Tharsis is a turn-based strategy game developed and published by Choice Provisions for the PC, Mac, Linux Wii U and PlayStation 4. The game has the player control the crew of a damaged space craft on its way to Mars with the goal of avoiding disaster and arriving at the destination.
The games title refers to a vast volcanic plateau centered near the equator on the western hemisphere of Mars. The region is home to some of the largest volcanoes in our solar system including three enormous shield volcanoes, Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons, which collectively make up the Tharsis Montes.
A mysterious signal originating from the Tharsis region of Mars is discovered triggering a frantic mission to determine its source. The Iktomi space craft is built and launched with a six person crew to determine the origin of the cryptic beacon. However, halfway through the mission the Iktomi is caught in a micrometeorite storm that kills two crew members, Mapiya Musgrace and J. Cross, and destroys the pantry module of the ship. Now with limited food and crew, the members of the Iktomi must avoid disaster and survive the remaining trip to Mars facing unfavorable odds.
After a couple weeks the crew is able to decipher data sent from the signal and realize it shows what seems to be an exact copy of the crew from the Iktomi on mars and in great peril. Unclear as to what this data means the crew continues on their mission and eventually reaches the destination. Arriving at Mars the crew boards the landing capsule and descends to the planet below as the Iktomi is left to orbit and is eventually destroyed.
The crew, now on foot, continues to follow the signal and eventually comes across an alien artifact. As the crew approaches the artifact it begins to flash a bright light. If one or more of the remaining four crew members died during the journey then the artifacts energy seemingly kills the remaining crew. But not before one of the crew sends a distress call out, which the artifact then sends back in time, creating a casual loop sending the Iktomi there in the first place. However if all four crew members make it to Mars then as the artifact powers up a crew member hurls a rock at the artifact, destroying it and preventing the paradox from happening, leaving the crews fate ultimately unknown.
To begin the game the player will first select which crew members will make up the Iktomi team, each crew member offers a different skill bonus that can help in the journey. Some skill examples are adding additional dice or life points to characters, or adding strength to the hull of the ship. The payer will only have access to four potential crew members from the onset but as goals are accomplished other characters become unlocked adding more variety to the player. Each crew member has a maximum of six health points and five dice and they also have a stress meter that needs to be managed.
The player controls the crew of the Iktomi with the goal of helping them reach the Tharsis region on Mars. The game is turn-based in nature and each turn (a week) consists of two phases, an action phase and a preparation phase. The start of the game begins with in an action phase and each action phase begins with the ship falling victim to a handful of malfunctions and/or problems that if left unfixed will damage the crew or the hull of the craft. These malfunctions will happen in different modules of the spacecraft, each module having a specific purpose that will help keep the crew healthy and alive. The module is unusable while damaged. These malfunctions are assigned a damage number and can have different hazards that can hinder the player’s ability to fix the problem. Based on current conditions the player must decide which malfunctions are most important to deal with and which ones can be ignored for that round.
To deal with a malfunction the player must assign a crew member to that module and then roll dice in order to fix the problem. The object is for the rolled dice to be equal or greater than the assigned number of the malfunction in the module. If the player rolls the needed amount then the malfunction is fixed, if not then another crew member must roll the remaining number in that module in order to fix it. The player can also choose to use the dice towards a characters skill or a module perk, each of these options need a die of 5 or 6 to activate.
One more option for the player is to choose to put a die into research, research allows for a single die of each value to be stored away in order to later provide a perk to the player. These perks use up the dice stored away starting with 1 first and ending with 6; these perks have dice requirements and can ask for 1 to 6 dice in exchange for the perk. Perks can eliminate a hazard for that week, reducing the malfunction cost or give characters extra dice to name a few. It often makes sense to dump unusable dice into research once the malfunction is fixed.
At the end of the action phase of the turn any unfixed modules will carry out the negative effect associated with the malfunction, possibly leading to death of crew or the Iktomi exploding ending the game. If the crew and ship survive then the preparation phase will begin. This phase has the player decide between two options for the crew, each option has both a positive and negative effect. Examples of positive effects are reducing stress, adding food and increase hull strength, examples of negative effects are increased stress, damage to the hull, and loss of health. A characters increased stress can have an effect on the options, more stress leads to more negative effects and can even lead to a character taking on a project alone that is harmful to all other characters. Once the player makes the decision on what makes most sense the player can then feed the crew in order to increase their amount of dice. If the player is without food then the player can decide if the crew should eat the deceased members of the crew or kill a crew member to create meat. If the character eats human flesh they gain only two dice and are hit with an increase in stress and will lose one health slot permanently.
- Injury – Rolling this will result in a loss of one health point for the rolling character.
- Stasis – Rolling this will result in the dice being locked in position for the second roll.
- Void – Rolling this will result in the dice disappearing into the void canceling its value.