Fairway’s Scorecard: Mars 04:45

Mars is a lonely place… today. I mean, there’s a few rovers tooling around the planet, but it’s no place for humans. For the mission directors of Mars 04:45, they have plans to change all that. Fairway takes a look at real-time, multiplayer solitaire game: Mars 04:45.

Mars 04:45 is a multiplayer solitaire game by TGIK Games in which at least two players compete to be the first to establish a Mars colony by amassing the appropriate colonization modules.

Initial Impressions

  1. The game doesn’t really have an upper player limit, other than requiring that players each have their own deck of cards. Having different colored backs makes separating the decks at the end easier.
  2. I was really drawn to the Mars-appropriate color scheme for the game. It is a very interesting color palette.
  3. The game is fast, furious and  just a bit chaotic.  It’s not exactly how I’d hope NASA was preparing for colonizing Mars, but it works for the game.
  4. The game is easily teachable to anyone who’s played a standard solitaire game.

Game play

In Mars 04:45 each player is given their own deck of cards. Each deck consists of a series of numbered, colored cards. Each color represents one of four different kinds of modules: power, science, resource and exploration.  The numbers represent the various components of each of those modules like a science lab or solar power.

Each player shuffles their decks separately. Then creates a face-down draw pile of fifteen cards called their “Back Ordered Supplies.”  They also turn three additional cards face up in front of them to form their warehouse shelves.  The remaining cards are placed in a face-down pile called their “on-hand supplies.”

With this basic setup complete, players then will play simultaneously in an effort to construct three power modules, two science modules, one resource module and one exploration module.  Modules are built collaboratively in the middle of the table by playing cards in ascending numerical order from one until the “launch card”.  The value of the launch card depends on the type of module. For example, the power module’s launch card is three and the resource launch card is seven.  Once a module is started (i.e., some one places a one on the table), anyone can add to it.  The player who plays the final launch card takes it.

Players play cards in essentially two ways either from their “hand” or from the top spot of one of their warehouse shelves.

To play a card from their hand, you turn over three cards from your on hand supplies and, like regular solitaire, play top down to one of two places. First, you can play the card to matching colored module on the field so long as your card is the next one in ascending order.  Or, you can play on top of one of your warehouse shelves so long as it’s a different color and the next number in descending order.  This should be familiar to anyone who’s played standard solitaire.

To play a card from the warehouse, you take the top card and play it to a module, just like it were from your hand. In addition, you can move stacks of cards around the warehouse shelves so long as you follow the same rules described above. Again, this should be familiar to standard solitaire players.  If at any time there’s an empty warehouse shelf, you can turn over one of your back-ordered supplies.

Once someone has completed the necessary modules, they launch and the game (or round) ends.  At the end of the round, players score points.  You earn points for the number of launch cards you have. Then, players count the number of cards in their modules contributed by themselves and other players.  If another player has more cards in your colony, you lose points (sabotaged) unless its made up entirely of their cards (essentially shooting the moon). You also lose points for launching too soon and for having too many wasted supplies (those in your warehouse).

On the green

Mars 4:45 takes the multiplayer solitaire game and owns it. It makes no apologies for its fast-paced nature.

The color scheme & art. I don’t know what it is. It’s just so perfect for the game that it bears mentioning that the designers picked a fantastic set of non-standard shades of colors. Awesome.

The art also has a very retro feel. It calls to mind the same stylistic art used in NASA’s Visions of the Future campaign.

Easy to learn and teach.  Mars 04:45 channels the spirit of the standard solitaire game. As a result, even casual game players who know only Windows Solitaire pick it easily. They’ll likely already be familiar with flipping three cards and placing with the top one, playing to stacks of cards in descending order by playing different suits, and finishing a suit by starting from one and going up.

Even though it shares a lot of with the regular solitaire game, it does bring its own game play with it.

There’s an opportunity to use various play styles.  The entire game is being played while everyone is taking actions simultaneously. There’s no speed limit. What’s interesting is that it’s not clear faster is always better. In more than one game, players who burned through their cards the fastest weren’t the winners, the player who waited on the launch cards was.  That didn’t always work, of course, and players quickly became wise to that approach.

Games are quick.  The game is quick to set up and play. There’s no huge commitment to time and you can easily get a few games played in thirty minutes.

Where it comes up short

The theme.  The theme is useful to pique one’s curiosity, but beyond that the game doesn’t let you dawdle on it.  While you’re playing, you’re not exactly thinking about the modules or their components, you’re thinking: color and number.  The frantic nature of the game also makes you feel less like you’re planning for a long Mars-destined colony and more like you’re really frantically trying to survive on that station.

Scoring.  There were mixed feeling about the scoring regime used in the game. Most of the players just liked being the first to complete the necessary modules.  The scoring regime tended only to exacerbate the “loss” and rounds of scoring weren’t additive — in some ways it feels like keeping score in traditional games like Rummy where hand-over-hand scoring aren’t really related.

In hole

Mars 04:45 knows what it is and it delivers exactly that: fast-paced, multiplayer solitaire game. Anyone trying to bring someone new to their game table will appreciate how easily this game is teachable to new players. And there’s good fun in this frantic take on the traditional solitaire game. For anyone looking for a casual game or a simple introductory game, Mars 04:45 definitely takes off.

Mars 04:45 is in the hole for a par.

Fairway was sent four decks of Mars 04:45, but was not otherwise compensated for this preview.

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