Terra Mystica is a 2012 board game originally released by the German game publisher Feuerland Spiele, and later released in English and French by Zman Games. Feuerland Spiele is a fairly new company, and their only other game to date is Glass Road, which is currently not particularly well-known, at least in America. However, Terra Mystica has been quite successful, and for good reason.
The game is framed by a short fantasy story and brief notes on the societies of the world. The meeting of the chaos magicians' Council of Elders is interrupted by dire news: the witches are making a land grab to the south, terraforming potential waste land into uninhabitable forest! There's only one thing for it -- the chaos magicians will have to expand into the mountains, the traditional lands of the dwarves. And before you know it everyone is involved - mermaids, nomadic tribes, cultists, alchemists, giants... everyone.
Feuerland Spiele advertises Terra Mystica as a strategy game, and they aren't kidding. 2-5 players battle it out over a good sized map composed of 77 colored hexagons, à la Small World. Each player works to build buildings, with bonuses for completing towns (at least four buildings worth a total of at least 7 points). There are naturally bonuses for players clustering together, and ample opportunities for backstabbing. Each of the 14 factions have unique abilities, and game play changes drastically depending on who you are, and who your neighbors are.
Which makes it sound a bit more simple than it really is. Each player is trying to maximize four resources (magical power, coins, work, and priests) produced from five (or six, or seven) different tracks, all of which build into gaining victory points -- keeping in mind the sometimes quite large bonuses from two additional sources (largest network and highest cult influence), to be calculated at the game's end. One resource track is randomized from game to game, and one is set up by auction. The others are influenced by your faction. All of them are interdependent. The result is that no two games are exactly alike, and it will take a couple games playing as each faction before you fully master the game.
I strongly recommend that you find a group to play with before investing in the game yourself, as the current price of $60-$80 is higher than many more popular, easier to learn games. Aside from the complexity, this is also a longer-play game; while the game is advertised to take 30 minutes per player, in my experience it will usually take longer, particularly while you are still learning the rules. Although during the learning process the game isn't particularly competitive, as learning the rules is fairly challenging in of itself, things change once all the players get the basic rules down. Good players tend to score from 100-130 points as a matter of course, while new or unmotivated players may find themselves dragging at the 60-80 range. You will learn quite quickly which one you are.
Not convinced that this is the game for you? Well, you might be right, but on the other hand, this is a fairly popular game, and has won quite a few awards. So far it has won:
All things considered, I would recommend giving it a chance if you have already played and enjoyed other strategy based, multiplayer board games. If you are not yet familiar with this type of game, or haven't played games more complex than Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, you might want to work your way up with some longer games that are just a bit less complex than Terra Mystica -- Ticket to Ride, Risk, or Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game are good stepping stones.
If you want a full rundown of the rules, they are available as a .pdf here. If you just want some visuals, the game website is here. You might also want to check out their entry at Board Game Geek.
And if you already play and like the game, you may be interested to hear that an expansion is due out this month -- Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice, with six new factions.
P.S. After you have played this game in Real Life, you can also play online here. I strongly recommend you learn the game in meatspace before playing the online version.