The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Mars Open - Tabletop Golf
When I was in Junior High School in the early 90s, we would fold up a piece of loose-leaf paper into a triangular shape and play “football” with it at the lunch table, flicking it back and forth to score points and pass recess on days when the weather was lousy. In High School, this pastime was replaced with a new lunchtime game -- Magic: the Gathering -- and I had forgotten all about the many hours I spent flicking around a paper football, until recently, when I got a preview copy of Mars Open: Tabletop Golf.
Mars Open is a tabletop golf simulator in the same way my childhood lunch game was a football simulation. Both use paper components, ultra-simple rule sets, and are quick, intuitive fun. However, Mars Open has beautiful art, a number of three-dimensional obstacles, uses the game box in fun and unusual ways, and has a fantastic table presence.
Mars Open was designed by Dennis Hoyle, with art from Harris Fagotto and Katie Khau, and is published by Hoyle’s Bellwether Games. It plays 1-4 golfers and lists 30-60 minutes as the play time -- although both the number of players and the play time can be easily changed to suit different tastes and situations. The game comes with five “golf balls” -- which are actually square bits of paper creased into three dimensions to where they resemble ninja stars, a tee marker, two large obstacles, two small obstacles, the hole box, and a flag pole to mark the hole. The rule book also features 27 different obstacle layouts to make nine easy, nine medium, and nine difficult holes. Of course, players can also design holes of their own liking in addition to those suggested in the rule book.
Playing is simple. Set up a course, start behind the tee marker, and flick until you get it in the hole. One stroke per flick, with a penalty of a stroke for flicking it off the table. The game comes with a score pad, so it’s easy to keep a running tally. After nine holes -- or however long you decide to play -- the lowest score wins. Of course, since players are ultimately in charge of the course they are creating, each hole can be as easy or difficult as they agree on, and can play on nearly any size table.
Flicking the paper golf balls can be tricky business. There are a few tips detailing how to drive and curve them in the rule book, and they worked for me -- sometimes. That said, please do not use me as a gauge on whether this will be difficult for you, as I am notoriously bad at flicking games in general. And despite my lack of skill, the game was still plenty fun, and funny -- as everyone got a good laugh out of how I managed to epically miss a few chip shots, as well as completely miss the table on more than one drive.
Comparisons to Other Flicking Games:
So how does Mars Open differentiate itself from other flicking games? Mostly through its simplicity. There are a lot of flicking games with tons of components, complex set-ups and large rule books (e.g. Rampage/Terror in Meeple City, Flick ‘Em Up, Catacombs), but few are as streamlined as Mars Open. Two that do come to mind are Ice Cool and Flip Ships. In Ice Cool, however, there's a shifting one-versus-many aspect, which doesn't always scale well. Meanwhile, Flip Ships, though the most similar in that players are flicking paper components instead of wood or plastic bits, is different in that it is fully cooperative and has added complexity via special powers for ships on both sides.
Pros: It’s fun, and appropriate, for all ages. It has a fitting art style and color palette choices. It plays right out of the box, with nominal set-up time. It’s very easy to make the game longer or shorter by varying number of holes to play, making it a great filler game. The game’s table presence and stand-up-to-play nature is great for both party and convention settings.
Cons: New courses do need to be set up in between each hole, creating some lag between turns. Players looking for a more involved flicking game -- such as the examples mentioned in the comparison section above -- will not find that here. Those that do not generally like flicking games will not likely be swayed by Mars Open. The experience could be recreated with household objects, although in doing so it would lose most of its charm.
Overall, Mars Open: Tabletop Golf plays bigger than the sum of its brightly colored parts, and creates an experience that scales well at different player counts, for those looking for different difficulties, and for different time constraints. Most importantly, it remembers that playing games is just supposed to be fun, and doesn’t allow rules complications get in the way in an effort to make it “more gamerly.”
Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Mars Open:Tabletop Golf from the publisher. While the copy I received was production quality, it did not have any of the extra content that will be available through the Kickstarter campaign’s stretch goals.
The Mars Open: Tabletop Golf Kickstarter campaign launched on November 7, 2017, and will be available to back until December 4, 2017.