A Game Designer on Mars (an interview with Ben Rosset)


Mars Needs Mechanics, the second game released from Nevermore Games, was a hit on Kickstarter last September, raising over $45,000. The game shipped to backers this summer and has just recently arrived at game stores. We’ll post our review of the game in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, we had a chance to talk with the game’s designer, Ben Rosset, about Mars Needs Mechanics.

Tell us about Mars Needs Mechanics. What’s the game like?
In Mars Needs Mechanics, it’s 1873, and the British Royal Academy of Space Exploration has just announced a mission to colonize Mars. Players are competing to win the job of Royal Astronautical Engineer on board the spaceship, the HMS Victoria VII. Players need to buy and sell the ship’s components (wire, piping, boilers, magnets, etc.) in order to build the ship’s mechanisms (Rocket Booster, Aether Drive, X-Ray Goggles, etc.). Mars Needs Mechanics is an economics game that is easy to teach (about 5-10 minutes) and quick to play (35-45 minutes) but which has a deceptively deep level of gameplay. This is due to the sales order line, the beating heart of Mars Needs Mechanics. It’s what controls the component prices. The players have to manipulate it to their advantage (and at the same time, their opponents’ disadvantage) by strategically ordering their purchases each round of the game. The player with the best timing and the best read of their opponents’ intentions will usually be the winner. I wrote a BGG article about the sales order line for anyone interested in learning more about it.

What kind of player do you think will enjoy the game?
Mars Needs Mechanics is a medium-weight strategy game that uses commodity speculation, hand management, and set collection. Players that generally prefer turn-by-turn tactics over longer-term engine building will really like this game. And everyone from PhD economists to economics board game fans will appreciate how the sales order line models consumer preferences and market demand. Many playtesters have remarked to me that the game should be used in high schools to teach students basic supply and demand! Players who enjoy variable game setups will also really appreciate Mars Needs Mechanics. The game comes with ten of those mechanisms that I talked about earlier (or eleven, if you backed it on Kickstarter). But typical game setup uses only four of those ten or eleven, meaning there are endless different combinations to use, which will make every game different than the one before it.

Tell us about the development of Mars Needs Mechanics. How did you settle on the steampunk theme?
It’s no secret that Mars Needs Mechanics wasn’t always steampunk themed, though I wouldn’t say we necessarily “settled” on it. Once I licensed the game to Nevermore, they suggested the theme change, and I loved it right from the start. And once I saw some of Bryan Fischer’s art samples, I was hooked. The steampunk theme gave us the chance to have a lot of fun naming, illustrating, and developing those eleven mechanisms (like the Rocket Booster).

What was the experience like Kickstarting your first game? Did anything surprise you? What did you learn through the process?
On my end, it was all fun. The publisher had to do all the hard work. Yes, it was nerve racking at first, but we were fortunate to hit about 40% funding just two days into the campaign. Once I was confident the game would fund, time really slowed down. It felt like that last 36 days of the campaign took about two years! But it was a terrific experience, and I appreciate Nevermore’s hard work and the opportunity they gave me.

Do you have any tips for new players of Mars Needs Mechanics?
The biggest tip I can give new players is to watch the sales order line. It’s what will win or lose you the game. It sometimes takes new players about half a game to really figure out how it works, but once they get it, it’s awesome to watch them play!

Now that Mars Needs Mechanics is hitting stores, would you like to talk about some of your other designs? I know Brew Crafters is coming from Dice Hate Me Games. Do you have anything else in the works?
Thanks for asking. I’m so excited for Brew Crafters, it’s hard to put into words. Brew Crafters is about opening and operating a craft brewery in your hometown. And unlike Mars Needs Mechanics, this game is intensely theme driven. I was inspired to make the game when I took the brewery tour at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, DE. I had a ton of fun researching the beer brewing process and craft beer recipes while developing the game. Brew Crafters will hit Kickstarter in October and be released in Spring 2014. Other games I’m working on include “Stranded” and “Building the British Royal Navy.” In Stranded, your plane crashed in the remote wilderness and you and the other players are the only survivors. You tried to cooperate, but quickly found that you don’t trust each other. Now you’re competing to survive for the next four days until rescuers can reach you. It’s another game with a tightly integrated theme. Players truly feel like they are lost in the wilderness, desperate to survive! I’m currently looking for a publisher for Stranded. In Building the British Royal Navy, you are a contractor bidding on, building, and delivering ships for the British Navy during the period from 1815-1914. This is a period in history that saw tremendous technological advances in shipbuilding, and players will have to keep up with the changing technology (as well as astutely bid on available contracts) in order to win. This game is still in development.

Thanks for talking with us! Is there anywhere you’d like to direct our readers?
If anyone has played Mars Needs Mechanics, I’d love for them to rate it on BGG. And to keep up with the Brew Crafters Kickstarter, you can follow me on Twitter @BenRosset.
Mars Needs Mechanics is now in stores. Check it out!

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: