Which Board Games Would You Take to Mars?


There’s a delightful thread on the Board Game Geek website about the 6 “astronauts” who simulated a Mars mission in Hawaii for a year. At least one member of the team brought a “mountain” of board games, which begs an irresistible question: which board games would you take to Mars?

There are a lot of limitations to consider. You’re going to be severely constrained on weight and space for personal goods. You’ve got five fellow scientists to entertain, some of which are likely to have at best a casual interest in games. And UPS doesn’t deliver to Mars, so you can’t buy an expansion or new game if the old one gets stale. Anything you buy needs to be compact, accessible, and deep enough to reward a lot of plays.

We can also skip over some of the classic game staples. Someone is going to bring a pack of cards, and you can make cribbage boards, chess sets, and go sets out of Martian rocks and that spare solar panel the commander didn’t notice you unplugging. You can probably sneak a bunch of game apps onto your NASA-approved work tablet, too. Scratch those from our gamer games list; they’re covered.

So, what games are so good that they’re work spending mass allowance on? What are you going to put on the table on Game Night and play while drinking unauthorized Mars hooch and eating reconstituted Cheetos?

With that in mind, here’s my official, non-NASA-approved hot take on the five games I would bring to Mars with me:

Ticket To Ride

This game of collecting sets and claiming train routes fits the criteria of compact, accessible, and replayable to a T. It’s easy to teach, and you can play it dozens or hundreds of times without getting tired of it. It’s also a rare bird that supports multiple levels of strategy, from casual fun to cutthroat.

The only drawback is that it only supports up to five players, and as a good game host you’ll probably have to sit out a lot. This game is clearly visible in photos of the Mauna Kea gamer astronaut collection, so it’s already Mars-approved!

gaming on mars
Pro Tip: If this guy had unboxed his games, he could have brought more!

Cosmic Encounter

If “six player game with infinite replayability” were in the dictionary, the definition would be a picture of Cosmic EncounterThis classic game from the seventies has a simple engine — play number cards to take over your opponents’ planets — but each player has one or more alien powers that lets her break the rules in entertaining ways. There are so many powers and dirty tricks in Cosmic Encounter that you will never play the same game twice.

There can also be a lot of components, but you can keep the weight down by taking the base set and maybe an expansion or two. Canny players might even swap out the bulky spaceships of the Fantasy Flight Games edition for the less appealing but much smaller cardboard chits of the Mayfair edition. Every ounce counts!

One drawback: the theme is a bit on the nerdy side, even for gamers. On the other hand, you’re ON MARS. With SPACE SCIENTISTS. The nerd cred Force is strong with these ones.

Dungeons & Dragons

Speaking of nerdy things to do while you’re stuck in a hab for a year, how can you not bring along a roleplaying game? I’m cheating a bit here, because you’re not going to fly a few pounds of dead tree to Mars. Put your rules and character sheets on your increasingly less NASA-approved tablet, leaving plenty of space and weight for dice. A battlemat and marker set is optional, and any minis had better be of the Martian rock variety.

Dungeons and Dragons has the advantage of widespread cultural familiarity, but the question is: which edition? My first thought would be the 3.5 Edition, which is flexible and simple if you ignore those damn grappling rules. On the other hand, 5th Edition is friendlier to gamers who can’t pack a spaceship full of minis. Bottom line, though, is that you’re likely to be dealing with grumpy, bored non-gamers getting drunk on Martian hooch. That means it’s time to break out Here’s Some Fucking D&D.

Pass the Pigs

One problem with the list so far: most of these games require at least some thought. You can play them dumb or drunk or whatever, but they’re not at their best when you’re not at your best. Every game group needs at least one game that is best played STUPID, and a press-your-luck game usually fits the bill.

Pass the Pigs has the joy of being both stupid and cute. You toss two adorable pig-shaped not-dice, count up points based on how they land, and hope you don’t Pig Out. When you’ve spent hours on EVA cataloging yet another square meter of barren Martian soil, this will be the balm to your mental wounds. Not bad for something that is only going to cost maybe an ounce and a cubic inch of your personal allowance.

Pigs! On! Maaaaaars!

That’s four of our arbitrarily limited collection of five games. The last one may be the most important of all. Human colonization of Mars may depend on it.

That’s right, folks…

Mars Needs Monopoly

Nope, I’m not kidding. All you Monopoly-haters in the back there can just sit there and fume.

Here’s why Monopoly must go to Mars. Classic Monopoly, too, not some goofy version with the Valles Marineris where Atlantic Avenue is supposed to be.

Hobby games are fun. Hobby games are great. I’ve devoted long stretches of my life to playing, critiquing, and creating hobby games. But hobbies are something only a small subset of people do. Most hobby games are played by hundreds or thousands; the most popular are played by a few million. Hobby games are a drop in the bucket of human experience.

Monopoly is near-universal. Every kid in Western civilization plays it, every adult has played it. It’s a game with memories attached. Memories of lazy summers on the porch. Memories of rolling three sets of doubles and going to Jail. Memories of that time Aunt Harriet screwed Uncle Paul out of Park Place and he got so mad he flipped the table.

Memories of home.

There are better games to play (though Monopoly is pretty good if you play it right). There are no better games for reminding you of the whole world of life experiences hanging just 80 million miles away. Of reconnecting you to that world through memory and story.

Pull out the board, Sam. I’ll take the car, because I always take the car…


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