Terra Mystica is Small World on steroids. Each player takes the role of a fantasy race (from Mermaids to Witches to Hobbits) competing for space and prestige over six turns on a small map. Players earn points for erecting buildings, honouring “the gods”, and various other ways. Unlike Small World, however, there is no combat per se, and building close to your adversaries actually benefits you.
There are not one but three currencies players must manage to build their empires: gold (of course), but also mana and workers. The mana mechanism is hard to wrap around at first, but learning how and when to “burn” it for extra power is a crucial element for success.
Each race plays very differently due to different setups, special abilities, and building bonuses. Since there are fourteen (!) to choose from, there is plenty of replayability.
There are a lot of interlocking mechanisms in Terra Mystica; every phase of the game has its complications, and it will take several plays until you get comfortable with it and begin to figure out good short- and long-term strategies. Despite only lasting six turns, you’re looking at a play-time of half an hour per player at least, especially at first. But put in the time and effort and you will be rewarded with a rich experience with plenty of interesting decisions.
The Fire & Ice expansion adds six more races, a new map, new scoring rules, and variants for turn order and auctioning off faction choices at the beginning of the game.