In October 2014, the expansion Terra Mystica Fire & Ice was released. Terra Mystica is probably the gamers’ game of the last years, no surprise it is on second rank on Boardgamegeek. Fire & Ice adds even more replayability to a game with tremendous replay value and fixes a few imbalances.
What changed? A lot!
1. New factions
There are 6 more factions, 2 ice, 2 fire and 2 variable factions. The ice factions are the most similar to the “old” factions. The biggest difference may be that they even have to transform their home terrain into ice and once they transformed into ice, no other player can spade this terrain. The Ice Maidens are basically similar to the engineers because they get extra points for each temple (rather than bridge) after building the stronghold (I think they are a bit stronger/easier to play than the engineers). The Yetis can get the power actions for 1 power cheaper and as soon as they get the stronghold they can access even power actions that were already taken by any player.
The fire factions are very different than the old ones. They have to transform any terrain into volcano and other players can’t transform volcano anymore. Acolytes have to sacrifice cult points to spade and the dragonlords sacrifice power tokens to spade.
The variable ones seem to be the strongest new factions. The shapeshifters seem very strong (if not even overpowered according to some stats from online play), they can use power to switch to another homeland once they build the stronghold, making expansion relatively easy. The riverwalkers can free one other terrain type for every priest income they get but they can only build by the rivers. Both factions have to spade very little.
Overall, the new factions are fun and add some variability to the base game. They also add more competition on the world map because they can screw other players quite a lot. Especially the fire factions don’t care about terrain type so they focus on harming other players. Again, the factions don’t really seem that balanced but this is less of a problem because the designers understood that balancing such asymmetric factions is almost impossible, at least with a reasonable development time. Thus they introduced an auction to solve this problem.
2. New worldmap
There is a completely new map and a varied version of the old one. The new map is fun, especially after having played the old one it is cool to have to think from the very start of the game where to expand to. Also it seems more balanced than the old map. I feel that the new map favors a bit the green factions but to a lesser degree than the black and brown factions were better off on the old map. So the new variation of the old map made the black factions a bit less strong.
3. New endgame scoring
There are 4 new endgame scoring tiles. One is randomly drawn and rewards the players that span the greatest distance on the word map, or the one with most outposts on the edge of the board, or the one with the biggest amount of distinct settlements, or the one with the biggest distance between their stronghold and sanctuary with 18, 12 and 6 points.
I love these scorings because they make the geographical strategy more important. They also have a really huge impact on which faction is best. Rather than simply picking the race that usually works well one really has to consider the setup of round bonuses and end game scoring.
4. Turn order and auction variants
Two variants were added as well. The turn order is not simply clock-wise after the starting player but in the exact order of passing in the previous round. This makes a lot of sense as it adds more strategy to when to pass even after the first player passed already.
Even more important in my opinion is the auction for the factions that was introduced. I already recommended such an auction in my Terra Mystica review, did the designers read it? 😉 One draws randomly as many factions as players. Then, there is an auction using victory points and the one bidding most can pick first. The last player doesn’t pay any victory points and gets the remaining faction. I think this is very elegant and provides some fairness despite the imbalanced factions. Of course it only really works for experienced players as they can assess how strong the factions are. Players who like to play weaker factions such as the fakirs finally have a fair chance to win!
I think, the expansion Fire&Ice is pretty much the best of all possible Terra Mystica worlds, freely citing the old German philosopher Leibniz. It fixes a few issues I had with the already awesome “base” game Terra Mystica. If you don’t want to get the big box of Terra Mystica you can also just apply some of the tweaks of Fire&Ice to the base game of Terra Mystica, like the auction and the additional end game scorings.