Tharsis Preview

They've got to get their asses to Mars.

My favorite titles at Playstation Experience had to stand out from a crowd that was made almost entirely of announced and well-known full-fledged titles and crowdfunded pixel-art indies. Maybe that's why I spent more time checking out Dreams in the Media Lounge, Midboss's lounge playing the PS4 demo of Read Only Memories, and lastly Tharsis than anything else.

Tharsis was the most original game I saw at PSX as a digital single-player space-survival tabletop boardgame, with rules and conditions almost certainly too complex to build a physical version. In Tharsis you play as a crew of astronauts on their way to Mars, whose ship has been hit by a storm of micrometeorites. You see the individual sections as 3D cutaways of the environments of each pod-section of the spacecraft, which all have functions that help keep the ship active and crew alive. This means that each turn that you play you have to maneuver your astronauts to sections of the ship in different crises, and try to deal with them by rolling their ability dice. 

The dice rolls can be a tricky thing. Really nasty in-game disasters have conditions that can freeze the dice if they land on a specific number (and then can't be rerolled). On the plus side, you can save some dice for later, or if you have extra, you can allocate them to developing a set of emergency skills—that function like an auto-fix card. 

Each of your astronauts has a different specialty that adds to the number of dice they can roll or the number of times they can re-roll them, their affinity with certain tech, or in the case of the commander, adds dice to the rolls of anyone in the same capsule. More dice can be added by keeping your astronauts well fed or lowering their stress levels by using specific pods, but that also requires using dice rolls that could be used instead into fixing ship damage. Your ship, like your characters, has a limited pool of life points, and when they're all used up, the game ends.

At the start of each turn, you get a new section of the story that unfolds like a motion comic, then the new crises are revealed in the different ship sections. At this point you have the opportunity to move your astronauts, one at a time, to the crises and attempt to fix them. After the active play section, you take what damage is left to your ship, if you haven't completely fixed everything. Appending each turn is a choice; the options may include helping one or two characters at the expense of the rest, or in extreme cases taking some life from one character to help the others by cannibalizing them. Once a character has fed off of another's flesh, their dice turn bloody.

Tharsis was fun in that the dice rolls, unlike a lot of games, were shown directly on the screen. How much the game was luck and how much was strategy made for an intense gaming session, where every choice felt like it could have gone drastically wrong if a die had fallen just the wrong way. It was by far the most interesting indie title I saw at Playstation Experience. It will release on January 12 on the PS4 and Steam.