Tharsis is a strategy video game developed and published by Choice Provisions. It was released in January 2016 for Windows and Mac OS X through the download service Steam, as well as for PlayStation 4.
The game received polarized critical reviews, with some praising the deep strategic gameplay while others bemoaned the apparent overemphasis on random chance.
Tharsis allows players to control four astronauts with unique jobs and abilities inside a heavily damaged spacecraft on the first manned mission to Mars. The game lasts for 10 in-game weeks, during which time the player must attempt to reach Mars without any of the crew perishing. Every turn, new events will appear that are in need of repair, and if left alone have the possibility to destroy the ship or kill the crew. The player can click each astronaut to deploy them to a certain capsule for that turn and repair them using the astronaut’s dice. If a capsule is not repaired after all crew members move, the negative effect will trigger.
Each dice roll can be subtract from the capsule’s repair number until it reaches zero, and the capsule is repair. The astronauts can carry a max of five dice, but lose one each time they roll unless otherwise replenished. Each astronaut also has a max of six health points. At the beginning of the game, the astronauts start with random amounts of dice and HP, though the total amount distributed among the crew is always the same.
Disasters can come with three types of hazards, Stasis, Injury and Void. Stasis prevents a die from being re-rolle if it lands on a low number. Injury decreases the character’s HP, or kills them if their HP drops too low, and Void causes dice of a certain number to disappear instantly. These hazards can be avoid by gaining Assists; there are a max of three Assists at a time, and one is consum to prevent a hazard. Every week, the player gains a single bonus Assist.
Besides using the dice to repair, each module has a special ability that can only be activate by certain dice. The Command Module negates movement damage, the Greenhouse allows harvesting of food. That can replenish dice, Life Support directly replenishes a single astronaut’s dice supply. The Medical Bay can restore a character’s health to full, Operations lowers a character’s stress. The Lab replenishes Assists, and Maintenance repairs the ship.
This functions to balance out the random chance of the dice. By allowing the choice of trading off a potential repair for an even larger beneficial effect.
At the end of each week, crew can work on side projects that the player can choose from. Usually, these side projects have a positive and negative effect. The negative effects are increase depending on the crew’s sanity, and if crew are allow to go insane, they will work on a solo side project that will have a more drastic effect than usual, and may even harm the other crew. The crew can also eat food, if any, during this time, which replenishes three dice.
The game also features optional cannibalism if the crew runs out of food. The player can choose to feed the body of a crew. Member who died in the beginning of the game to various surviving crew. This only replenishes dice by two, while also drastically raising their stress and decreasing their maximum health by one. It also causes their dice to be bloody and decreases the total score the player can receive. In addition to causing the final results screen to be bloody. Players can even kill a living crew member to obtain even more food and increase its effects. Though this is almost always a poor strategic decision.