Full disclosure: A preview copy of Mars Open: Tabletop Golf was provided by Bellwether Games. Please keep in mind that some rules or art assets may change between now and the end of the Kickstarter, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Ice Cool, Flip Ships, and now Mars Open: Tabletop Golf. All games that have one thing in common: you eventually have to slap one of your pieces if you want it to get anywhere. And what a game that is. In Mars Open: Tabletop Golf (the latest game from Bellwether Games, publisher of Windup War, Coldwater Crown, and … less alliterative titles), you’ve decided that after being a First Martian and Terraforming Mars for a bit, you deserve a break with your favorite pastime: golf! Naturally. So, you grab your clubs and head for Olympus Mons to see if you can get a … well, do they even call it an eagle on Mars? You’ll have to come up with something more Mars-sounding. Can you get the coveted crater-hole-in-one?
Alright, this is gonna be a whole experience. First off, you’re going to give each player a Martian Golf Ball:
Ball is kind of generous, here. DO NOT give any player this one:
That is reserved for the player who won the previous game! Gotta flaunt it, after all, and they can’t give you a green jacket for your spacesuit because it’s space and everything in space is expensive. Anyways, now you’re gonna want to construct obstacles, including the Plateaus:
You can also construct the flagpole and put it in the tiny hole in the box:
Delightful. Set those aside for now.
You’re gonna want a table that’s like, 6′ x 3′ (or 2m x 1m for y’all), but there are multiple ways to set up a golf hole. Set up the hole, or get whimsical and make your own holes. Or do something crazy! If you do anything crazy, please post it in the comments or Tweet it at me; I want to see it.
A slideshow seemed like the most appropriate thing, there.
Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
Now for the flicking part! Like Ice Cool and Flip Ships, this game is all about flicking your pieces to get them to where you want to go. In this case, you’re aiming for the hole-in-one. Or two. Or eight. You do you.
On your turn, flick your ball from any angle. You can rotate it as much as you want (just don’t move it) in order to get the right angle on it. On your first turn, you must start behind the Tee Zone.
There are a few ways to flick — if you flick the corners, you can get the ball to curve in those directions, for instance. You can try to do a like, finger lift rather than a flick, but the rules state that you cannot lift your hand from the table when you hit the ball.
If your ball goes off the table, that’s out of bounds! Replace your ball as close to the edge of the table as possible, and take a one stroke penalty (so if this is your second shot, your next shot would be your fourth). That’s rough, but it’s cold in space.
The most important rule: Whenever any other player takes a shot, politely golf clap for them. There’s no reason to be discourteous just because you’re in space.
Unlike regular golf, each player takes their turn in turn order, for simplicity. If you make it in the hole, congrats! You remove your ball from the hole and record your score on the scoresheet.
There are some courtesy rules, but the game notes that they can be overridden by a unanimous vote from all players. Ignoring them will make the game more challenging. Here they are:
- Don’t count past eight strokes per hole. That’s a Mercy Rule.
- You may pivot your ball completely before you hit. Good luck, otherwise.
- You may move or remove the Flag from the hole before you hit.
- You may remove the Flag from the hole after you hit. If your ball falls in the hole as a result of this, you do not take another stroke. That one is just nice.
- If you fail to leave the Tee Zone with your shot, you may hit again without counting it as a stroke.
There are also Courtesy Rules regarding Obstacles, and the same unanimous override applies, here:
- If your ball falls off the table, place it back where it fell off and add a one stroke penalty to your score. If you want a terrifying game of “play it from where it lies”, get rid of this rule.
- If your ball falls off the table when trying to shoot for another table, you may place it on the destination table if it hits that table and then falls out of bounds. If the terror of a multi-table setup doesn’t strike you enough, you can get rid of this rule to just induce like, a thousand years of madness.
- If your ball knocks an obstacle over, replace it before the next player’s turn. Otherwise you’re just giving them a straight shot.
- You may move a ball one ball length from an obstacle before attempting your next shot without counting a stroke. If it’s between obstacles, you may move it away from all obstacles as long as it’s further from the hole. I generally play without the second half of that rule, but I may move some of the obstacles so I can get my hand in there for the flick.
- If you hit another player’s ball, it stays in the new location. If you knock their ball out of bounds, they take a penalty. Good luck aiming for someone else’s ball. I probably wouldn’t give them the penalty; makes the game kind of aggressive. Then again, I could never hit their ball on purpose, so it’s a moot point.
Anyways, play 9, 18, 27, or however many holes you want until you’re done. The player with the lowest score at the end of your run wins!
Player Count Differences
Honestly, none. You can play this with as many players as you have golf balls to support, frankly. I guess there’s some slight contention around players hitting other players’ golf balls, but that seems like it wouldn’t happen with enough frequency to be concerning. I’d happily play this at any player count. It does, naturally, increase downtime between your turns at higher player counts.
- It’s a flicking game. Good luck. Like, it’s not like anything you read here is going to make you better at playing this game, short of practicing, haha. There aren’t special abilities, there aren’t player powers. It’s just you and the hole.
- Hitting the corners will let you curve the ball a bit. You’re gonna have to practice to get that one to work for you, but it might get you around a pinch.
- Maybe don’t play in windy areas? That seems like a good recommendation, but maybe not strategy. I mean, if you want to play in windy areas, go for it. I’m a blog post, not a cop.
- You should take some practice shots. Really, warming up is important for all sorts of things. But also if you don’t warm up you’re just going to knock the ball off the table every time and that’ll be very unsatisfying.
- Don’t be afraid of slicing or hooking. It’s the only way (read: the coolest way) to get around some obstacles.
- The Chip Shot is really useful if you can make it work. I find keeping my hand face-down and flicking my index and middle finger up at the same time to be the best way to do it, for me.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I kind of love dexterity games. They’re all good, except when they’re bad, and then they’re just hilarious.
- The theme here is incredible. We have a bunch of very serious Mars games, and this is definitely, 100%, the most serious of all. Taking a break from your busy Martian duties to play some mini-golf is a great idea.
- The art is really upbeat and nice. Every time I look at it I am delighted. It’s whimsical and endearing.
- It’s frustrating in all the right ways. Just barely missing the hole can get a player basically foaming at the mouth, and it’s perfect. It’s the exact feeling of barely missing the Mothership in Flip Ships, but the entire game.
- Cool concept. It’s really cool to build mini-golf holes on the table and it seems like it would be an eye-catching game to play places to show that board games aren’t always dudes on a map (nothing against dudes, maps, or any combination thereof).
- Being able to build your own holes is great. I mean, it’s essentially making the What’s Eric Playing? Cup in the Annual Mars Open. It’s the kind of thing where you could make a whole contest out of just THAT. In fact, maybe I should
- Seems expandable. I would love a bunch of weird stuff to come in an expansion set and would happily get like, a variety of different weird pieces to make the game even more confusing.
- I still side-eye the rule allowing you to knock people’s balls out of bounds and then they take a penalty. Creates the wrong incentive, in my opinion, so we kind of ignore that when we play. I would recommend the same; makes for a friendlier game.
- Missing a critical shot will make you angry. I now see why golfers throw their clubs.
- Real-space games always have some measuring issues. I had the same issue with Turbo Drift in that it was hard to figure out where to place things relative to each other, and the guides given in the rulebook aren’t always super good at making it clear how much space should be in between things. It’s not like I’m going to measure them, but I want to be sure I’m being fair and it’s not always easy to do so.
Overall: 9 / 10
Quite honestly, Mars Open: Tabletop Golf is delightful. Even just looking at the box is a joy, because the color palette is upbeat and fun and kinda screams, “play me!” I’m genuinely disappointed that the preview copy I have is so nice, because it means that I need to send it along to the next reviewer once I’m done with it and I’m having so much fun with it that I don’t want to. I feel like that’s some particularly high praise, but honestly, it checks off so many boxes for what I like in a game:
- It’s modular;
- It’s whimsical;
- It’s easy to learn;
- It’s got a silly theme;
- You can adjust the length as desired;
- Players can build stuff;
- And it’s fun!
It feels like this was the kind of silly game that was made for me personally, and I’m overjoyed to have had the opportunity to play it. If you’re a fan of flicking games, then this is definitely worth checking out!