needs Mechanics game
The ever changing market
Now, for my first pro.  I think that this key mechanic is neat.  I won't say that it's my favorite thing that I've ever seen in a game - but it works well, and is very interesting to me.  Because the relevant factor of purchasing goods is when you purchase them (even within a single round), you are forced to make some hard choices.  Do you want to go ahead and buy the good that matches your set at the beginning of the round?  This would ensure that you are able to buy it instead of anyone else.  But, that could also cause it to drop in value - thus costing you money!  Alternatively, you could use your first turn to buy a good that one of your opponents is wanting - trying to force a price drop on it (but using your own money to do so).  I enjoy the decisions that the timing of the game forces upon you.

The second pro that I have for Mars Needs Mechanics is that in the 2-player game there are even more elements of strategy.  Such as bluffing.  For example, if there are five types of resources on the market, you have to make a decision - do you want to buy a resource that you don't want, to make sure that the resource that you do want is sold later in the round?  Or, do you pass and hope that your opponent buys one of the resources that you don't want.  But, if you pass, then your opponent has the option of ending the round if they choose to pass as well.  However, they don't know what is in your hand.  So they don't know if you are hoping that the round will end (if the cards that you have are slated to increase in value you would want this), or if you are hoping that they buy goods.  And so there is a nice element of baiting your opponent that goes on in the head to head version.

The third pro that I will mention is that the mechanisms in the game help add replayability, while also keeping the game from being overly dry.  I stated earlier that I think that the key mechanic in the game is very neat.  That is true.  But, that doesn't mean that it wouldn't be dry if it were the only thing going on in the game.  Fortunately, the mechanisms add a bit more flavor (and interaction) to the game.  Instead of the only interaction being based on when you buy goods, some of the mechanisms can discourage your opponents from buying certain cards (or prevent them altogether).  Other mechanisms can adjust when and how you sell, and finally, the Automaton adds an entirely new way of scoring to the game (it requires all seven resource types to build, but earns you a lot of points).

cards from Mars Needs Mechanics board game
Different mechanisms - like the Automaton
Though there are a lot of very nice elements to Mars Needs Mechanics, there are a couple of cons that I will mention.  First, the game truly strikes me as a 2-player affair.  The further you get away from that, the more the quality seems to diminish.  Specifically, I am thinking of the 4-player game.  In a 4-player game, you simply don't have enough control over the market.  Which is very bad, when the whole point of the game is to control the market!  For example, when there are four (different) resource cards remaining, you have two options - buy the card you want or pass.  If you buy the card that you want, then there is a very good chance that it will not actually go up in value, since there are three players after you, and if they each buy a different resource, then your resource will be the one to stay at the same price.  You really need to have the ability to guarantee that your last purchase goes up in price, but a 4-player game doesn't allow this.  (Also of note - since you use the same total number of cards no matter how many players are in the game, a 2-player game will be much more high scoring than a 4-player game.  That's not really good or bad - just something to be aware of.)

My other con is really the converse of my final pro.  Though I think that the central element of Mars Needs Mechanics is neat, it is also a bit dry.  This is the reason that the mechanisms are a nice addition.  However, they are an extraneous element of the game - you could ultimately play the game without them.  And, though it would affect strategy somewhat, the game would still play very similarly.  Honestly, the game reminds me of many of Reiner Knizia's games (which the designer should probably take as a compliment).  There is truly one central gameplay element that the game is built around.  And as I said before - your enjoyment of the game will hinge entirely on how much you like that aspect.

Overall, I give Mars Needs Mechanics an 8.0/10.  It really is a bit of an enigma to me.  Sometimes, I feel that it is a bit drier than I would like.  And yet, something appeals to me about the game enough that I am considering trying to make an electronic version of it (so look for that in the future if I actually get around to that) - which is quite a time investment.  If you are looking for an interesting market based 2-player game, then you should check this out.

If Mars Needs Mechanics sounds interesting, you should also check out Jambo, Ra, and Biblios.

I would like to thank Nevermore Games for providing me with a review copy of Mars Needs Mechanics.


  1. This is cool! The primary mechanic seems a bit similar to a penny stocks game I was making that just didn't have the excitement needed. I like the way it was implemented here though! I like how you used the coin ridges as the analogy for how the mechanism works. :) Not sure it's my type of game, but I think my spouse would love it. Thanks for the write up!