What is this game about?
Pocket Mars is a small-box game that aims to be a filler with some teeth. It's a card-based race to be the first player to get seven colonists to Mars. Colonists can be moved between Earth, your spaceship, and a set of buildings on Mars. To relocate your colonists efficiently, you need to make the right choices about how to play your cards. Depending on whether you keep them in your hand or put them in your "prep module" (i.e. facedown in front of you), you can take different actions and trigger different building events. You can even play cards from another player's "prep module" to perform actions associated with the buildings on Mars.
The end of the game arrives when the first player puts all seven of his or her colonists on Mars, but victory is determined by the number of victory points. Some locations on Mars are worth more VP than others, so in addition to moving colonists around, you also have to make sure that they end up in the right place.
How does it play solo?
Pocket Mars has an official set of solo rules, but they are online. You can find them here. In the solo mode, you are still going for victory points, but you are competing against a simulated opponent—a rival company called DA. DA is surprisingly tough, not only because it will get a lot of actions (although you can sometimes block them) but also because the draw deck in this variant acts as a strict timer. You need to act fast to stand a chance. While the game is card-based and you can have some unlucky draws, I have found that DA is a fun opponent that really makes me think about how to maximize card actions.
Pocket Mars is an inexpensive and decently fun solo game. It won't blow your mind, but it's fun to mess around with different card actions and try to gain advantages against DA. The game doesn't, however, entirely hit the spot for me. The card actions are interesting, but what you do in Pocket Mars doesn't particularly fit the theme—your actions often feel so abstract that they don't make much sense outside of the straight-up puzzle of the game. I struggled to get down the rules at first because none of them felt particularly intuitive. Also, for as many fun card actions as there were, it was rarely possible to set up satisfying card combos. I like to feel like my choices get me a bit further when I'm making tough ones.
Do I recommend it?
If you're looking for a cheap, small solo game, Pocket Mars might be worth a shot. It's not my favorite small footprint solo game—I'd prefer Friday or Mint Works for pocket-sized play. But I am glad I tried it, and it's a decent way to while away a work night or a lunch break.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.