Mars Open Tabletop Golf is a dexterity base board game from Bellwether Games, which released in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Designed by Dennis Hoyle, the game as the name suggests revolves around golf, but not standard golf – closer to crazy (mini) golf. With nine holes taking around 30 – 45 minutes to play for 1 – 8 golfers, players will be flicking their way to victory. However, is the martian surface a great place for crazy golf? Let’s find out!
To kick things off, players get the choice of either a course of nine holes from the rulebook or to design their own. No matter which they decide it is time to construct the obstacles and the first hole to tee off from. Players then choose a colour, taking the associated ball card and marker token. The scoring pad is put within reach and someone will need to grab a pen/pencil – which is not included.
The components that make up the holes aren’t just limited to what is in the box, with holes often also using the box parts too! Included inside are a tee off zone marker, a number of obstacles (such as a car and mountains), a sand bunker and the hole itself which comes with a flag. Teeing off from behind the tee marker players simply aim to get their ball card into the hole using the least number of flicks. Flicking your ball card off the table sees it go out of bounds, adding one to your current flick count – returning to the table from a point close to where it left.
Any style of flicking is legal, including sort of hooking from underneath. On a players turn rotating their ball card on the spot, prior to flicking, is normally allowed. However, if a player is starting from the sand bunker – when even the smallest slither of their ball is touching the sand bunker – this is not the case. Once you have got the ball card into the hole you mark down on the scorepad the number of flicks used – including tap-ins. Once everyone has finished the hole, setup the next one and play continues. At the end of the 9th hole scores are totalled and whomever has the lowest flick count wins!
There are a range of suggestions in the rulebook. While they are not mandatory they do help the game keep that family friendly vibe. These include the likes of capping the maximum flicks to be recorded per hole at 8 to being able to move your ball card slightly away from obstacles. Just like in real life crazy golf a few of these just make things less awkward, increasing the speed of turns and allowing players to enjoy their experience that bit easier.
Whether it is me thinking it through too much, applying the theme where it has no right to claim it is, but somehow low gravity is in the game. Obviously the game doesn’t come with a highly advanced gravity bending device. However, when a player flicks one of the ball cards and it spins through the air, floating a little bit, it is like a ball in the low gravity of the martian surface. Alas, aside from this giant leap there isn’t much to tie the theme to anything performed in the game – this could just as easily be crazy golf on the Moon…
I am yet to pull off a miraculous hole in one. Alas, I know they are possible even on the most absurdly created courses thanks to my gaming opponents. Just like when playing crazy golf, the thrill and rush of seeing someone pull of the “impossible” is there, let alone if you ever manage it. Naturally, this is also joined by the agony of poor shots, making you more and more invested in the outcome.
The game comes with six 9-hole courses to play across, so a total of 54 unique holes. These range from a beginner 9 hole course, that starts to spark ideas of the games potential, through to the final 9 which were created by the Kickstarter backers – when the game was originally crowdfunded. As alluded to, Mars Open is by no means done after completing these 54 holes, far from it! On top of honing skills on the intermediate course, players are free to get experimental and design their own holes and courses. This isn’t necessary for a while, with the crazy cross multiple table courses in the rulebook, but the fact people are so engaged they are eager to create their own speaks volumes about how fun and entertaining the title is.
Setup between holes can be a tad awkward between official holes. There is an unnatural pause right after the highs of everyone managing a hole, when everyone wants to dive back in. Instead you need to rush to the manual, deconstruct the current hole and setup the next. When creating your own this short amount of time is cut in half. In turn this allows the game to flow easier from one hole to the next as everyone gets involved. I’d still highly recommend doing the official courses, yet at times it can be easier to break away from them to keep the energy up.
One area of the game’s production lets it down, with another causing mild long term concern. Even after a torrent of flicks, falling off the table and even being a bit squished the ball cards are currently holding shape. My worry is that being card this will not remain. There are plenty of ball cards included though, especially as four is the maximum to fit on a scoresheet, so there are plenty spare. Nevertheless, out of all the components they are the most vital. The only part to cause actual issue is the box itself. This is not from being flimsy – if anything it is a study box. The “green” inside the box however is so high up that it is a bit of an effort to fit all of the other components in the box with the lid closing flat. It is a small niggle but if even half a centimeter lower it would have been much easier to place the bits in and close the box – not to mention having to deconstruct the obstacles every time you pack away.
A decent range of obstacles is included from the two larger mountains to a vivid red sand bunker for players to land in. Not only could there have been more included, what is included could be better utilized. For example, the sand pit is a nice flair piece, which has its own rules but it is the only piece to mix things up. On top of this it could have been a sand pit on one side and something else on the other to increase the variety.
The way the box, both base and lid, are used is a great touch but one or two larger flair pieces could have made the game that bit special – akin to how crazy golf course have large windmills to hit through. The craziness of the holes is more from using additional furniture like chairs than special rarely used included components, with almost every component used in every hole past the beginner course.
Mars Open recommends a decent sized table, which may be enough of a problem for some. There are then courses that require side tables or chairs. Players are also going to need room to move around the table to flick. Therefore, if you’re pushed for space you may want to get a tape measure out first, as the experience isn’t the same when everything is squished together.
Mars Open could come with a few more obstacle components. Realistically the theme could be anything, though it allows for a vibrant and distinctive colour palette. The ball cards still do slightly concern me, despite no visible signs of deterioration. Despite all of this, any game that is phenomenally easy to get to the table must be doing something right. Mars Open does plenty right, capturing the fun essense of crazy golf but adding a flicking good twist. I might not have managed a hole in one (yet…) but Mars Open is a winner of a dexterity title!
[Editor’s Note: Mars Open Tabletop Golf was provided to us by Asmodee for review purposes. The game is currently available from local board game stores, find your local store here]