Disclaimer: Terra Mystica has a lot going on. This guide assumes you know the rules; it’s not meant to teach you the game.
Now, I’m no expert, but I love Terra Mystica and tend to do pretty well. Over the years there are a few things that I’ve picked up and that’s what I’m going to share with you today. This isn’t a guide to playing any specific faction because there are plenty of helpful, faction-specific guides online already.
Now, in case you’ve decided to read a Terra Mystica strategy guide without having ever played the game, let me tell you a tiny bit about it. In Terra Mystica 2-5 players take the roles of different coloured Factions with their own unique powers. Over 6 rounds players will terraform land, build and upgrade buildings, and worship at the different Cult Tracks. Each round will have a specific scoring goal and players can also gain points in game by building Towns or through faction-specific powers. At the end of the game players will gain points based on the largest set of connected buildings (sprawl) and the highest placement on each of the 4 Cult Tracks. The player with the most points wins … Which brings us to our guide on how to get points!
Play With Varied Turn Order
This isn’t so much strategy as general advice for a better and more fair game for everyone. The first expansion suggests a rule change that allows for strategic passing in order to claim your place in turn order for the next round. It’s quite a simple fix: the next round’s turn order is determined by the order players passed in. Without varied turn order, you might end up always being last just because the player to your left continuously passes first (it has happened to me and it sucks).
Be Strategic if Picking a Faction
I don’t normally pick Factions anymore, I just assign them randomly. There isn’t a strategic reason that I do this, I’ve just played them all and I like to mix it up. If you’re picking Factions, take a look at what the other players have chosen. You don’t want to have other players terraforming your home territories. For example, if the other players are Blue and Grey Factions, do not choose a Green Faction. The fight for territory will end up costing you a lot of extra resources.
Burn Some Power
Power is, well, powerful when you have it in Bowl 3. But starting with 12 Power tokens, it can take quite a while for everything to circle around from Bowl 1, to Bowl 2, to Bowl 3 where you can actually use it. For this reason I usually burn 3-4 Power early game. Not only does this allow for extra actions early in the game when you really need them to start your engine, it also sets you up to circulate your Power more quickly, meaning more Power primed to spend throughout the whole game.
Get Your Stronghold Early
This applies to most Factions, depending on their Stronghold ability. For Factions that give you a round-based action (Witches, Swarmlings, etc.), the earlier you get your Stronghold out, the better. In these cases, unless the second round bonus is for building the Stronghold/Sanctuary, I always get my Stronghold out in Round 1. Regardless of what Faction you’re playing, you will start the game with enough resources to build your Stronghold on the first turn.
Plan to Build at Least Two Towns
This should be a goal right from the beginning of the game. Place your starting Dwellings with Towns in mind. You’ll want an area where you can reasonably expect to build on 3-4 hexes. Towns give you a good point boost as well as some much needed resources/benefits. You can take advantage of the Sanctuary’s power to help you achieve this; the special ability of the Sanctuary is to build a Town with only 3 buildings. Now, unless you have the Favour tile that allows you to form a Town with only 6 Power, this either means a Town that also has a Dwelling and your Stronghold or 2 Trading House/Temples. This can be challenging if you aren’t flush with cash, particularly when you’re off on your lonesome and have to pay full-price for the Trading Houses. Speaking of which …
Don’t Be Afraid to Build Close to People
It can be tempting to nestle yourself in a corner so you don’t have to compete for the same real estate as your opponents. While it’s nice to have your own territory, building too far from your opponents means you pay more for Trading Houses and can’t gain Power from their actions. Watch out for people encroaching on the same hexes you’re going for, but make sure you’re balancing risk and reward.
Take Advantage of the Round Scoring Tiles and Cult Track Bonuses
While the current round’s scoring tile may not always be feasible (like the Town bonus coming out in the first round), these round-to-round scoring opportunities are a great way to form your strategy for the game. If you have the resources to build a Trading House, but you’ll get 3 points for building it next turn it might be best to pass early and wait it out.
At the beginning of the game, take a look at how the Cult Track bonuses line up. Plan to move up on tracks in a way that will optimize the number of bonuses you get. For instance: if in the first round you need 4 Water to get the Cult bonus, but the second and third round have bonuses for Wind, it may be best to build up towards more bonuses from the Wind track since these goals complement each other.
If the plan you’ve crafted isn’t working out, it’s important to be able to pivot. For instance, if you’ve been working towards sprawl but then realize you’ve lost it on the last round, turn your energy towards a different late-game source of points. You might be able to lean into the round bonus or upgrade your terraforming/shipping. You could even sneak a win on the Cult track with some carefully chosen Favour tiles or Town bonuses. Recognize what opportunities are still viable and work towards them.
But Most of All, Have Fun
When I play Terra Mystica, I often look back at the score I got last time I played as that Faction. I’m always trying to improve on my last score instead of destroying my competition. An intense game like Terra Mystica can breed a lot of competition, so it’s important to remember that you’re playing to have fun and not lose your cool when one of your opponents ruins your plans or kicks your butt.
And that’s about it. Beyond playing for you, there’s not much more I can do. If you think I’ve missed some key strategies or if you’re one of those players that refuse to ever burn power, feel free to comment below and tell me why you think I’m wrong.
Although burning power early can definitely provide an advantage by jump-starting your early game, it does *not* provide usable power any faster after that point.
This has been discussed a few separate times on BGG, and even mathematically proven at one point if I recall correctly.
It’s a very common misconception, and there have been some very lively arguments about it over the years.
Thanks for the article.
Yes, it seems you are right.
It is one of the most interesting ‘optical illusions’ I have seen in board games.