Mosaic is a civilization themed strategy game, almost like a fleshed out version of 7 Wonders, with a play time of a couple of hours and engine building mechanics similar to those in Terraforming Mars. People who have played and loved those two games will get on well with this for sure. For reasons that will become apparent, this is best suited to more experienced board game players willing to put in a little time and patience to play and learn this goliath of a game.
There are a lot of components in this game, which helps with the replayability but also means that set up takes quite a long time. The first time you play, expect it to take about an hour, but this quickly reduces to around 20 minutes once you have a bit more experience with it. You might also want to invest in a stash of zip lock bags (for the Kickstarter Sphinx edition at least) to help with storage and make the set up and pack down processes a lot easier. Although the quality of the components is amazing, it’s let down a bit by the box and storage spaces. Unlike Isle of Cats Big Box, which has perfectly designed inserts and a diagram of where to put everything, Mosaic has specially designed inserts but no apparent logic of how to use them. To be clear, its not that the box layout is especially poor, or that stuff doesn’t fit. Part of the long delay of the Kickstarter version was because of the insert design and production, so after a year of waiting it feels like they could have done better
The pieces of the game are made from sturdy cardboard with easy to interpret and mostly good looking artwork. The only exception to this is the coloured player pieces for military, cities, towns and population, which are a bit busy and not as beautifully simplistic as the currency tokens and technology cards. The main board is very well designed, with thought-out places to put card decks and specific spaces for the face up cards. Player boards also warrant praise for being well designed, easy to understand, robust feeling and well laid out. The only real criticism here is the shear volume of pieces required to play the game, but this is necessitated by the game’s wonderful intricacy and complexity.
On a side note, Mosaic is a big game, like really big! We have a cubic themed shelf from a popular Swedish furniture designer, and the box is too large for the cubes, meaning it has to be stored on top, not a major issue I admit. But the game itself is also enormous. Two of us can just about cope on our fairly large coffee table (140cm x 80cm). You would need a fairly large dining table to cope with the six players that the Spynix edition can support. So be prepared to make some space to house and play this game.
As mentioned in the introduction, this plays a little bit like the love child of 7 Wonders and Terraforming Mars. Thematically it feels very similar to 7 Wonders, there are even wonders (such as the Lighthouse of Alexandria) that can be purchased with the game resources and contribute towards the victory point scoring. But the game has a resource production mechanic similar to that in Terraforming Mars. There are five currencies in the game; money, population, food, ideas and stone. Stone, food and ideas have their own production track and players can spend an action producing one of these according to their current production rate. Resources are spent to gain technologies, build cities, invest in projects and claim wonders.
At this point the you might be thinking that this leviathan of a game is starting to sound pretty complex, but it's actually really simple to play. Players have one action to spend per turn and really it boils down to two options, produce resources, or build.
Like 7 Wonders there are a few strategic avenues open to amass points. Players can choose to focus on getting points through occupying land with towns, cities and military units, collecting civilization achievements, claiming bonus golden age points, building wonders and through bonuses found on project cards and technology cards. The technology cards are central to the game and are the main way to increase the resource production tracks, gain resources, accumulate victory points and collect pillars of civilization. The pillars of civilization are represented by coloured icons in the bottom right corner of cards and symbolize different aspects of a civilized society such as culture, science, agriculture, government, etc.
Once six of one type of civilization pillars have been attained, players can claim golden age bonuses worth six points. Players often find themselves racing to collect these as only one is available for each pillar type. The civilization achievements work in a similar fashion, but these are awarded for reaching milestones such as a food production rate of 15, for example. This is part of the complexity of the game. These bonuses are highly valuable when it comes to final scoring and players need to make sure that they are keeping track of progression, but with 144 points available through 24 civilization achievements and golden ages bonus, there is lots to keep track of. We often found that someone would claim a bonus only for another player to realise that they had actually achieved it a few turns before. In these situations we use the “first to claim it” rule. I am sure if you played this game lots you would get used to the bonuses and be able to keep track, but for newbies it feels a little overwhelming.
Building An Empire
Throughout a game of Mosaic, players occupy hexagons on the board with the cities, towns, wonders and military units. This is where the game has combative elements. Points are allocated for controlling different regions around the Mediterranean sea, where control is measured according to how many things you own in that region. Players will battle for control of a region and reap the rewards when the empire scoring cards are drawn. However, effort here should be measured. There are many ways to accrue points, so sometimes it might be better to save resources for something else, opposed to getting involved in a war of resource attrition for a particular region.
Scoring & The End Game
There can be up to three scoring rounds through the game, triggered by the drawing of empire scoring cards which are placed randomly in the bottom half of the population, build, technology and tax & tariff decks. Each time one is pulled points are awarded according to who has control of each region and how many cities there are in it.
Once three empire scoring cards have been pulled the game is over and final scoring takes place. This can also be triggered if two of the wonder, civilization achievements, or golden age card decks have been completely depleted. In some cases players can have the power to prolong the game to their own ends by purposefully not meeting the criteria to claim the final one of these cards.
In the final scoring players of Mosaic are awarded points for the number of towns and cities they own, regions they control (according to the normal empire scoring mechanic), bonuses through wonders, civilization achievements and golden age cards, and bonuses from project or technology cards they own. Depending on how players have chosen to play the game there can be big swings I'm score at this point. One player might have gone hard on occupying regions, but neglected to collected enough bonus points. During the times that we have played, scoring has been reasonably close, but amassed across a large variety of point scoring strategies. This makes the game engaging until the end, points are collected throughout and it's tough enough to keep an idea of your own score, let alone others. This means the final point tally and resulting winner is often a mystery until the very end.
Playing Mosaic can feel like a bit of an event, with the long set-up and pack down and the two hours of play, you should set aside a full evening for a match. On your first go, with all the unpacking, you might want to take the day off work!
The build quality is solid and the board is delightfully well throughout, a relief given its physical size. The only real grievance is the fact that the box could have been thought out a little better.
Despite the sprawling expanse of this game, and all its complexities, and all its intricacies, its actually relatively simple to play - make some resources, spend some resources. Having said this, the game is rich in detail and different avenues of strategy to explore. It can keep players engaged for its two hour play time and will have you coming back for more. Like many other games, resource availability and board real estate is more plentiful with only two players. The dynamics change with larger groups, changing the strategies that players adopt. The game handles this reasonably well by limiting the regions available to occupy and altering some of the scoring mechanics for 2 player matches.