Agents of M.A.R.S.

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Agents of M.A.R.S.
Niko Lepka
A game of altering the board state to fulfill your secret objective and mess with your opponent's presumed objective
:Players Players: 2
:Time Length: Long
:Complexity Complexity: Medium
Trios per color: 5
Number of colors: 3
Pyramid trios:
Monochr. stashes:
Five-color sets:
- - - - - - Other equipment - - - - - -
Setup time: 3 min
Playing time: 20 - 45
Strategy depth: unknown
Random chance: Some
Game mechanics:
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BGG Link: Agents of M.A.R.S.
Status: Complete (v1.0), Year released: 2023

Intro[edit | edit source]

Agents of M.A.R.S. is a hidden-information abstract strategy game for two players. Players play the roles of rogue agents from the super secret agency, M.A.R.S. (Multinational Agency for Raunchy Secrets) who secretly try to manipulate the political landscape for their own benefits. Secretly assign victory point multipliers to specific colors of pyramids, then take turns filling the board with randomly-drawn pyramids, trying to create clusters of certain colors to meet their secret agenda. The winner is the player with the most points at end-game when all clusters of four or more same-colored pyramids are scored.

Materials[edit | edit source]


  • a 7×8 grid
  • an opaque bag for storing and randomizing the pyramids
  • 8 strips of paper you can tear up to write on
  • a way to keep score (used only at game-end)
  • 75 pyramids

Gather 75 pyramids as shown below. (15 red, 15 green, 15 blue, 15 yellow, 8 white, 7 black). Note: if you only have one opaque color, you can use that instead of the 8 white + 7 black. The white pyramids simply make it easier to see your secret objective.

Gather these pyramids to start

Setup[edit | edit source]

Now give the 4 large white pyramids plus a medium pyramid of each color to Player 1.

Give these to Player 1

And give the 4 medium white pyramids plus a small pyramid of each color to Player 2.

Give these to Player 2

Set Secret Objective[edit | edit source]

Tear up 4 strips of paper and write the numbers 2, 1, 0, -1 on them, then arrange them in order. Lay your your white pyramids down, one in front of each paper strip, with the tips facing away from you. Concealing what you are doing from your opponent, place the four colored pyramids inside the four white pyramids, secretly deciding which color should be worth how much. Your opponent will do the same.

Your secret objective, hidden from your opponent by the opaque pyramids

Optionally: to avoid the circumstance where the players end up choosing the same colors in the same positions, the designer added an expansion: a deck of 24 cards that ensures no two hidden objectives setups will be identical. It can be ordered from The Game Crafter or printed from his website.

Fill Bag[edit | edit source]

You will be left with 59 pyramids as shown below. Put these in an opaque bag and mix them up.

Remaining pyramids after secret agenda setting. Put these in an opaque bag.

Put Out Board[edit | edit source]

Set the 8×7 board out on the table with the short edges closest to the players. Before play begins, your setup will look like this.

Completed Setup. Ready to begin play.

Rules[edit | edit source]

The player who most recently watched a spy movie goes first.
A turn is structured as follows:

  1. (Optionally) Reveal two objectives and swap their places. (This is typically not performed until later in the game and will be explained last.)
  2. Then do one of the following:
  • Draw a new pyramid and place it on an empty space on the board.
  • Move a pyramid that is already on the board.
  • Swap two dissimilar pyramids.

The game ends the moment the last space on the board is filled.

Drawing and Placing a New Pyramid[edit | edit source]

Grab a single pyramid from the bag without looking. (In the event you end up with a nested pyramid in your hand, just drop the smaller one into the bag and use the outer one you originally grabbed.) Place this pyramid in any empty square on the board.

Moving a Pyramid[edit | edit source]

A pyramid may be moved into an empty space by moving it its face value in any of the four cardinal directions on the board. A large moves exactly 3 spaces, a medium moves exactly 2 spaces, and a small moves exactly 1 space. Pyramids can jump over one another to get to an empty space, but they cannot move beyond the edge of the board. If they would be stopped by the edge of the board before traveling their full distance, they cannot move in that direction at all.

Swapping Two Pyramids[edit | edit source]

In lieu of placing a new pyramid or moving an existing pyramid, you have the option of swapping two pyramids already on the board. Swapping works by moving one pyramid its regular move distance into an already occupied square, and then placing the previous occupant on the moved pyramid’s original space. This is allowed regardless of size. A large pyramid can move three spaces to swap with a small, and a small can move one space to swap with a medium. Note that black pyramids can never be swapped. (The pyramids you swap must be differ from one another in at least one aspect: size, color, or both. You cannot swap two identical pyramids to "pass" a turn.)

Example swap move. The active player has chosen green as a high-value secret objective, so they want to make a larger green cluster. They initiate a swap by making the large green pyramid move exactly three spaces to swap places with the medium blue pyramid. Note that the large green is also three steps away from a spot where it could end up between a medium and small green pyramid to make another green cluster, but the since black pyramids cannot be swapped with, this alternate move is blocked.

Black Pyramids[edit | edit source]

The black pyramids in the bag act as blockers. Once placed onto the board, they can never be moved or swapped! Thus it is of vital importance to place these strategically. Although they cannot themselves move or be swapped, the black pyramids do not block the colored pyramids from moving as normal. Black pyramids can be jumped over.

Revealing and Swapping Objectives[edit | edit source]

As long as there are fewer than 4 black pyramids on the board, players are allowed to reveal two of their secret objective pyramids and swap them. Place the two larger pyramids that were previously hiding the secret objectives upright, and place the colored pyramids on top of them. They are now public information. The benefit of doing this is that it may mitigate point loss by switching allegiance to a certain color. However, this comes at the loss of secrecy, as doing so reveals some of your plans to the opponent.

Ko Rule (No Undos)[edit | edit source]

Similar to the game of Go, Agents of M.A.R.S. employs a Ko-rule, which simply states that the opponent may not perform any move that would undo the move just performed by the previous player, i.e. by moving a piece back to where it once stood. This is to prevent endless back-and-forths.

End Game and Scoring[edit | edit source]

The game ends as soon as the final space on the board is filled. Every contiguous cluster of 4 or more pyramids in the same color is counted. For pyramids to be part of the cluster, they must be orthogonally adjacent (share an edge). The total value of a given color is the total sum of all the pyramids’ face values in all of the aforementioned clusters. Count these and note them down.
Once every color is counted up, the players reveal their Objectives, and multiply the objective values with the counted colors. The sum of all these numbers determines the final score.

Example Board and Scoring[edit | edit source]

Suppose this were how the board turned out at the end of the game.

Board state at end-game

To figure out the scores, mentally or physically remove all pyramids that are not part of orthogonally-connected clusters of at least four pieces:

Only color clusters of 4+ size visible

Count the pips of each color.

Points on the Board
Yellow Green Red Blue
13 + 11 = 24 10 + 8 = 18 0 14 = 14

Now multiply those pip-counts by your secret objective numbers. If your secret objectives were like so for the above board, then your score would be as below.

Example secret objectives
Secret Objective
Yellow Green Red Blue
2 1 0 (-1)

Yellow 2 × 24 = 48 points
Green 1 × 18 = 18 points
Red 0 × 0 = 0 points
Blue (-1) × 14 = -14 points
Sum 48 + 18 + 0 + (-14) = 52 points

Variants[edit | edit source]

5 Color Agents[edit | edit source]

With a 5th color, you can use the large and medium black pyramid to conceal one extra color objective for each player. In this variant, you will use an entire 8 × 8 chess board. Keep in mind that the only black pieces left to go in the bag will all be small. In this variant, six pyramids will remain in the bag after the board is full.

  • Higher Overall Score: You can choose to note down the 5th color on your Objective board as a +3, which will likely result in an overall higher score, since 3 colors will be giving you a positive multiplier and only one will give a negative one.
  • A More Unpredictable Score

Alternatively, you can choose to note down the 5th color on your objective board as −2, thus balancing out the positive and negative objectives. This will likely bring the overall score down a bit and make the game a bit more intense and chaotic, as you will try your hardest to avoid any clusters that give you a −2 multiplier.

Blind Agents[edit | edit source]

Set the game up as before, but instead of placing the objective pyramids so they stand vertically, instead lay them down with the tip facing you. This way you will not be able to see your own colors, nor will you be able to swap them, but your opponent can see and swap your colors. Try to deduce your colors from the action your opponent makes to try and screw you over.

Black Trio Blocks the Swap[edit | edit source]

(This variant is incompatible with 5 Color Agents.) Instead of being unable to swap objectives after the 4th black pyramid has been drawn from the bag, the condition is now: Players can choose to swap their objectives so long as a black trio has not been drawn from the bag. (A black trio is exactly one small, one medium, and one large.)

Only the Biggest Group Counts[edit | edit source]

If you want to add an additional wrinkle to the game’s strategy, this rule change might be your speed:

  • Only the biggest group (in terms of number of pyramids) counts points.
  • In case of a tie for size, the group worth the most points is the one that scores. If two groups tie for both size and points, then just pick one of them.
  • There is no longer a minimum size limit to the group. A color consisting entirely of single ungrouped pyramids will thus score 3.

The Size of the Group Gives Points[edit | edit source]

(Compatible with Only the Biggest Group Counts and Base Rules.) In addition to the face value of the pyramids in a given group, the number of pyramids in a given group is added to the score as well. The score for a given color is thus: (Points + Size) × Objective

No Center[edit | edit source]

Instead of using 2, 1, 0, −1 as the Objective, use the values 3, 2, −1, −2. This way no pieces are ignorable and without consequence, which should make for a wilder, more “argumentative” game.

External Links[edit | edit source]