Version Reviewed: 1.1
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4S
Graphics / Sound Rating:
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Mars Needs Mechanics (successfully Kickstarted by Nevermore Games in fall of 2012) is making the transition from tabletop to iOS, courtesy of Josh Edwards. At its core, Mars Needs Mechanics is a market manipulation and set collection game. Cards representing bulk lots of steampunk-y parts (wire, magnets, gears, piping, boilers, aether tubes, and lenses) are drawn to form a market of materials. Players take turns purchasing cards (which can also be used to craft special bonus-granting mechanisms) until all players have passed consecutively or the market has been emptied. The Sell phase follows, where players can sell matched sets of three or more cards for currency (cogs). The player who has banked the most cogs when the parts deck runs out wins.
The strategy comes in how purchases affect market prices. Each time a part is purchased it shows up at the front of the Order Line, pushing every other part down one space. The three most recently purchased items on the line have their buy/sell price increased by one, while the last three decrease by one (the middle is unaffected). This can encourage strategic sniping of parts players don't actually need to drive down the value of their opponent's stockpiles. It also means that diving straight for most wanted cards may be a bad idea, as they'll likely end up pushed down the Order Line at the end of the round, tanking their value. Timing mechanics are definitely key.
Unfortunately, part of what makes tabletop games so much fun is completely missing here: real player interaction. While games can be set up against one to three AI players, there's no pass-the-device or online multiplayer modes at all. The entire experience feels mechanical and hollow, made even more so by the game's utter lack of sound - no music, no effects, nada. It's a shame because while the card art is simple, the colors and images are gently evocative of the intended setting and some ratcheting, clanging, or the occasional steam hiss would have done wonders for helping set the tone.
Still, even if that were different, games cannot survive on tone alone. The UI is questionably organized (why place the positive end of the Order Line at the bottom rather than the top?) and screen real estate makes selecting cards from the player's hand a bit fiddly (why isn't this a Universal App anyway?). Some manner of pop-up graphic when opponents construct/use a mechanism would have been appreciated, rather than the tiny icons we only get for certain mechanism types.
While Mars Needs Mechanics is a bit dry on the mechanical level, the whole affair could have been spiced up in so many ways. Unfortunately the result just comes off as a bit soulless. Instead of dispatching all of the techies to Mars, a few should have stayed behind to tune this app up.