Before I begin this review, I have to admit that I am quite the Sci-Fi fan, enjoying almost everything within its all encompassing grasp. Be it a good novel, a mediocre film adaptation, or terrible straight to DVD movie – I’m willing to give it chance.
However, if there is one thing I am not so keen on, it is the obligatory scene regarding “space folding” to explain interstellar travel. If you are unfamiliar with this trope, allow me to be the first to shed some light on it.
“The quickest point between two pieces of paper is a straight line right?” says the engineer of the faster-than-light spaceship as he traces a shaky trail of ink over the blank surface. “Right,” chimes in the handsome layman with an outstandingly chiselled jaw, completely unaware that he has fallen into a trap. Wrong.” replies the engineer, holding back a fiendish grin. “You fold the paper in half to bring the two points closer together." He then stabs the creased analogy with a pencil to hammer home the point.
Thankfully Mars Open, created by Dennis Hoyle through Kickstarter, doesn’t involve any paper folding (although there is quite a lot of cardboard to be punched out), but it does require paper and pencil to keep score. At its core, it is a dexterity game, akin to a mini-golf course that you can play at home by yourself – or with up to seven others if you are so inclined.
Instead of putters you use your fingers and instead of balls you have...whatever these Martian equivalents are:
Playing Mars Open
These oddly shaped bits of card are your ticket to winning in a round of Mars Open Tabletop Golf. They fly and spin, swerve and glide. And with enough practice and/or luck, they’ll end up in the hole.
Practice being the key word here. For you see, Mars Open is by no means an easy game. Your “balls” (folded diamond shapes) are difficult things to tame – often flying off the table despite your best attempts, resulting in a penalty stroke added to your score. The manual does include several pointers on how to control your shots – which do work to varying degrees. But the real road to victory is practice, practice, practice – like any professional golfer will tell you. Eventually you’ll be pulling off spinning trick shots and stunning power plays which can be rewarded with a wonderful feeling hole in one.
This is the major difference between Mars Open and most other dexterity games – which often see you playing on a rather flat 2D plane – namely that third, most elusive land beyond. With Mars Open you must conquer the realm above the table to become champion, clearing tall obstacles and wide barriers in the fewest number of flicks to be declared champion.
Each round consists of nine holes, beautifully illustrated in the manual with clear instructions with regards to what goes where. Be it flying cars, jet-packing golfers, or strange Martian pyramids – there is plenty to get in your way, with the only constraint on playing space being how large your table is. But if you’re feeling adventurous, the manual even suggests trying to flick your “ball” from table to table, or chair to chair.
The game has plenty of holes to play through, and with the smorgasbord of bits included, you’ll no doubt be making your own weird and wonderful courses. Aside from physical barriers, there is also a sand trap which prevents you rotating your “ball” after it lands, making life on Mars that much more difficult. Towards the back of the manual are a few “hole in one” challenges, which as the name suggests – are only completed when you can master them in one shot. These challenges and the near infinite number of holes really add to the replay-ability of the game.
Final Thoughts on Mars Open
At its heart, Mars Open is a fun, family friendly, party game. But it is not for the faint of heart. Like almost every other dexterity game, it is best played with people of a similar skill level to prevent runaway victories. Having played it with different groups of friends, it is clear that natural talent and practice play a massive role in determining the winner.
The game will often come down to “playing for second and third”, and a particularly bad hole can quickly set you back a whopping 10 points – with no way back to victory. Thankfully, these problems can be alleviated through handicaps, house rulings, and whatever other shenanigans you see fit to try and make the game more even between all players.
Of course, for those seeking a truly competitive experience, one can level the field (like the barren plains of Mars) and fight for glory to be the ultimate golfing champion on the Red Planet.