Before opting to play “Tharsis,” a turn-based space survival game, heed this warning: You will lose. A lot.
If that’s not OK with you, then find something else to play. If you can handle that notion, however, Choice Provisions’ “Tharsis” can be a simple, yet addictive experience.
The goal in “Tharsis” is to survive 10 weeks (turns) and reach Mars after catastrophe strikes your ship, the Iktomi. Easier said than done. Players must manage the ship’s health plus the health and stress levels of its four crew members, all while eliminating an ongoing barrage of trouble onboard.
To do that involves the use of dice — visible, board game-style dice. Each crew member can roll up to five dice — depending on how many are available to him or her at that turn — in an effort to apply those dice to the survival effort. Using them on a hazard will lower the number attached to said problem. Once the number reaches zero, the ship and its crew avoid the negative result of the hazard.
Dice also are applied to producing food on the ship and other tasks that will keep things going until reaching Mars. Oh, and if food becomes scarce, you can always eat a dead crew member — or kill one for food. Just be prepared to deal with increased crew stress, as well as blood-soaked dice.
Relying on the luck of the roll can be frustrating. While repeated playthroughs will help players develop better strategy, nothing can stop the futility of needing a few sixes and rolling snake eyes.
As a result, losing is an acceptable outcome. During several hours with the game, I only made it as far as my seventh turn before meeting my demise.
The losing never got the better of me, though. I always felt like I was gaining a better understanding of how to play. Once you accept “Tharsis’ ” super-steep learning curve, you may come to embrace the challenge.
There’s a light story with brief, motion comic-like cutscenes, but once you’ve seen the early ones during the first bunch of losses you’ll skip them. There’s not much action going on from a visual standpoint, but the Iktomi is a well-rendered ship that has plenty of detail. It’s not as plain as the crew members, that’s for sure.
“Tharsis” doesn’t offer much in the way of depth, at present. There’s normal and hard difficulty, plus unlockable crew members. Choice Provisions indicated plans to support the community post-launch with free content updates such as challenges and scenarios, but no details were available prelaunch.
If all that’s OK with you, “Tharsis” is worth at least a few hours of your time. But again, if you can’t handle a semi-Sisyphean experience, skip it.
“Tharsis,” from developer and publisher Choice Provisions, is out Tuesday for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Mac