CoderMarz is a set collection game for 1-4 players where your astronaut is exploring Mars, collecting resources and making your way to your home base. A reimplementation of the 2018 game CoderMindz, it’s an educational game aimed at primary school-age children but designer Samaira Matha hasn’t let that get in the way of it being fun to play.
Players have their own wooden astronaut meeple who is positioned on its own start location and who always faces in the cardinal direction of its home base. This is important because movement is directional based on the meeple’s current position (ie: facing left, right, forward, etc). The game is played on a map of Mars where, in set up, the resources to be collected (food, water, oxygen) are shuffled along with ‘volcano’ tiles and placed out face down. You’ll need to collect one of each of the resources, plus the two minerals that are coloured so that they are uniquely available to your astronaut. The rules refer to the volcano tiles as an ‘anti-resource’: it doesn’t give you any benefit and unless you have the card that allows you to ‘defuse’ it then encountering it will send your astronaut back to their start location.
The nub of the game, both in terms of game play and educational content, is in the use of cards for movement. Each player has their own deck of basic and advanced movement cards. The basic cards specify movement (forward, left, right; and there are cards that allow movement in any direction). The advanced cards introduce and apply the concepts underlying basic computer coding; so, for example, there are Conditional cards that use ‘If...Else’ instructions and Loop cards that permit continuing movement as long as your astronaut’s route is unblocked. The advanced decks also include Function cards. When you first draw one of them, you draw two more basic movement cards and these then define the Function for your astronaut whenever any subsequent Function cards are drawn.
On your turn, you roll a custom six-sided die (1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3) to determine how many cards you draw, tho’ your total can never include more than one advanced card. If you have two or more cards, you can activate them in any order. Players also have a Peek card that allows them to look at any two face-down tokens and a Shuffle card that allows them to move any two tokens. If you use Peek or Shuffle tho’, then that comprises your entire turn (you don’t get to draw any movement cards that turn). Finally, a (single use) Defuse card allows you to ignore the negative (back to start) effect of encountering a volcano and to relocate the token.
The relocation of tokens and being able to block a rival astronaut’s movement provide for a small amount of interaction, but in the main this is a game where players are all doing their own thing. That’s likely to be a particular plus if you’re playing with younger children.
The components for CoderMarz are good, tho’, given that the rules expect these two decks to always be kept separate, we were surprised that the basic and advanced cards weren’t distinguishable from their card backs. In our Board’s Eye View plays of CoderMarz, however, members of our team came up with ideas for variants that might involve shuffling them together – so arguably it adds flexibility that the card backs are the same. We were less keen on the luck factor of the 1/2/3 die. Instead we experimented with house rules that dispensed with the die altogether. We played games where players always drew two cards on their turn, and we tried a variant where players always drew three cards but could only use two of them. Both worked for us, and we’d recommend them as options to try for if players feel frustrated by the luck of the die.
Youngsters certainly learned from playing the game. They learnt about Mars from the descriptive details on the board and set-up cards, and the advanced cards delivered the goods in introducing and reinforcing core elements of basic coding. There was just a bit of puzzlement tho’ over why Mars is spelt with a z in the title of the game. We also found it counter-educational to be ‘defusing’ and indeed moving volcanoes. It would feel more appropriate if the trap tokens were bombs rather than volcanoes. But the designer was probably seeking a less martial Martian landscape.
If you can't find a copy at your friendly local games store, CoderMarz is available from Amazon.com at www.amazon.com/codermarz
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